Never Cry Again
A story of a lost and abused boy, set in the South in the 1930s and 40s. Drew was conceived in abuse, born into hatred, and raised in neglect; it’s remarkable that he survives at all. But, miraculously, he does survive, and much more. Year by year, chapter by chapter, Drew makes a gritty determined climb out of poverty and hell, each rung on the ladder a hard-earned achievement.
CHAPTER 1, The Cap. 1933
They had stolen his favorite cap. It was also his only cap, but Drew called it his favorite. He had run after them for a short distance, but they were older and he could not keep up. He didn’t even know their names. They simply snatched away his cap and ran off laughing into the woods behind the oil refinery. He knew they did it just to tease him; the cap meant nothing. He also knew that they would throw it away somewhere in the woods where they went almost every day after school to smoke cigarettes made from Bull Durham caged from Wilkinson’s Drugstore.
These same boys always shouted at him during recess and called him names. Drew often gritted his teeth at the insults and bullying and sometimes swore he would get even but admitted truthfully to himself that he did not know how he would do this. He was nearly seven but skinny with short legs and thin arms. He remembered that Reverend Thomas had once said, “’Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.” But he did not think either the Lord or Reverend Thomas was going to get his cap back or help him get even.
Drew ran his hand across his sandy hair and was suddenly unsure if the heat he felt was from the sun or the anger in his head. It only served to remind him of the missing cap, like rubbing salt on a wound, as he opened the wire gate in front of the small house he shared with his mother. Several of the older kids at school had teased him about it being a shotgun house. Once it had been painted a bright barn red but now looked like a faded rusty train car, covered in peeling paint and splotches of dirt.
The yard was a collection of weeds, piles of junk, and dirt paths. One of his uncles had brought the junk of various types to the house in order to have a place to store it. Drew was never told the purpose of this and, as time passed, simply ignored the various bits and pieces of wrecked automobiles, old tires, an icebox with a missing door, and a dilapidated chifforobe, the veneer peeling off in strips. The dirt path to the porch wound through the weeds and rusting geography in the front of the house.
As he crossed the yard, he wondered if his uncle Henry had come by today. He always left more money than his other uncles. The obvious signs of this uncle were usually a restocked supply of liquor and, on rare occasion, a whole carton of cigarettes. Sometimes, after Henry’s visit, his mother would go out and buy food.
He crossed the porch quietly. If his mother was sleeping, it probably would not make a difference, but there was no sense in making extra noise. The inside consisted of three rooms in a row; he slept in the front room, the kitchen was in the center, and his mother’s room was at the rear. A lean-to that had gotten added to the kitchen served as their washroom. He put his school things down in his room and crossed into the kitchen. He saw the new bottle of Four Roses right away, already only three quarters full. A green-and-red carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes sat on the table. It too had been opened.
He looked into the icebox and saw that today must have been a banner day because his mother had bought milk, bread, and bacon. There was even a small brown sack with six eggs inside. She must have gone all the way to Mr. Martinez’s store up the hill from their house. A fresh block of ice told him that she even had enough money for the iceman, who he sometimes thought might be an uncle even if his mother kept denying it.
Much of the time he thought the iceman was not an uncle. He was a colored man and his mother always said she hated colored people, although she used a word he thought of as a bad word. Still, he had seen the iceman coming from her room several times with that look that other men had after spending some time with her; heads sort of ducked down and hurrying away without trying to make conversation.
She had left her purse on the table, and he carefully removed a $1 bill and a handful of coins. She would notice the missing dollar long before she ever noticed the coins, but he thought if the day had been as good as it seemed, perhaps she would forget about it quickly. When he got into his room, he counted it and then pulled a once-gaily colored tin box labeled Mrs. Goldstone’s Excellent Bath Crystals from under his bed. He added the dollar and 87¢ to the other coins and few dollar bills in the box and slid it back under his bed. The money would be useful next week in case Uncle Henry did not return.
He sneaked a look into his mother’s bedroom. She was asleep, snoring softly, her table radio playing quietly. He went back into the kitchen and moved aside some of the dirty dishes and knives and forks on the kitchen table, then got his school things from the front room, and sat down with his arithmetic book for his lessons. An insolent cockroach crawled across the table, and he swatted at it. The cockroach moved away, stopping just under a dirty plate; but he could still see its legs as it waited, expectant, for him to leave.
His lessons needed to be finished by Monday, three days away, but he thought he might as well get started. A girl who sat next to him at school had given him some paper, and his books belonged to the school. They were free as long as they were returned in good condition. He had used old paper sacks to carefully make book covers.
This lesson was about adding compound numbers, which to him seemed unnecessary to know. Still, he carefully wrote his answers to the arithmetic problems from the end of the chapter. He wrote as small as he could to conserve paper. When he finished, he had used only half of the sheet, which he folded back and forth, and then carefully tore in a straight line. Miss Ryan would let him turn his work in on less than whole sheets, even though when he did, some of the other kids would laugh in that nasty way they had.
It was nearly dark when he finished; and he was beginning to think of frying some of the bacon, slicing bread off the loaf, and frying it in the bacon grease for supper. He wasn’t good at slicing. Sometimes bacon he sliced was thick in the middle; other times the ends were thick and the middle too thin. It was the same way with bread, but he thought that if he kept trying, he would eventually get better.
He suddenly looked up, feeling another presence in the room. Eugene, one of his many uncles, was leaning against the doorjamb, an opened bottle of beer in his hand. He had not heard him come in or heard Eugene’s old truck as he usually did when it labored and clattered along the sandy rutted road. He felt a little irritated at not noticing Eugene’s entrance, especially since he seemed to be coming by more often than most of the others. Usually, when Eugene came, Drew made sure to go to his blanket out in the shed under the old chinaberry tree.
“Hey, Drew,” Eugene said in his nasally whine of a voice. The way he drawled out his name sent shivers under his skin.
“Hello,” Drew answered quietly, looking at Eugene. He was dressed in dirty overalls that were too large. Eugene rarely wore a shirt, and the hair sticking out from under his arms, Drew knew from experience, smelled bad. Eugene’s teeth were yellow stained, and one in front was missing.
“Your ma’s passed out again,” Eugene said with a hint of an accusation. Drew wished Eugene would not call her ma. He called her mother and expected others to call her that too or at least call her by her name, Edith.
Eugene continued, “I come all the way over here, ready to party with your ma and everything. I got paid today too. Now, she’s out like a light.”
Drew couldn’t think of a safe response. He knew Eugene had hit his mother some weeks ago, and with a little start of fear, he wondered if the man now wanted to hit him. He wished he would just leave. He got up and took his school things back into his room.
As he left, he heard Eugene walk over to the kitchen table and he heard the scrape of glass on wood. He did not turn around but knew that Eugene had picked up the whiskey bottle. The sound of the cork as it protested being pulled out proved him right, followed by the sound of a belch. Eugene must have gulped whiskey directly from the bottle and then followed with a large swallow of beer. The scrape of the chair as Eugene sat down at the table made Drew turn around.
He walked back to the kitchen and stood in his doorway, looking at Eugene.
“I don’t know when Mother will wake up,” he said, emphasizing his title for her. “She was probably pretty tired. I think she walked all the way to Mr. Martinez’s store today.”
Eugene looked at him for a while and then got those funny crinkly lines around his mouth, like he was trying to smile and frown at the same time. He had looked this way the time when he had hit his mother. There had been other times when Eugene had looked this way.
“Come over here,” Eugene said with his funny crinkly lines somehow making his voice funny and crinkly. “I want you to sit on my lap. You’re such a big boy now. You ’member you used to sit on my lap when you was just a little feller?”
Drew started to move away, but Eugene had long skinny arms that easily reached out and grabbed him and pulled him onto his lap. He brought Drew close to his face, and the smell of his breath, laden with the odor of rotten teeth along with cigarette smoke and whiskey, almost overwhelmed Drew. He squirmed and tried to move away.
Eugene laughed and held him tighter. And his hands! Unlike his arms, they were big and seemed to be everywhere! He struggled some more to get off Eugene, and then those big hands moved again, and he felt that he could not get his breath.
He knew without looking when his mother entered the room. Her scent of cigarette smoke, whiskey, and the latest free sample of the Avon lady’s perfume always came into the room before she did.
Edith pulled her son off Eugene’s lap, hugged him, and said, “How’s my big boy today.” This wasn’t a question, and she didn’t look at Drew. She was looking at Eugene. He saw that his mother was wearing only her green rayon robe, which she had not tied well, and he saw that Eugene was now staring at his mother’s open robe. Drew was embarrassed to look at her.
Edith let him go and leaned over and kissed Eugene on the mouth. Eugene’s hands moved again, this time to her open robe. She giggled a little, picked up the whiskey bottle, and took Eugene by the hand. Drew watched as she pulled him across the kitchen and into her bedroom, where she closed the door. Drew felt that he had not breathed for several minutes and took deep breaths.
His mother’s bedroom door burst open, and she came back into the kitchen. Drew looked at the floor as he realized she had not retied the sash. She turned away from him, opened the top of the icebox, chipped ice into two glasses with a pick, smiled at Drew, winked when she caught his eye, and returned to her room. She shut the door again.
He heard the music on the radio get louder and knew it was time for him to go out into the shed where he was to stay when his mother had a party. Soon there would be noises that he did not want to hear coming from his mother’s bedroom.
The uncle who had stored junk in the front yard had taken an old tire and made it into a swing and hung it from the old chinaberry tree next to the shed that held Drew’s blanket. He sat in the swing as the afternoon deepened into a still, quiet evening twilight. Drew could faintly hear the sounds of singing from the colored church up the hill from his house, past Mr. Martinez’s store. It was choir practice time at the Paradise Valley Missionary Baptist Church. The music from the hymns, indistinct but somehow soothing, washed softly over him.
He watched the early summer lightning bugs as they bobbed about. Sometimes, while waiting like this, he had caught one or two and squeezed off the glowing part of their body and made a fairy ring for his third finger. But it would not feel right tonight. His chest still felt tight, and he was shaking.
He cried a little. He was hungry and wondered how long Eugene and his mother would have their party. He hoped it would not be too long.
He found a wad of chewing gum in his pocket, wrapped in waxed paper. The girl who had given him paper for his homework had also handed him the gum. Her name was Kowanda. She had chewed it, and most had stuck to the waxed paper, but what little of the gum he got still had a little flavor. He chewed it while tears ran down his cheeks, and he waited for Eugene to leave so he and his mother could have a late supper together.
Maybe tonight she would stay awake and listen to him talk about school and what Miss Ryan had said. She sometimes did that, so he sat and wished and hoped and maybe believed just a little that tonight his mother would sit and talk with him. He continued crying and did not know why as the twilight turned into a clear, starry night. The soft and indistinct sounds of Negro voices singing their Christian hymns drifted about him.