About Autumn’s Child:
“I am hurting. Fractured in places stitches can’t heal.” Autumn’s Child tells the desperate story of Layla, as a young and naive twelve year-old girl. Over ten critical years, her life quickly changes like the colors of the trees in autumn. The accidental death of her parents forces her to abandon her religious, middle-class lifestyle. She moves to the inner city of Chicago with her grandmother and aunt, her only living relatives. Layla tries to approach her new life with optimism, but the perfections of her past life haunt her tormented journey. After coming to grips with the reality over the years that her only aunt despises her, Layla soon discovers that she may secretly hold the keys to helping her aunt’s diminishing health in her hands. Layla’s faith and sanity are continuously tested as she matures throughout each season of her life. She stumbles through her new found reality while learning how to play the distinct set of cards she’s been dealt. Layla’s neighbor and best friend, Shay, helps guide her from adolescence into adulthood. Autumn’s Child chronicles a life on the opposite side of the coin; where friendships grow out of tragedy, and the pressure of a marginalized life weighs heavily on pure souls. Layla must make many compromising decisions, all while perpetually asking the reader, what would you do?
For fourteen days I wept like Jesus wept, but he wasn’t there to console me. All I had were memories of the life I once had, of parents once mine and now gone. I stayed at the MacNair’s house for fourteen days and abided by their rules. Conversation was minimal with only occasional spastic outbursts.
My family and the people from the church spoke in the native language called “tongues.” My parents taught me that when you really want to talk to God and bear it all, you speak to him from your soul in a language that only you two can understand; those words are true to you and you can’t deny them. They say that God speaks to you in silence, nothing moving No one breathing, just the universe speaking in the tone of “Ommm.” I wanted answers, so I spent half of my days battling it out with God in our secret code language and the other half listening and sleeping. Ms. MacNair wanted me to talk to a shrink when she heard me praying and talking in tongues. Sara badgered me about sleeping so much.
Truthfully, I didn’t just like sleep, I loved it because sometimes I got lucky and my parents waited for me there. But I told them that I was just fine and that me and my God would figure this whole thing out. I waited day in and day out, but God never got back to me as to why my parents had to leave me and go to Him. What I really needed was a tangible voice. I waited for the words to creep into my ears at night, the voice of God, the way he talked to Moses with the burning bush, but all I heard was my own voice, the echoes of a scared girl too afraid to verbalize her pain. But the pain was there, like a long welt running down my spine, it was there.
The first few days, I started hating everything, hating my life. I hated Ms. MacNair for throwing a birthday party, Sara for still having a mom, and my parents for leaving. I felt everyone were against me and had planned this whole thing out.
One day I heard Sara’s mom telling her to keep my mind off of things and that she was lucky to still have a mom. I still wasn’t talkative, but knowing that, when I wanted to get out of my shell, I wasn’t alone was enough to keep me above water at the time.
Within the fungus colored walls of the room I shared with Sara, we learned to coexist. I wasn’t ready to step into that world of feelings and talking about them. But Sara, she was there for me, not saying much, just around. When I started getting bored with solitude I tried to peek out of my cocoon to let her know that it wasn’t really her that I was pissed at. She understood my cries. She even cried with me sometimes, upset because I was upset.
After quite some time, I learned the art of suppression and what a wonderful feeling it was. Not Disney Land wonderful, but mature contentment like living on an isolated island that I needed a steamboat and diving gear to get to. I pushed whatever I felt down below and made it better. It wasn’t a good strategy, but it helped more than all the crying did. And that suppression is what helps me to cope with all this bullshit even now.
Nearing the twelfth day of my stay there, I started to notice a change. Ms. MacNair became distant, avoiding me at all costs, and ordered us to stay in our room when she had company over. Sara spent a night over at her grandparents’ house the next Saturday and left me behind, “mom’s orders.” I couldn’t come out of her room or make a sound when they came to pick her up. Sara wanted to stay at home with me, but I understood. Ms. MacNair cordially offered me dinner and treats for doing things around their house. There was an ice wall that was being built between us, as if I was responsible for my parents or a stepchild of some sort. I didn’t know how to melt it. I tried not to notice. After all, I wasn’t her child and she would just have to get use to me. I knew it might take some time, so I tried to be on my best behavior. I held my tears back as best I could and tried not to mope. I had to have faith, “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.” Faith was my closest friend; I needed to walk in the faith, so everything would just get easier.
Sara came home the next day. She walked straight to her walk-in closet and put away her new things so I wouldn’t see them. We talked and she was the same old Sara. We shared her twin bed, played on the swings whenever we could, and I sang to her when I felt the urge. It was a kind of unfortunate sisterhood.
I remember one night, we lay in bed after watching a movie and Sara fell right to sleep. My stomach groaned and complained of being hungry. I poked my head out the door and all the lights were off, so I tiptoed to the kitchen to grab a handful of Cheerios or a sandwich. As I walked softly past the den, I heard Ms. MacNair on the phone. Her voice was harsh, ruff like jagged edges. I crept closer without her noticing as she had her back to the door. “I have to figure out what to do with her. Don’t get me wrong, I feel really bad, I mean really bad, about her parents. When I had to tell her my heart just tore in half. That’s something that no one should go through, but just because she was at my house when all of this shit happened means I have to keep her? The answer is no. I simply cannot.” Someone spoke loudly on her phone. She replied, “You understand. It’s one thing for the girls to be friends, but this is just too much. I did not give birth to her and I am not, I cannot take her in. What would my family think? Really, I’m not running a charity case over here, Salvation Army or the Goodwill, I have a life of my own, my own child to raise.”
A voice talked back to her bluntly, the way that I wanted God to talk to me. “That is exactly why she can not stay here. Charles hasn’t come to see me in a week. He says it’s too crowded here. Now I’m not racist. I’m really not prejudiced or anything, but what if her little afro habits rub off on my little princess? All she does is sing those old Negro spiritual church songs and Sara singing along with her now.”
I started biting my nails. I didn’t understand then. I wasn’t a bad person. I lived in Pleasanton, our house was bigger than theirs, and I have a mom and dad, well I had a mom and dad. She continued, “I talked to her aunt yesterday on the phone. She was hesitant when I first spoke with her, but I told her how she could get a little extra if she took her off my hands. She’s her niece anyway and their family’s responsibility, not mine.”
I walked away feeling empty, not just in my stomach. I abandoned my previous cravings for food, like Ms. MacNair had abandoned me, passing me along the assembly line. When she sat down to talk to me later the next day, I knew what was coming. There was no reason to get upset. I wasn’t her child, but I wasn’t a welfare case either. “Charity,” “Negro spiritual,” “too crowded.” She didn’t really care for me. She consciously chose to string me along with her little lies: saying how sorry she was and for me, to talk to her whenever I needed, and that I could ask her for anything because she was there for me. That lying witch.
Sara went hysterical when her mom told her. She ran to me and cursed her mom. I tried to comfort her because she didn’t know her mom like I did. She didn’t know that I was a Negro spiritual charity case in her mom’s eyes.
The day finally came for me to leave. Judgment day. My emotions had no outlet after what I heard. They were shaken up as if they were flakes in a snow globe that had finally settled just to be shaken up again in the same confinement, but never released. I sat there in the den as Ms. MacNair spoke my fate to me. I waited like a pet at the Humane Society. I sat there and listened to her bounce around bright images of my future and how much fun it would be there.
I talked to my newfound aunt on the phone and she seemed nice enough. She didn’t talk about much, just said they would be happy to have me. I remember meeting my grandmother once, a long time ago, when she came to visit us for Christmas. I spoke with her on the phone as well. Her voice was soft and sweet like cotton candy. She seemed so pleasant and I didn’t understand why I hadn’t talk to her more before. I remember her being a small lady with a loud laugh. I was only six or seven the last time she came to visit. I had almost forgotten. When she first saw me then she came over and tried to pick me up, but settled for knelling down and kissing me on the cheek. She pinched both my cheeks so hard. My mom kept her busy for most of the time, so I didn’t get to talk to her much. Not that we would have had a plethora of topics for conversation at the age of six, but it would have been nice to have really gotten to know her.
Ms. MacNair, Sara, and I boarded the plane and flew four long hours to Chicago’s Midway airport. After gathering our bags from baggage claim, we started over to the car rental to get a car. The air was hot, wet and, breezy. My hair frizzed up as soon as we stepped on the street. Sara clung to me. In the car she gave me a bag full of the things that were now mine. I looked inside and there was the matching pink outfit that we had worn that day at Chuck E. Cheese, better known as the day my life ended. There were UNO cards and her tape recorder that she wanted for me to have so that I could record my songs and send them to her. The last things were two friendship journals, one for me and one for her. We promised to write each other every week. We would be pen pals now.
I gazed out of the window for a moment, looking away from the life I was leaving behind. We both hugged and sang in the back seat. I didn’t want to let her go. It would be okay if only she could come with me. I needed her like Chicago’s Cicero Avenue needed to be cleaned. Her mom swerved from lane to lane not knowing which way to go. We stopped at a gas station close to the Dan Ryan freeway to ask for directions. As soon as she stepped out the car there were two or three men dingy and dusty rushing towards her. She hopped back in the car fast and cracked the window.
“Ma’am, you need some help?”
“No,” Ms. MacNair said.
“You look lost. You sure?” the dingy man asked.
“Well, I am trying to find my way to freeway Eisenhower 290,” she said as she shuffled through the road maps on her lap.
He inched toward the window, “You mean the expressway? Ain’t nothing free ‘round here ma’am but ya gonna need to go straight on down this street, and you’ll run right to it.”
He pointed down the street we were already on, “Thank you.”
The scruffy man put his hands on the window, “You can help me out a little bit? I’m just tryin’ to get some food for my family.”
She dug in her pocketbook and handed him a few dollars with a smug look.
He took it and looked at her, “God bless you, ma’am. Right down that street there.” He then pointed us in the same direction.
His voice resonated in my ears “God bless you.” God doesn’t need to bless her. He needs to bless me. If there is a God. My vengeful thoughts startled even me at the time. That reaction was so natural, but felt so wrong. Blasphemy, I thought. That was the first time I questioned His spiritual existence. It felt so right, but my conditioning made it seem wrong. Among all of my newfound emotions, that feeling was the one most prominent at the time. The closest thing I could connect to any answer, the denial of the creator.