Raising Hell - 1954-1956
This is a preview to the chapter Raising Hell - 1954-1956 from the book Don't Tell Me What To Do: A Spiritual Memoir by Ron Alexander.
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I was a mere five years old when I made this grand announcement to my grandmother. I had learned the words from my mother, who would always assert her independence when arguing with my father about things I wasn’t supposed to understand. Although many of the words they hurled back and forth at each other were incomprehensible, I made a study of their quick reactions to one another, memorizing the words and phrases that elicited anger and the words that provoked my father to get up in her face.
As I listened to my parents arguing back and forth, I began to understand the power of words, how a single word or a string of words put together can bring about fiery reactions. There were happy words and there were angry words. I liked the angry words. I went about listening to learn the words that would piss people off. I found comfort and protection in launching new words and phrases I knew would shock the people who stood tall over me. Most times, the adults--in an effort to fend off the embarrassment brought about by my audacious pronouncements--would laugh at my attempts to talk like a grown up, and would call me cute, the one word I hated the most. I wanted to be taken seriously, not to be treated like a playful puppy.
My grandmother was different. Mama had the intuition to know when I was serious about the intent of the words I frequently hurled at people.
“Boy, you’re just a baby,” she would say, trying to reason with me. “Who told you that you can live your own life?”
“I just want to,” I said back to her, positioning myself to run out of the kitchen when Mama would dangled the black belt above my head, threatening to give me a beating.
“You want to what!” she said while waving the belt around like a lasso.
“I want to live my own life!” I shouted again and ran past her out of the, kitchen, racing up the steps to my room on the third floor where I slammed the door as hard as I could behind me. I hid inside of a closet, expecting, at any moment, she would come for me. The closet was dark and packed with clothes. I pushed myself far back behind the clothes, listening for her footsteps climbing the stairs. She didn’t come.
Peeking out of the closet, I shoved the clothes aside and climbed out of the closet and plopped down on the bed, rubbing the welts on my arms and legs, mumbling to myself in defiance of the black belt. My words became more powerful and magical each time I said them. I want to live my own life! I pulled a pillow up under my head, fitfully tossing about on the bed, falling asleep in my clothes and shoes.
* * *
When I awoke the next morning, I was fully undressed and tucked underneath the covers. I jumped up out of the bed and dashed down to the kitchen, taking my usual seat at the table where my mother and Mama were eating breakfast.
Mama stopped eating, smiling at me, placing a bowl of corn flakes in front of me. I ignored her smiles, deciding that stuffing the sweetened, crunchy flakes and milk into my mouth would be a better use of my time and energy.
“Do you know what this boy of yours said to me yesterday?” My mother sighed, feigning interest.
“What did he say this time, Mama?”
and all the others, when you
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