Always Look Both Ways
“One day I'm going to be bigger and stronger than you. You're not going to hit me anymore Tonya, and if you do, you'll be sorry. I don't care if you're a girl, or if you're my sister, Tonya. If I was as big as you were, I wouldn't get beat up. You always hit me for no reason, just stop it! Leave me alone Tonya!”
Every night would end like that. A child of only six years old, I could not understand why my big sister hated me. I can't recall doing anything bad enough to make her so angry. A child of only fifteen years old, my sister Tonya did not understand either. If I was a little older I may have been able to understand her frustrations, and get her to love me. She may not have initially meant to hurt me. The world that we lived in just seemed to be too much for her though. I wasn't old enough to realize that our mother was in no position to help the situation. Mommy dearest to me, but Tonya was old enough to know that our mother was the last person we could rely on.
When I started kindergarten, Tonya was fourteen in the seventh grade. Mom was working in the mornings then, so Tonya would pack my lunch for me. Peanut butter and jelly, Juicy Juice, a bag of dinosaur fruit snacks and an apple. Tonya knew how much I loved the dinosaur fruit snacks, so sometimes she would give me hers. She would walk me to school on her way to the middle school in the mornings. Some of my earliest memories are my sister and I walking to school. I remember how she taught me took always look both ways before crossing the street. At the beginning of the year she would always make sure that we looked before we crossed, then she would grab my hand before we stepped out into the road. Then one day I remember we were crossing the road parallel to the elementary school. It was here that Tonya had first taught me the importance of looking both ways before crossing; we did. We looked both ways but as we were stepping out into the street Tonya didn't have her hand outreached for mine. My sister looked down at me and said "Devin, you're a big boy now. I don't need to hold your hand anymore." Every time after that she always made sure I looked both ways before crossing, but she never reached for my hand. That's my fondest memory of Tonya. I think back then she really used to love me.
I never understood why our mother used to make Tonya go to work with her, instead of going to school. I'd ask Tonya in the morning if she was going to be here to pick me up after school, and she would tell me to walk with our neighbor Jared and the other boys, and to make sure I locked the door until she got home. Tonya wouldn't get home until really late, and our mother even later. When she got home Tonya was always out of breath. Always sweaty and looking scared. When I would ask her if she was okay, she would just pace around making sure that all the doors were locked before she would reply with a rushed "I'm fine Devin". Even as a child of only six years old, I could tell that she wasn't, so I would ask again, and that's when she would get angry. Sometimes she would scream and knock me down, and keep knocking me down until I was quiet. One night when Tonya came home a nervous wreck I noticed a deep bruise on her neck. When I asked her what happened, Tonya hit me so hard that I blacked out. When I woke up I could her Tonya in a screaming match with our mother. I remember hearing my mother screaming "Don't you realize that he's going to fucking kill us Tonya!" Why would you take the money?" I went into the kitchen crying a familiar unheard cry to mother of how Tonya had hit me, and no sooner than I walked into the kitchen, Tonya had struck me with the china pepper shaker she had been waving at our mother. Again I was unconscious.
When I awoke I could hear the voice of a man, and I could also hear Tonya and my mother crying. I was so afraid, so I didn't let them know I was awake for the first few minutes, I just laid there listening. I remember hearing the man telling Tonya that "she fucked up if she thought she could steal from him and get away with it". Faintly, I can remember my mother begging the man to stop. I was so disoriented I can't remember if she was screaming "Stop Rome!" or "Stop Tone!” Everything was so blurry, and I was so afraid to open my eyes and let them know that I was awake. I remember hearing the man say "All my bitches pay me! Nobody gets out on me!" Tonya and my mother's shriek when that man pulled out that gun is what I remember most about that night. That's when I opened my eyes and cried out "No!” At that point the man yanked me up by the collar of my Hanes T-shirt and waved the gun in my face. The shrill, piercing of Tonya and my mother’s screams at that moment has plagued every night of my life since then. He waved the gun back at them and told them to shut up or I die. After a yearlong moment, everything was silent. I could still hear faint whimpers coming from my sister and my mother. This man with this gun in our kitchen was breathing deeply, but he kept his eyes on me. After another moment went by, it happened. I was asked a question that a child of only six years old or anybody in this world should never have to be asked, let alone answer. Waving the gun in front of my brow, clenching my shoulder sternly, this man with this gun in our kitchen looked down at me and said, "Choose little man".
My mother buckled in the corner. She made an attempt to say something, a last request, but all that came out was a cry of pain. Tonya all cried out laid hunched over next to her with her head down, silent. The man was still waving the gun in front of my face. His grip on my shoulder had tightened, and I could feel him tensing. By then I was crying just as loud as my mother, but Tonya still laid opposite in silence. My mother was pleading, screaming "Please don't, please don't!" at the top of her lungs. After a moment the man struck her with the gun, and she just laid there crying. Tonya had not made a sound still to this point. The man struck my mother, and then struck her as well. Unlike my mother, Tonya did not cry, she just sat there emotionless. He made his way back to me and said to me "I'm not gonna ask you again little man, I'm telling you. Choose." At that moment he pointed the gun at Tonya and that’s when I broke. Hysterically I screamed, "Don't kill Tonya!" and began to beat my fists against his legs. The man started screaming at me then, he struck me with the barrel of the gun. Before hitting the floor I heard the shot.
I awoke to Tonya, she was scared stiff, but we were alone. She was holding me in her arms under the table where she had been sitting before I was struck. Tonya was so still, but when I felt her shake, things were coming back to me. Our mother's blood was leaking towards us on our linoleum floor, and there was silverware and broken china scattered across the table. I was clenched so closely to my sister Tonya, but I couldn’t even hear her heart beating. My sister had been dead a long time ago. She died when our mother took her out of school to work in those streets. Tonya died when those men touched her. Every long run home at night for Tonya was killing her, but as a child of only six years old, I just wasn't old enough to understand. Tonya still hadn't moved a muscle, but her grip on me was so firm. It was a caring grip that made me forget about how she had beaten me just an hour and a half earlier, and for months on end before that moment. I can remember hearing the sirens approaching, and that's when I felt Tonya quiver again. Her grip on me relaxed, and an attempt was made to say something, but all she could muster was whimpers. The police began to bang on the door, and that's when I realized why I had screamed Tonya's name when that man was waving that gun in our kitchen. After the second set of sirens approached, I remember Tonya standing us both up and brushing the sweat off my forehead. Then she did something that makes me feel like I hadn't made a mistake. My sister looked down at me and reached her hand out toward mine. I reached up and grabbed hers back, and she looked at me frightened. After a third pound on the door from the police, Tonya and I looked to the right to see our kitchen in shambles, then to our left to see our mother lay slain. After a deep breath, and looking both ways, my sister held my hand as we walked across the kitchen to the door.