Why Lala hates bananas

 

 

            Mr. Wu’s Chinese Soul Food restaurant sat at the corner of a long, historic, shopping center strip on Main St. in downtown Stone Mountain GA. It was the known and tolerated cause of constant limited parking in the area. Chinese soul food? What a concept. And how delicious! My favorite was the Chinese barbecue chicken. I had my plate packed with every side that would fit. It was Buffet Thursday. It was July 4th, 2002. I took the first bite…

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! You are going to blow the hell up! Look at your plate!”

I looked at my plate, then back at my husband Patrick’s disgusted face, in disbelief. He always found a way to burst my bubble.

We had just left the hospital, because I had my first labor pains early that morning. Dr. Singh sent me home. “It’s just early labor. You will surely be ready by tomorrow morning. You come back then.” He sang in his heavy Indian accent.

I had not eaten anything since the night before. So, I was famished.

“What do you mean, blow up?” I am hungry Patrick. I am eating for two, you know.” 

“Look more like you eating for twenty! Well, all I know is, you better lose the weight.”

“And what if I don’t Peter? What if I don’t lose the weight?”

“Well, Beth, you are going to be by yourself, then.”

I lost my appetite like a vacuum that had been suddenly unplugged.

            “You know, you don’t love anyone but yourself. Here I am. Your wife, in labor with your first child; and all you can think about is how much weight I gained, if a will lose it, and how that makes you look?

            “Whatever! I don’t want no big fat wife! If you are going to be with Patrick Tate, you better be in shape. You already know how it is.”

I stood up from the table abruptly. The cheap dining room chair screeched across the tile floor loudly.  People were staring. I was crying. I didn’t care. “You are a selfish, self-centered, insensitive son of a gun!” I snapped.

I marched off in a fast waddle, with my full-term belly leading the way. I refused to ride home with him. I wanted to call a friend to come and get me.

But pretty much everyone was tired of our drama. So, I didn’t call anyone... They told me to leave when he dragged me off the bed in the middle of the night, by my legs, out of the bedroom, down the hall, and tried to drag me down the stairs. They asked me, “are you going to wait to leave when you are in a body bag?” I didn’t leave when he strangled me at seven months pregnant and my neck was so scratched up with a red and dark brown ring where his hands squeezed.

I got in the car…with him. I had nowhere else to go. I thought about leaving him then, but I didn’t. Was I overreacting? Was it pregnancy hormones? Or was he just a narcissistic, abusive jerk? Maybe I was not mad enough. Maybe I was not tired enough. Maybe I was afraid.

***

Full purple lips puckered; and wide, gazing, shiny black eyes gazed at me for the first time in wide eyed wonder, as my salty tears of joy washed her plump round red cheeks. She was perfect. It was love at first sight.

I held LaDonna until they took her from my arms. I had to rest. I had just had a C-Section. Peter was happy. Scared, but happy.

He drove us home from the hospital two days later, as if carrying a bag of loose, fresh eggs in his lap. It was ridiculous how slow he was driving. But it was endearing. He took LaDonna gently from the car in her car seat. He was smitten. Maybe her being here will make us better as us, I thought. She is us. We entered our home, a new family, on a new journey of life.

 

The journey was rough. He didn’t change. He became more and more of an unpredictable, eruptive monster as the weeks and months past. There were some rare days that he was that dream husband. But most days he was the nightmare I dreaded and could not wake up from. There was no way that I could endure any more of his tyranny or allow my precious daughter to grow up thinking that this was okay in any way. So, I got mad enough. Really mad. And I got tired enough. Really tired. And I became more afraid of staying than leaving. So, I left him. I really did.

***

Three years later…

Kristi, the Head Start Director, told me again. “If this behavior continues, I am going to have to report this. I have to. I am a mandatory reporter.”

LaDonna was not taking naps, ever.  She was defecating and urinating in her pull-ups and would never go to the bathroom, although she had been Potty trained.  

“These types of behavior are typical of a child that has been sexually abused.” Kristy would conclude harshly.

I felt embarrassed being told this by a stranger; but even worse, by a white stranger. It sounds silly when I hear myself say it; but it felt more than naked. Like outside naked. In the ice and

snow, with a fierce winter wind blowing, kind of naked. And it gave me chills just thinking of the probability of my precious LaDonna being sexually molested. Was it true? Who could it possibly be?

***

“Peter, we have to talk. It’s serious. It’s about Lala.” We called LaDonna Lala since she was one week old. We were in the middle of a divorce at this time and talking to him about even the most basic things was a challenge and mostly uncomfortable. But this conversation had to happen.

            “What’s up?” He asked as if I interrupted his busy schedule to bring him to an empty classroom next to the Head Start room where Lala attended. We sat across from each other at a table.

            “There is no easy way to say this. Ummm..Kristy, the Head Start director, is convinced that Lala is, or has been, well, umm, sexually abused, molested, by someone. She says we have to really examine who she has been around, so we can figure out who it might be. I haven’t asked Lala anything about it. Where would I start? How do you ask a three-year-old that kind of question?”

I was in tears as I spoke, looking at the floor then back at him, repeatedly. I was sure he would erupt. That he would blame me. Accuse me of having her around strange men. That he would demand an investigation and call the police. I braced myself.

Finally, he spoke.

            “Well, you know it ain’t me, right?” His voice was calm, like he was talking about the weather on a sunny, breezy day. He was leaned back in the chair, as if he was on the beach, in a slouched posture. No alarm whatsoever. He did not flinch.

            “What? What, what do you mean, it’s not you? Why would that even be a consideration? Of course, it’s not you! You are her father.”

I sat there visibly upset. I was shaking on the inside. Why isn’t he taking this seriously?

            “You are so beautiful Beth. You know I still love you, right?” He said, giving me the come on, sensual look. Wetting his bottom lip.

My reddened, grief-stricken eyes bounced around the corners of the empty classroom, trying to connect these senseless, random dots, and then, finally, back at him.

            “Are you seriously flirting with me, right now? I just told you, that Lala, our baby girl, is possibly being sexually molested, or has been, by someone; and you want to come on to me, right now? Are you serious?” I stared at his delusional, disingenuous eyes…looking for something satisfying that his words and actions did not serve. It was still an empty plate.   

“Why did I even bother?”

I stood up, walked away from him, leaving an empty chair as response to his untimely advances.

 

***

            “Mommy, mommy…. daddy hurt my vagina… with a banana.”

The clock stopped ticking. I was motionless. My brain scrambled to find a firm ground of reasoning. I had just given her a bath.

            “honey, are you sure it was daddy?”

“yes”

“Maybe he was giving you a bath, and maybe he was rough…maybe? Was it his hand, by mistake?”

            “No mommy, no! it was- It was a banana!” she gushed painful emotion. I looked into her pleading, flooding eyes and saw her drowning in the shameful truth that I could not swallow.

I believed her. With all of my heart, I believed her. I snuggled her in her favorite princess towel. 

 

I was in sheer horror and shock. I became a robot. I dressed her. I got dressed. I fed her.  I ate nothing. I drove her to the Head Start preschool. I told Kristy, the Head Start leader all about the big reveal that morning. She gave me that, I told you so glance, without salting the wound with words.

***

            “No, no…don’t call the CPS. Let me do it. They might not believe you because you are going through a divorce. They’ll think you are being spiteful. These things happen all the time. Women do lie on men”

            “Really? That makes no sense. it’s the truth. She said it.”

            “Let me handle it. You go to work and wait to hear from them when they call. Don’t worry. At least now we know. Well, at least now you know.”

            “You knew?”

            “Well, I had my suspicions. But how could I say that to you, or dare ask Lala without proof, or your permission?”

Somehow, without coercion Lala was singing. I guess once she told me, she felt free to talk. She told Kristy about the banana. Kristi showed her a picture of the actual fruit. But Lala insisted that it was a different one. She said it was brown. “He wee-weed on me,” She said. “But it was white wee-wee.” Kristy heard all she could stand and called Child Protective Services.

***

My phone rang. The Circus began. I had no idea what we were in for. Lala was taken to this place specifically for such situations. There was a doctor there, who was a specialist in examining children to confirm sexual abuse. This was happening too fast. Somehow, he managed to examine her without her feeling violated. She did not even notice. He distracted her with toys and pictures. He was definitely an expert. He found no conclusive evidence.

            “As I told you before I began the exam Mrs. Tate, I may not find any evidence if the assault occurred seventy-two hours or more ago. The vagina heals very fast with children. There was no penetration, but I believe there was extreme pressure applied. The hymen is very sensitive in children. That is why she said, ‘it hurt.’”

            “but what does this mean? Does this mean we can’t do anything; that we have no proof?”

He looked at me through sad grey-blue eyes. He sighed, and gently tapped my tightly clasped brown hands.

            “I’m so sorry. There is no proof. Right now, it’s just hearsay. But she needs you to believe her. That’s the most important thing.”

            “Do you believe…her?” I asked.

He nodded his head methodically, folding his lips in tightly as if to keep from telling a painful secret. He took a deep breath, paused, and then exhaled his answer.

“Yes, I believe that something definitely happened. A three-year old will not make that up. They just can’t. The issue is not if it happened; the issue is can it be proven? But like I said before, she needs to know that you to believe her.”

***

Child Protective Services suspended Patrick’s visitation and parental rights for three months, pending investigation. I hoped that during that time something substantial would be uncovered. I was strongly advised by an associate who was a social worker, not to say a word to Lala, or even persuade her in any way. So, I said nothing, and did my best to make life as normal as possible for her. Everything for her was the same, except now she refused to eat bananas, and has them ever since then.

During this time, I was confronted by Patrick’s mother and Aunt together at my job. Maybe they wanted to intimidate me. That did not work. They questioned me and asked me if I really believe he would do such a thing to his child. I told them that if I thought he was that type of man, I would not have married him. They wanted me to withdraw my statements. They tried to suggest that Lala lied. That she made it up. It took allot of self-control for me to not punch them both in the face. I have never been a violent person, but their presence, words and allegations were pushing me to that point.

“Ladies, I have to get back to work. Have a nice day.”  I said finally, gritting my teeth, then walking away.   

Patrick spread many rumors within our common circles to protect his image. Many believed him. They were convinced that I was being vindictive because I wanted him back and did not want the divorce. Others thought I was bitter and wanted to hurt him and destroy his life. But none of it was true. All I wanted was the divorce and to protect Lala from him.

 

Our baby sitter, Darla, attended my church. I learned that Lala told her and several day care children about what she experienced. I knew Darla always left church on Sunday after most members were gone, because she cleaned the sanctuary after church. So, I waited.

I approached this woman in the church parking lot. I told her that I knew what she knew, and I asked her to be a witness in this case for Lala.

            “I don’t want to get involved!”

“Sister Darla! Please, please, help me! Help us! Help Lala! The more witnesses we get the stronger our chances of winning and protecting Lala!” I pleaded.

            “I’m sorry, I just don’t want to get involved!” She said with her eyes closed, shaking her head quickly, never looking me in the eyes.

Her pickup truck screeched and sped out of the parking lot, leaving me standing there, alone.

***

“Good morning Mrs. Tate. This is Ms. Palmer, the social worker for your case.”

“Yes, yes, I know. We met once at your office, a few months ago. Umm, so do we, or have you, or the umm… CPS, made any progress?

“The investigation is complete.”

I exhaled…relieved that it was almost over, and that I could protect Lala from… 

“…There is no evidence that Mr. Tate has molested your child LaDonna Tate.”

I looked at my cell phone as if it was broken. “You are to resume allowing Mr. Tate visitation and joint parental rights of his child.” She said, as dry and as calloused as sand paper.

“What. Excuse me? I don’t understand! What do you mean your investigation is complete? But she said it. She told me so! She told her Head Start teacher, her day care provider, her Sunday school teacher, and even the children at daycare and Sunday school!”

“That is all hearsay Mrs. Tate.  It is not a fact or proof. It will not hold up in court”

“But you did not even question me or anyone that I or Lala know or have ben around. What kind of investigation did you do?”

“Mam, our investigation is complete.”

“Well I don’t agree! And I refuse! I will not release my child to that monster!”

“If you don’t allow him to see his child, you will be held in contempt of court, and he will get full custody. And you Mrs. Tate will go to jail and lose all parental rights.”

Was this a joke? There is no way that this could be real, I thought.

            “but this is not right! It’s not fair! What about Lala?”

“Mrs. Tate, I have bigger fish to fry. People with real problems. Good day.” Click!

 

***

He called…practically bragging, and mocking me, that he was cleared of the allegations and that I was just trying to destroy him because of jealousy and other unfounded reasons.

Like a zombie, I got her ready. Packed a few things. Then came the foreboding knock at my door.

            “Hey Lala! How’s daddy’s girl?”

            “Daddy!” she seemed happy… somehow. She ran to him, He picked her up, hugged her tight and kissed her loudly on the cheeks. This was once endearing. But to me it sounded like nails on a chalkboard.

They drove away. I locked the door and leaned against it for support. I heaved into convulsive wailing. Staggering to the living room sofa.

            “God help me please!”

I cried and prayed. My right toes, right arm and fingers locked up and twisted. My arm became bent and locked to my chest, as my fingers twisted and locked. I was terrified. What was happening to me? I looked like a crippled person laying on that sofa. I cried out to God.

“Oh Lord, please help me! Help me! Eventually, as I breathed deeply, and calmed down, my limbs and fingers released. I realized that I was allowing this to destroy me. And most likely destroy Lala.

***

Running away with Lala was the ultimate plan. A friend of mine who knew the law said, don’t do it Beth; because they will catch you, and when they do, you will be arrested, and you will lose her to him forever.

No one was helping me. It seemed they were under a spell, or payed off. It made no sense at all. The therapist, the social worker, the doctors, my social worker friends…every one of them said it was hearsay…not admissible in court.

“So, what exactly is admissible in court?” I asked the therapist, who Lala had confided in. The therapist who had blacked out with a black marker, the clear, concise confessions that Lala made to her.

“does a child have to be totally raped. Ripped apart, and bleeding for justice to be done? I’m sick of people telling me, it’s not admissible, or It’s hearsay!”

Was it all a waste of time? Even the police failed us. They refused to give Patrick a lie detector test. They said they did not have enough information to do so. Was I in the twilight zone, or what?

***

 

Mr. Wu’s Chinese Soul Food restaurant was Lala’s favorite place to eat. On this day we sat at that same table that I sat with her father on July 4th, 2002, the day I first went into labor with her. Lala and I both had Chinese barbecue chicken with vegetable sides. I looked at her beautiful almond eyes, deep dimples, beautiful lips, and wide smile. I realized that although the system failed me, and failed Lala, I could not afford to fail her.

I could not allow this situation to cripple my ability to be a good mother. I realized that she needed me to be totally present, and not so caught up in the war that I end up making her the ultimate casualty. She had me and I had her. Sometimes we lose sight of what is important in the midst of fighting for what is important.

I knew then that I could not depend on anyone, not even the law to protect her. Only God…So I prayed, and I prayed…

In less than two years from that time, Patrick moved away to Texas, with some new girlfriend, or so I heard. I could not care less the reason. He was gone.  Finally, we were free from his tyranny.

 

-Bethany Jones

 

 

 

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I couldn't tear myself away

I couldn't tear myself away from your heart-wrenchimg strory, although at times it was almost too painful to read. That is the mark of true talent—when you can keep the reader riding the storm of unsparing and piercing drama with the promise of a conclusion. I felt your maddening frustration when all avenues of justice failed you, and your determination to protect your sweet baby at all costs. 

 

And just when the vise of despair was tightening, you turned to the Highest Power, the highest court of justice. I believe there is payback waiting for the vile, subhuman abuser, and yes, your dear child will carry the scars of this atrocity for life, but you closed that cruel chapter with rare inner strength and personal triumph, and with a mother's love and faith, there is hope of healing. 

 

Love and prayers.