Neglected But Undefeated
“The life of a boy who never knew a mother’s love”
By Jonathan Anthony Burkett
Good Morning, Mom
I say to you today
Never believing my childhood years
Were about to hit the ground and
Heartbreaking trials and tribulations
Were along the way
But I stand here today
Neglected but undefeated
Striving to succeed
Into a pathway of victory
November 1995. I woke up smiling in my briefs and T-shirt because I could smell plantains and eggs, my favorite breakfast foods. As I opened my eyes, I realized that I was on the floor—the laundry room floor. I wondered how I had gotten there. Aching, I struggled to my knees and pushed myself to my feet. As my mind began to clear, I realized that I was in pain from last night’s beating. I slowly limped toward the laundry room door and heard my mother talking on the phone in the kitchen. I walked toward her while glancing at my arms and saw belt marks and scratches all over me. I started to recall how badly she had beaten me early last night and then again in the middle of the night as she was calling me by a name that was not mine. I guessed she was mad at that person and had decided to take it all out on me.
Glancing at the kitchen clock, I saw it was 8:00 a.m. I then looked at my mom, who had on her blue nightgown and rollers in her hair like how she always slept.
“Good morning, Mom,” I said, which is what I had to say to her every morning—but without the Mom or else she would beat me.
“I told you don’t call me Mom, because I’m not your mother. Your mother is dead. Now leave me alone,” she screamed at me, waving the hot metal spatula in my face.
“Yes, you are my mother, because that’s what my grandmother and grandfather told me before I left Jamaica. They also told me not to listen to you whenever you tell me that you’re not my mother or that you hate me and want me dead,” I replied.
“Well, they’re not here right now, so that means you have to listen to me and they lied to you. So call me Ms., not Mom,” she said.
“No, you’re lying to me!” I screamed at her, because my grandparents never lied to me.
“Your mother is dead, Jonathan, and is in hell waiting for you to burn in hell with her! Now leave me alone! Don’t think that you’re getting any of this food that I’m cooking, because I already know that’s why you’re standing in front of me trying to suck up to me,” she said. And she was right.
Salivating, I asked, “Why aren’t you cooking breakfast for me, too?”
“I’m not because bad boys don’t deserve to be fed. They deserve to burn in hell! Now get out of my face and go brush your teeth and wash your face before I beat you and put you back in the laundry room and make you stay there until you rot.”
“OK, I’ll go and brush my teeth, Mom,” I told her. I walked into the bathroom upset and confused again, because I remembered that recently I had gotten a beating for calling my mother by her first name and not Mom. After I finished, I walked back into the kitchen and sat at the table, looking at my mother while she cooked. I could tell by her stance and her face that she was still upset.
“Don’t look at me! You’re ugly and couldn’t be my child, anyway,” my mother said to me.
“Why you keep saying that to me?” I asked my mother. She was saying the very words that my grandmother and grandfather told me not to listen to. However, I still wanted to know why she felt this way about me and why she couldn’t just treat me nice.
“I hate you because I didn’t ask for you to come into my life! I just want you dead, and out my life. That’s all I want!” my mother screamed, furious.
“Then why don’t you just kill me? Since that’s the only thing that’ll make you happy! Are you scared to kill me because you know that my grandmother and grandfather would beat you to death if they ever found out that you killed me? Or are you scared to go to prison?” I questioned my mother the way I’d seen people in Jamaica do when they’d fight and one would end up backing down. One would sometimes ask the other if he was scared of the police and prison.
“No, I’m not scared! It’ll just make me even happier if you killed yourself. If you want, I’ll give you a knife right now and when the police ask me why you killed yourself, I’ll just tell them that I don’t know the reason why,” my mother said to me as she began preparing her plate.
“I want to go and live with my grandfather!” I whined.
“Why? He doesn’t love you or want you near him again. Why do you think they sent you here? And I’m sure he wants you to kill yourself like I told you before!” my mother said.
“No, he doesn’t! Stop saying that!” I responded angrily.
“Who do you think you’re raising your voice at? You had better respect me before I beat the hell out of you,” my mother said.
“You’re not my mother, right? So I don’t care!” I screamed back.
“I never said I was. Now go in the corner and stand up there until you calm down,” my mother said.
“No!” I replied.
“Who are you telling no to?” my mother screamed.
My mother then dropped the egg that she was going to fry on the floor and picked up the hot frying pan and began hitting me with it until I fell down. I started to scream from the pain and the heat.
“I’m going to kill you one of these days before I die. I hate you! You’re stupid! I want you dead!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“Are you threatening me?” my mother asked.
“I hate your dumb ass!” I screamed again.
My mother turned and quickly walked out of the kitchen and into her bedroom; she returned with a high-heel shoe. She already knew how much pain I felt whenever she had beaten me with it in the past. As I saw her coming toward me, I wanted to run but couldn’t because of the extreme pain I was already in.
“I hate you! You don’t deserve to be here!” she screamed at me. And she called me the name of a man I did not know.
I wondered who this person was, but I was in too much pain to ask. My mother began beating me with all her might, hitting me as if she didn’t care if I lived to see another day. Bam! She hit me on the arm. And I will never forget when one of the hits went straight to my right knee. I was screaming at her to stop. Then I began begging her to stop, because she was torturing me. She finally dropped the high-heel shoe after seeing how much pain I was in. I wanted to pick it up and hit her with it, but I couldn’t because I could hardly move. I looked up at her face as she walked away, and I could tell she couldn’t believe how badly she had beaten me this time. As I lay there, not knowing if this pain would ever go away, I just wanted to get up and go into the kitchen drawer and get a knife and stab her with it as many times as she had hit me. I’ve seen it happen to so many men in Jamaica—after a man lost a fight, he always went for payback by killing the other man. However, every time I tried to move, more pain just kept coming.
My mother came back from her bedroom after a while to unplug all the phones and turn on the burglar alarm. Still lying on the floor, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I tried standing, but my legs were weak and the pain was excruciating, especially in my right knee. I stayed on the floor for hours, sobbing and groaning, just honestly wanting to kill that woman my grandparents sent me to live with. The one who they said was my mother. The one who they said cared for me. The one who they said prayed night and day for me. The one who they said always called and asked about me. The one who they said loved me the most.
Later on that day, she came and helped me up and took me into my room before my father came home. I told her not to touch me and threatened to kill her one day for this, but she just ignored me. She told me to stay in my room and not to come out for the rest of the day—or else she’d kill me.
“Kill me, then,” I said. But she just walked away and closed the door to my room behind her. I lay down on my bed, crying and just wanting to run away and make my way back to Jamaica—after killing her, of course. “But how?” I asked myself.
Thirty minutes later she came back into my room, and told me to take off all my clothes.
“Why?” I asked her.
“Because I said,” she replied.
I stripped myself butt-naked only to see her with a hanger in her hand.
“Why the hell is she beating me again?” was all that I could ask myself.
She pushed me up against the wall and told me to put my hands on the wall. Then she told me to stay there and that if I moved she would beat me more.
Whop, whop, whop, whop!
Every hit made me shake. After every hit it felt like I was about to drop down and die. I wanted to anyway, because all of this pain wasn’t worth living for.
“You already know that I hate you! And I just want for you to die and get out of my life,” she said as tears came down her face. She continued beating me, but of course I had more tears coming down my face.
“You don’t listen to me whenever I tell you to stop! You don’t have any respect for me! You think that you could touch and talk to me anytime that you want to! Why can’t you ever listen to me? Why can’t you just stop and listen to me? Listen to me!”
“I am listening! I am listening!” I screamed out in pain and agony.
“I hate you, Cleveland!” she then screamed.
“Cleveland? Who the hell is Cleveland?” I asked.
Next thing I knew, she stopped. I turned my head around, looked at her with tear-filled eyes, and said, “You’re crazy.”
“What!” my mother replied. She took me by my ears and pulled me into the laundry room and locked it.
About five minutes later, she opened it up and looked at me. This made me ask her, “What do you want now?”
Next thing I knew, she raised her hand. There was a knife in it, which she just threw at me and immediately closed the laundry door.
She missed, but I couldn’t believe it. I picked up the knife, looking at it and just wanting to put it inside me. Just wanting to stab myself or just cut my throat in this darkness, knowing I’d likely wake up again in the dark because of how I suspected hell would be.
I placed the knife tip on my stomach, thinking that if I did this, all this pain that I was feeling would go away. I wanted to do it so bad that I began to slowly push it against my stomach. Tears began to come down my face because I couldn’t believe my mother wanted me dead so bad. I felt a little sting from the knife, which only made me wonder how it would feel if all of it went inside of me.
I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t do it. “What would my grandparents say if they found out that I killed myself? Would I even have a funeral, or would she just throw my dead body in a trash can?” I asked myself.
I ended up just dropping the knife and then dropping down onto the ground, crying, rubbing away the tears with dirty clothes and rubbing the pain that I was feeling on my legs and arms.
When my father came home that night, I immediately felt like running out to him, but I just put my ear to the laundry door to hear what she was going to tell him first. I heard her telling him that I was sick and so she told me to go to bed early. Then I heard them pulling out the chairs around the table to eat dinner without me.
“Liar,” I said softly.
That night the air conditioner was on and it was cold in the laundry room. So I had to dump out all of the dirty clothes from the laundry basket and cover myself with them. It smelled so bad that I would’ve rather put myself in the dryer and turned it on to keep myself warm. But that would’ve been impossible, because how I would sleep going round and round? Plus, how would I even be able to turn on the dryer from inside of it?
The next day my mother didn’t allow me to attend school. She called the school and told them that I was sick. That day she took me everywhere she went because she was scared that I might call the police, or tell someone what she had done, which might have made them call the police on her. Trust me—this wasn’t the first or last time this would happen.
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