Four Days Ago
“Time!” Cedric, the mental health facility guard, yelled like a maniac. Whenever I heard his voice, I felt trapped inside a Freddy Krueger movie, where I’d fallen asleep, and Freddy was nearby. Worse than the sound of Cedric’s voice was the creepy look on his freckled face whenever he looked at me. I mean, he was creepy-looking anyway, but when our eyes met, the creepiness intensified.
We all knew what he meant when he yelled “time,” so we filed out of our rooms, heading up the hall toward the rec room where our visitors awaited. Visitation was allowed every Wednesday and Saturday, and my mother was here every Saturday like clockwork.
My mother and I exchanged a hug and sat down. “I saw Miyah today. I stopped by Titus’s house before I came here,” she began.
“Oh, good. How is she?”
“She’s doing good. Started first grade and says she loves it. I just… I don’t know.” She wrang her hands, pausing to think about what she wanted to say next. The worried look on my mother’s face expressed the rest of what she was trying to say. She never was good at hiding her true feelings.
“I know you think Monika has taken my place in Miyah’s life, but Miyah only has one mother. One day, I will explain how we got to this point. And one day, I will do what it takes to reclaim my place in her life. But that’s my burden to bear, Mama. Just don’t judge me right now, not when I’m already dealing with so much.”
She huffed and stilled her hands. “I didn’t say that Monika took your place. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“No, you didn’t say it, but you thought it. Every time you visit me, you say something about how Monika and Miyah are bonding. I know you don’t like that I’m here, and they have my child, but you don’t have to do that. It makes me feel worse.”
“I just think about how you need to start building a relationship with your daughter as quickly as you can before—”
Mama’s eyes cast downward. “Before it’s too late.”
“To be honest, her having a relationship with Titus’s girlfriend is okay with me right now.” It had to be. I was locked in a secured mental facility under a judge’s orders. There was basically no way out for me. Why couldn’t my mother get that?
“I just don’t like it,” she pouted.
“That makes two of us, but have you looked around this place? There’s nothing I can do but talk about it. I can’t change what’s happening in the outside world. And I don’t and can’t blame anyone for my situation but myself.”
She knew I was right, but somehow I lost her attention. She gave it to the television playing in the background. A groan from the front of the room brought my attention to Cedric. His eyes were now glued to mine. It took everything to not roll my eyes at the intrusive guard. I had only a few more days before being discharged from this place and wanted no problems with the staff, so I turned back to my mother.
“Look, I’m getting out of here soon. I’ll talk to Miyah then.”
Mama smiled. “You’re right. It’s almost time for you to be released. Can’t wait to have my daughter and granddaughters under one roof.”
“I hope Miyah accepts me back into her life.”
“What are you saying? You’re her mother. She will accept you. If not, you have to figure out a way to be in her life. She needs you!” she exclaimed.
Like I needed you was on the tip of my tongue, but I left it dangling in my mind.
“With all I’ve done, I understand that I will have to build from the beginning. It may take some time, but I’m not forcing anything on Miyah that she doesn’t want,” I announced, more so because I needed to hear myself say it than my mother needed to listen to it. I refused to put my feelings above Miyah’s needs any more than I had already done.
A pained expression wrinkled her beautiful but weathered face. “So, are you saying you'll just stay away if she doesn’t want you around?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I will respect her wishes.” I’d matured to the point where I knew my daughter’s well-being was more important than my feelings. “This is on me, Mama. I got us in this, and I’ll have to figure the best way out.” I glanced away as the realization that I’d been calling her Mama without hesitation dawned on me.
“Thanks, baby girl.”
“No problem. I love my daughter, and I will work as hard as I have to get her to understand that.”
“Thanks for that, too. But what I meant was thanks for calling me Mama. I realize I don’t deserve it, not after telling you to call me Rain all those years ago. Though you hardly called me Rain, I used to despise it when you called me your Mama. Somewhere deep down inside, I didn’t want to be a mother. I wanted my sixteen-year-old life back, the one I lost when I got pregnant with you. I was wrong to put you through that, but I was only thinking about myself.”
“Though you were only a kid yourself, I guess being as wrong as two left shoes runs in our family.” Talk about a generational curse. This one was whipping our asses. “But now you’re projecting your failures and adding them to mine. I’m responsible for what I did, and you’re responsible for what you did,” I told her.
“You’re right.” Mama’s attention landed on Cedric, the oversized guard standing against the mustard-colored walls. I hated this place and every bad-taste fixture in every room. The mustard-colored walls must’ve been a part of the punishment. She tilted her head toward Cedric. “Every time I come here, that big guy is eying you like you’re a piece of ham at Thanksgiving. What’s his deal?”
I tried to shrink in my seat. “I don’t know. He’s looking like we’re over our time limit.” I peered at the old brown clock on the wall. I still had thirty more minutes before visitation hour was over. I turned my attention back to my mother and could have sworn I saw Cedric lick out his fat tongue and slide it along his protruding lips. Shaking that image out of my mind, I added, “He always acts like that.”
“I can’t wait until you get out of here.”
“You think you can’t wait. Well, I really can’t wait to get out of here.” If I wasn’t crazy before I got here, I was damn sure going to be on the brink of insanity before I left.
It wasn’t the therapeutic sessions that bothered me. It wasn’t even the nurses because some were good, genuine people. It was the isolation and not being around people who actually loved me for who I was.
Once upon a time, I had real friends who loved me. The time I had to self-reflect on the events that led to me sitting in a mental institution and knowing I couldn’t change what I’d done only drove me madder.
“I just worry so much about my girls,” my mother said with a sigh. “I worry about you being in here and Miyah being with Titus.”
“I don’t want you to worry about me or Miyah. I’ll be getting out soon, and she’s in the best place for her. Titus loves her, and Monika treats her good. When I get out of here, I have to start from the beginning to build a relationship with her,” I stated out of the necessity to feel at peace with the turns my life had taken.
“I guess you’re right. I just wanted to bring her with me, but you know how Titus is. He didn’t want her to come. He gets on my nerve with his overprotectiveness sometimes.”
“I agree with him, though. I don’t want her to see me like this.” It’d been a year since I last laid eyes on both of my daughters. When Mama mentioned bringing them up here, I begged her not to. She was still convinced that they needed to come to this mental institution for a visit. I wholeheartedly disagreed. I didn’t want my girls to see me like this.
It’d been three hundred and seventy-eight days since I walked out of the courtroom in the custody of Georgia State Psychiatric Services. I had a lot of ground to cover when I was released, but I wanted to cover it when I was free to do so without any inhibitions.
“Look, Mama, when she sees me again, I want her to be proud of me. I don’t want her to see me in some hospital lockup, looking like I’ve just committed a crime. I’m not even going to try to visit her when I get home. Not until I get my shit together.”
Sadness entered my mother’s eyes before they diverged from mine. She looked like she wanted to say something but couldn’t bring herself to form the words.
“See, it’s that right there. That’s the look I don’t want her to have when she sees me. I’m already disappointed in myself. Seeing that look in my daughter’s eyes will break me even more. I know you’re not proud of the things I’ve done. You don’t have to keep pretending that what I’ve done isn't horrible. I know it is.”
Her eyes met mine. “I’m not judging you, and why would I? Who am I to judge? I have done a lot of things I’m not proud of. I just want what’s best for you. Deep down, I always have.”
And deep down, I believed her.
“Well, let’s make a promise. When I get out of here, I will change my life. I will be a good mother to Miyah and Antonia. I will be a better daughter, too.” I wanted to say I would be a better friend, but I didn’t have any friends. Given my history, it would be best to keep it that way. So I focused on a relationship I could fix. “You… we can work on rebuilding what broke between us so many years ago. It’s time to put us back together.”
“Deal. It’s definitely time for that. I will work on being the mother you deserved all those years ago when you needed me the most. Until there is no more breath in my body, I will be right by your side, Rhonda,” she said with thick emotions filling her tone.
My fluttering heart ached. I sucked in a shocked gasp. Those were the words I’d longed to hear her say. The words my soul recognized as a salve to begin the healing process. She was the only woman still in my life—the only woman from my past who still had faith in me. Shayla would never consider me a friend again. Mrs. Janice probably had the same energy. And Gladys wouldn’t spit on me in a fire. At this point, who could blame either of them?
Ready to stop crying over spilled milk, I had to move forward. That meant leaving the F word behind. It would be best if I never had a friend again. Apparently, my F-switch was broken.
“When was the last time you saw Jameson?” Mama asked.
“He visited me Wednesday.”
Mama smiled. “He doesn’t miss a beat, does he?”
I shook my head. “No, he doesn’t. I’m so blessed to have him by my side, though I told him he doesn’t have to wait for me.” A pressured feeling came over my chest at the thought of Jameson moving on with someone else, leaving me to fend for myself.
“Count your blessings, honey, because Jameson is not going anywhere. That man’s eyes light up just at the sound of your name. Nope, not going anywhere. Probably hasn’t even touched himself since you’ve been gone.”
“Mama!” I laughed.
“It’s true.” Her eyes lit up as she began spilling the tea. “Oh, let me tell you about this case he’s working on. This rap-star Marli had two girls at the Zanzabar jumped because they were sleeping with her husband.”
“I didn’t know that. We don’t talk about his work when he comes up here.”
She wiggled her brows. “Uh-huh, that’s because he’s all about you.”
I smiled. “I think I remember Marli. She’s the one who had that Pink Kodak song, who had just come out when I got put in here. I have zero access to social media here. Unless it comes on the six o’clock news, I don’t know what’s happening. But Jameson has her case, huh?”
“Yeah, and he’s already gotten the charges lowered from attempted murder—one of the girls got stabbed and put in the hospital—to accessory to assault. Says he can get all the charges dropped against Marli since she didn’t actually attack the girls, and there’s no proof that she was involved.”
“My guy is good at what he does.” I wasn’t in prison doing the hard time the DA wanted to stick to me because of the way Jameson handled my case. “Listen, I wasn’t going to tell you because I wanted to surprise you when I got home, but I’m being released next week. Jameson told me about the early release Wednesday.”
My mother’s hand flew to her mouth to cover a squeal. “Oh, Rhonda. Are you serious?”
“Yep, I’m going to be a free woman Thursday.”
My mother leaped from her chair like a teenager and rushed around to hug me. She wrapped her arms around me so tight that I could hardly breathe. “I’m so happy for you. You get to start over, have a whole new life!”
We both knew this day would come, but her happiness was contagious.
I smiled. “I’m ready. I’m going to take it one day at a time, but I’m ready.”
She leaned back and looked into my eyes. Her face glowed with the same beauty I admired when I was five. “I’ll be with you every step of the way,” she assured.
She sat down, and the rest of the visit was her catching me up on what was going on on my favorite show, Power. I watched it every week when Mama stayed at my apartment, and she became addicted too. There weren’t many popular shows playing on the TVs at the mental hospital, so I was so far behind on Power. We could only watch the news, game shows, and Court TV. I guessed they figured anything else would be too triggering for women with many different backgrounds and reasons for being here.
“And that damn Tariq and Tasha are the last two people who deserve a spinoff. I can’t stand their asses, and the writer is giving us more of them. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but she lost me. She should have just given us the prequel next. I want to know more about Ghost, Tommy, and Kanin’s actions that led up to Power. Not be forced to watch a series about the two least popular people on the show. Bad decision. I hope the writer and the network make better choices the next time. Until then, I canceled that channel,” she ranted, surprising me with how engrossed she was with the storyline and how upset she was with the writer.
I was tickled. “Mama, you’re too—”
The guard ended my reply by yelling, “Time!”
“…much,” I ended my sentence with a huff. Visiting time was over.
“Dang, that’s a creepy mofo right there. Always acting like this is a prison,” Mama huffed.
I stood to get ready to leave. “In many ways, this is a prison. But I just have four more days, then I’m out of here and never looking back.”
“Yeah.” My mother stood and looked at the guard with a dignified glare, who quickly turned his head in another direction when she made eye contact with him. “Watch that guy there. The vibes I get from him are all bad. It’s just something about him that ain’t right. All these doctors and nurses in here can’t see that one ain’t right in the head?”
“Trust me, I get the same feeling. That’s why I try my best to stay out of his way. Come on.” I walked her to the doorway, where we hugged and said our goodbyes.
“See you at home next weekend, Rhonda!” she said with excitement in her tone.
“I’ll be so happy when I get home.”
“Only a few more days!” she exclaimed as she walked out the door.
I started down the hallway leading to my private room. After six months here, I was given the privilege of my own tiny space. It was much better than sharing a room with another woman battling her own demons.
“So you leaving next week, shorty?” Cedric asked.
Shorty? When the hell did he start calling me shorty?
My stomach tied up in knots. My mother’s repeated cautioning about him rang in my head like alarm bells. I took a moment to really look at him. She was right. He did look mad creepy.
Averting my eyes from his, I let out the breath trapped in my throat. I didn’t want any problems before it was time for me to leave. This guy could make problems for me if he wanted to.
“Yeah, I get out Thursday,” I said softly.
“Maybe we could hook up sometimes before you leave.”
“What do you mean ‘hook up?’”
“I don’t know. Just to hang out. In your room, sometimes after everyone else is asleep.”
I stopped and stared up at Cedric. He was a big guy—more overweight than buff, but he wasn’t bad-looking. If he didn’t carry himself like a creep—and I didn’t have the finest man in Georgia waiting for me to get out of this place—I might have entertained him for a conversation or two. But nah, I was good.
I started walking back toward my room. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I have a boyfriend.”
At least, I hoped I still had one. Jameson came to visit me every week. He still looked at me like I hung the moon and stars. But I wasn’t one to kid myself. Locked up like a loon, I could do nothing for him, and many women were willing to do everything I couldn’t do.
Cedric shadowed me down the hallway. “I seen ol’ boy, the one who come up here every Wednesday. That yo’ man?”
I nodded. “That’s him.”
“Damn, shorty. The pussy gotta be good if he up here like that. You ain’t gave him none in a year, and he still up here sniffing for it. Gotta be good.” His eyes roamed over me, stopping at my center. His thick tongue slithered out of his mouth and ran across his cracked lips, moistening every spot it touched.
Just looking at him was starting to work my last nerve. “What did you just say?” I asked in a raised tone.
“Nothing, shorty. I didn’t say nothing.” He veered to the right down the hall leading to the security office. He walked backward, still checking me out as he retreated. “See you soon, shorty. Very soon.”
There’d always been a cloud of uneasiness in the air when Cedric came near me, but he hadn’t struck up a conversation until right then. And now, I felt the uneasiness tenfold.
I sighed. “Four more days, and I’ll be out of here.”
What do you think will happen between Rhonda and Cedric?