Story: Coming Out Alive
October 16, 2020
To be with God and the church was what I had imagined my life to be until I died. But I was young and I didn’t know what to do to get back to God or the church. It was not my choice to give up either; it seems there are so many elements in life that work hand in hand. Being told if you are not part of one element, you are automatically no longer a part of the other. That was a painful one.
Let’s take the Church Element. Church was all I knew. However, it was at a young age that I decided how my life would be. One decision I had made found me restricted from the fellowships I was told you had to be a part of getting to Heaven. You understood those declarations from the pulpit proclaiming that you had to do this and that to make it to Heaven. If you changed your life and leadership didn’t agree, they would stand at the front door of their church and say “You can't come here anymore”. This causes me to wonder if they overlooked the often quoted statement that beckoned “come as you are” that I had read in my bible.
Down through the years, I’d learned that the unconditional love of people doesn’t mean the same as God’s unconditional love. This helped me realize why many people remain in unhappy places. They could not live under the weight of their decisions to leave when others pressured them to remain. Somehow, I resolve this wasn’t God’s design, at least not for me.
When you are standing on the outside of the church looking in and convinced you can’t get to Him, you choose paths, you wouldn’t have ever imagined… ever. My current path had many people on their knees praying for my wretched soul.
“Listen baby, I’m getting ready to make a significant climb up in the organization and I need you to be ready to move with me.” When your man is a gangster and announces he’s preparing a monumental move up in the business, you never know precisely what that means for him and specifically for you. My man was not telling me this for a response. He merely needed me to know some changes were about to take place in our lives. Changes I would have to agree to regardless of what I thought.
I sat in my car the next day during my lunch hour, struggling to figure how I was going to separate my life away from his. I thought back to an earlier evening while relaxing together, I’d expressed to him, “I’m tired of this lifestyle and was making some other decisions with my life.” He rubbed my hand and without saying a word left the room. I was staring out the window at the sunset when I felt something cold press against my temple. “Ok, baby, what were you saying,” he calmly asked. Where do you find words, any words to say, with a gun pressed against your temple? With tears rolling down both our cheeks, I responded, “I love you.” “You realize I can’t let you leave, I need you,” he said with his voice breaking and the hand with the gun shaking. For a moment time stopped. “I love you”, I repeated. He slowly put the gun down. “That’s all I ever want to hear from you, do you understand”, he whispered in my ear? “Yes, honey, I understand” was my response
Love was all he wanted from me and what I wanted from him was to feel safe. Little did he know I didn’t know what love was despite the words that issued from my mouth? He wasn’t receiving love from me. What this also meant was he didn’t realize what love was. If he did, he would have known that those words he wanted to hear had no genuine emotion to back them up. I suppose this was one of those situations where actions spoke louder than words. I had looked at enough television and movies to learn what a man thought he needed and I made certain my man got it, if only symbolically.
So as I sat there in my car, I knew I had to find a way out. Thankfully my man and I didn’t live together, because his life was unpredictable. There were occasions I hid in the closet or under the bed when someone was at the door, not knowing if it was friend or possible foe. He was the boss of many, which made him the enemy for many people. Depending who was on the other side of that door would dictate if I stayed visible or if I needed to locate a hiding place immediately.
While at his place one evening he got a call that one of his “boys” was dropping by with some important news. When my man opened the door, I perceived they had business to discuss and left them alone. In the kitchen I remained close enough to the door to listen to the conversation. When it seemed my legs would give way from the weight of what I was hearing, I went to the back deck and sat down.
When you live far from the lights of the city, you can see the stars at night. It was these stars I focused on hoping to quiet the agitation in my soul. What I had overheard was my man’s movement up in business was to become a part of an organization. A more powerful group was expanding their territory to our city. They needed a “lieutenant” who was already engrained in the city. What I realized about these guys he was becoming connected with was if you messed up they don’t kill you. They make an example of the person closest to you to let you know they mean business and you better handle it correct the next time… and for him I was the closest person.
Life had taken so many turns for me I could not think straight. On my current job, I knew I was drinking too much when I started buying miniatures and taking them to work. My best friend at work always knew when she saw a Coca-Cola can on my desk what was going on, because I always drank orange soda. There were six of us in the file room where I worked. No other employees in the building came in the file area. They dropped anything they needed filed in a tray outside the door. The six of us were a close-knit group and we watched out for each other. We never knew what condition any of us would be in when we showed up to work each day. This made it essential for us to show up for work each day for each other.
The quietest one in our group had surrendered her voice to domestic violence and hardly spoke above a whisper. She remained in that situation because her husband had threatened to take their children. He told her he would move some place she couldn’t find them. One morning when she arrived at work more bruised than normal, we all put our money together to purchase some makeup so we could cover her injuries. She said when the fighting started she ran out the house. But her husband came out behind her, continuing the beating. Her relief came when she saw two of the neighbors running over and dragged him off her to help her. Once they got them back in the house one neighbor said to her husband to keep this mess inside and they left. She stated she thought her husband was going to kill her after that, because he said she embarrassed him in front of their neighbors.
We all had our stories. I didn’t talk a lot about my personal anguish, because when your boyfriend is a gangster it kind of speaks for itself. But they sensed something at this moment was wrong. My man was raised in one of the roughest neighborhoods in his city. He told me he had no clue what love was while he was growing up. Both parents were on drugs and his father “pimped” his mother out when money was low to keep them both high. When his mother fell in love with one of her tricks and wanted to get clean, his father killed both her and her lover. His dad died in prison of lung cancer. He claimed I was the first woman he had met and that he wanted to give this love thing a shot. My home life had been loveless also, but for different reasons.
The first time I was at a club I went with a co-worker from another job where I had worked briefly. I’d never had tasted any alcoholic drinks, so I ordered what my friend ordered. While sitting there and enjoying the band I noticed a waitress trying to clear out an occupied table where about five or six individuals were sitting. They appeared not to want to move. I asked our waiter what was going on as the people at the table started getting loud. He replied that table was a special place where one of their regulars preferred to sit. They finally cleared the table after the owner came over and offered free drinks to the group for the rest of the evening.
Our waiter nodded towards the front door and a man dressed in all white was standing there with a woman on each arm. He had to be the most handsome man I had ever seen. A table for six now occupied by three, yet this man's presence filled the entire table. The waiter enjoyed giving us further information about this man every time he came to our table. He was a pimp and when he came to the club with ladies; he was letting the patrons know what new women were in his stable.
About an hour after Mr. Pimp’s arrival (the name I gave him) another woman entered and the two women got up promptly and went to the bar area. I signaled for our waiter to find out what had just happen. He strolled over to our table, laughing. “What just happen?” I inquired. “That’s his woman, and she doesn’t play. She lets him have his toys and fun that comes with it because it pays for the lifestyle she demands.” Now that is ridiculous, I thought to myself. Then the waiter continued, “She also knows she is safe with him. She can go anywhere and don’t have to fear anything.” It was then I knew this was what I was searching for; security, not love. This news was what put me on the path I was now on.
It’s strange how our choices can draw us to places in life you never imagined. I was a church girl on my way to heaven and within the matter of a few years I was a gangster’s woman on my road to hell. My man was not a pimp, stating he never was interested in its lifestyle.
One lady in the file room was throwing a birthday celebration for herself and invited all of us. Normally we did not see each other on the weekends. When I got to the party, the music was so loud you had to yell when speaking. Liquor was everywhere and so were the drugs, all free. My man had trained me well in what I should do when he was not with me. “Ok, baby, when you walk in find out if there is a back door and know how to get to it quickly. Then scan the apartment every thirty minutes, if things don’t look right to leave. Always sit facing the door. Drink nothing that you didn’t open or fix yourself. If you put your drink down for any reason, leave it. When you park make sure you back into the parking space in case you have to leave in a hurry. Got it”! “Yes, honey, I got it”.
Walking in the apartment, I knew there was no back door, but checked each bedroom to see how the windows were situated. After being there for two hours, I noticed that a man sitting on the sofa staring at the door. I realized that he had been in that position since I arrived. Instinct told me to leave.
As I was driving out of the apartment complex two police cars were driving in. Monday I found out my co-worker’s neighbors had called the police because of the loud noise. The first rule of any apartment party was to make sure you invited your neighbors. When the police told everyone the party was over, the man on the sofa didn’t move. This had not gone unnoticed, and when one policeman when over and pulled him, the man fell to the floor. My friend said the whole time he was sitting there they thought he was just high, but he was dead. It seems he bought his own drugs to the party and the joints he smoked had embalming fluid mixed in. The police called for backup and they took everyone to the police station.
My life had become confusing. I wanted to pray but had been told God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayers. If this were true, I wondered how a sinner got to God when they wanted to change. I wanted to come back to church, but the gatekeepers had certain stipulations. They weren’t bible based stipulations; these were their rules, not God’s. I realized that when people make alcohol and drugs their best friend, it really was not their first choice often. But the result is that they were blocked from their first choice because of others rules.
“Baby, I want us to look at some houses this weekend; I have already spoken to a realtor.” When I didn’t respond he asked, “Baby, did you hear me?” What I realized in that moment was that you don’t have to be drowning to see your whole life flash before your eyes. “Yes, honey, I heard you” I said. My stomach was turning as I realize he had made a decision that we were going to live together.
One evening while returning home from an after hour jazz spot we became engaged in a conversation. We had ridden with another couple and it was his friend that was driving. As we conversed the dialog became heated. “Honey, I can’t do this”, I continued to say. The friend who was driving turned the music up and honestly fear gripped me. Was this an attempt to drown out the argument or to cover up what could happen next? The discussion continued. “I don’t understand what you mean, can’t do what?” “It's time we go our separate way, your life is taking a turn with people that scare me”. “Baby, I will let nothing happen to you”. “I know you wouldn’t, but this group you are getting mixed up with is bad, terrible. We can talk about it later”, I said as we stopped in front of my place. “No, there is nothing to talk about later”, he responded. “Well, I’ve decided,” I said getting out the car closing the door.
When I heard the car door open and close behind me, instinct said run and I did. As I opened my front door we both fell in and hit the floor. We both were on the floor fighting for our lives, I was fighting for my life and he was fighting to keep me in his life. I didn’t see anger in his eyes as he picked me up and threw me against the wall. As he knocked me back to the floor the last thing I thought I heard was him crying. I must have blacked out, because I was now staring out the open front door and it was daylight.
As I got up and was closing the door, two neighborhood guys were passing by and saw me. “Hell, babe, what happen to you,” one asked”? Sometimes you really don’t know what you have let into your inner being until a situation arises that you have to call it forth. “Hey man, can you get me a gun,” I asked. “Sure, I’ll be back, get yourself cleaned up” was all he said.
I found out the guys that hung on the street corner can be your best allies, especially when you have declared war. Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, I realized this was their home. They protected what they considered their territory.
My man had beaten the hell out of me and something in me snapped. This could never happen again, my protector was now my enemy. I could not even know how this day that had just started would end. I would learn later that when I exited the car the night before his buddy who was driving said to him, “If you don’t know how to control your woman, how do you expect to handle business.” Of course he was referring to their upcoming venture in expanding their business.
Within an hour a knock came on my door. “Come on in,” I yelled out. “Ok, baby, you know how to use one of these” he said handing me the gun. “I will as soon as you tell me and you will tell me”, I said with a tone of stern defiance, with a voice I had never heard. “Ok, this is simple”, he responded. With a quick lesson, I finished getting dressed and headed out. When I walked out of my house and turned to head for my car. It shocked me to see there were about 20 guys standing there looking at me. “I rounded up some guys and we are going with you” was all I heard before I broke down and realized for the first time in a long time I had not cried.
Standing there staring into their eyes, I knew they meant business. Neighborhood guys going up against organized gangsters were not what I wanted. I didn’t think the odds were good for either side. After a moment I thanked them and told them this was my fight and I couldn’t live with myself if any of them got hurt. “Ok. Babe, I will check on you later” my neighbor said.
Instinct told me it was a front my neighbor was putting up, because when I drove off I felt I wasn’t alone. In my mind I was already on my way to jail for killing this man. Something inside of me had snapped. I had no God, no man and now no me, because even though I came to from his beating, I had died inside.
After going to a couple places I knew my man might be, the word got to him I was looking for him. I got the word from a friend he had left the state. Later, I realized he left to keep from killing me or to make sure none of his boys killed me. What he didn’t know I died the moment he hit me.
It seemed night had come, so I decided to just park for a while and think. When I looked to my left, I was in front of one of those store-front churches. A sign on the outside read “Chicken and Fish Dinners for Sale”. When I walked in the church the major part was empty. I could hear people talking in the back where the dinners were being sold. I sat close to the front door and just stared at a picture of Jesus hanging on the cross in the pulpit.
Never comparing the pain between us, I wanted to hang my head and die too if it would cause me to not feel this pain. So deep in my thoughts I didn’t know someone had sat down beside me until I heard her say, “He loves you”. My irrational thinking went straight to my man because, never considering she was talking about Jesus. I looked at her and said, “I have to kill him” and pulled out the gun. She said, “honey child, I am talking about God loving you”. I don’t know if she started praying because I broke out in laughter or because I scared her so badly with the gun.
I had never in my life heard anyone pray like she prayed. She turned and looked at me,” you may not understand this now, but God loves you, he wants you back. He has a plan for your life. The person you want to kill, his death will take you down a horrible path, please don’t do it. The consequent will be more than you can imagine.”
After getting into my car and watching this lady walking down the street, I closed my eyes and rehearsed the words she said to me “God loves you”. She was right; the consequences for killing someone would come with a penalty I would not have wanted to pay. Some months later, I was told that my ex had come back into the city to get set up. One of his rival who wanted his place had bought in some heavy weights from another state. They found him and a female shot to death in his new home.
I didn’t start back going to church right away. When I did I heard about God’s unconditional love. It blew me away to know I didn’t have to do anything for God to love me, he just did. It freed me to learn the “Grace” of God blesses us despite our unworthiness. Listening to these messages of God broke up the hard places within me. They had to break. I wanted to make sure God’s love got inside.
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