Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Valley of the Shadow

Image from www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
by Armonti Norris

As I finished brushing my teeth, I heard, “Armonti, Armonti.” My baby sister was calling my name. I rolled my eyes and continued to rinse out my mouth. Reaching to turn off the water, my ear twitched as her cry filled the house.  She ran downstairs. The house quieted. I spit into the sink. 

I tasted trouble. “Armonti.” This time the voice was deeper and stronger. I slowly stepped down the stairs as my sister ascended. Before I had a chance to speak, I heard my father’s mashed-together syllables. His face turned blood red. The veins on his neck and face pulsated. Foam began to build around his mouth while he spoke. A lot of it hit my face. The feel of the spit on my skin alone informed me that this was serious.

I opened my mouth to speak, but he stepped towards me, swinging one of those heavy hands at my chin. Without hesitation, I blocked his fist with my forearm. Our eyes grew wide, neither one of us believed what I did. Those heavy hands slammed me to the cold hard wood floor. As we tussled on the floor, we ended at a stand still. Those heavy hands wrapped around my neck, while my smaller hands wrapped around his. I barely heard his voice.

“Let go of my throat.”

“Not until you let go of mine.” 

I lost air. We let go at the same time.

“You think you’re a man? Well , there’s only room for one man in this house!” Those heavy hands gripped my body again and tossed me outside as the door slammed shut.

The crushing sound of the door faded as the crickets began chirping. Cold winds blew against my skin. No shirt covered my chest, no shoes protected my feet, not even a hat sat on my head. Only the dark navy blue shorts I normally slept in covered my fourteen-year-old body. I reached deep into my pockets, hoping to retrieve any amount of cash. I didn’t even have pocket lint.

I walked a straight path from my former home. Puddles of water were left from the rain earlier that day. I couldn’t see them, but my bare feet got soaked. I spotted a bench close by and sat for a moment. I kept reiterating to myself as I sat on the wet bench, “I will survive on my own. I don’t need anyone. I am a man.” But, damn, it was cold.  Water trickled down my legs from puddles left on the bench.  I got up to continue my walk.

As the night grew darker, the barks began.  I flinched. Although I didn’t have any words for my father at the moment, I remember hearing quotes from the Bible he would always say. I wasn’t the most religious person in the world, but who really is at fourteen. At this point, I couldn’t turn anywhere else. The barks grew louder. I began to repeat, “As I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I shall fear no evil because the Lord is with me.” I didn’t know if I quoted that right. I wouldn’t even know where to find it in the Bible, if its even in there, but that night it drowned out the barks.

As I spoke my misquoted scripture, I reached the corner of East Montague Avenue and Upjohn Road.  Gun shells lay on the cold wet concrete. Gun smoke filled my nostrils.  I could almost taste it. I lifted my head towards the sky, “Jesus,” was the only name that passed my lips. 

The head lights to my brother Anthony’s van shined against my back. I turned, relieved.  I crept slowly to the van, opened the door, sat down in the passenger seat, looked in his eyes and nodded slowly.

Anthony drove us to a close by gas station. Did Jesus cover me with his loving arms of protection or was I just fortunate that Anthony showed up when he did? It didn't matter to me then.  He bought me a cream soda and filled up his tank.

“Are you ready to talk to the fat man?”

“Naw, I just need a moment.”

Anthony drove back to our neighborhood and parked at Park Circle. We sat and talked about, God only can remember what, but I remember that I smiled and released the tension I carried throughout my walk.

The minute I felt relaxed, blue lights flashed across the worn-out van. One officer walked to Anthony’s window and the other walked up to mine. They gave us the normal speech cops normally give when they pull someone over. Then, they asked us to step out of the car.

“What are you two doing out this late?”

“We’re just two brothers out talking.”

The officer looked at my half-naked body and muddy feet; the other officer searched us, and then the van. 

“Well, we stopped you because there were reports of gun shots around this area. Its best if you brothers go home.” 

We nodded and jumped into the van and drove home without any other words.

The silence didn’t bother me much. I thought of what my father might say or do when I walked in. I tasted his harsh words before he even spoke. Those heavy hands wrapped around my throat before they reached for my throat. My heart pounded faster the closer we got to our house.

We pulled up to the house and walked in the front door. My father sat waiting at the top step. We all looked into each others baggy eyes and nodded simultaneously. We each went in separate directions. I went directly to my bed. I glanced up at the ceiling:

“I walked through the shadow of the valley of death and I feared no evil because the Lord was always with me.” 

I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep at home where I belonged.


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