Red lights break the darkness inside and outside.
They storm through the door. Rip through her shirt. Shock. Thump. Shock. Thump.
Speeding down a highway. Breaking through doors. Lying on a bed.
The blood. The blood. My god, the blood.
She’s gone. My baby. She’s gone! Someone grabs me. My mind goes blank.
I don’t remember the first days that followed, but I do remember that one. Charity, god — her name hurts too much to say. My baby came home from school with her face weighed down. That boyfriend of hers had broken her heart again the way he always did before they made up. She didn’t want to talk about it. We went to my mom’s house the way we always did, or at least the way we always tried, on days when her joints wouldn’t let her go to Bible study.
“What’s wrong with you, child?” Mom asked.
“Nothing, Gumma,” my baby said.
“Don’t tell me a story. I can see your face.”
It was true. Mom could see her face in a way I couldn’t. My baby would open up to her in those times when she didn’t want to share her pain with me. I had enough pain to carry, she always said. I didn’t need to carry hers. I told her not to worry about me, that my shoulders could carry plenty more just fine. Working two jobs and her daddy leaving us had not made them any weaker. My baby would tell me okay and then continue carrying her own weight.
But Mom could see her face.
“Child, look at me. There ain’t nothing you can’t tell me that I ain’t lived.”
“Gumma, what do you know about texting?”
“I may not know how to do what you do with them phones, but texting’s just words. What did someone say to you?”
She looked away.
“What did he say to you?”
“This ain’t got nothing to do with him, Gumma.”
“Don’t nobody else make you look like that.”
She sighed in that way she would never try with me but Mom let her get away with.
“He says he loves me. If he loves me, then why is he always trippin’ over something somebody else said? Someone says holding my hand makes him look like a punk so then we start having to sneak. They say carrying my books make him look whipped, so he stopped. They say this, he does that. But why doesn’t he do what I say?”
“Maybe he doesn’t love you, baby.”
“But he does.”
“This is why I don’t like bringing him up. You don’t know what he says to me. You don’t know what’s in his heart.”
“I know boys who think they ready to be men but don’t know how. How do you think you got here, child?”
My baby looked at me, her eyes still angry, but softened.
“Your daddy said stuff to your mama, too. But he wasn’t ready to be a man. Your mama was just like you. Now I’m glad she was because knowing you is one of the best things that done ever happened to the both of us, but it took a lot of struggle to get you here. Do you want to struggle like that?”
My baby couldn’t look Mom in the eyes.
“I’m not saying he’s all bad, child. But if you stick with him, he’s going to make you struggle.”
The walk home was quiet. Mom reached my baby someplace deep in her chest. I could see it in the way she breathed. The air around her weighed heavy.
I unlocked the front door and she went about the work of setting the table for our dinner. I reheated the leftover lasanga from the night before.
We began our meal in silence. I wanted to speak, but what Mom said had hit me too. My baby and I had discussed her daddy plenty, but never so frankly. How did she see him now? How did she see me?
An engine roared somewhere down the street. Boys either racing from someplace or to someplace, with nowhere else better to be. Only this time there was a pop.
The sounds startled me, but when I turned around, there was nothing to see. When I looked back, my baby was staring down at her plate with wide eyes.
“What is it, baby?”
But she had no words. There was a red hole in her chest.
Ever since that day, there’s been a deeper one in mine.
There’s a hole in my memory, too. I don’t know what happened after that final beep. But my body remembers. When my fridge door beeps after being open too long, my heart tightens up. The smell of lasagna sends me into freefall. Even visiting my Mom is hard, though she is the only thing keeping my feet on the ground. It’s not that I need her, though I do, it’s that she needs me. I need to be needed. Because in those walls that once felt like home, there’s no longer anyone to call my name.
They found the bullet hole in the wall by my front door.
They found the gun that put it there.
They also found the boys. I knew them. They liked to play ball in the court by our house. They were around my baby’s age. The one who pulled the trigger had served me chicken he grilled himself at a church cookout several years back.
I knew his mama. She hated guns. Did her best to keep them out of her house.
“Why did you have it?” I asked him, staring through the glass.
Protection, he said to me. He wanted to be safe. The other boys around had guns. He needed to be ready for when they started something with him.
“Did you…” I tried, but my throat faught the words. “Did you know Charity?”
He nodded and turned away. He didn’t want me to see him cry.
“I know Trey, too,” he said, speaking of that boy of hers. “He came here the other day saying I should have let them kill me. I told him that after what happened, I wish I did.”
He looked back at me, looking even younger than he was.
“I know my words don’t mean much,” he continued. “But I’m so sorry. So so sorry.”
I didn’t say it, but I forgave him then. What he saw instead was me stand up and walk away. I needed time before my body would let me speak again.
But I came back. I came back to visit him every month. I still do. That gun took my baby’s life and it has taken most of his. I have to help him hold on to what’s left.
His mama’s heart already has a hole like mine.