Excerpt from Driftwood Chapter 2: Trauma Porn. Age 12.
Context: The story of how I landed in foster care is Layered. It’s the story of generational trauma, bad government policies, and women escaping abusive men only to find themselves in a different kind of struggle for survival thanks to a government that was more interested in painting them as welfare queens than abuse survivors. The tail end of this layered saga finds me back at my grandmother’s home in Indiana in the summer of 1996 for my last stint with my extended biological family.
I didn’t have to worry about being back at my Grandma’s too long. I don’t remember if it was the same day or a few days later, but I swear I was unpacking my bags when I heard a commotion in my grandma’s living room. I thought (kinda hoped) my grandma had a stroke or something. When I ran out my room, I found my Grandma, Aunts May and Joana, Uncle Darnell, and a few others surrounding the tv watching the news. Their mouths aghast. On the TV was my Grampa Joey, laying on the ground with a gun to his head, holding himself hostage.
He was in a park or something. I’m not sure, I remember there being a lot of grass. He was screaming “I want to talk to my kids” and “I’m not going to jail!” Over the next few hours, the news covered the story. I think someone said he had an 8-hour standoff, but I am pretty sure it was closer to two or three. At some point, he was pacing back and forth. Screaming “I just want to talk to my kids” and begging the cops to let him talk to his kids. I remember my aunts screaming at the TV “where is the hostage negotiator?” I guess they didn’t need one since he was his own hostage.
You see, my Grampa Joey had moved to Wisconsin or Minnesota, whichever one of those upper mid-west states famous for poor diets, football, and angry white people. He ran off to there with some woman maybe a few days before. Before that, he had just made his return to the Kingdom Hall. He’d long since been disfellowshipped (kind of like being shunned). He would come to every service and just sit in the back, listening. No one would/could talk to him. I remember looking back to him and seeing him sitting there stoically contemplating what was being said in the sermons. I thought he was going to rejoin the fellowship, find some peace with his life.
Maybe he was just trying to get back with my grandmother since Grampa Dan was now in prison and Grandma Andie and my diabetic step-Grampa just got divorced… probably cause he couldn’t stomach being the side-nigga in his own marriage. All competition out of the picture, this would have been the perfect time for Grandpa Joey to make his move. From everything I was told about him, he never recovered from my grandma leaving him. Like one of those “I’ll be heartbroken for life” scenarios.
I thought that like me, Grampa Joey was trying to find his way to her favor being a good Jehovah’s Witness during this brief window. I don’t know for sure. But if that was it, it didn’t work. Next thing I know I was hearing stories about him running off with some woman he’d just met. A woman who earlier that day he killed.
The story I heard was she tried to rob him at knifepoint to take the three grand that he brought with them when they moved. She pulled a knife, he pulled a gun, and he shot her. Of course, the other side of the story is that he had gotten abusive and killed her when she tried to leave. I’m sure both stories are true. I mean if you’re gonna leave a guy who started knocking you around after you just moved to a new state, you’re probably going to need some money.
The stand-off lasted hours. The whole time Joey was begging to talk to his children. He said over and over “please, just let me talk to my kids!” My aunt Joana was on the phone with the police department trying to get the cops to let her through to her father. They didn’t. He asked for some water. The cops refused. Then, Grandpa Joey gave up.
He pointed the gun at the cops, then lowered it, then held it in the air and screamed. Then put it back to his head before he threw the gun on the ground. Then what sounded like the entire police department opened fire. It took a second for the news to switch off the feed and for a brief moment I saw my Grampa being pumped full of led. My aunt May grabbed me and held my face to her chest trying to keep me from seeing it… but I saw it.
Given the circumstances, I am not exactly sure why the media subsequently bombarded my family with calls. We even got a call from Oprah’s team. I mean at the end of the day, the narrative was that an abusive man murdered his girlfriend and then held the police on a standoff which ended when he pointed the gun at them. I do want to repeat, he wasn’t shot till he dropped the gun…but that wasn’t the official narrative that was spread all over the news. There wasn’t even an “unarmed black man fatally shot by police” narrative to sell.
Had my family taken the media up on their offers to talk, maybe they could have spun the narrative. Emphasized that he was mentally ill and they had no one trained there to handle the crisis as it unfolded. That he was denied water and a chance to call his kids. That he was acting in self-defense. But they (at least my Grandma and her kids) declined to talk to anyone. More than likely because they felt the stories we were hearing didn’t match the Grampa Joey that they knew.
I am positive that despite all the murmurs about the woman he killed being on drugs and possibly having gotten him strung out (my Grampa Joey was a lot of things, a junkie isn’t one of them) that deep down they all felt that he just snapped, killed a woman, and that was the be all and end-all of the story.
Maybe this was the first sign of my abnormal response to the loss of human life. I knew I should feel something, but I didn’t. At the funeral, everyone was wailing and crying. I just sat there, frustrated. Pissed off at the show people were putting on. First and foremost, at the fact that his family gave him a Baptist funeral. Talking about how he was in heaven and blah blah blah. Joey was a Witness. He wasn’t in heaven. At best he was just dead and one day he would be resurrected to inherit paradise. Why couldn’t they respect his beliefs?
Secondly, he was a woman beater and an alleged child molester. He wasn’t going to go to paradise, I mean it wasn’t my place to judge but if I was going to place a bet on who I would see in the new Garden of Eden he wouldn’t be on that list.
Then there was the woman putting on some serious theatrics screaming “Why Why Why Jesus? Take me! Take me Jesus, Oh LOWD, take me instead.” I think she was his sister or something (I don’t know I wasn’t too familiar with his side of the family). She really irritated me. I kept thinking that she knew damn well that if Jesus walked through that door to took her up on her offer that she’d be like “My bad Jesus. You know on second thought I’ll just stay here, you can go on and take him.”
Even my aunt May, who he allegedly molested, was crying. I couldn’t comprehend how she could cry over someone who molested her, beat her mom, and spent years terrorizing her and her siblings with relentless beatings. Then I figured that if even she was crying, there wasn’t something wrong with everyone else, there was something wrong with me.
Outside the funeral, it felt like everybody’s eyes were on me, so I mustered up every ounce of my acting ability to fake cry. This landed me being grabbed in a tight bear hug by May’s husband, Larry—another woman beater. The irony of being comforted by a woman beater who was probably going to end up killing my aunt at the funeral of my woman beating Grandfather who had just killed someone wasn’t lost on me.
My mom and Uncle Aundre, aka Little Andy, drove up from Atlanta for the funeral. It was actually already planned for them to come up and get me, but Joes death hastened the trip. When I was released from Charter Beacon without even so much as a prescription for Prozac, my grandma had enough.
I was crazy goddamnit, no matter what the shrinks said. Grandma told my mom that she had to take me back, that she wasn’t going to put up with my crazy ass anymore, especially since she never signed on to take me in the first place. The morning of the funeral, my grandma Andie told me that I was never allowed back in her house. To not even call her again ‘till I was 18. That was fine by me.
That evening I hopped in the car with my mom and uncle Aundre and headed back to Atlanta. Still not wanted. My mom said something along the lines of how I better not fuck up this time, I don’t remember the exact words. Whatever she said, it caused her brother to snap at her and tell her that I was just a kid who just lost my grandfather and that she needed to leave me alone.
That was the first, last, and only time Little Andy ever stood up for me in any kind of uncle-fashion. It was kind of ironic. Cause it was his refusal to be an uncle, a brother, or even a decent person after my mom helped him move to Atlanta and took care of him while he got on his feet that was is what led to my mom making a decision to take help from a “kind” daycare teacher who offered to help my mom with childcare. That ultimately lead to the saga of a barren, under cover “black debutante” legally kidnapping my baby sister which ultimately landed me in foster care.