I trusted my father to always do the right thing because he constantly barked at my sister and me about how hard he was working for us to have a good home, go to good schools, go to college, etc. My father was the first Black man ever hired at Western Electric in their managerial program. He did a lot of good, helping other Black folks get jobs, being the President of the NAACP chapter, and integrating the Kiwanis and Lions civic organizations.
In hindsight, though, there were signs I shouldn’t have trusted him as much as I did. He was of the generation of men who did not cry and were not affectionate with their family. From the time I was four years old, I knew that he and my mother didn’t have a very loving relationship.
When I was five, I remember being awakened by a huge fight they had one night. They were yelling at each other, and she grabbed a giant glass ashtray and tried to smash him in his head with it, but he ducked and it wound up smashing on the fireplace.
Another time, I remember coming home after a trip to Philly to see my mother’s family and finding a comb under the bed with blonde hair in it. I hid it from my mother.
As a teenager, I would discover just how untrustworthy he was. And what an asshole he was.
It was May 2nd, 1988 — a day that started off really great and ended up really shitty.
It was my mother’s birthday, and I celebrated her all day.
I made her breakfast that morning.
I got my 8th grade class to sign a giant card I made her.
I baked her a birthday cake in Home Ec.
A few of my best friends came home with me and surprised her with balloons and gifts and sang for her. It was fantastic — she was so happy!
Later that night, I went to my “best friend in the whole, wide world” Erin McGinley’s house for a party. Before my mom took me to Erin’s, she dropped my younger sister Addye off at her best friend’s house, Toni. My sister was going to spend the weekend there, and she was excited about it. She was eight. A skinny little thing with a sweet smile. My “rotten kid sister” whom I love so much.
My father was working the late shift that night, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. He left around 8:30 so he could get dinner on campus before he started working. Everything seemed normal.
Mom dropped me off at Erin’s around eight. I kissed her and my sister goodbye and ran through the open garage and into the house. I helped Erin carry her album collection downstairs to her living room, and we spilled them out all over the shag rug where we would all be hanging out. Other kids started to arrive. We were laughing, playing games, and having a great time.
About two hours later, my mother called. Mrs. McGinley called me to the phone.
“Crystal it’s your mother, something is wrong with your father…”
She handed me the phone.
“Crystal, get your things and meet me at the bottom of the driveway, I’m coming to get you – we’re gonna get your father. I’m picking up your sister right now.”
“What?!? Is he okay? Mom, what is…”
“JUST GET YOUR THINGS AND GET DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE DRIVEWAY! I WILL BE THERE IN TEN MINUTES!”
Erin ran over to me, her long, shiny brown ponytails swaying with a big smile, “Hey, we’re singing along to your favorite Monkees song!”
She looked at me, and her smile disappeared after she saw my face. I was in shock. My mother NEVER yelled at me, EVER!
“What’s wrong? You look like you saw a ghost!”
Mrs. McGinley walked over with my stuff. I heard a blaring car horn.
“I gotta go.” I shrugged my shoulders and welled up with tears. Erin and her mother hugged me hard. I turned and headed for the garage.
I could see my mother careening down the street until she screeched to a halt in front of the house.
I got to the “shotgun side” and looked in the backseat. My sister was half asleep and crying.
Mom rolled the window down and yelled “HURRY UP AND GET IN!”
I opened the door, jumped in the seat, and slammed it shut.
“Mom, what is going on?”
“We are going to get your father.” She was seething and shaking — I’d never seen her like that before.
“At the hospital?”
She stomped her foot on the gas and we took off like a jet.
My mother was speeding at 80 mph, which she NEVER did. I was freaking out, and my sister was crying and dazed in the back seat.
“MOM, WHERE ARE WE GOING?” I screamed right in her face. We were on the local highway now, speeding off into the night. She just sat there.
“I said, we are getting your father.”
“Are we going to the hospital? Where is he? Is he dead? WHAAAT?!?”
We pass by my junior high school. I looked at the dashboard and saw it was 11:30.
Suddenly, we took an off ramp and swerved around to the Allenwood Motel. My bus passed by it every day. The sign for it never lit up properly, and the logo was straight out of the ’60s – a big owl with bugged out eyes, dingy opaque white plastic. It was a creepy little spot semi-hidden by tall pine trees where truckers stayed. What the HELL are we doing here OhMyGod.
Mom turned the headlights out, and I could barely see…and then I saw it. A white TR-7 parked in front of one of the rooms.
That’s my father’s car. In a motel. What the fuck.
I looked at her. Her eyes were red, and her face was streaked with tears.
“Here he is.”
She turned the lights back on, aimed right at the room. She flicked on the high beams and then LAID ON THE HORN.
Lights flickered on in other rooms. I saw silhouettes of people pulling back curtains.
She yelled out of her window, “COME OUT HERE NOW, YOU MOTHERFUCKER! I BROUGHT YOUR DAUGHTERS TO SEE YOU, WHO YOU REALLY ARE!”
I was gobsmacked. I opened the door and stepped out of the car.
I see a tall shadow at the window. It was my father all right.
He’s pulling his pants up, and then I see a short female figure run up to the window before going to the door and opening it.
IT’S A YOUNG WHITE GIRL!
IN HER UNDERWEAR!
I’m frozen. Then I open the back door and try to calm my sister down. She’s scared to death and sobbing.
Mom opens her door and stands there, leaning on the horn.
“GET OUT HERE YOU SON OF A BITCH, YOUR DAUGHTERS ARE HERE TO SEE YOU!”
People started emerging from their rooms, looking shocked.
I saw my father in a motel room with a young White girl.
What the fuck did I just see, a mirage?
“Crystal, GO GET THE MANAGER!”
“What? The manager? WHY?”
“JUST GO GET HIM!”
I wrapped my sister tightly in her sleeping bag and laid her down on the floor. I got out of the car, locked her door and shut it. Then I walked around the back of the car and saw mom lean down and reach under her seat…and pull out a gun.
“MOM, WHAT THE FUCK!”
I ran around the car, grabbed the gun and threw it back in the car. It landed on the floor in the front passenger side. She started yelling again, “BERNARD ISAAC DURANT, GET OUT HERE RIGHT NOW!”
All of a sudden, my father dashed out the door for his car. He was eight shades of ash, his shirt open, tie flying around his neck with his jacket under his arm. His work clothes. He was supposed to be at work. Oh my god, his face, like a vampire just drained him. He froze for a moment. “JESUS CHRIST, JOYCE, WHY DID YOU BRING THE KIDS?”
“BECAUSE I WANTED THEM TO LEARN A LESSON — THEY CAN’T TRUST THEIR FATHER!”
He continued for the car, fumbled with the keys. Mom yelled, “GET IN THE CAR!”
He finally got in, started the engine, and began to back out of the parking space, peeling out like a Fast And Furious driver. We jumped back in the Cadillac and the engine ROARED.
Jesus, her and the fucking horn.
My father started to pull out of the lot, but his lights weren’t on and he was swerving to not hit any cars — and then THE GIRL SPRINTED FROM THE ROOM, RAN UP TO HIS WINDOW, AND STARTED BANGING ON IT!
Her skirt was slung low, her shirt totally open, blue sneakers, I could see her bra, and she had other things balled up in her arms.
“HEY, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HERE, HOW WILL I GET HOME?!?”
He slowed down because she was holding on to the door handle.
“MY MOTHER IS GONNA KILL ME, TAKE ME BACK HOME, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HERE!”
I took a good long look at her. She looked like she was in college, a little over five feet tall, very fair with long red hair, like a girl you’d see stomping around in an Irish Day Parade or in an Irish Spring commercial. Squeaky clean. Irish Catholic. She looked like she was 18 or so. Holy shit.
She had freckles. She kept screaming hysterically at my father to stop the car while he drove in a tight circle, finally with his lights on. She kept dropping stuff and picking it up and yelling.
This went on for about a minute. Then he stopped the car, she got in the passenger side, and he spun out, almost rolling the car.
HE LET HER IN THE FUCKING CAR. IS HE REALLY GOING TO DRIVE HER HOME?
It was a fucking nightmare.
“Mom, where the hell did you get a gun?”
“Never mind…we’re gonna follow your father and that little bitch to her house!”
She smashed on the gas and we went flying out of the lot, right on his tail — she flicked on the high beams.
My father ended up cheating on my mother throughout their marriage. During a time when my mother was sick, my father was off cavorting with other women. Eventually, she died of a heart attack, they were still married at the time, believe it or not. But karma is a bitch — in the end she left him bankrupt. My relationship with my father never survived that moment and ultimately fucked up most of my trust issues with men. And after a decade on the couch, and chalking all of this up to experience, I’ve learned to recognize red flags that have kept me from dating men like my father.
Family photo of Crystal with her mother, father and sister. (Image courtesy of the author)