Same Sins Separate Paths (Chapter 2)
by Anthony J. Mungin
Chapter 2 (Paps' Demons)
PAPS HAD BEEN AGGRAVATED for months. The United States was brewing a war in the Middle East and was drafting people again. They were desperately seeking willing participants, even people Paps' age. In the aftermath of Libya’s hijacking of a TWA airliner that summer, the U.S. sought to take action to avenge the obliteration.
Paps said Vietnam spilled more blood from po' folks than any other massacre in history. The way he saw it, a war with Libya was likely to produce the same or worse results. Non-supporters of the war insisted that Reagan had some unfinished business with Kadafi.
“Reag’n otta' go han’l it em's elf or leave wel’nough alone” Paps would say.
Paps had always opposed the war and he further opposed more blacks' participation in war. Reflecting back on the Vietnam blood bath occurring two decades earlier, Paps insisted that a lot more blacks were killed than white folks because the white folks found ways out of the system. He did not believe the United States had any call meddling in another country’s affairs either. He thought bloodshed was needless. Especially, his own.
“Ah ain't goin'. Shee'it, Libya ain’t done a damn thing to me,” I heard him telling Aretha.
“Well, you ratha' sit up in some jail cell, you go right ahead,” she blurted back.
“Well, I’d “ratha’" sit in a jail cell till I rot as to go fight some otha' man’s battles.”
“Ennis Titus Wilcox,” Aretha said, “you is a damn fool!”
I could always tell when Aretha had gotten fed up with Pap's nonsense because she’d call him by his full given name, taking care to enunciate the first, middle, and last.
She continued, “And you ain’t settin’ no kinda examp’l for yo boys.” Paps could always bring a quick end to a discussion he no longer wanted to continue. So he responded by demanding, “Look here wom’n, you need ta curb yo Gawd damn tongue. How good’a x'ampl' is'um gonna be if I ain’t livin’?”
Pap’s style of closure also consisted of him giving a speech in rapid fire like a machine gun. He’d go on and on about how the U.S. had been sleeping with the dogs for a long time and when the U.S. woke up with fleas, he’d say, “Dangonit, it all’a sudden wanna bomb the livin’ daylights outta anutha’country cause it been infest’d.”
He’d go on insisting that he wanted no part in it and asserting that his decision to not participate in the U.S./Libya’s mess was not going to make or break the outcome.
PAPS WAS MARINATING IN HIS DEFIANCE the day he received his draft papers in the mail telling him to report to Fort Jackson, S.C. He was supposed to ship out with the 114th Army division to fight in the Libyan conflict but he thumbed his nose and acted as if the document were just another worthless piece of propaganda.
Paps stubbornly remained a draft dodger, and consequently, he was put in jail following his failure to report within the required time--ten days. Being locked up mattered none to him, however, because according to Paps, he was standing up for what he believed.
“I gats rights too,” he’d say. “Why is um gon’go far off and fight some otha’ man’s war when ma own freedom right hur'at home ain’t bein’ pa’surb?”
Luckily, a few months into his doing time, a jail doc discovered that Paps was afflicted with a bad heart murmur that was sure to be exacerbated by the stress of battle. So after about four months of being locked up, and with the help of an eager law intern, Paps was returned home.
I reasoned that Pap’s resistance must have stemmed from a genuine fear of being brought home in a body bag. Maybe he had unfinished business and did not want to risk gaining closure for the sake of dying on foreign soil.
I suspected the open items on Paps' agenda involved doing better by his family, changing people’s perceptions of the kind of man he was. And I gather there were unhealed wounds left over from his own father who abused his mother and drove her to an early grave.
At last, there was this unclosed matter that I knew grated on Paps' nerves. I would hear him make little innuendos about how, for the longest time it looked like he could not produce children. At just the moment he had become content about his probable sterility, Aretha pops up pregnant, with Sexton.
Sexton was born on the same day as madman Adolph Hitler – April 20th – but in 1971 just over a decade before the onset of the conflict between the U.S. and Libya.
I was two years Sexton’s junior, and my birth date was the same as the world-renowned Justice Thurgood Marshall –July 2nd. I was destined for greatness. Marshall was a mentor to me and did not even know it. If truth be told, my first thoughts of becoming a lawyer came from watching excerpts of Marshall's courtroom technique.
In any event, whatever the unfinished business was for Paps, it left him with a hole in his soul that no amount of liquor or anger could fill. Truth be told, Paps was harder on Sexton than me. For some time, I didn’t quite understand why, other than hearing his never ending tirades that must have begun shortly after Sexton’s conception and continued well beyond my setting foot into this world. Listening to him fighting with Aretha at times about how he wasn’t quite sure that Sexton was his child had even made somewhat of a doubter of me.
“Aretha,” he said, “I was off working for all of fo’ mont's and you mean ta tell me, dat not a full mont’ afta' I come home, you knocked up? It don’t add up!”
There was a moment of silence in the front room during which I imagine Aretha's legendary stare was eating Paps alive. Then, she let him have it.
“You be ver' careful a'what you acusin' me of Ennis Titus Wilcox. I bin nothin’ but a good wom’n to you. Put up wit yo’ mess, yo’ drunkenness, and yo’ womanizin'. You be careful that it ain’t cause a'yo’ own guilt dat you acusin' me.”
All Aretha had to do was remind Paps of his own shortcomings and for a while that seemed to temper his tone. But, it still didn’t give him cause to treat Sexton any better. Paps found excuses to pulverize Sexton. He had come quite accustomed to referring to Sexton as the “illegitimate son.”
Paps was stern and overbearing where Sexton was concerned. On the other hand, I got away with murder. I was his prized possession and he had no doubt that I was the product of a seed he had planted.
I remember the brutal catastrophe that took place in the early morning of one particular school day. It was not the only time Paps would go berserk and show his true colors. But, his display that morning was as pronounced as the earthquake’s shaking of Mexico, and as hell-bent as the volcanic eruptions in Colombia that same year. Paps' rampage, while it left none dead, seemed to follow the same pattern of destruction.
Both Sexton and I had overslept. Day was just breaking and I was in deep slumber and a daze about Misty Sinclair who caught my eyes the previous day. As far as I could see it, Sinclair had redefined the standards for beauty. But what fuelled my launch into puppy love had more to do with her bright smile that was so radiant it could bring light to a world of darkness.
My dreams were interrupted when I was awakened to the sound of a belt painfully slapping bare skin -- “Whap! Whap!”--followed by the intrusion of the bright, bedroom lights. Then, Pap’s thunderous voice penetrated the once quiet room.
“Git yo’ li'l arse' outta' dat bed!” he barked. “You worthless piece of shit! It’s damn nar’ sevin a clock!” I heard no crying from Sexton. He was defiant to the end and just would not bawl. He’d only back talk.
“You betta stop! Leave me alone,” he’d demand.
“Oh, you gon sass me?" Paps said. “Ah em’ tha only man in dis house!”
“You ain’t my daddy!” Sexton shot back.
Hearing this, I looked over at Sexton. I feared for his life. Shaking my head, I gestured with a facial expression for him to shut his trap and do as Paps' asked. It was no secret, Pap's reservations about whether Sexton was legitimately his son. The comment would only serve to Sexton’s detriment. But it was too late.
“Why you li'l son-of a-“ Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap!
Probably, the only thing that saved Sexton that morning was Aretha bursting into the room and grabbing the belt from Paps, who had it cocked and ready to deliver yet another brutal lick.
“Ennis Titus Wilcox, have you los’ yo mind!?" At this, Paps quickly spun around to see whom it was that had intruded upon his raining down terror. Like a man possessed, he swung the belt-less hand stopping just short of connecting with an upper cut to Aretha’s nose.
With utter contempt and terror-ridden eyes, he stared distastefully into Aretha’s soul for a quick second or two, and then--as if ashamed by his actions--he departed our presence, just as quickly as he came.