Chapter 1 Preview
Littlerock, California - 2003
I remember Littlerock
I remember thirteen
I remember escaping
The girl sat in the corner reading Roots. She had managed to squeeze herself into the space between an old dresser missing handles and a metal-framed bunk bed that was more rust than blue, with only enough room to turn the pages of her book. This was her safe place.
The house around her sounded like Times Square. The pitter-patter of different-sized feet moved about, each to its own designated area, children preparing for afternoon chores. She should have been part of the chaos, but she was alone in her corner with her book, holding her breath as she turned the page, fearful her foster mother might discover where she was hidden.
As she read the words of Alex Haley, she imagined his book was about her. That Alex Haley was telling her life story. His characters were her ancestors.
The blood drained from her face. Her name sounded like nails on a chalkboard. As the voice got closer, she prayed she wouldn’t be found. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears and was sure the woman dragging her slippers across the floor could hear it too. She was certain today her safe place would be compromised.
The slippers stopped.
The girl listened for movement but heard nothing. Her heart beat faster. Had the woman left? Did she remove her shoes in an attempt to trap her? The girl felt light-headed.
The end of a broom swept frantically back and forth under the bed she was hiding next to. Bitter words spewed like acid from her foster mother’s lips, about how the girl would be broken eventually.
The girl put her hands over her mouth to keep from screaming. The book hit the floor. A tear fell from her eye. She never knew a paperback could make so much noise. Of course the woman heard it. The broom stopped, the woman obviously confused about where the sound had come from. There were no doors on the closet. The only logical place a thirteen-year-old girl could hide was under the bed. What the woman realized was the girl had gone behind it and stuffed herself into this tiny corner.
The girl kept her hands clasped over her mouth, crying silently, hoping the woman would just leave. Instead, the woman called for one of the other children to move the bed. The girl closed her eyes. If she shut them tight enough she’d disappear, safe from the woman’s wrath. A hand grabbed her arm and jerked her out of the corner.
“I’ve had about enough of you! You think you’re better than everyone? You think you can just do what you want to do? You’re useless and stupid, you’ll never be anything.”
The girl stared past the woman, avoiding eye contact, doing her best not to let the hate-filled speech penetrate her heart. She focused on Roots and set her mind on Chicken George, once again imagining that she was with her relatives inside the book and not in the hell that was her foster home.
“This is what you were doing!” the woman yelled as she let the girl’s arm go and reached past her for the book. “You’re always reading! I don’t have you in my house for nothing! You have chores to do! You need to grout the tile! I’ll show you, you’re no better than anyone else.”
The woman grabbed the book by the spine and began ripping it apart, tearing it at the seams.
Every page the woman destroyed felt like a piece of the girl. She cried profusely. The woman was right. There was no use in pretending anyone had written about her. She wasn’t special, the characters weren’t her ancestors, she wasn’t like them, she’d never get free. She was a slave and always would be.