Authors: Stacy Campbell
Mental illness can be a topic that is swept under the rug, especially when it comes to family. Such is the case with Antoinette “Toni” Williamson, who deserts her mother for decades while living and promoting the lie that she is deceased. When the truth is splattered on the front page of the local newspaper that her mom's actually institutionalized, Toni's life in Atlanta begins to crumble. It affects her design business and her relationship with her fiancÃ©, Lamonte, and she flees to her hometown of Sparta, Georgia for comfort. However, there she discovers more secrets await her and meets challenges once she reconnects with her mother.
Stacy spent summers in Georgia listening to stories told by relatives on her porch, and now she creates her own provocative tale told through the eyes of Toni. Readers will enjoy a connection with the main character and her family members in this bittersweet journey that sheds light on mental health.
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This book is dedicated to Sparta, Georgia. Without you, there would be no stories, fond memories, or history. To all my teachers from Head Start through college who endured my fantastical dreams and interesting ways, thank you. There is a special place in heaven for you. Also to my furry friends Marcus Kinchlow and the late Lady Marie Williams, your presence provided a great source of inspiration. Finally, to my late childhood neighbor, Mrs. Elizabeth Carr. Thanks for always asking about me and inspiring me to keep writing.
“Let's face it; everyone in life is passing for something.”
âWoodrow Guill, Sparta, Georgia
Clayton Kenneth Myles is my father. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Well, Clay and his partner, Russell Morris. They are two of many factors that always made me the odd girl. The one with two dads. The one with the rickety family tree.
Clayton whisked me to Atlanta on my ninth birthday; April Fool's Day in 1984. I'd made a yellow cake in my Easy Bake oven, and before I could lick the milk chocolate frosting from my fingers, Aunt Mavis told me to go outside and play in a tire swing until my ride came. She joined me a few minutes later in the opposite swing, wearing her white nurse's uniform.
We smiled at each other and she said, “Hard decisions have deep consequences.” She stood and gave me a tight hug. “This will make sense when you get older. We're doing this because we love you.”
A speeding, shiny, black Chrysler Laser interrupted my “What do you mean?” The car topped the hill with a plume of smoky dust chasing its fender. The car skidded to a halt, and out jumped Cousin Clayton, a high school English teacher and the family grammarian. Tall, pencil-thin, and rubbing an immaculate goatee, he looked at us, his dark eyes misty from crying.
“Honey, have you heard the news?” he asked Mavis.
“Cousin, Marvin Gaye is dead! His father shot him in the chest earlier today. The grapevineâno pun intendedâis saying he was strung out on cocaine and spending hours watching porn videos in his bedroom. He was wearing a maroon bathrobe he'd had on for days. He was convinced someone was going to kill him. I told Russell something wasn't right when we went to Marvin's last concert, but he wouldn't confirm or deny anything,” said Clayton, peppering the rehash with sweeping hand gestures. His purple, short-sleeved cotton dress shirt and tie were soaked, as if he'd run a marathon, and his black slacks were equally wet. Clayton and Georgia heat were archenemies.
“Oh my,” said Mavis, clutching her chest. “What a waste of talent. I bet Russ and the other sound engineers are devastated. I know how you love your entertainers and how much you love Russ's studio stories.” She gave him a suspicious gaze. “Do you remember the terms of our agreement?”
He eyed me swinging. Her words had jolted him back to the purpose of his visit, his mission. “We have her room decorated in pink and white.” To me, he said, “You're going to love your canopy bed and dolls. I found some beautiful dolls on my last trip to India. It makes no sense for a little black girl to be in love with those hideous, pug-faced Cabbage Patch Kids.”
Mavis grabbed Clayton's arm and they walked near the hydrangeas. I eavesdropped, caught fragmented utterances floating in the air. Georgia Mental Hospital. Paranoid Schizophrenia. Mall episode. Long recovery. As they leaned into each other, they stole glances at me and shook their heads in pity.
Mama was home one day, gone the next. I knew she wasn't dead. Death always ushered in visitors, fried chicken, potato salad, and a slew of relatives who only appeared for funerals or when spoils were divided.
“Toni, go inside and get your suitcase,” said Aunt Mavis. “You're going to Atlanta to stay with Cousin Clayton a few months. You'll be back in time for school in September.”
“What about my classes?”
“Clayton pulled some strings. You'll be in a magnet school until June.”
I peeled my body from the swing and ran to my room. My jelly shoes squeaked and a small breeze lifted my sundress. I zipped my packed suitcase and thought of my older sister, Willa. Last year, Mama sent her to live with our aunts, Norlyza and Carrie Bell. After making me test the food Willa prepared, Mama said she was poisoning our food with arsenic and d-CON pellets. I stepped onto the porch, suitcase in my left hand, Dream Skater doll in my right. I tiptoed into the middle of the adults' conversation.
Clayton looked at Mavis. “So when is Greta coming home?”
“It'll be a while. Raymond and I have to nurse her back to health again. We can't keep her at the house, so she's at the hospital. She's flushing her meds down the toilet.”
“Do you think the episode had something to do with the divorce?”
“Hard to say. You know Greta has blue genes,” said Mavis, winking at Clayton.
“Blue genes, indeed,” he said.
“Mama has lots of blue jeans,” I added. “I want the picture of her in the tank top and Lee jeans. I loved the checkered dress I wore. Daddy was grinning and Mama had that half-smile on her face. I sat between them on the motorcycle in that picture. Remember, Aunt Mavis?”
“How could I forget? That particular cookout is one of the happiest recollections of my brother before heâ¦” Her voice trailed off with the memory.
“What a cute suitcase,” said Clayton, lightening the mood. I followed him as he placed it in the backseat.
Aunt Mavis tightened my ponytail holder and hugged me again as I sat in the car. She closed my door and made Clayton promise to call her when we arrived in Atlanta. Clayton pulled down a pair of Ray-Bans from his sun visor. I caressed Dream Skater's hair.
“You ready, Antoinette?”
“Yes, sir. I'm ready.”
“Don't be nervous. This is temporary until your mother gets better. You're with family, so there's nothing to fear.”
“I'm not scared. I'm excited.”
“That's the spirit.”
He slid a bubble wrap container in my lap.
“What is this?” I opened the container and flipped the cassette tape over twice. It read
“Our little secret. Russ smuggled this out of the studio. Sent it two weeks ago when he was out in L.A. doing studio work on Marvin's latest album. Personally, I don't think this little ditty will see the light of day now that he's gone, but we get to hear it before the rest of the world.”
With that, he plopped in a cassette and we drove away listening to Marvin Gaye extol the sanctified lady saving her thing for Jesus. We became a dynamic duo that day, Wonder Twins passing for straight and sane, heading to Atlanta munching honey-roasted peanuts and drinking ice-cold Coca-Colas.
“Every morning I wake up clothed and in my right mind, I feel all right.”
âLillian Stanton, Sparta, Georgia
hrees. It always comes in threes. How else can I explain my fiancÃ©, Lamonte, knocking on my backdoor, my cell ringing repeatedly, and a slew of reporters standing on my front lawn at seven in the morning? I'm not cut out for this. Not on a regular day and certainly not the morning of my engagement party.
“Baby, let me in,” says Lamonte.
His voice is so sexy he can talk the habit off a nun. I crack the backdoor open and my heart melts when I see him. During the spring and summer months, Lamonte ditches his suits in favor of starched collared shirts, chinos, and spit-shined oxfords. He holds my gaze, not showing any emotion.