Black Rambo was an expert in coming up with different ways to make ends meet. When things were especially tight, he’d make “soup.”  If you’re a soup fan, don’t you go getting excited on me. Black Rambo would simply empty the contents of whatever leftovers remained in the fridge at the end of the week into a huge pot. Then, he would add cans of mixed vegetables. Finally, he would add tomato sauce or paste and call it soup. The only food us Mays kids despised more was Mom’s liver and onions. Just the thought of that soup makes me cringe.

Back in the day, you ate what your parents cooked- whether you liked it or not! In the Mays household, not only did we have to eat what was cooked, but we had to clear our plates before we could be released from the table. On this particular evening, Black Rambo’s infamous soup was on the menu. We quickly realized that all five of us couldn’t sneak food to Princess, the family dog. So, we would try to sneak food onto one another’s plates while they weren’t looking. Some, out of sheer fear, just powered through the soup to be released from the table. Later that evening, it became apparent who had powered through and who had pawned off their soup. Two of my brothers snuck down to the kitchen and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Forever the hood super sleuth, Black Rambo quickly put the pieces together, and was instantly infuriated.

He called us all downstairs. You see, Black Rambo had a standing policy. If no one confessed, he would beat every last one of us. That way he was sure to get the right one. I braced myself for impact. However, my two younger brothers, Bryant and Russell, were identified as the guilty culprits. I felt a bittersweet mixture of relief from dodging a bullet and an impending sense of dread for the two that were about to catch the wrath of Black Rambo’s fury.  What fresh hell would he pull from his devilish bag of tricks this time? He had so many forms of abuse to choose from, and Black Rambo had mastered them all! He decided that this offense was worthy of a heaping helping of mental and physical abuse.

His kids must have been hungry. I mean why else would they have made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after he had already cooked “soup” and fed them. He was going to make sure that they weren’t hungry! He sat my little brothers at the table and filled up bowls with soup. They had to eat soup until HE got tired! When Black Rambo finished filling up bowls of soup, he started making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They were going to eat soup and sandwiches. Then, they were going to eat some MORE soup and sandwiches. Then, if/when they threw up, they’d get a beating.

This went on for what seemed like FOREVER. Black Rambo hovered over them in the kitchen, just waiting for one of them to slip up. Every few minutes he’d lace the air with one his favorite expletives to keep the pressure on. “Eat it all! Ya trifling sons of bitches! You hungry right?!? Don’t waste none of it! And you betta not cry or I’ll give yo ass something to cry about!” They cry? They catch a beat down. They stop eating? They catch a beat down. They throw up? They catch a beat down. Black Rambo had all bases covered. Bryant was starting to slow down and the tears were welling up in everyone’s eyes. In an unprecedented act of desperation, my older brother, Chris, snuck off to call the police. “Hello, 911? I think there is a disturbance next door. I can hear yelling and crying. Please come quick!” The police arrived shortly thereafter. They had perfect timing, because Bryant was about to hurl. The officers stepped into the hallway leading to the kitchen where my brothers were being held hostage. “We received a call from within the home stating there was a disturbance. They reported yelling and crying.” To our surprise, they didn’t stay long. It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes. “Looks like everything is fine here. We’ll be leaving now. Have a good evening Mr. Mays.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had walked into a house where there was CLEARLY something wrong. Children were scared and crying. They revealed that the call came from within the house. (Police out here snitching ya’ll!) Surely, they had to have known that in cases of domestic violence anonymity is invaluable.

This was a turning point for me as it pertained to my views of the police. We were always told the police were there to help. They were sworn to protect and serve. I did not feel protected. As a matter of fact, they did more harm than good. Due to the officer’s lack of discretion, Black Rambo knew that one of us had called the police. Somebody was going to have to pay for that. It wouldn’t be the police. Officer “there’s nothing to see here” had left the building without serving. They didn’t protect us from Black Rambo. We were not safe.

Comments (8)
  1. I love you and thank you for doing what is often taboo in black families/communities. Identifying abuse and the complexity of its nature with regard to family.

  2. my maternal aunt abandoned her children. I realize though too that generational trauma is made more visible in poverty and economic disenfranchisement. the stories of neglect and violence on my maternal side reach back to my great grand mother.
    the only person I knew to be solid, was my father. never hit me. never yelled at me. was the ONLY adult whoever apologized to me.

    • Truer words have not been spoken as it pertains to abuse being generational. After he passed, I learned all manner of things about the environment in which my father was raised in. It goes back to his mother and even before him. I can honestly see how he turned out the way he did, and unfortunately how it was passed on to us.

      • I was fortunate the paradox and contradiction presented didnt sit well with me. and by the time my father passed I was definitely seeking and getting more support from him and my sister.
        but this complicated love and violence dynamic can stunt and in some cases cripple the way in which we see the world.

        Gaslighting in the black community is on par or even beyond that of White Supremacy writ large.
        I’ve done cursory research on certain questions and too having more than a cursory reading into slave narratives very clear trends appear with regard to love and discipline.

        I am who I am because I remember a moment on the south side of my mothers “rage and regret” or intermittent explosive disorder.
        and I knew while I loved her I never wanted to be her and that I wouldn’t be her.
        I was maybe 3-4 yrs old.

        that is what marks me, I remember shit, I can’t. not remember even with the demands of my mother or community to accept the gaslighting that my memories are somehow false.
        Memories of Roseland the good and the bad.

        Why I studied the humanities is partly due to a want to grasp things.

        but shit…. Colorism? Check. Misandry? Check. And so Anti Blackness? Double Check.

        as a student of philosophy; Critical Race/Post Colonial Theory and Black Feminism Theory, these tools as well as learning about boycotting to support South Africa as a kid informed me to really grasp what Colonialism is and thus our placement.

        When Africa is placed into history a lot is discovered and I think too where healing is found.

  3. Wow….. We do not use the word “ABUSE” in the black household. We sweep it under the rug and suffer in silence. Thank you for calling what it is.

    • Oh God forbid! Don’t air your dirty laundry. Don’t put your family business out in the street. What happens in house, stays in house. Those days are over! I’m free! Talking about the abuse has helped tremendously!

  4. What a powerful testimony and testament to the strength God has given you. You could be angry and bitter, but for His grace. I work with abused and traumatized children daily, and know firsthand how difficult it is to get them to trust adults and to be vulnerable enough to love and receive love. As for the police, even today some do not follow protocol with regards to D/V. Our society still does not place enough value on the lives of children. Thank you using your voice to share your horrible truth.

  5. Wow! Thank you for sharing, and for your transparency. This walk of life is no solo journey, and it helps a GREAT deal for people to know they are not alone. They are not isolated. You are indeed light in darkness Sis! Bless you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *