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This was the start of one of the most horrifying experiences of my life, other than life in the orphanage. I cannot remember ever being kicked, slapped or beaten as much by anyone, as I was by my step-grandparents.
One of them would try to scare me almost every night by coming into my bedroom with a flashlight switched on inside a bag that covered their head. They would shake me awake and then move to the end of my bed. There they would stand saying over and over in a scary voice, "Youuuuuu are Crazzzzzzy, Youuuuuu are Crazzzzzzy.”
I would sit in their living room and listen to them telling everyone who came to visit that I was mentally retarded. They would say I should be dumped off in the middle of the night at The Sunnyland Training Center for retarded children. They would say they did not know how to do it legally, because I was not related by blood and they could not afford to do it on their own.
I barely remember my grandma taking me across the street to the Dixieland Elementary School in Lakeland, Florida to talk with a teacher. I remember them talking and I overheard my grandma telling the teacher, "Now, Mrs. Harrell, you don't have to teach this child to read. He is feeble minded and all I want you to do is sign a paper saying that he can't learn. Then we will put him in the Sunnyland Training Center."
After my grandma left the school, I remember Mrs. Harrell putting her arm around me and saying that she was going to teach me to read, even if it killed her.
"That really gets my back up," she said as she walked back to her desk to get the papers to give me an IQ test.
The test said to move the marker down to the thing that makes music. I did not know what it was, so I asked Mrs. Harrell. She told me it was a test and she could not help me. However, she told me that she would show me the answer after the test was over. When the test was complete, she showed me that the answer was a "Grand Piano."
I looked at her, straight in the eye and said, "Just how do you expect me to know that, when I have never seen one?"
Mrs. Harrell grabbed me out of my chair, picked me up and hugged me as hard as she could. She looked at me and said, "Not only are you not retarded, but you are very, very smart."
The next day, Mrs. Harrell started teaching me to read and within a week she said, "I was reading handily," whatever that means. She let me take a book home after school, because I loved to read. When I entered the house and told grandma I could read, she grabbed the book out of my hands and began slapping me across the face as hard as she could. Finally, I fell down because she was hitting me so hard. Then she grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me across the rock road to the school building. I was screaming at the top of my lungs, because my legs were being cut on the hard pavement.
When we reached the school building, my arms, back and stomach were bleeding. She had also dragged me 40 feet down the sidewalk in front of the school. Grandma immediately started yelling at all the teachers, as well as at Mrs. Harrell, who just stood there smiling at me.
"You just hate that boy, don't you?" hollered Mrs. Harrell as she grabbed me by the hand.
"He will not be back to this damn school!" yelled grandma as she snatched me back from Mrs. Harrell.
When we got back over to our house, grandma beat me with a fly swatter out on the porch. When we entered the house, she snatched me by the arm, grabbed the leather strap and beat me lying across a kitchen chair. Then she made me go to the bedroom and go to bed for the rest of the day. All she kept saying the entire time was, "I thought I told you to keep your damn mouth closed, you little Indian bastard!"
The next morning, I looked out the front door at the children going into the schoolhouse. I wanted to see my friend Mrs. Harrell, ‘cause she liked me and I liked her.’ I walked out the screen door and crossed the street to see Mrs. Harrell. When everyone was gone, I went to play on the merry-go-round located on the schoolyard. All at once, my grandma came running across the street swinging the leather strap over her head. She was acting all crazy like. She began hitting me across the face and back. I started yelling and screaming as loud as I could. I remember running and trying to crawl on my hands and knees to get underneath the steel bars of the merry-go-round. I didn’t want that strap to hit me in the face, ‘cause I was already really sore on my back.’
She finally stopped the merry-go-round with her hands; my grandpa ran over, grabbed me by the ears and picked me up off the ground. Boy! That hurt bad too. Grandma came running around the merry-go-round and began hitting me with the leather strap as hard as she could. She was still acting sort of crazy. I tried to run, but grandpa would not let go of my ears. They beat me from the school grounds all the way to our house.
Two or three of the women from the school came running out and started yelling at my big fat grandma.
"You stop beating on that child, before you kill him," yelled one of the teachers.
Another female teacher called my grandma “a snake.” She told her she was going to call the police and have her arrested. Then the teacher ran back toward the school building.
After the three of us got inside the house, grandma told my grandpa to take my pants off, because I had wet myself during the beating. He grabbed me and threw me to the ground, placing his foot on my neck. Then he started ripping off my shorts. As he was tearing off my pants, he yelled at my granny, "Bring the damn leather strap. He done shit his pants!"
I guess I had messed myself when they beat me over by the merry-go-round, but I didn't mean to. Grandma hit me several times across the back and then on my head. She then took the pants and started rubbing the mess in my face. After that, they took me over to the sink and rinsed me off some, and next we went out on the ‘pickle porch.’ There, they hosed me off with cold water.
About an hour later, the police showed up and began to question my granny and papa about what the school had told them. The police told them that they wanted to see me “right now.” They wanted to make sure I was all right. My granny told the police officer that I was asleep and asked if they could come back later.
One of the police officers began walking from room to room trying to find me, but I was nowhere in the house. When one of the police officers found me, I was standing out in the back yard totally naked, with black and blue marks all over my body. Both of my little arms stretched upwards toward the sky - holding my pants up to the sun so that they would dry.
"Son," said the police officer.
I turned my head toward the man and tried to say, "Can you help me? I’m tired and I’m scared a little bit," but no words came out of my mouth. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not talk.
“This boy is seriously hurt,” he said to the other policeman.
The police officers wrapped me in a wool blanket and took me to the big hospital in the police car. Several days later, I was taken to the Rose Keller Home Orphanage.
When I was 29 years old, I developed cancer and the doctor told me that I had less than six months to live. I sold everything that I owned and went searching for the two people who had done that to me. After months of looking, I found both of them in Florida.
All by myself, I slowly walked up to where they were resting side by side. I looked down at their graves and I shook my head back and forth. Then I wiped the tears from my eyes, slowly turned around and walked away. That was the end of that.