When Angel Wesley was growing up, she couldn’t wait to get out of her mother’s house. They didn’t get along at all. Ms. Wesley had given birth to Angel when she was only fourteen— young and dumb. The one smart thing she had done was stop at one child. As a result, Angel was the sole victim of her mother’s lifestyle: an unwed, drug-addicted welfare recipient who lived in the projects.

As a young girl, Angel didn’t know what was going on with her mother. All she knew was what she told her, “Girl, das yo’ uncle” or “I need my medicine. I’m sick,” but as she matured, Angel learned her mother’s true weaknesses— men and drugs. She vowed not to follow in her footsteps.

Instead it was her goal to become a successful black woman. At the age of thirteen, Angel began to focus on making good grades, and she earned money by babysitting kids in the neighborhood. To enhance her appearance, Angel bartered services with Cathy, the bootlegged hairdresser who styled her hair, and for fashion, she shopped the clearance racks at low-cost clothing stores. Angel wasn’t stupid. Before she spent a dime, she would stash half of her money so her mother wouldn’t take it. No matter how much Angel voluntarily gave, Ms. Wesley always wanted more. If things didn’t go her way, Ms. Wesley would pout and make negative comments to Angel about her clothes or hairstyles. Angel learned not to let her mother’s cruel words get the best of her. She related Ms. Wesley’s spiteful ways to jealousy because she’d grown to be the tall, fine brown sugar her mother used to be, only Angel had ambition.

With all the years of drug use, Ms. Wesley looked nothing like the pictures Angel saw in her photo albums. Her once beautiful skin was a couple of shades darker, her hair was thin and stringy, her curvaceous hips were narrow and shapeless, and her once pretty and thick bowed legs had become so thin there was barely enough meat to cover the bone. She looked horrible, and it broke Angel’s heart because the pictures testified to her mother’s hidden beauty. However, making suggestions to change her lifestyle only made things worse.

As she got older, Angel began to despise her mother, almost to the point of hate. All of Ms. Wesley’s friends were drug addicts, alcoholics, or both, and Angel was forced to tolerate their ridiculous behavior. What she hated most were her mother’s numerous boyfriends. The only one who lasted more than a minute was Bobby Anderson who eventually moved in with them, and Angel’s environment went from bad to worse. One day Angel came home from school and witnessed something she would never forget. Bobby injected something in her mother’s arm that caused Ms. Wesley to pass out. A horrifying feeling engulfed Angel as she watched Ms. Wesley’s eyes roll in the back of her head. When her mother’s limp body collapsed to the floor, Angel thought Bobby had killed her. She let out a piercing scream as she dropped her books and darted across the room. Angel fell to her knees and tugged on her mother’s arm. “Mama, Mama,” she bellowed. Ms. Wesley didn’t respond. Tears streamed down Angel’s face as she lightly slapped her mother’s cheek. “Wake up, Mama. Please wake up.”

A few seconds later, Ms. Wesley coughed and gasped for air.

“Get away from her,” Bobby yelled with a raised hand, preparing to hit her.

Angel looked at him with disgust before she stood and ran into her bedroom. She sat on the bed trying to understand why her mother used drugs. Her thoughts immediately went to Bobby. He was a monster in her eyes, but Ms. Wesley was always too high to see it.

One night, Angel heard them arguing in her mother’s bedroom. They’re at it again, she thought. They would get high, argue, then have loud and wild sex as if she weren’t there. After the arguing stopped, the sex began. This was the norm. Along with the sounds of the squeaking bed and the headboard banging against the wall, came Bobby’s shouts: “What’s my name? Whose is it?”

Angel rolled her eyes with disgust. She failed to understand how her mother could be so insensitive.

Finally, when everything was quiet, Angel drifted off to sleep. Then suddenly, she was awakened by a hissing sound. Before Angel could figure out what was going on, her wrists were quickly bound by what turned out to be duct tape. Angel screamed loudly and fiercely, but no one came to her rescue. She violently and viciously swung her bound arms and kicked her legs, but in the end, she was overpowered. In desperation, Angel cried out, “Somebody, please help me.”

That was when a raspy, whispery voice said, “Just relax, little lady.”

“No,” Angel raved. “Please, please don’t do this.”

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” the male voice said before placing duct tape over her mouth and straddling Angel’s body.

“Please, no. Mama, help me. Please help me,” Angel babbled to no avail. She squirmed and mumbled. Angel’s mind raced. “Who is this? Where’s Mama? Mama, Mama,” she cried. Again, there was no response.

Seconds later, Angel’s panties were torn from her body. The man pushed his shorts down to his knees, and without saying a word, he lowered himself on top of her, forcing his way between her legs. He lifted Angel’s nightgown and began groping her small breasts. Angel continued to cry out, hoping and praying he would stop.

The attacker fondled Angel’s vagina before he selfishly tried to penetrate her virgin barrier, but Angel continued to fight. With every inch of her strength, she tried desperately to resist him by turning from side to side and kicking her legs. After the numerous attempts to penetrate her, Angel’s bottom throbbed horribly. “No,” she cried. “Please stop.”

“Shhh, don’t be afraid,” was the attacker’s pathetic response as he continued to poke.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Angel’s attacker gave up. He mumbled profane words as he awkwardly stood and pulled his shorts up from around his knees. At that moment, the light through the window revealed his identity. It was Bobby. You sorry piece of shit, Angel thought as she glared at him with evil eyes and shook with anger.

“Angel, dis gon’ be our li’l secret, understand?” he said in an intimidating bark. “You betta not tell nobody ’bout dis. Do you hear me?”

Angel never responded. She couldn’t believe Bobby tried to rape her while her mother lay in the next room. Between him and her mother’s other boyfriends she’d gotten used to the accidental touches, but Bobby had crossed the line.

Through tear filled-eyes, Angel watched in disbelief as Bobby staggered out of her room. Still angry, she clumsily raised her bound hands to her mouth to remove the duct tape. Using her teeth and some maneuvering of her arms, she eventually removed the tape from her wrists. Once free, Angel fell to her side and wept bitterly. She was furious. “Weren’t mothers supposed to protect their children? She hated Ms. Wesley. She hated Bobby.” Her thoughts, the salty taste of her tears, and an aching heart were the last things she remembered before drifting off to sleep.

Before long, the morning came, and with it was Ms. Wesley’s rage. She jarred Angel from a peaceful sleep when she began pounding on her bedroom door at eight AM. “Angel, get yo’ ass outta that bed,” she yelled. “All you wanna do is stay cooped up in that room. It’s too much shit to be done ’round here. Get yo’ ass up.”

Angel became nauseous at the sound of her mother’s voice. She slowly pulled herself out of bed, and before she could finish getting dressed, Ms. Wesley was banging on the door again. “Angellllll,” she screamed, “I know you heard me. If I have to call you again, I know something. I’m not playing with you.”

Angel rolled her eyes and shook her head. She felt helpless. Angel sat on her bed with her face cupped in her hands and cried, “Why? Why me?” She fell to her side and assumed the fetal position.

“Angel Monique, open this damn door, right now,” Ms. Wesley continued. She began to count. “Ten, nine, eight, seven.”

Reluctantly, Angel got up. She wiped the tears from her face and opened the door.

Ms. Wesley immediately started in on her. “What in the hell is wrong with you? Get out here and clean up this damn house.”

“Yes, ma’am,” was all Angel could muster. Half dressed, she shuffled past her mother.

“Move like you got a purpose, girl. You walking like you got something stuck up ya behind.”

Angel took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. On her way to the kitchen, she scanned the apartment, hoping not to see Bobby. When she realized he wasn’t there, she was somewhat relieved. Following her mother’s directions, Angel began to clean the house, but all the while she was in and out of the bathroom vomiting. As soon as she finished cleaning, she returned to her bedroom and crawled back into bed.

As Angel lay on her back looking up at the ceiling, tears fell from the corners of her eyes. The realities of her life saddened her. She had so many unanswered questions. The most baffling of all was the reason for her mother’s bitterness. Although Angel had no clue what the root of her mother’s problems were, she tried to understand Ms. Wesley’s pain. Angel knew her grandparents were killed in an automobile accident, so at the age of fifteen her mother was left to raise a child alone while still a child herself, without motherly or fatherly advice, a husband, or any support from Angel’s father. She also knew her mother, was an only child, so she had no brothers or sisters to lean on. Angel could easily understand how either of those things could have affected her mother, but what she couldn’t understand was why she became the enemy. Angel made conscious efforts to be a good daughter, but it meant nothing because what she didn’t know was the extent of her mother’s rage. Angel didn’t know her mother’s dark secrets or her grandparents’ promise to rear her as their own, as her mother’s sister.

Later that afternoon, Ms. Wesley was yelling again. “Angel, get in here and cook something. Yo’ daddy’ll be home soon,” she bellowed out from the living room.

“Daddy? He ain’t my damn daddy,” Angel mumbled as she opened her bedroom door. She walked down the hall to the living room where she saw her mother lounging on the couch. “Mama, why I gotta cook?” she asked.

Ms. Wesley sat straight up. With a pointed finger she yelled, “Girl, if you don’t get yo’ ass in there and rattle them pots, we goin’ have problems up in here taday. I said cook, so cook. That’s it. Don’t question me. I’m the mama and you the child.”

Angel stood staring at her mother.

“Is there a problem?” Ms. Wesley asked. She got up and walked over to Angel. “Do you have something to say to me?”

Tears rolled from Angel’s eyes and down her cheeks as she struggled to speak. “Yes, I do, Mama,” she finally said. “If I tell you what happened to me, will you believe me?”

“Will I believe you? What kinda question is that? Why wouldn’t I believe you, Angel?”

“Because I know how you are, Mama.”

“Have I been that bad?” Ms. Wesley asked with a look of sincerity.

Angel’s eyes widened for a brief moment because it seemed as if her mother really cared. She was at a loss for words.

“Look, I don’t have time for games. Either you goin’ tell me or you ain’t,” Ms. Wesley said, snapping Angel out of her sympathetic coma. “Now— she looked directly in Angel’s eyes— “I asked you a question. Have I been that bad?”

Angel was afraid to respond. She knew if she told the truth, her mother would hit her, so they stood staring at each other.

“I know one thing, yo’ ass better not be pregnant. You’ve been in and out of that baffroom all mornin’,” Ms. Wesley snapped. She began pacing the floor. “If it ain’t one thing wit’ chu, it’s another.”

“I can’t wait until I’m old enough to get a real job, so I can get out of your house,” Angel mumbled.

“Oh, so you wanna be grown, huh?”

“No, ma’am,” Angel said. “I do the best I can around here, and you still treat me bad. If I were on my own, I would be responsible for myself.”

Ms. Wesley bit her bottom lip and glared at Angel. “I don’t know what your ungrateful ass is complaining about. Bobby takes good care of us. You have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back. What more do you want?” she asked, bobbing her head and neck.

Angel took a step toward her mother and said, “Bobby? All I want from you is love, Mama. I don’t want anything from Bobby.”

Ms. Wesley took a step back and placed her hands on her hips. “I love yo’ ass Angel. Wha’ chu want me to do, sing and dance about it?”

“Don’t worry about it, Mama.”

Angel turned away and stormed into the kitchen. She made a big racket with the pots and pans.

“You act like I owe you something,” Ms. Wesley continued. “If getting a real job is what you wanna do. Get one, and get the hell out. I’m tired of ya whining.”

Ms. Wesley went back in the living room and plopped down on the sofa.

“Bobby tried to rape me, Mama,” Angel blurted out.

“What?” Ms. Wesley screamed. She stormed into the kitchen and twirled Angel’s body around with force.

“You heard me, Mama. Bobby tried to rape me,” Angel said, looking her mother right in the eye.

“Stop lying, Angel. Just stop lying. Bobby ain’t touched you, and I know it.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about right there. I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Don’t try to run no guilt trip on me. You’ve been screwing way before now anyway. You can’t fool me, honey. I’m from the old school.” Ms. Wesley turned and walked out of the kitchen.

Angel leaned forward and rested her head against her forearm on top of the kitchen counter. A minute or so later when Ms. Wesley returned, Angel sensed her presence and looked up.

“Why do you always try to cause problems for me and my boyfriends?” she asked.

Angel figured Ms. Wesley wasn’t really looking for an answer, so she didn’t bother to respond. She simply lowered her head again and thought, She is useless.

Angel was certain her mother would’ve started in on her once more had it not been for Bobby’s keys jingling at the front door.

Ms. Wesley instantly put on her happy face and went to greet him as usual.

“Hey, babe. How was your day?” she asked.

“It was good,” Angel heard Bobby reply.

“Why don’t you go and get cleaned up?” Ms. Wesley insisted. “Dinner will be ready soon.”

Bobby whispered something in her ear that made her laugh before disappearing to the back of the apartment.

As hard as Ms. Wesley tried to ignore it, there was no denying the tension in the air. During supper, she and Bobby engaged in small talk, but Angel only spoke when she was spoken to. Bobby attempted to initiate conversation by asking her several questions until finally, Angel became fed up. “Bobby, go find a house to haunt,” she yelled. “You would fit right in with the other monsters of this world.”

“That’s it. I’ve had it with you, Angel,” Ms. Wesley said, standing and pointing down at her.

“But, Mama,” Angel replied with a frown.

“But nothing. Take yo’ ass to bed. I better not hear another word from you. Not one.”

Angel stood, collected her plate and cup, and took them in the kitchen before returning to her bedroom. She prayed for the day that Bobby would walk out of the front door and never return.

Finding My Way - Chapter 1