A Mouthful of Bloody Teeth

Deja Robinson

Please note that the following essay contains mature content that includes physical harm, domestic abuse, addiction, homophobia and offensive slurs. Reader discretion is advised.

When I was 6, I sliced my foot open on Christmas. While we were on the way to the emergency room, Mama said, “If you don’t stop screaming, the doctors are going to dig in your foot and take out all the bones. Then, you won’t be able to walk right.”

I proceeded to cry harder. Why did she tell me that? Was it out of love or was she annoyed?

When Daddy is stressed, he moves in silence. When he saw the blood on the floor and the gash in my foot, he didn’t say anything. He ran to the back of the house, came back to the kitchen with one of his long tube socks, and wrapped my small bloody foot up with it. Although he didn’t speak as he carried me from the house to the car, the way he held me was comforting enough. My head was resting on his shoulder and his hand cradled the back of my head, he wrapped his other arm around my body and I could tell he was apologizing to me in his head. He didn’t speak for most of the ride to the hospital, the only time he did was to tell Mama to shut up after she had scared me. The first time I ever saw Daddy cry was when the doctor told him that I would need at least 12 stitches.

Daddy wasn’t in the room when the doctors stitched my foot up. Mama and Brother watched me as I sobbed and let out blood-curdling screams. I found out later that the reason it hurt so much was because the doctor didn’t completely numb my foot, so I felt every stitch go in. I don’t remember much of the actual process, but I remember when they were done I yelled, “I want my daddy, I want my daddy to hold me!” and Daddy ran in with tears in his eyes and hugged me as I cried. Brother said we looked like a cheesy LifeTime movie.

You and your dad have always had a strong relationship and it is something beautiful. But baby, he did not make the sun, the moon, or the stars. He can do evil and has done so. I know your mother has hurt you a lot, but you can’t demonize her for being human. Your dad has never been better than her, he just hid his flaws better. 

I banged my mouth on the floor a few years after cutting my foot. I don’t know how I did it or what I was doing before the incident occurred, but there was a lot of blood. I didn’t say anything because Mama was the only one home and I was scared that she would be mad or freak out or tell me that I would need all of my teeth pulled. So I just cleaned up the blood, rinsed my mouth out with salt, and went back to playing. I lost 4 teeth in a week soon after that incident that year and no one questioned it. I think that was the first secret I ever kept for myself.

This is a lie. You cried to your mother and she helped you rinse your mouth out. You added this story because you needed the title to show up somewhere within the piece. In reality, you just wanted to pay respect to Toni Morrison’s, “Mouth Full of Blood.” You could have simply stated that because there is no shame in your love for her and there is no such thing as “Bring her up too much.” Also, instead of lying, you could have mentioned the period in which your family was homeless and the stress that caused your gums to bleed whenever you would brush your teeth. I think it’s better fitting, but I know it was something you kept private for a long time. I hope I can free you from that. 

Brother used to call me “fag head” because I would whistle at women whenever we were out in public. His best friend called me the same name once and Brother beat the shit out of him. I still think that’s the purest form of love.

Yep, still standing by that.

Whenever Mama and Daddy fought, I usually ran into Brother’s bed. It was one of the few times I was allowed there. I would ask him the same questions and he would give me the same answers:

“Why do they yell like that?”

“Because they don’t like each other.”

“Why are they husband and wife if they don’t like each other.”

“They’re not.”

“Then why did they have us?”

“They didn’t, they had you.”

“Are they happy?”

“Probably not. Do they sound happy to you?”



“Then why are they together?”

“Because they thought they were happy a long time ago and now they’re realizing that they’re not. One thing about black people, they don’t stay together for happiness. They stay because they’re comfortable. This is just the beginning.”

This was a lie. He never let you.

Can comfort exist without happiness?

Yes, it can. You stayed in a 6-year long toxic friendship solely because they knew you inside and out and, at the time, you found it easier to continue the friendship instead of spending another 6 years getting to know someone else on the same level. But that is no way to live and you will realize that the quantity of years you spend with someone does not always equate to the quality of those years. 

Aunt Vivian and Uncle Trent have been in an on-and-off relationship since before I was born. They break up at least once every 2-3 years. Originally, I was going to write about how they’ve been separated for almost two years, which is a new record. I honestly thought they were going to be done for good. I thought, for the first time, that both of them had finally grown up and learned their lesson. But I was wrong, they’re back on.  

Aunt Vivian is usually the one to leave. I assume it’s because  Uncle Trent’s possessiveness makes her uncomfortable. But she always goes back, probably because her loneliness is unbearable. 

Their relationship held little significance for you. You only put them in this piece because of the resentment you had for them. They were your godparents, yet couldn’t care less about you being homeless or you not even having a Christmas tree, let alone presents. You have an odd way of making your pain come off as humor. I’m sorry I have not freed you from this, I am still working on it.

Daddy says Aunt Vivian will never really leave uncle Trent. “It’s not in her blood,” he says. “Our mother never left our dad, and he was beating and cheating on her.”

Your grandmother met your grandfather when she was thirteen and he was twenty-six. Age gaps didn’t matter as much back then, but that doesn’t justify the indecency of that situation. You’ve heard your father describe the image of your grandmother being domestically abused as, “A father beating his child’s ass.” and you’ve wondered whether to call it abuse or parenting. But it’s not either of the two. It’s something called grooming and you’ll find that a lot of your past relationships fall more under its definition than Aunt Vivian’s and Uncle Trent’s. Those two are just crazy.

It seems as though men in my family love problematic women. I think it excites them. When Uncle James came home to his wife sleeping with  another man, he shot up the house and punched out every window with his bare fist. I called to check on him the next day and his wife answered. She said my uncle went out to get her some ice cream. Is that love or is it crazy? Crazy… it’s crazy.

You tried to make Uncle James’s story the most comedic because he has traumatized you the most. He is the mentally ill uncle and, just like with your grandmother, he has threatened your life with a gun. I do agree that he and his wife are, and will forever be, crazy. But you don’t have to make it laughable. It’s okay to still be hurt by it. I am still hurt by it.

Uncle Carl got a girl pregnant when we lived in Lafayette after Hurricane Katrina. He didn’t meet the kid until four years had passed and by that time, we were back in New Orleans. He asked his ex why it took her so long to tell him about his son and she said she needed time to decide if she wanted her child to be a part of such a toxic family. Is it bad that I sometimes wish my mother had been that protective over me?

You were jealous of your newly acquainted cousin. Your grandmother seemed to favor him more than you, which was hard to accept because you had been her favorite up until that point. Also, the mother’s decision to delay telling your uncle about his son had more to do with his financial instability than it did the toxicity of your family. 

I know you wanted it to seem like someone from the outside saw the pain your family was capable of causing, but you will learn to accept that you are the only one who will feel the specific pain they caused you.

The women in my family love older men. Daddy is a decade older than mama, my dead grandfather was 13 years older than my alive grandmother, and Aunt Vivian had her first child when she was 16 with a man who was 9 years older than her. 

You were writing this while in a relationship with a woman who was significantly older than you. You unintentionally perpetuate the stereotype of black girls being “fast” while also living within it. 

Yet, I still don’t know why it was so bad when cousin R married that dude who was twice her age. Aunt Vivian says Cousin R doesn’t call or visit because that old dude made her divorce the family. But didn’t the family divorce her first? That’s not love. I’m glad she left a family that would rather disown their children than leave their toxic partners.

Cousin R didn’t divorce the family. She does call, but no one answers. She does visit, but not for long periods of time. She didn’t divorce the family she loves from a distance because she’s learned how to balance her need for family and her mental stability.

I’m the only lesbian, so will I take after the women or the men? Both are misfortunate, yet that’s a lot of what I’ve experienced romantically: misfortune. So maybe I take after both… Jesus.

You’re not the only lesbian. You’re just the only one who’s comfortable enough to admit it. You take after neither and there is no such thing as romantic misfortune. There are just harder lessons to learn than others.

Daddy says he could never date a white woman because white women hold a secret dominance over black men. When black women are angry they become bitches; when white women are angry, they become victims. Is that true or is it old man talk? I don’t want to believe it’s true, but Gray was white and I found myself apologizing after she cheated on me with a boy who smoked Black & Milds and had 3 pet squirrels. Maybe Daddy’s right.

But is it only white women? Because Mama has a loud dominance over Daddy. He hates yelling and when he makes her mad, she yells. I think she does it to punish him. Maybe that’s what being a bitch is or maybe she just has anger issues. I hope neither is hereditary. But the way Daddy talks about it, makes it seem like it’s mandatory. So, do I have to learn how to be an angry black bitch or will it just have to come naturally?

It was never dominance, it was a reaction. Maybe it wasn’t the best reaction a person could have, but nonetheless, it was a reaction. Your father’s behavior caused your mother to be fearful of her and her kid’s stability and she is scared of fear itself, so she disguises it as rage. You were too young to distinguish the difference between your father when he was sober and when he was drunk, which isn’t your fault. He is still often more drunk than sober, so I can understand how that could be confusing for such a young child. I can also understand the resentment toward your mother for sometimes taking that fearful rage out on you and your brother. I have yet to free you from that and I don’t think I want to. The pain that you hold will always remind you of who you don’t want to be as a mother. But you must also remember that fire is only started with fuel and to truly abandon that pain, you have to not want to be either. 

Sometimes Daddy comes into my room to cry. It’s usually about how unhappy he is with Mama, other nights he tells stories about how his father would beat him. The most recent encounter was about his father. Daddy walked in with tears in his eyes and I scooted to the foot of my bed with my arms open. “Come on.”

He fell to his knees and rested his head in my lap. 

I rubbed his head.

“I never want to be like him. Never. He beat me and my sister and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t, baby, I swear I would have if I could. He would have killed me.”

“I know.”

“I was only 9, I knew I shouldn’t have taken the money. I just wanted some candy.”

“I know. Shhh, it’s okay.”

“He swung so hard. Why did he need a wire? I was so small. He marked me up.”

“They’re not there anymore. It’s okay.”

On those nights, I am his mother. I will protect him. I’ll hold him until his weeping stops and he silently wipes his tears as he gets up and leaves.

You will learn that those moments were only used as manipulation. He will use those memories as excuses for why he refuses to get sober. You will learn that you are not his mother. You are free from parenting the manchild that is your father. Sometimes love can only exist if there is either physical or emotional distance. In this situation, I think both are necessary. 

Daddy never hurt me. He’s whipped me once and Mama says he beat himself up for it. Daddy has never hit Mama. She’s hit him plenty of times, but he never fights back. I used to think it was because he didn’t want to repeat the actions of his late father, but he might be reacting the same way as he once did at 9 years old.

Just because he didn’t hit you, doesn’t mean he never hurt you. You have often misinterpreted abuse as solely physical when, in reality, it goes beyond that. Physical pain is temporary, emotional pain is everlasting. He beat you once because he was drunk and could not resist turning into his father. He only felt bad after he had sobered up. At the time you believed your father had broken the cycle of addicts and abusers that cursed every generation of your family, but you were wrong. He just hid it well or maybe your eyes weren’t open wide enough to see. He beat you once, he’s hit your mother countless times. One smack here and another there, all spaced out among the 25 years they’ve been together. He talks about it the same way he does with alcohol. He says abuse has to be consistent and since he can’t drink for the 3 weeks on the rig, it cancels out the consistent drinking he does the 3 weeks that he is home. Every day that he doesn’t hit your mother cancels out the days where he becomes his father.

Some nights I lay in bed crying about things I can’t control. My girlfriend wants to hold me while I cry, but I don’t want to make her feel like I do when Daddy cries. She shouldn’t have to be my mother. 

She wanted to hold you for the wrong reasons. You will learn that you have a habit of becoming invested in people who enjoy taking advantage of you in vulnerable moments. She wanted to become your mother because she needed your co-dependence to make herself feel needed. It is okay to cry because of the inevitable and once you know that, the less you will do it. No one is entitled to your vulnerability and you will learn when it is necessary to be shared. 

I am scared of vulnerability. Alcohol will probably help as it did for my father and grandfather and uncles. But drinking doesn’t intrigue me. I guess I need to hurt more; hurt for a longer period of time. I will have to grow to hate the world around me and the life that I was forced to choose. But I don’t want to hate myself, no one does. I don’t want to hate my life. But Daddy does, and Mama and Aunt Vivian and my alive grandmother, and my dead grandfather, and my uncles, and Brother. I have to hate my life because if I don’t,  it’ll seem like  I’m better than the people I came from. I’m not better than anyone. I have to be comfortable, never happy.

You are scared of how comfortable you are with being vulnerable and of the people who will judge or try to take advantage of you for that. Alcohol will only hurt, you know that. Drinking didn’t interest you back then because you were hiding from what was almost impossible to avoid. One day you will drink an entire bottle of wine and crack jokes until your belly aches. You will pass out for the rest of the night and wake up with a pounding headache and little remembrance of the night before, but the wave of synthetic optimism that was upon you that night will carve itself into your brain as your neck hangs over a toilet bowl that smells of cheap regurgitated wine and feces and as your stomach turns itself inside out, you will understand why your father drinks. You will think the mere experience of your body rejecting that poison is worth the temporary ignorance it brings you. You will learn that you are an alcoholic before giving it the power of ruining your life, which is something your father, dead grandfather, and uncles did not have the privilege of. But you must also know that malevolence isn’t something visible within the person’s self. If they knew the pain they caused you, they would fall to their knees and beg for forgiveness. You will learn that the path of healing is hard, but the transition between apathy, to sympathy, to empathy is far worse. Healing is led by wisdom and the understanding that people are not inherently good nor evil, they are just beings with the intent to survive. Just like the mother birds who reject fallen children and lions who kill their brothers so they can weaken the competition for the instinctual need to populate. It isn’t out of spite, but simply doing what is necessary to thrive in this fucked up world. You will learn that the only one that can pick your path is you, even when picking one might not always seem like a choice, you must remember that even that simple act of breathing, existing is a choice. You are striving to be comfortable and happy but must first define those words for yourself. I wish I could say I’ve done this for you, but I myself am still figuring it out.