Excerpt from Hidden Princess: The Rebirth of Making Mary
“He got her in the family way. Maybelline don’t do much of anything anymore. Her daughter’s name is Maybelle. She’s almost six months old now!”
“You don’t say.”
“What a pity! As my friend and neighbor, you know I had to tell you immediately. I sure hate to bring it to you, though.”
“I appreciate you, Esther. I guess I need to tell my husband to dust off his shotgun.”
“You’re welcome, honey. That’s what friends are for. We look out for one ‘nother. Lord knows you don’t need Carol bringing no babies home.”
“My Carol is smarter than that, though. She knows better than to let that man pester her. Carol is a good girl.” Minnie-Anne tried to hide her growing annoyance. An attack on Carol’s decency was an attack on her as Carol’s mother.
“I’m sure Maybelline was a good girl at one time, too…”
Only a tiny degree of Minnie-Anne’s irritation was visible when she muttered, “I wish I could offer you ‘another cup of tea, but I reckon I need to finish my washing.”
Esther stood to leave. “I’ll see you at church on Sunday, Minnie-Anne.”
For the next several months following Esther’s proclamation, Minnie-Anne begged Robert to show more concern over the affair, but he had found a coaxing sedative to life’s follies in his heavy drinking. What could he do about it? Multiple months had passed where everyone masqueraded like they did not see the relationship. Now, all of a sudden Carol’s immodest behavior was a concern to Minnie-Anne, mainly because her nosey friend spoke the truth out of its sordid hiding place. Robert watched Minnie-Anne burst into the protective mother although he knew for a fact that she had heard Carol sneak in and out of the house night after night. Still, Minnie-Anne spent the next several weeks nagging and pleading with Robert. Minnie-Anne believed she could dissuade their courtship if she could have an audience with the stranger. Robert was kind enough to do the decent thing and not call his wife a hypocrite. Despite his analysis that Minnie-Anne and Carol were equally to blame for the affair, Robert looked up from his bottle long enough to agree to have the adulterer and child molester over for dinner. Nonetheless, the stranger refused their dinner invitations, preferring to meet Carol under the street sign so that he could haul her off to the woods.
Robert vaguely realized his role as an enabler in the grooming process of his daughter’s exploitation. He would not share that deep within his soul, it ached whenever he recalled providing Carol with a mental platform which would make her susceptible to be plucked with no restrictions. Despondently, Robert resumed his heavy drinking and left the matter in the vain hands of Minnie-Anne, who was not equipped to handle an issue that was quite popular. He weighed that traditionally, under-aged girls were in various relationships with adult men, and there were no laws or community leaders who seemed to take umbrage with it. Robert recalled bitterly that his own wife had endured abuse from the plantation owner, until he rescued her. The memory of that should have been enough to make Minnie-Anne more watchful, he judged.
Although victim-blaming was a normalized function of the durable custom mounted upon some of the most vulnerable girls, like Black girls who lived in poverty and had historically been stereotyped by society to be more promiscuous than their well-to-do counterparts, Minnie-Anne did not calculate that her disappointment was directed at Carol. Even with Robert’s snide remarks, off-color jokes, and passive aggressive behavior in response to the crisis, Minnie-Anne under-estimated her responsibility and that Carol was being groomed for assault. Sexual assault grooming happened on the plantation where she was raised all the time, but no one would call it that or anything similar. How wrong it felt was canceled out by the diminished alarm from the caregiver, compared to the praise from the potential perpetrator at the time that boundaries were crossed, and coupled with the punishment to be expected in the event of resistance.
Consequently, both Robert and Minnie-Anne’s perception of Carol’s behavior was contaminated with the belief or hope that she would be capable of sophisticated rules of discernment. Ironically, they lacked the discernment that Carol knowing right from wrong did not equal being equipped with insight into the ramifications of her deeds. Moreover, her alleged participation made her feel responsible for the assault.
There were no neighborhood precedents about how to handle it, and to add insult to injury, like Robert, Minnie-Anne was convinced that the thirteen year old Carol was not guilt-free in the matter. She viewed Carol as a willing player, perhaps even a manipulator of the crime in progress. In Minnie-Anne’s world, incest, rape, fornication and adultery ran rampant. She had been a fornicator herself. Minnie-Anne desired to offer a sketch of their rich ancestry in an attempt to make her adolescent daughter feel a personal high sense of dignity. Minnie-Anne didn’t know her grandparents, except that her mother told her once that her grandfather, born in St. Augustine, was a Seminole, and her grandmother was an African born slave. She could share their history and feel proud.