At that time, I attended Westside Park, East Essex State School. I remember it as an okay experience, even if I was often truant. They served hot cereal and toast in the morning and they let me have double helpings. I've no existent report cards even though I tried to get them- or should I say, someone on my payroll when I was first putting my life story down in words tried to get them for me. They could find no record of my existence before 1968, let alone my education. Apparently, until I became a Tappet, I had no history and was a nonentity to the state.
A favorite place of mine at the time was the graveyard where my birth mother lay. I brought Snowball there several times to meet her. Her absence in my life had created a puzzling world of 'ifs' and 'maybes.' Life seemed so arbitrary, and I never seemed to have any fun. I visited her there to talk about it. To try to understand. Perhaps to pray, although no one had ever instructed me in religion until I met Mary Tappet. Piety back then seemed the farthest virtue from me. Stealing and sex seemed more natural. Life stole mothers. Lloyd stole sex. Every Sunday I would steal flowers from this fancy man's garden to put on my mother's grave. The garden was a large black-gated property at Rookery and Roanoke near Hoboken, owned by one of the richest families in Jersey City. In my mind at eight years old, if I thought about it at all, it must have seemed a palace beyond my imagination. But really, I don't remember what I felt as I scrambled through the property stealing their flowers. The electronic gate at the front driveway was always closed on Sundays, but back then it was no deterrent at all.
In the summer of 1968, all I had to do was rush in through the northern walkway, pick up carnations, roses, or whatever appealed to me, and rush out through the southern gate. I'd worked it three weeks in a row, when on the fourth attempt, laden with another fine bouquet for my mother's grave-site, I was attacked on my way out with the loot in hand.
The gardener, a tall spindly fellow with a long beard (much of this story is about men with long beards) who has since left the employ of the Tappets, must have been lying in wait. I was told later that he had been expecting a hippy, and not an eight-year-old boy. Hippies were just then starting to get bad press. I received a blow to the front of the head with the shovel, leading to bleeding and a serious concussion. I was knocked out. I almost died.
For this, I owe him everything, and although my life completely changed afterwards, to this day I curse him for it as well. As you will see, this is no exaggeration. My new dad, Stan, told me the gardener held a bizarre theory about the missing flowers. Stan called him 'a conspiracy nut,' but Mary, my new mother, called him, 'just a nut.'
I woke up in the hospital surrounded by a host of strange faces, perhaps ten of them. I'd have run for all my life, except I couldn't move. Comforting brown eyes from a face full of love and laughter riveted my attention even though I felt half asleep. I had seen black women before, and many of them, but I could see at once that she had formidable magic beyond her huge presence. Both her knowing gaze and the happiness that she radiated came to my mind as uncanny. Her brilliant dress fell into a category that isn't easily explained; it was outlandish but appeared quite natural on her huge frame; offbeat yet well-balanced; bright blue on dark black skin, but made of a texture and a color as befit her. She felt the little bit of my forehead that was exposed and her touch held tenderness and foreboding. I don't tell you that about Una just because I have known and loved her ever since that moment. I actually remember it happening that way, like a metaphysical second- but who can say for sure. Memories are all we have, and scientists say they aren't that reliable. That's just the way life is.
"Bryce whacked you good," she said with a giggle, her voice cheerful and her accent easy on my ears. "You'll live. The doctors here are expensive." She winked. "Where are your parents?"
"It was a shovel," I whispered feebly, and then heard another voice.
"Bryce said he tackled you and you hit your head on a stone."