Gay’s photography and writing seek to capture the under-reported experiences and challenges of what it is to be a working class woman of color.
why i hate christmas
I found the picture and then I lost it. It is the picture that was taken of me on my eleventh Christmas. My mother loves Christmas, and every year my brother and I get new pajamas to sleep in so we will be ready to have our pictures taken the moment we walk out to open the plentiful gifts under my mother's decorated tree. Red robe and white head scarf. Lights. Camera. Action. I am already a good actress. Although my heart is about to break, I feign surprise at seeing the Christmas tree. This picture was taken less than twenty-four hours after my father had attempted to molest me. This is one of the few Christmases that the police did not come to my home.
It was a warm Christmas Eve Day in Oklahoma. My mother, my grandmother, and my godmother had gone to do last-minute shopping. They left my brother and me at home. We are outside playing with friends. My father is at home and drunk. He is always drunk. He loves gin. I go back to the house, for what I am not sure. Probably to check on my father. I am a daddy’s girl and I am always worried about my father. He hears me in the house. He calls me by name. He tells me to come take off his shoes. I do as I am told. This is not unusual. When my father comes home from work or drinking or both, he is too tired to take off his shoes. He calls me and my little brother to do so. When I turn to leave, he tells me to sit next to him. I do as I am told because I am an obedient daughter. He sits up. I recoil. I freeze. I turn into stone. This is where my memory misses me. What happened between my father sitting up and my turning to stone? There was something about my reaction to what I don't remember that made my father say, "That’s right, you are still too young."
Still too young?
I think I should recall. Something. Anything. What happened before?
I am almost three years old. My mother cries a river. My mother always cries, but this is different. This is about me. I know something is wrong because my mother holds me. My mother never holds me. She places me on her knee. She weeps as she watches me. I wipe the tears from her eyes. She is better when I forget why she is crying.
My grandmother arrives from the islands. My godmother comes soon after. They come to help my mother. They come to diffuse the pain.
This is all that I know.
I lose everything, I forget everything. I have night terrors. My Gran Gran says I have the memory of a gnat. My godmother tells me that when I was a child, I had such nightmares that I would shit on myself. You saw snakes. The snakes were always trying to get you. I learned to make the monsters my friends. I go into my dreams and rewrite the stories. Eventually, I stop dreaming.
Every year, I ask my mother if she thought that my father had inappropriate relations with me and she says yes.
Every year, I ask my godmother if she believes that my father had sexual relations with me and, with sad eyes, she always nods and says yes.
Every year, I ask my grandmother if she thinks my father had sex with me and she says yes and calls me by name.
I don't remember. I have absolutely no recall.
It is the winter after I fought my father. I am on my first break from college. I decide to ask my father if he remembers. I travel to Florida with him. It was uncomfortable. I slept in my coat. My father introduces me to relatives that I have never met as his girlfriend. His brother says, “Nigger, you lying. That's your daughter.” On the drive back home, I approach the conversation with my father at a time when he is not as drunk. When for once he is sober and dry. My heart pounds. My mouth is dry. I am driving the car. Do I go to white space or do I black out? Am I past or present? I go away. My father takes the steering wheel. He says I almost killed us. He drives us all the way back home.