Tuesday, April 13, 2010
AAMBC Spring Tours w/ Mel Bancroft
Mel Bancroft’s debut memoir, The Melody of My BitterSweet Blues candidly and graphically reveals the secrets that lurk behind domestic violence, sexual abuse, and family dysfunction.
Little Melody is born at the peak of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the hippie counterculture, which takes her father, Moses, into a downward spiral of psychedelic drug experimentation. She lives with her family in a rundown tenement on the rough, west side of Chicago. She doesn’t quite notice they’re poor—until the old crooked-leg man grinds her soul away.
As an adolescent, Melody witnesses domestic violence, seemingly everywhere, unable to understand how her father can love her mother and beat her, too. And whatever happened to being Daddy’s little girl? She questions the meaning of sex as the coming of age aspect of this tale warns the reader of the signs of sexual abuse, teenage depression, and attempted suicide.
Melody struggles to relate to men in her adulthood, becoming a victim of abuse. Cocaine numbs the pain. She scratches her way toward sobriety for two years as she tries to mend a strained relationship with her mother, Ollie, who has been emotionally unavailable for years. She sets out to heal her past by researching her family history and interviewing family members. What she uncovers is mind-blowing.
The ultimate turnaround of the life of one woman speaks to the human condition of the world. She is fearless, indefatigable, and righteous in her march to victory, thus breaking the cycle of abuse. Using poetic enlightenment and poignant imagery, Bancroft has given every survivor of abuse the gift of hope and triumph.
THE MELODY OF MY BITTERSWEET BLUES
BY MEL BANCROFT
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 3
Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
The next morning, right around daybreak at the dawn of perfect light hovering over our bed, Darryl nudged me gently, then his hand slid up and down my back. He took my hand and placed it inside his boxer shorts and rubbed it around his morning bulge. That’s how we usually started the morning. Then he nestled up behind me, kissing my neck, pressing his soft lips and warm face against my back, up and down and side to side. Soon our bodies were intertwined in a rhythm so harmonious I could have sung like a bird when we were done pleasing each other. Too bad we were no longer able to dance that beautifully standing up, vertically we had become two left feet.
Lulled by ecstasy, I drifted to sleep again, but was awakened by the smoky scent of sizzling bacon, buttered toast and the smell of smothered potatoes with onions, combined with the sounds of occasional stirring, soft clinking of utensils, and plates gently brushing together.
Donning my robe, I headed for the bathroom to freshen up. I stopped at the top of the stairs to again take in the aroma of the glorious breakfast, which reminded me of the smell of my Grandma Madea’s house at six o’clock on Saturday mornings, and when Momma would make her signature home potatoes and juicy hamburgers.
At first I thought I was dreaming the whole thing. Convinced it was all real, I rushed to the bathroom, washed my face, and just as I was about to brush my teeth, I locked eyes with myself in the mirror. I wasn’t at Momma’s house anymore, nor was I at Grandma Madea’s. I was a long way from home and something was wrong with this picture—this gesture Darryl had spawned out of nowhere. Did he think sex was going to replace my need to be treated with respect?
At a skeptical pace, I trotted down the stairs to surmise his intention. His sparkly smile was back again, the cleft in his chin softened, and his un-pursed lips matched his relaxed eyes, glinting in some solace he’d lost and just found. I don’t know, maybe I did “whip it” on him pretty good. Maybe he’s okay now.
“Good morning, babe. You don’t have to do anything, but just have a seat.” He pulled out a chair, waving his hand in front of it.
“Everything looks so good,” I said. As I sat down, my stare fixed on his exuberance, I let a piece of my guard down.
He dished the food onto our plates and took a seat at the table.
“I was thinkin’ we could do somethin’ tonight, like go bowling or somethin,’” he said, scraping butter across his toast.
“Bowling sounds good. Let’s do that.”
“When’s the last time you went bowling?”
“It’s been a long time. I hope you can teach me a thing or two. Mmmm, these eggs are so good.”
“Eggs are my specialty, and I can teach you a whole lotta things about bowling. My average score is about 185.”
“Ooh! I’m scared of you. Don’t beat me too bad now.”
I smiled at him, sipping the liquid warmth from my coffee cup, asking myself why I loved him so much. Was it because his family knew my family? Or was it the way one of his eyebrows lifted as he turned his face from side to side shaving, or the way he walked tall and straight in his uniform? And the amazing sex we had. It was all of that, and then some. Even at nineteen, I was mature enough to know that my love for him had been stronger than his physical profile or his background. It was innocent and pure. When we weren’t fighting, he loved me the same, holding me in his arms in bed each night, making me feel warm and secure. Yet the more I learned about him, the fewer reasons I could find to love him. I was hanging on to the sheer blessing of my ability to love.
Just as the sun met the horizon, we pulled up to park in front of the bowling alley. Yet I wondered who had died. He must have tricked me into believing that we were going out to have fun because it felt more like we were going to a funeral. He spoke no words to me nor did I to him. Once inside, Darryl walked directly to the check-out counter manned by a tall, lanky white man who seemed to have a permanent smile on his face. He irked Darryl with his enthusiasm, almost bouncing on his toes to be of service. He pointed out the best lanes and directed us to a rack of bowling balls. We told him our shoes sizes as I wandered away from the counter. Darryl, without the slightest interest, cut off the man’s explanation about choosing the right ball by snatching the shoes from the counter and walking off.
I loitered around the entrance, gazing at promotional material and lost-doggie flyers posted on a cork board, and dusty photos of previous years’ tournament winners, which was the high life of Grand Forks’ finest. I conjured a dismal picture of growing old way before my time. Smiling at the happy man, I turned back toward the counter, and thanked him for his hospitality. Darryl motioned to me to follow him to a lane he chose. As I bent down to take off my shoes, I caught a glimpse of Darryl’s profile as he sat in the row of chairs across from me. The expression on his face never changed. It was stone cold and he was somewhere off in the distance.
I had known Darryl since I was fifteen, but I never knew that cold stare. He and his family, the Grays, lived next door to my Auntie Rose back in Chicago. Every summer when I traveled back home for the last four years, I yearned to get close enough to smell the Murray’s pomade in his hair, a hint of his Brut cologne, or discover that collard greens and cornbread was his favorite food. And at last, now that he was mine, I wanted nothing more than to scratch his eyeballs out and leave him standing in the bowling alley with that stupid look on his face.
He changed his shoes and took the “driver’s seat,” pulling out a pencil and score card. My nerves were sizzling at the edges trying to make sense of him, trying to decipher what bag he was going to come out of this time. Who is this man? I walked to the front of the lane pretending like I had some interest in bowling. He started the game without explaining a thing. When it was my turn, I only knocked down half the pins the first time and finished them up on the pick-up. The second time I was up, I threw the ball down the lane, envisioning the middle section of the lined-up pins as his head on a platter. And a strike it is! Dare I jump for joy? I asked myself, then let go.
“Yay!” I said aloud with my arms stretched high in the air. He wrote down the score, and threw me a quick sneer.
“Let’s go,” he said. “Let’s go” was his predictably unpredictable response to my strike.
We arrived home the same way we left—in silence. I fantasized about how he’d explain his behavior—like maybe he didn’t feel well, or he was tired or having back pain. Maybe he would park the car in the driveway as usual and then apologize about how rude he had been acting. Then we’d have “makeup sex.” Instead, he stopped the car in front of the house in the middle of the road.
“Get out,” he said, staring straight through the windshield.
“What do you mean? I don’t—”
I opened the door, but hesitant to leave the car, I turned back toward him as the car began taking off, barely giving me time to get out and shut the door. Standing in the middle of the road, I watched him escape into darkness as red sirens spun around my head and palpitations sent a jolt to my chest. I staggered my way inside the house, taking inventory of anything I might have said or done that would upset him, only to find myself clueless and, frankly, innocent of any such provocation.
About an hour later Darryl came home, plopped down on the bed and flipped on the television. I dashed out of the bathroom and into the bedroom only to find that cold stare still plastered on his face.
“Would you mind telling me what’s the matter?” I said, standing at the foot of the bed.
“Nothin’,” he said, lying with his legs crossed and the remote control clutched in one hand, resisting eye contact with me.
“You can’t do this forever. I need you to talk to me.” I moved to the corner of the bed, blocking the television.
“I told you. Now move! You see me watching TV,” he said, cutting his eyes at me.
“I don’t care. You need to stop this, Darryl. I can’t take it anymore! He moved toward me, sliding off the edge of the bed.
“Shut up! Will you just shut up?” he screamed, towering over me. Hot air shot out from his nostrils and sprayed my face, vexing me from head to toe.
“No, you shut up! You—”
One of his hands grabbed the back of my head while the other sprawled over my entire face. My nose and mouth pressed flat, I felt an unrelenting grip latch onto my head. Then he slammed me down onto the bed.
“Shut up, shut up, shut up” was all I could hear muffled behind the inner walls of my ears. The grip got tighter and tighter. I began losing air, but thought for sure he’d stop. Then my eyeballs felt like they were popping out of my head as I strained to focus on anything in the room, anything I could grab, something that didn’t signify death. I tried to use my lower body to gain leverage, but his legs had pinned me down. Losing more breath, I started thinking my last moment was soon coming, the last moment I’d ever know what it meant to be living: I was going to die.
Copyright © 2009 by Mel Bancroft.
Inspirational Author, Poet and Songwriter, Mel Bancroft's writings have been seen on Helium.com, OfficeArrow.com, Healthy News, Regal Magazine for African American men, and the Los Angeles Sentinel, America's number one African American newspaper. Recently she was awarded "The Winner in You Extra Efforts Award" by Salute America in recognition of her contributions to the world of poetry and thought, and for her socially conscious perspectives. She has also appeared as a panelist on several online talk radio shows discussing domestic violence issues, the importance of creative writing, and social consciousness.
When Ms. Bancroft was a little girl, if she got fussy, her mother could always calm her down by giving her a pencil and a piece of paper or a book to read. Born in Chicago, she grew up on the rough, west side of the city enduring domestic violence and childhood abuse, which left her with deep-seated, low self-esteem. Writing was her saving grace, keeping her distracted from her destitute surroundings. After moving to Los Angeles as a teen, she found coming of age further confusing and painful as she tried to find her identity. She finally found her place in poetry, music, and writing short stories. But her artistic passion was never realized until she stopped living her life as the “victimized girl” and conquered drug addiction.
Ms. Bancroft has written poetry and articles on a wide range of subject matter: self-help, spirituality, marketing, business, family, and relationships. Notably, the poem Jena Six: Our Strangefruit Is Still Hanging, emphatically questioning how far African Americans have come, was published in TRIBES Magazine. She is currently penning the sequel to her debut memoir, Bitter Sweet & Mo’ Sweeta due for release in late 2010. She enjoys yoga, meditation, tennis, and dancing, and resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
Interview Questions, Web Links & Quotes from the Book
The Melody of My BitterSweet Blues is a riveting, true story which is narrated through the eyes of a woman who has endured sexual abuse as a child, struggled through coming of age, finding herself in abusive relationships as an adult. Not only is the story told candidly and graphically, revealing the secrets that lurk behind abuse, the narrator takes the reader inside a journey of spiritual healing and unbridled courage through poetic enlightenment and poignant imagery.
What lead you to create this book?
Actually it was God-inspired. As someone who has survived several forms of abuse, it has been on my heart for many years to share my strength with others who may still be trying to find their own empowerment. The book was also inspired by Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Who should read this book and why?
There are several groups, I believe, that can benefit from this book: adult survivors of abuse, victims of spousal abuse, even those who have been perpetrators of abuse who aspire to change how they deal with problems. This book serves as a reminder to those who have suffered from such dysfunction, that they are not alone, and encourages them to seek their own healing.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp and share?
The message that I want men and women to grasp is that we need each other’s love and support in order to stop domestic violence—victims and perpetrators.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Meditation and yoga helps me to stay in mental and physical shape. I love to go out dancing and spend time with friends and family.
What does your family think of your writing?
For the most part, everyone’s supportive. My mother read the book in one day. But exposing family secrets and having them read about them in a book is not easy for some people to accept, yet it has brought healing to my family.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author?
First of all, make sure your life is clear of major stressors that can get in the way of writing, such as unhealthy relationships and jobs that drain you. Writing takes time, energy, dedication, and discipline. Learn every writing technique you can, practice good grammar and spelling and, most of all, write from the heart.
Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases. Also share with us your online contact information.
I am currently developing the sequel to The Melody of My BitterSweet Blues, which is entitled BitterSweet & Mo’ Sweeta. I am also working on a self-help book geared toward dating and relationship issues between women and men. The Melody of My BitterSweet Blues can be purchased at WWW.MELBANCROFT.COM, WWW.AMAZON.COM, and WWW.BARNES & NOBLE.COM.
Author Website: www.melbancroft.com
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