I Said a Bad Word
By Maurice W Armstrong | Submitted On December 02, 2013
Did you just say %#$@ bleep?
“Yes I did, but I promise–you will never hear me use those words again.”
That was over forty years ago– I was just a shy, pimpled face teenager in high school.
Hearing me belch out those words publicly, shocked so many of my classmates; they quickly inquired, “What’s wrong with you”? “Who made you that angry”? Did you pray this morning? Did you sleep last night? What’s going on?
Jennifer, the president of the student council, said, “It’s about time you took off that religious mask and stopped trying to be so different– why can’t you be like everyone else?”
I was simply– repeating what I had heard several times before.
Moreover, our friendly next door neighbors who were usually a quiet, reserved family–except for those frequent weekends; when Mr. Solomon comes home drunk and ready to party.
No one ever got invited. As his name implies, this was exclusively Solo-mons party.
His weekend of entertainment began around 6 pm Friday evenings as he returned home from working his Cocoa and Coffee Plantation. Instead of riding, both he and his bike will be staggering across the narrow, littered streets of our tiny village. But, because everyone knew him so well they would patiently wait until it was safe to drive on by, and of course he would politely wave a thank-you as they went by.
Monday through Thursday, he usually got home by 4:15 pm; we also got home from school around the same time.
But, on these dreadful, nerve wrecking Friday evenings, he didn’t get home until around 6: pm. As his custom was, he would stop at the Liberty Inn. (a local bar) and get loaded before coming home with a bottle or two.
On Saturday morning, as early as 6 am, the entire neighborhood would wake up to the songs of Geetanjali. (A classical Indian music program on radio.) We were all under siege. The station played for two hours, then he would switch to his records. (Those 8 and 16-inch round black musical disc of the sixties)
To listen to American Top 40’s with Casey Kasson, or watch Soul Train with Don Cornelius, we had to stay inside the house with all doors and windows shut.
By 11:30 am this quiet, elderly, gentleman took on a whole new personality. From an introvert, soft-spoken, friendly neighbor to a loud, foul-mouth, public figure–pacing the front porch back and forth–staggering from left to right and right to left.
Like Action News at 7– he headlined all his family’s private issues–carefully punctuating every other word with slurred descriptive obscenities.
His son Ishmael, apparently the only other invite to this exclusive weekend celebration; often responded with an equal flow of expletive rebuffs. Both equally inebriated, they traded bleep-bleeps, long into the night.
Every Saturday, our family diligently travailed with preparations for church on Sunday. Mary, my oldest sister, washed several bundles of laundry. (Back in those days the scrubbing board and a metal tub were the favorite brands of washing machines
Maggie did the ironing.
Michael practiced haircuts on all the boys.
Malcolm cleaned and polished everyone’s shoes.
Morris (as I was called) did the go-between to ensure everyone had whatever they needed to perform their task. (Notice all –first five children’s name began with the letter M.) But there was also Mervyn, the sixth child. A total of six names beginning with the letter M. Carlton the 7th child and 5th boy was dad’s favorite. Three other boys came after.
Joy the first of the last three girls, (daddy’s eyeball), also the village hair stylist, sent messages by any possible means so that all outside appointments were kept as scheduled.
The rest of the kids, me included accompanied Mom to the nearby church, where we were assigned different tasks. Sweeping, mopping, and trash removal were just-a-few of the many chores that made up our family’s weekend rendezvous.
My family of eight boys and five girls made up a significant part of the religious community in which we lived. On any given Sunday, it was customary to see several families from the neighborhood as they walked by on their way to their respective churches. “Good morning, Mr. Johnson. Hello, Mrs. Jones. Mr. Frazier– how are you today? Hello, Mrs. George–good morning.”
Apparently, almost everyone attended church somewhere. Mr. Brown, the village shoemaker, always took the time to stop and count the number of kids, he could see on our porch. While he counted heads, we were laughing at his three tone shoe that looks like worn-out work-boots.
It was rather difficult to tell honestly– but he seem to have worn the same suit every Sunday or maybe they were all the same color or close, and his coat sleeves were always too short as you could always see the cuffs of his shirt. All his polka-dot ties had that same shiny look.
On Sundays, the cardinal rule in our household stipulated that you get up early, take a shower, and be ready for church by ten o’clock. Everyone had to go–except Dad. He was either at work or home resting. Sometimes, he assisted with the dinner preparations that Mom had started, just after breakfast.
Whenever dad cooked, we always got larger portions. He never used Mom’s measuring cups or teaspoons; he just poured into the pot. The leftovers were always enough to feed at least the five younger children’s dinner the next day– so that they didn’t have to wait. Sometimes we had to eat in turns, always the younger ones first.
Dad’s cooking was the best; everything he cooked had to have a taste of sugar. I sampled sweet and sour pork on coming to America, but my dad always cooked sweet-and-sour chicken, Sweet-and-sour fish, and sweet-and-sour stake.
Sunday services were often extremely long and tedious. But, we didn’t have any choice. Unlike the modern day concept, Pastor Joseph, did just about everything– he led the congregational singing from the Independent Baptist Hymnals. These hymns were either, long meter or short meter. ( To this day, I still cannot tell the difference between the two. (It seemed to be a musical guide, as to how the particular hymn should be sung.) To me, there was no difference since they all apparently took about thirty minutes to get to the last stanza.
He then read the morning scripture–usually a chapter in length. Then he would call on one of the deacons to pray. This prayer would be at least 45 minutes. Deacon Charz prayed for the wind, the rain, the news, the neighbors, his eleven children. His twenty- six grandchildren, his five brothers, seven sisters and all his cousins–calling out every name –while the rest of the congregation hummed a song or chorus. I would often fall asleep during his prayer.
Some more singing followed which provoked shouting (dancing in the spirit as it is called today). Uncontrollable weeping and sobbing as if someone had just died, and then some more praying– this time, by Pastor Joe himself.
Although service began at 11 am, it’s now 1:30 and the pastor is just about to preach the Sermon. This would go-on for another 1hr and 15 minutes. By this time, I had restlessly moved to every pew as if “In the Pursuit of Happiness.” After an inspiring theatrical monologue, with lots of shouting and hypnotic gesticulations– the offering was collected. This is when we knew it was about time to go home. While the deacons counted the basket of noisy money, separating each into their respective denomination, the pastor would once again declare– BROTHERS AND SISTERS the announcements for this week are as follows… this would be another 30 minutes or so including corrections and confirmations of dates and events.
By 3:30 we were just leaving, to quickly return for Sunday school at 5 pm. Sunday school usually ran for one hour, after which we were treated to Popcorn and ice cream or both– before returning for the evening service at 7 pm. By 9 pm, we were already half asleep on our way home.
I honestly believe we spent a lot more time in that church than the Holy Spirit.
Mom always said, “With all these children, I need all the help I can get from the Lord.”
I became a born-again Christian at the age of ten. I enjoyed Sunday school, I loved going to church, and I loved distributing the hymnals to people in the congregation, especially those who gave me candy in exchange. I felt happy and inspired to be active in church, singing my heart out in the choir, serving the Lord. This was my world, nothing else mattered.
Since Grandpa and Grandma were life-long members, the congregation was largely made up of several uncles, aunts, and cousins. A small percentage of those assembled included in-laws, godparents and a few neighborhood friends.
I was always getting into trouble, so all the adults kept a close watch over me. Therefore, somehow I became everyone’s favorite.
I also had my favorites–those who, whenever they sent me to the store… (Located just a block away from the church) allowed me to keep the change. But, Mrs. Stylish (as she was called) one of the older mothers in the church who fussed and complained about almost everything, always demanded that I stand at her left side while she slowly counted how much I actually spent and what her exact change should be.
“I’ve got to keep my eyes on you, boy,” she mumbled.
One day, on hearing Mother Stylish comment Mom interjected, “That’s right, to keep that boy from getting into mischief, you’ve got to keep your eyes on this one, at all times.”
“Now you be still young man, said Mother Stylish, sit right here until I tell you to get up. And don’t you touch anything, do you hear me? Leave that alone! “Stop touching! Why can’t you be like the other children? I’m praying for you boy.” She went on and on as I quietly stood there, bowing my head and gently rubbing my fingers, pretending I was listening to her rapid ramble. Whenever she became silent, I respectfully answered “Yes, ma’am.”
I honestly tried to be obedient to everyone’s instructions, (at least for the moment) being extremely careful to respond in the most polite manner.
Going to church no doubt had greatly influenced my way of thinking and my overall behavior. I knew several Bible passages and could readily recite them verbatim. But somewhere between the second and third year at high school; I no longer felt the need to attend church. I had lost all interest in anything religious. I still prayed, but that was the extent of my Christianity.
From one excuse to another, I complained; “I can’t find my belt! I don’t have a clean shirt! I forgot to get a hair-cut! I can’t get a decent pair of socks! I have a lot of homework!” The excuses continued… Anything and everything became a reason for not attending church.
It was not peer pressure. I have never been a casual follower. Mom always said, “Friends may take you places, but when you get in trouble they are nowhere to be found.” I’ve always preferred to either lead or simply walk alone. I would not let anyone; cause me to get in trouble.
Most of the guys in my class used foul language explicitly; it was part of their regular verbal communication; they’d curse in front of little kids or even their own parents or grandparents. This bothered me at first, but, it soon became normal. They fluently spewed profanity as if it were a local dialect. These guys were not the least bit concerned about who heard their filthy communication.
Why do you fellas always use such vulgar words? I asked somewhat hesitantly; knowing what their response might be.
“Why don’t you, “******, bleep, bleep… was the fearfully anticipated, furious response from Balley, the outspoken leader of the group–hypnotically gesticulating with a back handed flick of his right wrist, as if he were brushing away a bothersome house-fly.
These were not my circle of friends, so their lewd response, actually meant nothing to me. I had heard those words several times before. We were classmates, and that was the extent of our friendship.
On Thursdays, our first session after lunch was Oral Spanish. Ms. Rosanna, the Spanish Teacher, was absent due to a sudden illness. Therefore, the principals’ instructions were to review the past lessons and remain seated, quietly.
I sat there, not quite knowing what to do, but nervously anxious to do something. After, about ten minutes I began flipping through the pages of my Spanish dictionary. In the background, I could hear the buzzing conversations of a small group as they talked about Ms. Rosanna’s third pregnancy.
Another group of about five guys, sitting immediately behind me, talked about meeting at a certain go-go club that evening: Others, sitting on my right, two rows up, towards the front of the class, were expressing their spirited opinion about the Soccer coach and his harsh treatment of the goalkeeper who was late for the practice session earlier that morning.
Then, out of nowhere, as if by some “stroke of genius,” I decided to look up the Spanish translations of the cuss words that I’ve been hearing.
I formulated a familiar sentence and with eager excitement, I stood boldly, carefully accentuating each word as I delivered an Inaugural address to the entire class.
I began with, BUENOS DIAS ALUMNOS… (The same greeting with which our Spanish teacher began with every session.) Followed by bleep, bleep, bleep, and bleep. My translation, though not entirely accurate, alarmingly penetrated each group’s discussion. I said it in Spanish, and of course everyone knew exactly what I said.
However, the proper, respectable English version would read– Good day students, will everyone please be quiet.
Emily, Pat, Susan, Jennifer were all with eyes and mouths wide open; both hands covering their mouths while holding their breath as if they had seen a ghost.
I heard “Did you just say? “Did you just say”? “Did you just say “? At least three or four times from different classmates. However, the majority in uncontrollable laughter, repeated the statement to each other, as if it were the lesson for the day. The uproar continued until the Math. teacher in the classroom next door, came over and restored order.
For the first time-smiling from ear to ear; I was the center of attention. I had scored a touchdown.
Those words lingered in my head all afternoon. Like Thomas Edison– every bulb was now glowing intermittently as on a Christmas tree. The six O’clock news that evening should have read– an English speaking student at a local high school has discovered the way to “cuss” in Spanish… followed by the weather forecast.
I felt so witty about my translation; I spent the rest of that afternoon looking up new words I could use in future sentences. I began constructing complete sentences with*** bleeps as nouns, verb, adverbs and adjective interchangeably. Spanish suddenly became my number one, academic choice of study.
On my way home from school–a two mile walk–I punctuated every step rehearsing both English and Spanish versions of my obscene translations. For some strange reason, it felt right. I was proud of myself and happy to declare it in either English or Spanish.
As the days and weeks rolled by, I became more and more comfortable with my new verbal skills. Soon, I was hanging out with my classmates in daily practice sessions.
I felt liberated to express my thoughts and feelings anyway I wanted, and no one dare stop me or say anything about my conduct.
Those who tried, got an earful of the sharp, but bitter taste of the language commonly spoken amongst high school students–often punctuated by the emphatically pronounced four-letter “verb”–$#@%, fixed right before the personal pronoun you.
I received a silent, honorary induction into a brotherhood of PPYS. Profanity Professing Young Scholars. Somehow deep inside, I knew this was bad, but I had no intentions of stopping. I knew trouble was up ahead, but this ride was much too fast and too furious for my control. I was in the far left lane on Interstate 95 heading south. I defiantly refuse to wear my seat belt, and the brakes were worn. Highway Patrol could not stop me. I was (as they say) “off the hook.”
For the next two years, I became proficient yet outrageously eloquent in an unbalanced mixture of English and the obscene language. I was, “cussing like a sailor.” (A phrase I heard Mom mentioned on several occasions when referring to a certain deacon at the church)
Whenever I did go to church, maybe once or twice per month; I would be ever so careful about my choice of words, especially when in conversation with my Grandparents. To the best of their knowledge, their Grandson was doing well at school, and they were proud of my outstanding academic achievements. My God– if they only knew.
“What’s happening to me?” I asked myself over and over again. “Why can’t I control my behavior?” I hated the person I was becoming. I felt dragged down by some invisible force determined for my demise–controlling my every move… Looking back, I could mentally trace the downward spiral my life had taken. I sank deeper–day by day.
For several days, I attended school only during the morning sessions. At midday, a group of us frequented the midday matinee to watch Indian movies. Provoking strangers as we passed by with foolish gestures, then cussing at them for no justifiable reason. This, became a daily practice.
I wanted to stop; I wanted to be different, and yes I wanted to change. But the harder I tried to break free, the worse I got. I was out of control. I hated my disrespectful, rebellious ways. Over and over I protested to myself I’ve got to stop. “This is not the person I want to be.”
I was constantly reminded by voices within– words my Sunday school teacher always said, “You’ve come here to be a man.”
Words Mom said, “Manners Maketh Man.”
I was several miles away from these life shaping principles.
I prayed, again and again, “Oh God, please forgive me; I’m sorry. Please help me. Lord, please change me and take away these filthy words from my mouth. Lord, please have mercy on me and save my sin sick soul; deliver me from the hand of the enemy. Set my soul free.
I became a miserable wreck; thoughts of drinking to soothe my inner turmoil often swayed across my mind. Despair, desperation, suicidal thoughts and hopelessness, became my dark domain. No peace within, I was a wretched mess. Grossly dissatisfied with myself; I felt lost and trapped in a deep dark pit, I wanted to get out of, but I didn’t know how.
Late one evening in humble obedience to Mom’s instructions, as I stood willingly, washing the dishes; a still small voice said to me–“I’ll set you free.”
Instantly a soothing peace and an overwhelming joy came over me as water flooding a desert place, the wind blowing the leaves on the trees outside the window made them appeared to be so liberated and happy and then that same wind blew right through me. My burden was instantly lifted; my Soul was refreshed. I was happy again.
“Thank God,” Hallelujah! He answered my prayer. I was delivered; and set free.
Soon after graduation, I recommitted my life to God.
I no longer speak that obscene language. I’m striving to communicate more effectively in English, and daily, I’m doing better at conversational Spanish. “Gloria Dios.” (Glory to God.)
I am persuaded, he is able to keep, that which I have committed unto him… 2 Timothy 1:12