I Said A Bad Word.

Did you just say %#$@ bleep?
“Yes, I did, but I promise–you will never, hear me use those words again.”
It’s been over forty years—I was a rebellious, troubled, shy, pimple face teenager in high school.
I have not used those words since. Thank God, He’s able to keep us from falling…” I’ve been tempted many times over the years, but I refuse to let the devil win. Indeed, “I’m more than a conqueror.”

Hearing the “church boy” using profanity, shocked the entire class. For one full hour, I was flooded with question after question–like the president at a White House press conference. What happened? What’s going on here? “What’s wrong with you”? “Who or what made you that angry”? Did you pray this morning? Did you sleep last night? What’s this all about?

“It’s about time you took off the religious mask and quit trying to be so different– why can’t you be like everyone else?” That was Julia, the president of the student council.

I was merely repeating, what I had heard several times before.

Moreso, from our friendly next-door neighbor Mr. Solomon.
He was an older gentleman somewhere in his late sixties. After losing his wife to cancer, he son Ishmael, convinced him to sell his property and move in with him.

“This is the biggest mistake of my life.” A statement we heard repeatedly.

They were a quiet, peaceful family–except for those troublesome weekends when Mr. Solomon came home stoned, ready to party—all weekend long.
No one ever got invited–as his name implies. This was exclusive– “Solo”.

His weekend of entertainment began at 6:00 pm on Friday evenings as he returned home after working his cocoa and coffee plantation. Instead of riding, both he and his bicycle were staggering across the narrow, littered streets of our tiny village. Cars and trucks slowly and carefully maneuvered an opportunity to get by, and of course, he politely waved a thank-you as they passed.

Monday through Thursday, he is usually home by 4:15 pm, the same time we got home from school.

But, on these dreadful, Friday evenings, he didn’t get home until around 5:45 pm. His routine was to stop at the Liberty Inn. (a local bar) and get loaded with his favorite Black & White Scotch Whiskey, before bringing home a thirty-two ounce bottle or two. Several empty bottles became part of the fence separating our properties.

By 7:00 am, on Saturday morning the entire neighborhood would be awakened by the songs of Geetanjali. (A classical Indian-music station.) We were under siege. The station played for two hours, with brief commercial interruptions. He then switches to his “LP” (Long Playing) records. (Those 12-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, you had to stay inside with all doors and windows sealed.

By 9:00 am Mr. Solomon 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 side to side.

Like “Action News” he headlined all his family’s private issues–carefully punctuating every other word with slurred descriptive obscenities. His son Ishmael, apparently the only other attendee to this intensive nerve-wracking weekend celebration; often responded with an equal flow of expletive rebuffs.

Both, equally under the influence, traded bleep for bleep, long into the night.

But, regardless of what was happening next door, our family diligently travailed every Saturday, with preparations for church on Sunday. Mary, my oldest sister, washed several bundles of laundry. (Back in those days a 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 at this time) did the go-between to ensure everyone had whatever they needed to perform their task. (Notice first five children’s name began with the letter M.) But there was also Mervyn, the sixth child. A total of seven 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 favorite), 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, accompanied Mom to our nearby church, where we were assigned different tasks. Sweeping, mopping and trash removal were just some 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.  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. McDonald– good morning.”
Apparently, almost everyone attended church somewhere. Mr. Brown, the village shoemaker, always took the time to stop and count the number of children he saw on our porch. While he counted heads, we were laughing at his three tone shoe that looks like worn-out work-boots.

He wore the same suit every Sunday or maybe they were all the same color. 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. His overgrown hair had a permanent path down the middle; extending east and west or north and south depending on which direction he was facing

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, well, except Dad. He was either at work or home resting. Sometimes, he assisted with the dinner preparations that Mom started, just after breakfast. She never missed any Sunday at church.

Whenever dad cooked, we always got larger portions. He never used Mom’s measuring cups or teaspoons; he just poured it into the pot. The leftovers were always enough to feed at least the five younger children’s dinner the next day– so they didn’t have to wait. At times we did have to eat in turns, always the younger ones first.
Dad’s cooking was the best; sugar was the main ingredient in every seasoning. I tasted 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. All good.

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 long from the short) 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.

Next, he called on one of the deacons to pray. This prayer would be at least forty-five minutes. Deacon Chaz 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 softly hummed a chorus.

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 11:00 am, it’s now 1:30 pm and Pastor Joe is just about to preach the sermon. He was a long-winded preacher—it would be at least one hour and fifteen minutes before his conclusion. By this time, I had restlessly moved to every pew, as if ‘in the Pursuit of Happiness.” After a thirty-minutes warm up, he began an inspiring theatrical performance, with lots of jumping, shouting, crying, trembling and hypnotic gesticulations from the pulpit to the pews and back.

Next, the offering was collected. This was 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 goes on for another thirty minutes or so including corrections and confirmations of dates and events.

By 3:30 pm we were just leaving, to quickly return for Sunday School at 5:00 pm. Sunday school usually ran for one hour, after which we were treated to Popcorn and ice cream or both—then it was back to church, for the evening service at 7:00 pm. By 9:00 pm, we were already half asleep on our way home.
I honestly believed, we spent a lot more time in that church than the Holy Spirit did.

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 one hundred feet 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 him.”

“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 paused, I respectfully answered: “Yes, ma’am.”

Mom did not tolerate disobedience or disrespect from any of her children; especially the boys; the girls got away with a whole lot of issues, but the boys were quickly turned over to Dad; who asked no questions.

“Wait till your father gets home” was a familair Judgment warning announced in our household.

Mom was blessed with an abundance of patience. She had no high school education, yet she understood child psychology like no other. Wherever her understanding failed she knew how to pray and get answers from above. But, there were times when she could do neither–Dad was the solution. When Mom turned you over to Dad it was her last resort. I hate to do this, She  often said, but it was sometimes necessary. I personally endured a few of those punishments–It was bitter, but it worked out for our good.
Mom  said, “With all these children, I need help from the Lord. If your father is the instrument that God must use, then so be it.” It often broke her heart to see us suffering even days after the encounter with Dad.

Going to church, and Dad’s no-nonsense discipline, no doubt had greatly influenced my way of thinking and my overall behavior. I knew several Bible passages and could readily recite them verbatim.

Dad demanded a standard of behavior and refused to compromise. There were things we could do, and then there were those he strictly forbade without excuses. Dad knew when Mom turned us over to him, it was not the time for a serious talk, but a swift and severe penalty.

But somewhere between the second and third year of high school; I no longer felt the need to attend church. (High School in Trinidad was a five-year program.) I  lost all interest in anything religious. I still prayed, but that was the extent of my Christianity.
From one excuse to another, I whined and complained; “I can’t find my belt!
I don’t have a clean shirt!
I need a hair-cut!
I can’t find 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 normal way of communication–just say whatever you have to say. These guys would curse in front of little kids or even their own parents or grandparents; something I could not dare think about doing.

This bothered me at first, but, it soon became common—so fluently they spewed profanity as if it were a local dialect. They were not the least bit concerned about who heard them. As Derick told me, “Nobody can bleep, bleep tell me what to say or do. I bleep, bleep, say whatever I want.  I bleep do whatever I want to do–I’m a bleep, bleep grown man”

Why do you fellas always use such vulgar words? I asked somewhat hesitantly; knowing what their response might be.

“Why don’t you mind your own bleep, bleep, bleep business.” was the fearfully anticipated, furious response by Mex. He was the outspoken leader of the pack–hypnotically gesticulating with a backhanded 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 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. (She told us she would be on maternity leave soon.) Therefore, the principals’ instructions were to: “Review the past lessons, remain seated, and refrain from any unnecessary conversations.”

I sat there, not knowing what to do but nervously anxious to do something. I was never diagnosed, but all my actions at this time would have been an easy give away–This child has–ADHD.

After, about ten minutes, I began flipping through the pages of my English to Spanish dictionary. In the background, I could hear the buzzing conversations of a small group as they whispered about Ms. Rosanna’s third pregnancy. Another group of about five guys and three girls was discussing their plans for meeting at a local go-go bar that evening.

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 all my life.

I formulated a familiar sentence and with breathless excitement, I stood boldly, carefully accentuating each word as I delivered what could be described as an Inaugural address to the entire class.

I began with, BUENOS DIAS ALUMNOS… (The same greeting with which our Spanish teacher began every session—”Good day students”) 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 respectable English translation would read– Good day students, will everyone please be quiet.
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 but 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 to ear, I was the center of attention. If I were playing world-cup soccer, the commentator would be shouting “G_O_A_L”, and the entire stadium would be standing, waving flags.
Those words lingered in my head all afternoon. Like Thomas Edison—I now had every bulb glowing intermittently like a Christmas tree. CNN’s breaking 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 a panel discussion in the situation room with Wolf Blitzer. Other news from around the world and a brief look at the weather would come next.

I felt so witty about my translation; I spent the rest of that afternoon looking up new words that I could use in other sentences. I completed several commonly used 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. It felt good to articulate profanity both in English and Spanish.
As the days and weeks rolled by, I became increasingly comfortable with my new verbal skills. My classmates quickly becoming my best friends as I voluntarily participated in daily practice sessions.
I felt liberated to express my thoughts and feelings anyway I wanted, and no one dare stop me or make any comments about my conduct.
Those who tried got an earful of my poisoned Spanglish concoction. Filthy words often punctuated by the emphatically pronounced four-letters, fixed right before the personal pronoun.

I received a silent, honorary induction into the brotherhood of PPHSS. Profanity Professing High School Students. 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 an elderly 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 took–sinking deeper– day by day.

For several weeks, I attended school, only during the morning session. A group of us frequented the midday matinee to watch Indian movies. We then headed downtown, provoking strangers as we passed by with foolish gestures and unkind words. Their angry protest only triggered more impolite indiscretions. We cursed at people for no justifiable reason. This behavior became a daily occurrence.
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 totally out of control. I hated my disrespectful, rebellious ways. Over and over I protested to myself –I’ve got to stop acting like this. I’ve got to change my ways. This is not the person I want to be.

I was constantly reminded by voices within– words my Sunday school teacher always said, “You must grow up, to be a man.”
The words Mom said, “Manners Maketh Man.”
The words Dad said, “Never bite off more than you can chew.”
I was 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 these filthy words out of my mouth. Lord, please have mercy on me and save my sin-sick soul; deliver me from the devil. Set my mind 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. I had no peace within, I was a wretched, disgusting 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 obedience to Mom’s instructions, I stood  washing the dishes thinking about my life and what had become of the happy quiet person I once was. A still small voice whispered–“I’ll set you free.”

Instantly a soothing peace and an overwhelming joy came over me like 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. Then, that same wind blew right at and through me. Immediately my soul was refreshed, my burdens lifted, and a quieting peace covered me.

I spoke words I’ve never heard before.  A heavenly language—beautiful words, lovely sound and fluently uttered. I felt new and happy again.

“Thank God,” Hallelujah! He answered my prayer. I was delivered; I’ve been set free.

Soon after graduation, I walked down the aisle of a Bible believing church and recommitted my life to the lord. Five years later I became the pastor. “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…” It’s Gods promise to his people. I no longer speak the obscene language. I’m striving to communicate more efficiently in English, and daily, I’m doing better at conversational Spanish. “Gloria Dios.” (Glory to God.)
I am persuaded, that He is able, to keep that which I have committed unto him… 2 Timothy 1:12.

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