I am currently reading a novel called Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Oh my goodness, what a horrific book! Cynthia Bond is a very descriptive and almost poetic writer, and it took me awhile to discover her groove, but now that I have, I am hooked! Hooked, appalled, unnerved, horrified….yeah….pick one.
The book is set in the “Colored” town of Liberty, Texas, in the early-middle of the twentieth century. Slavery may have been abolished, but racism still ran rampant through this southern area. The main character, Ruby, is the byproduct of racism, sexism, religious fanaticism, and child abuse. Which is the reason I have included it in my understanding section of Philosophy Sunday.
As far as I know, there are not any slave-owners in my genetic history. However there are plenty of salty characters just the same. But I never really understood why there was such a delineation between the races and why there was still a lot of hate. This novel, who cares if it is fiction, has opened my eyes to what it may have really been like to not be Caucasian in the south during this time period….and if it there is any chance that it is an accurate portrayal of life as it was, then I can understand the hate.
Ruby Bell is a former high-ranking beauty, born from an odd family, but one of the greatest beauties of her time. However, she left for New York, after working all of those summers for that highfalutin “White Woman,” and came back a loon. Ruby is introduced as thus:
“Ruby Bell was a constant reminder of what could befall a woman whose shoe heels were too high. The people of Liberty Township wove her into cautionary tales of the wages of sin and travel. They called her buck-crazy. Howling, half-naked mad. The fact that she had come back from New York City made this somewhat understandable to the town.
She wore gray like rain clouds and wandered the red roads in bared feet. Calluses thick as boot leather. Hair caked with mud. Blackened nails as if she had scratched the slate of night. Her acres of legs carrying her, arms swaying like a loose screen. Her eyes the ink of sky, just before the storm.
That is how Ruby walked when she lived in the splintered house that Papa Bell had built before he passed. When she dug into the East Texas soil under moonlight and wailed like a distant train.
In those years, after her return, people left Ruby be. They walked a curved path to avoid her door. And so it was more than strange when someone walked the length of Liberty and brought a covered cake to the Bells’ front porch…”
Right away you get a feel for the town itself (we will leave Ruby out of it for the moment)….obviously it is a small town for them to have the ability to weave cautionary tales about one lowly individual. It also indicates a deep seeded religious aspect, if they are so worried about sin. It also seems as if these people do not leave their town very often, if they need to have warnings about travel–especially about that hedonistic pit of Hell known as New York City! Also, there seems to be a great deal of gossip going on there….boredom does weird things to your brain! “Years after her return…” key word being years! This poor thing has been wailing in the moonlight for years, and all these people do is just watch her? Well, I mean, if they helped her and she got better, what would they have to talk about?
Now let’s talk about Ruby–came back from New York a little cuckoo, huh? Howling at the moon and digging in the dirt? Why? What is she doing? And if she is so crazy, why is someone bringing her a piece of cake? (Spoiler: I adore that person bringing her the cake! He is a simple man, but maybe that is what makes him such a quality man! He doesn’t have the mental capacity to see anything other than what his heart feels. No excuses or justifications of asshole-actions! Just beautiful!)
Now, I don’t want to give too much away, and I have yet to finish the book anyway, but I need to tell you that Ruby acts that way for a reason! She was turned into crazy, and she tried her hardest to keep a hold of her sanity, but it was literally ripped out from her straining grasp. Poor little thing….
For example….here is what her highfalutin white “employer” told her…
“Tanny and Ruby were the only Colored girls with Miss Barbara. Miss Barbara once said, “You girls are important here because gentleman can do things with a Colored girl they simply can’t bring themselves to do with a White girl.” Ruby knew that the White girls were always good girls, even when they were bad, but Negro girls started bad and couldn’t be anything after that.”
Guess how old Ruby was at this time? Like six, or something!!
“The things he did to her hurt worse than anything she knew, than any way she imagined she could be hurt….”
Ruby’s tales of woe only continue. I cannot really say that it gets any worse, but only because I feel as if that is probably one of the very worst things that could happen to any child. Grown adults using children for their sexual gratification sickens me. And what “Miss Barbara” said about those two girls!? That they could do things to ‘Colored’ girls that they couldn’t bring themselves to do to a white child? Is that how it really was?
What about adult women? If and when they had sex with them, would they do things with them that they could never bring themselves to do with a white woman? If that is how it really was…
Of course, Ruby did not only have to fear the White Man. Members of her own community used her for all that she was worth! Even being as buck-crazy as she was…just wipe off the bits you want to use and don’t touch the rest. At least the white men paid her!! (Two-bits, most of the time. A quarter! I mean, I know it is 1939, but don’t you think traumatizing a child is worth more than $0.25?? Can she say, “Excuse me, I was making that when I was six…” UGH!! Too much to even contemplate!!)
Without giving too much more away, the point that I am trying to make is that there is a lot of misunderstandings to be found by reading this book. First, my naive interpretation as to what the world was like before I was born. I don’t know what it was like. I don’t understand what it meant to be “Colored” in that time period. Hell, I don’t know what it is like in this time period….however, I pride myself on being an outsider, so I do know what it is like to not fit in with the social norm, the status quot, as it were. It isn’t much, but it helps being poor and weird. Second, there is usually a story behind crazy. Mud-caked hair and vacant eyes are usually hiding a pain the likes of which most people cannot even fathom. Third, gossip sucks. And when hate is being flung by those hiding behind religion, that is even worse. Branding poor Ruby a Jezebel, a devil, and a loon, when it was one of their beloved pastors who took her to Miss Barbara to begin with. Fourth, things are not always as they seem. Like I said last week, there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. Better have your facts straight before you go charging on some holy mission of redemption or condemnation. Fifth, and lastly, just because you are bigger, doesn’t mean you have the right to use your power over somebody else.
My mother was a bra-burning hippie and quite a feminist. In her early twenties, while in California, she was in a bar one night playing pool. A guy came up and joined her. She beat the guy. He took mighty offense to being beaten by a woman, so he followed her home. She put on Benny Hill then went to the bathroom. He was there when she opened the door. He smacked her in the face (you could feel the chip in her jaw), then stabbed her three times in the throat. Afterwards, he violated her bleeding dying body. The cops told her she shouldn’t have been dressed like such a slut. Yeah…he was never charged.
I do not know what it is like to be attacked like that, but I do know what it is like to be raised by a parent who was. She also had an “Uncle” who was overtly fond of little girls. And an ex who almost succeeded in killing her, but instead slashed the throats of her two beloved Great Danes, Azar the Great and Attilla the Runt. All of this, and more, happened before I was born. In fact, I am not even supposed to be here. The stabbing and the rape that followed was too traumatic. She also wasn’t supposed to talk. Which just goes to show you that miracles can happen.
I have about 50 pages left of Ruby….I just hope it has a happy ending. But where it stands right now….