Around the Way Girl - Taraji P. Henson



Let my mother tell it, all that I am and all that I know is because of my daddy, a declaration that some might find shocking considering the list of negative attributes that floated like a dark cloud over my father’s short, hard-lived life. During his fifty-eight years on this good, green earth, Boris Henson, born and reared in northeast DC, had been homeless and broke, an alcoholic and physically and mentally abusive to my mother during their five years together—plus prone to hot tempers and cool-off periods in the slammer. With that many strikes against his character, I can imagine that it’s hard for some to see the good in who he was, much less how any comparison to him might be construed as a compliment. But Daddy wasn’t average. Yes, there are plenty of fathers who, grappling with their demons, make the babies and leave the mamas and disappear like the wind, without a care in the world about the consequences. The scars run deep. That, however, is not my tale to tell. The truth is, no matter how loud the thunder created by his personal storms, my father always squared his shoulders, extended his arms, opened his heart, and did what was natural and right and beautiful—he loved me. My father’s love was all at once regular and extraordinary, average and heroic. For starters, he was there. No matter his circumstances, no matter what kind of fresh hell he was dealing with or dishing out, he was there, even if he had to insist upon being a part of my life. One of my earliest memories of my dad is of him kidnapping me. It happened when I was about four years old, shortly after my father dragged my mother by her hair into his car while threatening to kill her. I’m told that the only thing that kept her from being dragged down the street with her body hanging out of his ride was my aunt’s quick thinking: she pulled the keys out of the ignition before my father could speed away. He was angry because more than a week earlier, my mother, fearful that my father would follow through on a threat to kill her, packed up a few of our belongings in a brown paper bag and plotted a speedy getaway; she wanted to divorce him and bar him from seeing me until he got himself together and handled his bouts of addiction and anger. But my father wasn’t having it. “Nothing and nobody was gonna keep me away from my baby girl,” he used to tell me when he recounted the days when my mom and I disappeared. He said he even took to the top of buildings throughout our hardscrabble southeast DC neighborhood with binoculars to see if he could spot us. We were long gone, though, hiding out where he didn’t think to look: back and forth between his parents’ home in northeast DC and his sister’s place in Nanjemoy, a small town in southern Maryland.

It took Dad more than a week to track us down at my aunt’s place, and when he finally made it over there, he waged war on her front door, banging and hollering like a madman, demanding to see me, his daughter.

“Let me see my baby!” he yelled. “Taraji! Come see your daddy!”

I was in the television room, which was in the back of the apartment, in a thin pair of pajamas, watching television and pulling a comb through my doll’s hair when I heard my father screaming my name. That doll didn’t have a chance; I left it, the comb, a brush, and a bowl of barrettes and baubles right there in the middle of the floor and started rooting around the recliner for my sneakers with the flowers on them when my mom, a naturally gorgeous cocoa beauty with a beautiful halo of hair, rushed into the room to check on me. “Come here,” she said, scooping me up into her arms. She sat on the edge of the couch, rocking side to side; her palm, warm and slightly sweaty, pressed my head against her chest. The thud of her heartbeat tickled my ear.

? ? ?

I was much too young to understand the dynamics of my parents’ relationship—that my mother was running for her life after he’d lost his temper one too many times and hit her. Nor did I understand that my father was violating my mother’s wishes and scaring her half to death