By Sikivu Hutchinson
From Rock ‘N’ Roll Heretic: The Life and Times of Rory Tharpe, March 2021
When she was six, Sid cut open a radio to see if there were people in it. Disappointed by the sprawl of colored wires and electronic gunk she saw inside. The explanation of voices traveling through the air on waves was less magical than the prospect of little friends she could keep in her pocket forever. To have and to hold. ‘Til death do us part.
She’d been flipping the dial on the car radio, waiting in the Kmart parking lot for her auntie, when Rory burst through the static. It was what they called a syndicated show with white people playing white music; all folk guitar and country twang, all riding off into the sunset harmonies hawking manufactured heartbreak, murder, and mayhem. Some of it she liked deep down on the sly, not wanting to fuck around with white boy shit and get teased by the blacker than thou sentinels who ruled elementary school.
Listening to Rory’s interview with the deejay on the radio took her back there. To that dumb little six year-old. To the ass whipping she got for the dismembered radio. Each station a gateway to tiny worlds; new pop hits she memorized in one sitting, forbidden sugar rush candy commercial jingles, weather reports screeching at her to rise and shine and brace herself for another eye-gouging West Texas morning scrubbing toilets at the church.
The night the police took her from the Boise motel she turned into a poisonous butterfly, freeing it from the gut cage she’d built after the massacre when she was on the road with her uncle, and he promised her the moon with his hand between her legs. The butterfly would repel the demons, fuck them up, keep them in check. She willed it to be true, flying through the night above all the stable homes with stable children asleep in stable beds.
Before they sent her to foster care, the motel Indian lady came and sat with her. Held her hand, cracked silly jokes, gave her an envelope full of money, rustled up a used book of Mad Libs someone had left behind. Drilling her for verbs. Ransack. Pillage. Destroy.
Sid, you got such a big vocabulary for a young ‘un. Use them words, they’ll serve you well.
She listened to Rory’s singing coming staccato through the speakers and felt her stomach drop leagues. Telling herself that she wasn’t mad at her for giving her up to the police. Nobody in the world owed her jack and she didn’t owe nobody. All she wanted was to play like her, surf the bloodstreams of millions to big shit immortality.
A week after she’d been picked up, she ran away, hitching rides with any black or brown woman who would stop, hoodwinking them sometimes into thinking she was a boy right on the innocent cusp before his voice cracked, plummeted. A cast off in sagging jeans and baseball cap, pen knife warm in her pocket for the predators who wanted her to suck them off in exchange for a few miles. Adults, the demons, saw what they wanted to see. At the Wyoming border, a nun going to Pine Bluff helped her buy a bus ticket to Little Rock, pity shining in her hard eyes. On the bus, Sid took a window seat in the middle, sleeping with the knife blade between her fingers.
Then the butterfly went back into its cage, and waited.