Recently, I stopped at a local meat market to stock up on some goods before a shut-in was ordered to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. I thought little would come of the stop other than sliced pepperoni from the deli.
Behind the counter was a hunk of meat I hadn't seen since childhood. I took a photo of the hideous pickle and pepper loaf.
I was reminded of an all-night standoff I once had with a convicted killer. I was eight. The murderer was my mother's boyfriend.
I told bits of that story to a group of folks banded together to raise funds to provide refurbished musical instruments to underserved school children.
We took part in a virtual happy hour due to shelter-in-place orders. The icebreaker prompt was: "When I was 8, I wanted to be...?"
"When I was 8, I can tell you what I didn't want to be," I said. "My mom's boyfriend at the time. He was a jerk. He killed a man for speaking to my mom."
I added context to the story below. Some call it art. Others call it therapy. I call it my truth.
Losing My Religion (The Ballad of Charles Pruitt)
By Toriano Porter
I was eight-years-old when I saw a man die for the first time.
The killer? My mom’s boyfriend, Charles Pruitt.
I recall the episode with horror.
I walked with my mom and older brother from my grandmother’s home on Park Avenue in south St. Louis to the two-bedroom apartment we shared on Henrietta Street a few blocks away.
The walk was less than 10 minutes.
My mom held tight me and my 10-year-old brother, Antoine, as we made our way home. A brief stop at Woods Liquor Store on the corner of Park Avenue and Louisiana Street turned out to be a fateful one.
There stood my mom’s boyfriend.
Charles was a mean, ornery son of a gun. He was darker than most, with a head full of hair and a less than visible stubble on his face.
Taller than average, he had a slight frame but packed street credibility by the pound.
He was not to be disrespected.
At age 8, I battled willpower with Charles.
Mom once left me and my brother in his care while she stepped away from our previous two-bedroom apartment on Blaine Street. She partied with her friends until the wee hours of the morning like most 28-year-old people.
He fed us a sloppy concoction of cheap, luncheon meat, un-toasted bread and water.
“I don’t want no pickle loaf,” I protested. I was a stubborn kid. And a picky eater.
Charles forced me to dine on the processed meat sprinkled with pickles and red peppers. He added a slice of hogshead cheese for good measure.
“It’s nasty,” I said.
My brother scarfed down his mayo-drenched sandwich and was allowed to return to the room we shared to watch television.
I remained at the table. I refused to eat the putrid fare.
“Yo' lil’ ass ain’t leaving this muthafuckin' kitchen table until you either eat that damn sandwich or your mama gets her ass back here first,” Charles said.
Our relationship was dicey at best. I stayed clear of him. He had little interest in a step-dad role.
I never did eat that damn pickle loaf sandwich. However, I did sit at the kitchen table for hours until my mom returned.
Later that year, after we moved onto Henrietta, Charles pulled rank on the guy who said hello to our mom in front of the liquor store.
“Hi Renee. Bye Renee” is the only thing I recall the man said.
He strutted from his vehicle and entered the store.
Charles was slightly agitated by the man’s gesture. With angst, he said: “Man, don’t speak to my woman.”
The man laughed, and continued his trip for booze.
Mom and Charles talked a bit as people from around the neighborhood milled about. Some traveled on foot. Others looked out from the perch of their front stoop. It was spring, maybe early summer.
The man spoke again as he left the store with a brown paper bag.
Charles was set off by the man’s insistence to greet Mom.
Mom tried in vain to shield me and my brother from the madness that was about to ensue. She grabbed us by the arms. We marched towards our apartment.
“Let’s go,” she said.
We took no more than a few steps when the commotion between Charles and Mom’s suitor took a violent turn.
Within seconds, the incident came to a sudden end.
“Pow, pow, pow,” shots rang out as we headed south toward Louisiana and St. Vincent. We were three blocks from home.
We ran toward our destination after shots were fired. Mom then stopped and reversed course.
“Boys, c’mon,” she said.
We returned to the scene. Charles had fled.
The man that repeatedly sent regards to Mom lay in the bushes nearby. He bled, and did not move. It was obvious he was in bad shape.
The chaotic scene became even more chaotic as police and EMT officials arrived.
Mom escorted us back to our grandmother’s home to survey the crime scene.
Charles Pruitt was charged with capital murder but was later convicted by a jury on a lesser charge of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Years later, he was back on the street. I was maybe 18 or 19 when he was released but not quite sure.
Mom wanted us to reconnect.
“Tory, do you remember Charles Pruitt?” she said one day. He stopped by my grandmother’s house to say hello to our mother.
We stood together on a porch a short walk from where he killed a man. I was uneasy.
“Yep,” I said. “What’s up, man? Good to see you.”
I spoke, then ducked out of dodge. The pickle loaf incident was the low point. The stone-cold murder ended whatever chance we had for reconciliation.
Several years after the encounter, I was told Charles was yet again convicted of murder in a deadly shooting in north St. Louis.
He was sentenced to life.