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Literary Las Vegas: Shelia Washington

As a 12-year-old girl growing up in Las Vegas, Shelia Washington worked by her mother’s side cleaning the home of a powerful, wealthy couple. The young girl soon caught the husband’s eye. At first, her mother resisted the man’s demands, staying away from work for a week and putting him off for months. Pushed by poverty and promises of a way out, the mother relented and allowed the man to have his way with her daughter. After a baby was born, Washington spent the rest of her life coming to terms with grief and guilt mixed with love for the son she decided to keep.

"Some of us have secrets that we have kept hidden since childhood," Washington wrote in a book about her experiences. "Some secrets we have forgotten because of time, some because of choice. As we go on with our lives not telling anyone, we believe God has forgotten or He doesn’t care. We become so calloused that we don’t even hurt anymore. Our secrets tell us "it’s okay," that it is only part of our past. Thus, we stay in darkness."

Washington wrote the memoir "He Lives to Take Away My Shame" as a way to break free from that darkness.

Excerpt from ‘He Lives to Take Away My Shame’

My son was born on December 25th, 1965. I named him Ricky, just like Ms. Ann asked. He was 7 pounds and 5 ounces. I was in labor for twenty three hours and hospitalized for three days. It was the most painful thing I ever experienced, but I never cried. I don’t know why I never cried during the awful things I went through. It was like something had been turned off inside of me emotionally, a shutoff valve of some sort. My mama was right by my side throughout the entire delivery. I yelled at her one time during the birth … but afterwards I felt bad and apologized for yelling at her.

Mama’s boyfriend was there as well. After he saw my baby he commented that his father must be a real light skinned man. Mama didn’t say a word. Neither did I. Ricky looked like a little white man. He had a big round head with absolutely no hair. The nurses looked at him and said there is no way he could belong to me. There was this white lady who had given birth who said Ricky looked as though he could be her child, but when the staff checked and confirmed our arm bands they brought him to my room, apologizing for their assumptions.

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