- Josh Green
Dorsey Jones was once a fixture on her father’s shoulder. That was her baby seat, most places Henry Jones went. And she was his world, his only child. Perched up there, Dorsey — born in Portsmouth, Virginia, on Thanksgiving Day 1970 — would often try to comb his hair. At least that’s what his family told her. She hasn’t a single memory of her dad.
While crabbing one day off Virginia Beach, the current crept up and surprised the Vietnam vet, a strong swimmer who nonetheless drowned.
The current of Dorsey’s life also shifted that day.
Her father’s death left Dorsey in the care of her mother, an occasional housekeeper and babysitter who was prone, as Dorsey tells it, to spontaneous and irrational decisions. This included suddenly uprooting the family via Greyhound bus from Norfolk to South Georgia when Dorsey, the oldest of four siblings, was about 6.
In every sense, Bainbridge was a shock for Dorsey. Ripped from the support system of her father’s extended family, she was deposited at her maternal grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment while her mother took off with a former crush. Dorsey and her siblings shared the space with an aunt and two cousins; most of them slept on the concrete floor. Her grandmother often issued beatings with fists, books, shoes — anything — for the smallest infraction. When visitors came, Dorsey tried to slip them S.O.S. notes addressed to her vanished mom.
It was against this dire backdrop that everything changed on Dorsey’s 11th birthday. That was when a man in his 40s who lived across the street fondled Dorsey’s genitals. Afterward, he handed her a crumpled $20. She knew what he’d done was wrong, but that much money in her hand was exhilarating. It seemed like $100 or $1,000. So she walked to the Dixie Dandy convenience store, bought two cans of peas and a package of stew meat, and cooked up a feast for her siblings.