When Anderson Cooper’s mother, the designer and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, reached her 91st birthday, they began a correspondence, breaking a wall of silence between them. This 2016 conversation covered life in the spotlight, suicide, money, and grieving for a parent and a child. Vanderbilt Died in June at age 95.
Maya Angelou was one of the most distinguished poets and authors of our time. Born in Missouri, Angelou’s parents had a difficult marriage and separated after just a few years. She and her brother were raised by their grandmother in Arkansas. At 13, she was sent to live with her mother in San Francisco. Maya Angelou came onto this program several times over the years. But in her last conversation with Diane, in 2013, she talked about writing about her fraught relationship with her mother for the first time. Her last words to Diane: “I love you, Diane Rehm. And I look forward to seeing you and talking to you again and again.” A year later, she died at the age of 86. In one of Diane’s most treasured interviews, the women reflect on forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
- Maya Angelou Author, poet, playwright and performer; author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Acclaimed author and poet Maya Angelou died Wednesday at age 86. Over the years, I had the privilege of interviewing her three times. In 2013, she discussed her memoir, "Mom & Me & Mom." The book focused on a period of reconciliation with her mother. When was three, she was sent to live with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.
MS. DIANE REHMAt 13, Angelou returned to live with her mom in California. In the book, Angelou wrote for the first time about this pivotal era in her life, how she overcame feelings of abandonment and the strength she drew from her mother's steadfast love. Maya Angelou joined me from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
MS. DIANE REHMGood morning to you and welcome.
MS. MAYA ANGELOUGood morning to you and welcome.
REHMOh Maya, so glad to hear your voice. I hope you are well.
ANGELOUI am well and I hope the same for you. I love you.
REHMThank you. I love you, too. And, you know, I was most interested in your title, "Mom & Me & Mom." Tell me what you want to convey with that title.
ANGELOUYes, I wanted to say first there was mom and what she endured and then when I joined her, what for a brief second, a brief few years, what I felt. And then again, it was mom and how she grew herself, how she herself not only endured but strengthened so that when I did ask her, my brother and I asked her -- I was 13, my brother 15 and I really disliked the fact that she had abandoned us.
ANGELOUAnd I couldn't get close to her. And my brother asked her, Why did you leave us so long? Why did you not come and get us? She said, because I wasn't ready. I had no capability of being a mother of a small child. She said at one time, I was three, and I had asked her for something and she didn't give it to me and so I slapped her on the leg.
ANGELOUShe said without thinking she backhanded me off the porch into the dirt. And she said when she saw me scrambling around the dirt, knowing that she had knocked me out there that she said, I'm not ready. I'm not ready to be a mother. And she was absolutely right. And, Diane, although it was painful, it was angst and stern and just terrible feelings of loneliness and aloneness, I realized she did the best thing for me.
ANGELOUBecause when I went to my grandmother, my grandmother was a devout Christian and she spoke quietly and she was a very tall woman. Even when she died she was over six foot, very tall woman and very quiet. We couldn't say hot dog because she said that was a way of saying, of cursing.
ANGELOUWe couldn't say "by the way" because she said Jesus was the way of the truth and the light. And so if we said, "by the way," we were saying by Jesus and she wouldn't have cursing in her house.
ANGELOUAll that. But she was also so kind and although I stayed with her for 10 years, she never once kissed me, but she was so proud of me. She would have visitors over and she'd tell me to take my shirt off and show my arms and she'd say, Now look at these, look at these. Have you ever seen an arm straighter than this, straight as a plank and brown as peanut butter?
REHMSo clearly she gave you the support, the love, even though physically she did not show that kind of caring, you knew it was there. The question I have for you, though, why did you decide to write about your mother now after all these years?
ANGELOUYes, thank you. I wanted to write about her about 20 years ago, but the book wasn't ready. And I suppose I wasn't ready. I hadn't learned enough. I didn't know that love was healing. I didn't understand that and I think I was still wrapped in an erroneous belief that love had something to do with sentimentality and mush and romance.
ANGELOUAnd after years I found, I see, that was love. As strange as it may seem, that was love. It was love which allowed her to send her children away because she wasn't ready for children. There are some people I've found who can be great parents of small children. They put beautiful little bows in their hair and put bowties on the little boys and they're amused by the quaint and curious things that they say.
ANGELOUMy mother was nothing like that, nothing. But then there are parents who are -- who can take little children, but when the children grow up to 13 or 14, they are no longer amused by them and they say, Shut up, sit down. Don't you have some homework to do? Why don't you go over and sit down. Okay, you can go out. Yes, please. So, but there then parents like my mother who was a fabulous mother of a growing adult. She just respected me.
REHMYou know, it is interesting to hear you say that there are some young people who are simply not prepared to cope with young children, really young children. And if one could recognize that as your mother did, it truly is an act of love rather than, as you interpreted it at the time, an act of rejection. And I'm glad that however many years it took you to reach that point you did. Tell us about your mother. What was Vivian Baxter's bringing up?
ANGELOUShe was amazing. She was the oldest of six children and her father was a Trinidadian who believed that boys should be -- that the violence is a part of their lives and it's a good part. And so she, he encouraged them to fight. He said, If you get in jail for thievery or burglary I'll let you rot. But if you get in jail for fighting, I will sell your mother to go to your bail.
ANGELOUAnd so he encouraged her, my mother, since she was the oldest of them to fight. He encouraged her to teach them how to jump on trains and how to climb trees and how to fight bullies and she had that always in her. She had an anger that was just under the surface if there.
REHMSo when she and your father met, how did they come together?
ANGELOUWell, they were both beautiful to look at. My father was from Arkansas and had been in World War I and he was handsome as the devil. And she was very pretty and they just, I'm sure, the lust must have been palatable. They fell for each other and after a few years, they found they didn't like each other at all.
ANGELOUAnd when they decided to separate, neither of them wanted these toddlers of three and five. So they put us on a train in California and sent us, without adult supervision, from California to a little village in Arkansas about the size of your studio and to my grandmother with just tags on our arms, which said, These children are to be delivered to Mrs. Annie Henderson in Stamps, Ark.
ANGELOUAnd even now, 80 years later, I still wonder, did we really get that?
REHMYes, and you know, I mean, you could've gotten off at the wrong stop or somebody could've taken you all.
ANGELOUOf course. But the Pullman Car porters and dining car waiters used to children, black children, traveling alone from the North, which had probably given them their parents promise back to the South, which they knew and they had little promise, but very little disappointment. And so the dining car waiters and Pullman Car porters took us off trains, put us on other trains and we actually arrived in Stamps, Ark.
REHMAnd your grandmother was waiting for you at the station?
ANGELOUYes, she was, she was.
REHMHow marvelous. And you took a liking to her immediately?
ANGELOUYes, I did. I did. I trusted her and probably because she spoke so quietly and moved so really graciously and gracefully. She wore long dresses and she used to say, Sister, you know, mama don't know what she's going to do, but mama going to step out on the Word. Mama just going to step right out on the Word of God.
ANGELOUAnd I could picture this six foot tall woman standing up in the heavens with nothing under her that was visible, just standing and moons around her shoulders and stars around her feet and just stepping out on the, so I wrote her a song. I wrote a song for her, which is sung by, I think, the Mississippi Choir, that big 100 voice choir.
ANGELOUAnd it says, (Singing) You say to call on your name and I'm calling and you said to trust in your Word and I'm trusting. You said to lean on your arm and I'm leaning. I'm stepping out on Your Word. So that was mom.
REHMHow beautiful to hear your voice, Maya Angelou. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about why you stopped talking at the age of 13. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are blessed today to have with us Maya Angelou. She's Reynolds professor of American studies at White Forest University. My only sadness is that I am not sitting across from her here in my studio, but rather she is joining us from Winston-Salem, N.C. We're talking about her new memoir. It's titled "Mom and Me and Mom," and talks about her relationship with her mother and love and forgiveness and reconciliation. Maya, tell us why you stopped talking at age 13.
ANGELOUYes. Actually, I was with Grandmother Henderson in Stamps, Ark. from the time I was three until I was seven, whereupon my father came down and picked me and my brother up. He came from California to Stamps, got us and took us to St. Louis where my mother had returned to be with her family. I'm sure he was jealous of this beautiful woman who is now divorced and free to look around.
ANGELOUAnd so without telling her we were arriving, he just brought us to her doorstep and rang the doorbell in St. Louis. And there we were, two -- a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old. We stayed with her. She took us in and...
REHMYou mean, he just deposited you and left.
ANGELOUYes. Yes, sir -- yes, ma'am, without any faldera, without any preparation. So obviously he was -- it was an act, an unkind act on his part. It wasn't to give us a better life or a different life. It was to drag her. And so she did take us in and she was kind and funny. And although they spoke fast and -- neither my brother nor I could really understand those northerners up in St. Louis, but they did amuse us. And so -- and we learned to eat liverwurst and sliced bread and things we'd never even heard of.
ANGELOUBut then after about three months my mother's boyfriend raped me. And he told me if I spoke -- if I told it to anyone, told the name of the rapist he would kill my brother. Well, my brother was my heart. And so I wouldn't tell anyone. And then my brother said I had to tell him. So I said, if I tell you he will kill you. My brother was nine. He said, I won't let him, so I believed him. I told him. The man was put in jail for one day and night and released.
ANGELOUAnd a few days later the police came to my mother's house and told her in front of me that the man had been found dead. And it seemed he'd been kicked to death. I thought my voice had killed him so I stopped speaking.
REHMYou thought your...
ANGELOUI stopped speaking for six years to everyone but my brother. Somehow I knew that my love for him and his for me were too strong -- our love was too strong to allow any curse to get between us and hurt him. So my mother's people did their best, I give them. They did their best to woo me away from my mutism, but they didn't know what I knew about the power of my voice. So after a few more months they wearied of the presence of this sullen silent child so they sent us back to mama in Stamps, Ark.
REHMTo your grandmother.
ANGELOUTo my grandmother who I adored. And mama would say -- she'd braid my hair the way old black ladies still braid girls' hair. The girl sits on the floor on a pillow and the mama sits in a chair. And she just takes a brush and brushes this mass of curls. So my hair was very thick and very curly. So mama would braid my hair and she'd bend her hand -- the left hand around and put it behind my neck so she wouldn't break my neck by accident. And she'd say, now sister, sister, mama don't care what these people say about you must be a moron and you must be an idiot because you can't talk. Sister, mama don't care.
ANGELOUMama know when you and the good Lord get ready, sister, you're going to become a teacher. You're going to teach all over this world. And, Diane Rehm, I used to sit there and think, this poor ignorant woman. Doesn't she know I will never speak? And now I have talked at the Habima Theater in Israel and in Tel Aviv and journalist in Egypt and translator and (word?) in Yugoslavia. I teach in Spanish and French.
REHMYour grandmother was so right.
ANGELOUMy grandmother, so wise. She was the daughter of a former slave. How did this woman know so much? She was just wise. She was wisdom itself.
REHMAnd, Maya, what was it that finally broke your silence?
ANGELOUWell, it was poetry really. There was a woman in our town, a black lady who took me to the black school. She knew I wasn't going to talk but she said, I want you to read every book in this library. So I read every book. I didn't know what I was reading most of the time but I read. And I found I loved poetry. I could almost hear it. And I would write it down. And finally one day -- I was about 12 -- and she invited me to her house. And she used to read to me. And I went back, she said, you know something, Maya? You don't love poetry
ANGELOUSo I had a little tablet my grandmother had given me. I wrote, yes, ma'am and tried to give her the tablet. She said, no, no, you don't love poetry. You will never love it until you speak it, feel it come across your tongue, over your lips. You'll never love poetry. I ran from her, I ran out of her house. She followed me. She harassed me for months. And finally I went under the house, under my grandmother's store which was built on stilts. And the dirt under the store was soft like powder because of chickens.
ANGELOUAnd I went under the house with Bailey and I realized I had left my voice. My voice had not left me. And I started speaking. I admit slowly at first. I didn't trust it at first. At 13 we were sent back to -- my grandmother took us back to California because Bailey was by that time 15. And my grandmother was afraid that a 15-year-old, a teenage boy growing up in the south, if he looked at a white girl and whistled he could be lynched.
ANGELOUIndeed. So she took us back. And slowly, slowly I learned to talk again. And I learned to trust my mother. At first I couldn't stand her. She laughed all the time. She wore lipstick, real red lipstick and high heel shoes. And she did the time stepping, danced in the kitchen and danced in the living room and had record players all the time.
REHMBut you know there was one really significant moment. When your mother saw you she said, Maya, Margarite, my baby. And she kissed you.
ANGELOUYes. I'd never been called anybody's baby. I'd never been called anybody's daughter. And she told me, she said, I want you to smile. Smile for me. And I couldn't. And she made faces. She put her fingers in her mouth and pulled her lips across and crossed her eyes. And finally I did laugh. I laughed at her and she started to cry. She said, you have a beautiful smile. Mother's baby has a beautiful smile. And she went around the house telling people, you should see my baby's smile.
REHMNow, Vivian Baxter ran a gambling business and a rooming house with her husband, Daddy Clidell. And she was also a registered nurse.
REHMShe became the first black woman officer in the Merchant Marines.
REHMSo you had to have understood her power in that situation. She also owned a gun.
ANGELOUYes, she did, at least one.
REHMSo you grew up with guns around you. What's your feeling about guns now?
ANGELOUWell, I still feel that a woman alone in a house alone needs some sort of protection, and especially as people are -- they're doing house interventions and house break-ins and taking such advantage. Look at the three women we're just finding just in the last few days.
ANGELOUUnbelievable. I think a woman -- for me if somebody wants to come into my house unwelcomed, uninvited, I'd say to the person, I have not bothered you. I do my best for everybody, black or white, fat or thin. I do my best to do the kind thing. And you're going to come in my house and take advantage of me? I hope not. For your sake, don't do it, please. No. Because by the time I call 911 and get some help out there I can be already hurt. And I will not do it. I will not take that chance.
REHMI understand. You chose to address your mother as Lady and not Mom. How come?
ANGELOUYes. Well, she didn't seem like a mother to me. Mother was my grandmother. And mothers spoke softly and mothers were gentle I thought. And Vivian Baxter was so pretty and so quick. And she sang rough songs and -- I mean, rough blues, you know, with some...
ANGELOU...lyrics that even made me blush at 13 and 14. A lot of white people don't know black people blush. We blush just like anyone else except that the complexion hides the color change of the red, the blood rushing to the cheeks and to the neck. But she should sing these songs and dance. And Bailey would laugh but I didn't think it was funny. I didn't think a mother should do that.
ANGELOUSo she said to me after I wouldn't call her mother, she said, you're going to have to address me as something. What would you like to call me? And I said, Lady. And Lady -- she asked why. I said, because you're very pretty. You don't look like a mother. And she said, all right.
REHMBut eventually you did begin calling her mom.
ANGELOUThat's true, that's true.
REHMThat must have meant that she had somehow won you over.
ANGELOUShe won me over. She won me over. Diane, she was kind. She was kind to everybody. The poorer the person, the kinder she was. And she never laughed at people, at their infirmities. She -- when the person was in her presence she was kind. When the person left, she didn't then make her face into a kind of scowl, then laugh. She really felt sympathy and empathy for people.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How about your brother Bailey? How did he see your mother? How did he experience being back at home with her?
ANGELOUNot positively. He loved her so. I think he was in love with her. And he just couldn't stand that she was loved by my stepfather. And also he was jealous and thought that other men wanted her. They may have but he was jealous. And before -- my brother had -- we stayed in Arkansas, my brother would have probably gone to the Howard University on Fisk and become a lawyer. We went to California and by the time he was 19 he was in drugs.
REHMAnd no one could do anything about it?
REHMOh, Maya. How long did that go on?
ANGELOUWell, almost all his life. He fought drugs and I fought drugs with him. I used to go to houses where they sold drugs and -- shoot-up houses. And I would just go in and say, I'm here for my brother. I'm here to get my brother. And all the druggers understood and I would get Bailey and take him outside. And sometimes we'd sit...
REHMWhy do you think you were not tempted?
ANGELOUHonestly, Diane Rehm, I never know. I can just say it was the prayers of my grandmother. And just -- I have no idea. I just know every day when I awaken I thank God for it. I am just so blessed beyond the talking of it. I just saw in today's news that there are five celebrities from around the United States were listed. And five of them -- there was -- the top was Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington. And the fourth person I don't remember, but the fifth person is Maya Angelou. It's amazing. And I have 4 million people on the Facebook list. It's amazing.
ANGELOUI'm just blessed beyond the telling of it.
ANGELOUAnd I'm grateful.
REHMAnd tell us what happened to your brother.
ANGELOUWell, finally I was -- I moved to North Carolina and I was able to bring him here. And he died here in Winston-Salem, N.C.
REHMHow old was he?
ANGELOUHe was 70 -- about 75.
REHMAnd by then had he finally rid himself o the drug habit?
ANGELOUThe drug habit pursued him even here where I'm -- I live here and I'm known here, my church is here and my school is here. Even here people could still get to him. And his daughter lives here. And somehow they were able to avoid -- I mean, elude both of us and get to him. And my niece said she knew -- of course she had worked with drug services in San Francisco at Clyde Memorial Hospital -- I mean, the church. And he had worked with him. She knew when he was on.
REHMMaya Angelou. Her new memoir is titled "Mom and Me and Mom."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us author writer Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, Maya Angelou is with me. We're talking about her latest memoir, "Mom & Me & Mom." And before we open the phones, Maya, I want to ask you about why you almost left your mother's home at age 15.
ANGELOUWell, I thought at first at 15 I was just coming around to liking her and accepting her. And I went out one night with some kids and we went way across town. And I wasn't supposed to go anywhere without Bailey, but I'd gotten caught up in the group and I found myself way across town without car fare. And so a group of us walked home from the Spanish areas, Spanish-speaking area to the Fillmore (sp?). And when I walked in it was 2:00 o'clock in the morning.
ANGELOUI put my key in the door and my mother -- and the door pushed back the other way to me. And my mother stepped out on the -- on the platform, the first step of it and she hit me. She had a bunch of keys in her hand and she hit me in the face with her fist. And I screamed and she pulled me inside and said the whores were in bed and my 15-year-old daughter's walking the street. And she was screaming at the top of her voice. And my stepfather and other people came out what's the matter, what's the matter. And my brother came downstairs and he said let's go. He heard all that and he saw me crying and he said let's go, let's go upstairs.
ANGELOUAnd he took me by the hand and took me to my room and said now wash your face and here's this and here's that. And he said I'll figure out what we're going to do. So about three hours later I'd stopped crying and I looked in the mirror and my face had swollen and my teeth, it was just terrible. And my brother brought a suitcase in -- a bag in -- and said put two skirts and two under slips and two of this in there and let's go. And I said where are we going? He said I don't know, but we're leaving this house. We walked down the steps and my mother saw us and she says and where the hell do you think you're going. And Bailey said anywhere but here.
ANGELOUAnd she looked up and saw me and saw my face swollen, my eyes blue and black and she said oh, please, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. And Bailey said nobody beats up my baby sister. Now you have to picture this, too, Bailey -- I was -- at 15, I was six foot. At 17 he was five foot four and a half.
ANGELOUAnd so my mother said, please come into the kitchen, please, please, please. Let me explain something. So we did. We followed her to the kitchen and she took a tea towel off the rack and put it on the floor. She asked us to sit on the chairs and she knelt down on the floor and prayed to God for forgiveness.
ANGELOUAnd then she prayed to me. And she said everybody had gone to bed and she was knocking at the house and had about 20 keys on this ring. And she'd passed my door and the door was open. And I wasn't in there. And she began to wonder what on earth and where -- had somebody taken advantage of me. And as she walked down the steps I'd put the key in the door and I was smiling. And she exploded. She said please, I beg you, I beg you. And I thought about leaving her. And I thought she loves me. It's not that she hit me because she loved me. She loved me and she's sorry that she hit me. And I understood that then.
ANGELOUTwo years later when I had a baby and I told her I was leaving, my baby was two years -- two months old. I said I'm leaving your house. And she had live in help and all of that. She said you're leaving. I said, yes, I found a room and with cooking privilege down the hall. The landlady will be the babysitter. And I found a job. She said all right, remember this. You already have been raised. You know the difference between right and wrong, do right. That's all. And there's this thing to never forget. You can always come home.
ANGELOUAnd at that moment I was flushed with love for her and it has never decreased from that moment on.
REHMSo that was truly a turning point in your relationship.
ANGELOUYes. Yes, absolutely.
REHMAll right. We have many, many callers. I want to open the phones now. Let's go first to St. Louis, Mo., good morning, Lauren, you're on the air.
LAURAFirst of all, Maya Angelou, I can't believe I'm talking to you. I've loved you since I was a 10-year-old little girl in St. Louis and you are what made me love poetry.
ANGELOUThank you so much.
LAURAYou're welcome. My question is just about your advice for forgiveness. You describe these terribly hard things from your childhood, but you're able to forgive in such a beautiful poetic way really. What would you advise for other people?
ANGELOUWell, one of the things that, Ms. Laura, is I've changed that word to make it two words and turn it around to give for. So if I have someone who has embarrassed me or broken a promise to me or betrayed me or in any way hurt my feelings I will find something, a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions and a roast and give it to a needy family. And I say I'm giving this for Joe who hurt my feelings. And somehow I'm free. I'm not carrying Joe around on my back. I'm not tugging him along everywhere I go. He's not making me look old and tired and weird. I'm free of him. I have given for him. I don't where I got that, but that's what I do.
REHMGreat advice. Here is a message posted on Facebook from R.C. It says, "One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is 'there is a very fine line between loving life and being greedy for it.'"
REHM"In today's fast paced world many of us have become human doings instead of human beings. So many Americans are consumed with consumption. Many are adrenaline junkies. Many hyper focused on achievement and approval yet many of us miss the simple, yet profound experience of just being lovingly present with our fellow human beings on this great earth."
ANGELOUWhat a statement. What a --thank you so much for saying that.
REHMIsn't that beautiful?
ANGELOUI believe in everything you've said.
REHMAbsolutely. Let's go to Las Cruces, N.M., Alena, you're on the air.
ALENAYes, hi, good morning. I just wanted to thank Ms. Angelou for being who she is and putting forth poetry which has given me, you know, writing skills and sentiments and feelings that we can all have, that we all dig deep to put on paper. And then you are a definite star in our writing club.
ALENAAnd we just want to say that when we hear your name we always cheer.
ANGELOUThank you so much. Thank you.
REHMYou can hear those cheers from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Maya. Maya, talk about Mark, who he was and how your mother saved you from him.
ANGELOUYes. Well, he was a wonderful looking man. If wishes were horses...
ANGELOUYes, he was incredible looking and he was very kind at first, very generous. And then one night I left a movie house and he picked me up and drove me out to an area outside of San Francisco called Half Moon Bay. He said to get out of the car. It was very romantic. It was over a cliff looking right out at the bay. It was beautiful. So I got out of the car and he came around and hit me.
ANGELOUAnd really beat me. And sometimes I'd be unconscious and I'd wake up and he'd have me standing against the -- a wall of the cliff.
ANGELOUAnd hit -- he finally put me in the back of his car and drove to Betty Lou's Chicken Shack, which was a restaurant in downtown San Francisco in the black area. And he called some men over and said this is what you do to a -- he used the word, bitch, who has been unfaithful.
ANGELOUAnd the men went back into the Chicken Shack, into the restaurant, and told Miss Betty Lou, who was a friend of my mother, that this man, Mark, had me. And they thought I was dead in the back of his car. So Miss Betty Lou called my mother and my mother called Boyd Puchanelli (sp?), who was a bail bondman. And she said -- he said he didn't have this man. He didn't have any name for him, but he'd find him. So my mother called the police and all that.
ANGELOUAnd the man took me to his room in a rooming house. And he -- I remember once awaking and he had a razorblade, a single edge razorblade. He'd put it to his throat. He said I should kill myself. I've treated you so badly. And then he said, no, I'll kill you. And he put the razor to my throat and he said because I can't leave you here for somebody else to have. He was mad, of course. I went to sleep. I couldn't sit up. I'd only found later that my ribs had been broken. He said I'm going to get you some pineapple juice. You like juice? He said I'm going to the store. I'm going to get it. And then I'm going to nurse you back to health. Don't worry. He left the room and I couldn't even get up off the pillow.
ANGELOUAnd I prayed please let something happen or take my life. Don't let him take it. A little while -- I don't know how much later I heard a (makes noise) down the hall screaming and people kicking doors and my mother's voice saying break it down. Break the S.O.B. down. And two huge men that she'd gotten from her pool hall broken down the door of this man's room, of Mark's room, and my mother stepped in and she fainted when she saw me.
ANGELOUShe said it was the only time in her life she'd ever fainted, but I was just really, really beaten up.
REHMHow long did it take you to heal?
ANGELOUI guess about three or four months.
ANGELOUIt was terrible.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know when I hear you talk about all these experiences in your life, the rape as a young girl, the loss of your mother, the regaining of her, the kind of treatment you've had at the hands of some people. One has to wonder whether the blessings of your grandmother were so deep inside you that you simply knew you would survive.
ANGELOUYes. I wanted to say something away from my own situation in this book. I like you so much, Diane Rehm, and so do your -- so does your audience. And I have a feeling all the time that you and I are best friends.
ANGELOUAnd I know that if we lived near each other, at least, we'd see each other once a month, have a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or something together. I think that you are --you are the kind of best friend everybody would like to have. You're honest, you're direct and you're not brutal. Some people think in order to -- they say I'm brutally frank. That's stupid. You don't have to be brutal about anything. And that's what you're -- you're frank, you're direct and you're also kind. And I like you very much.
REHMMaya, such lovely words coming from you. I shall treasure them forever.
REHMLet's go to Englewood, Fla., Vidayo, you're on the air.
VIDAYOWell, good afternoon, oh, good morning, almost afternoon.
VIDAYOAnd I would like to say that I just -- what you said, Ms. Angelou, is that I do believe this is a great show. And, Diane, a woman like yourself, Ms. Angelou, Oprah, I think you're all kindred spirits and it's a wonderful thing. It's wonderful. And this is the reason I'm calling. I've been enlightened by many writers and also some of this, if you will, the insightful awareness books that are out there.
VIDAYOMy question I would really love to get your opinion on this, Ms. Angelou, is I have -- I was -- I feel truly, you know, betrayed in a true loving relationship of, you know, many years, 20 years, and bottom line I don't need to consider that, you know, the specifics, but when you forgive someone --okay, I've moved on. It's been, you know, it's been over five years, but the hurt, you know, occasionally comes and haunts you when the specter is there.
VIDAYOBut my thing is when I do understand letting go and I have moved on, there are still people who say, well, you know, you should be able to see this person in public. And my question is when someone has really betrayed you, hurt you, whatever, whatever, they're very severe. And you have moved on and you have realized, well, that was that and this is now.
VIDAYODo you still need to see the -- do you -- I mean, is it -- I mean, are you wrong to say, but I just don't need to be a part of that person or their situation here.
ANGELOUThank you for the question. It's one that which it troubles me sometimes, but I also know that just as I have asked God to forgive me, I do forgive people. At the same time God has given me intelligence. I don't -- I know now that fire burns. Okie dokie. I have learned that. I don't have to put my hand in fire anymore. I don't have to explain myself to the brute why I don't want to be in his or her company. People tell you who they are. Once they tell you, believe them. They know themselves better than you do. So, okay, you're this kind of person. You're a betrayer, all right, I see that. I forgive you for the action you did to me because I've given for you. I'm finished with that, but I'm not going to put myself in the arena again.
ANGELOUNo, I won't do that. I've got good sense.
REHMMaya Angelou, Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. Her new memoir, "Mom & Me & Mom." I love you, Maya.
ANGELOUI love you, Diane Rehm.
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