Black & Brilliant

The structural integrity

of my destiny

is such,

that I’m stuck in jeopardy.

A loveless recipe.

What’s ahead of me?

A neglected legacy?

Suspected felonies?

Arrested?

— for excessively questioning everything

Let me sing

my song.

When I’m gone

they’ll say:

“A.J.

wasn’t wrong.”

Until then

they’ll act like they don’t feel him

because I’m black and I’m brilliant.

They’re mad I’m resilient,

they’d rather of killed him.

Eventually they’ll finish me,

then I’ll see infinity, divinity.

What did Leonardo DaVinci see?

that made him go insane in his creations

My guess is

she wore dresses,

it’s why he doesn’t paint men.

I’m going through the same thing.

Explaining

while they’re feigning paying attention.

They made me stay in detention,

in school suspensions.

My mentals were different.

I’ve been through some distance

and 10 new prescriptions.

My coping mechanism

for when you don’t listen.

Chapter 7

Before classes started I took a tour of my new school with my mom and the principal, Mr Albert. It helped ease some of the anxiety I was having about switching schools and starting the second grade. He seemed nice and told my mom he thought I’d do well. My mom breathed a breath of relief, hoping she wasn’t going to have to deal with me being in and out of his office, like before. They were calling me A.J. instead of Arthur which helped reinforce the idea of a new life. I felt good while I was being given the tour, but as I left a strange twinge of worry fell on me. I’m not sure where it came from. Ominously looking back at the school, out the window of my mom’s 1990 maroon Pontiac Grand Am, I thought to myself at least they’ll be weekends.

That night at home we had a surprise visit from my Uncle Habron, Aunt Rose, and Cousin Curtis. I had never met any of them but it was cool to be around an older cousin, I thought. Curtis was 13. He was named after my father. My Dad didn’t love the idea of him being named after him though. He always thought they gave out his name prematurely. What if he wanted to give the name to his own child one day?

Admittedly Curtis probably would have been a cooler name than Arthur. I’ve always had a weird relationship with my name. Let’s be honest, it’s an old person’s name. Now granted, I’ve kind of been able to make it work for me somehow, being the nerdy, intellectual if you will, that I am. But I’ve always envied people with cool names. Not only is my first name Arthur but my middle name is Whitlow! Can you believe that? Arthur Whitlow. What kind of name is that? What my parents were thinking will forever be a mystery. I know I was named after my two grandfathers but still. I mean, you know you would never name your kids are me. When I present it like that, I usually win the argument, when people try to be nice and tell me my name isn’t peculiar.

Back to my Dad’s brother’s surprise visit. The biggest surprise of it all was yet to come. Apparently my Aunt and Uncle were having some unidentified problem that required leaving their child. So unbeknownst to my mother, she was now going to have a third child living with her for an unspecified amount of time. My mom didn’t get a say in the matter. They essentially left their kid on her doorstep, stork style.

As it should come to no surprise to anyone reading this, my dad disappeared again. He would literally escape in the middle of the day. One time we found him in his car plotting a get away. He wouldn’t tell anyone he was leaving and be gone for days at least. Even with his wife taking care of essentially 3 of his children.

It was tough on my mom, all of a sudden raising a 13 year old. She had no experience with teenagers, finding condoms, and having to deal with 8th grade melodrama. It was outside of her current realm of understanding.

I couldn’t see how difficult it was for her then. I liked having a ‘big brother’, most of the time.

So here I was, starting at a new school, with a new name, and a new family member…

Chapter 6

Kindergarten was the last grade of school I have any fond memories of. My teacher Mrs. Duke was very kind and made each of us feel special. I wasn’t good academically though and would often fall behind my classmates in spelling.

First grade was worse. I started getting into trouble. I would talk back and question everything. Did I mention it was Catholic school? They hated questions. When I questioned a perceived contradiction in a Bible story, Ms. Case lost her mind screaming at me, telling me I’m nothing like Jesus and that I never could be.

He that believeth in me, these works that I do, he shall also do. And even greater works than these

John 14:12

After she recited this verse, I asked her if I could also make miracles. It wasn’t me who was saying I could, I exclaimed. Jesus said I can do more than he can! Shouldn’t we take this into consideration? Imagine the implications. What if instead of thinking we’re born sinners, on our knees begging forgiveness for our ratchets souls – we were striving to become enlightened and ascend to a higher consciousness? What might the world look like? Is our anxiety and depression at least partly rooted in the lie they tell us, that we’re damned from birth?

Of course I’m paraphrasing the argument I made to Ms Case. I think what actually happened is I spilled my cup of water on the floor, walked across it, and told everyone I was just like Jesus. This garnered hilarious applause from the other children and the fury of Ms. Case. She was the first in a long line of teachers who seemed determined to stifle my creativity and intellectual curiosity.

Back in Martins Ferry, with 2 children and my father actually being there, the house became too small for all of us. My mom was slowly moving up in her company and with my dad staying at home with Josh, we were able to save a few dollars.

We decided to move back to Saint Clairsville and into the house my mom grew up in, where Gram lived. There was a public school nearby and it would be cheaper than the private Catholic school I was in.

They built and attached a trailer sized apartment to the house itself, where I stayed with my family, Gram moved into the addition. It was a lot smaller than what she was used to but she made the sacrifice for us and it helped tremendously.

By the time I left that Catholic school my behavior had really become a problem. My parents encouraged me to use this new school and city as an opportunity to start over. I even changed my name. I no longer wanted to be called Arthur. I was A.J. now.

Chapter 5

My father was determined to do better with Josh and for a large part of my brother’s infancy he was a stay at home dad. Due to this my brother and father would grow to be really close. It’s the reason we all think Josh loves sports. They would stay home all day together watching any game they could. When I was his age and he wasn’t around, I grew up hating sports. I’ve always found them extremely boring. Just a bunch of dudes running back and forth, in their matching outfits, risking concussions and permanent neurological damage – to chase some contrived victory. I never really got into it. But to each his own.

That’s only one possible reason I don’t like sports. The first football game I ever went to, I was taken to by my and Uncle Jackie. These Friday night lights happened to be on Friday the 13th. My Dad took me to the concession stand in between plays. Everything was loud and chaotic. I looked up to tell him I didn’t want any ketchup on my hot dog but he was gone. The lights, the announcers, the whistles. It all seemed to swirl around my head. What couldn’t have been more than 2 minutes felt like an hour. I was so short then that people couldn’t see me and kept bumping into me. Someone even burnt me with a cigarette on my cheek. I fell and the crowd didn’t seem to notice. I didn’t cry though. I was too disoriented to even think.

Just then two teenage girls recused me. What had to of been the prettiest woman I’d ever laid eyes on at the point of my life reached down and picked me off the ground like an angel from heaven. I hugged her like I’d known her forever. She was so caring and warm that I wish I knew her name and could find her on Facebook now. She’s probably still hot. I’d have the best DM dive intro ever, but back to the story. Her and her friend took me away from the crowd and towards the fence against the field. They asked me where my parents were. I almost didn’t want to find them. I would have rather just stayed with her.

Eventually my Dad and Uncle came looking for me and found me with the two teenagers. They overlooked how distraught I was and laughed because they found me with two pretty girls. They joked and said I did it on purpose. I didn’t see the humor in, even if there was truth to it. My dad paid for the girls hot dogs and sodas and thanked them for their help. The girl I liked smiled at me again for the last time and gave me another hug. She said I was the cutest thing she’d ever seen. The feeling that gave me can only be described as love.

When we got back to our seats my Dad still had jokes. “I didn’t know you liked the white girls” he said. That was the first time anyone ever gave me that critique, but it wouldn’t be the last.

 

Chapter 4

”Skeletons, found decades after their souls left. Kneeling in payer, clawing their way through the dirt they were found in, hopelessly, frozen forever. It was the 1960s and the coal mines had caved in, again. These things happen in towns like War, West Virginia. This time it was the work of the Mothman. Just months prior he brought the Silver Bridge down and killed 46 people. They even made a movie about it…”

My father would tell me ghost stories from his times in West Virginia. He was a staunch believer in ghosts and even thought our house was haunted, I would soon come to find out.

“Daddy tell me just one more!”, I would plead before bed.

“Okay, just one more…”

They say that newborn children possess a knowledge and understanding of the unknown, a memory even of what’s on the other side of life, having just come from there themselves. They say that children forget this divine information as they learn to speak. As unlikely as all of this may seem, it is true that we all have early experiences that we can’t remember. No one remembers their own birth for example, but we all still know it happened. If our memories don’t begin were our experience does, who’s to say where the timeline begins?

I don’t think my father had ever given any thought to these types of ideas, but I can’t help but to consider them when I reflect on the next story he told me…

When you were very young, Arthur, just beginning to talk, I heard you in the middle of the night in your room making some sort of a noise. I went to check on you. My heart froze when I saw you standing in your crib by yourself talking to no one. I asked what you were doing. You told me you were talking to the ‘blue man’. I asked where the blue man went, and you told me he walked back into the wall. I had chills all over my body because I had already seen things myself in this house, and it was then I knew it had to be haunted.

I slept in my parents’ bed that night, scared to death. My mother was the opposite of my father and didn’t believe in anything that couldn’t be perceived with the five senses, unless it was written in the Bible. She told me my Dad was crazy and that I shouldn’t believe everything he says. A valuable lesson I would come to realize.

When I wasn’t being told horrifying ghost stories, I was preparing to become a big brother. I was really excited. I saw a child psychologist to help me cope with feelings of jealousy that were said to be common among new siblings. But I never felt any of that. I only ever wanted to best for him from the moment I saw him.

The morning he was born, March 10, 1989 – I woke up to an empty house. I found Gram standing in the hallway. I asked where was everyone. She told me they’d gone to the hospital to have the baby. I can still hear her warm voice felt with excitement.

I guess because 95% of the people I was around were white, and at 5 I was too young to understand genetics, but for some reason I kept thinking my little brother was going to be white. My dad took me to see him in the hospital and just laughed when I asked about his color.

 

Chapter 3

Giving birth made my mother extremely ill. She was in the hospital for weeks. To this day my mom tells me I owe my life to Gram being there, taking care of me while she was hospitalized. My father was again missing in action.

One night Gram had enough of my father not taking care of his family. So she went looking for him and started her search at his Mom’s.

I don’t know much about my father’s mother who I called ‘Grammy’. I only ever met her a few times. I do know that because of her letting my Dad get away with so much, it’s the reason my mom never let me get away with anything.

None of us had any idea yet why my father was hiding or what he was running from, but Gram found him there on Grammy’s couch. He was just sitting there watching TV, as if neglecting your newborn and sick wife was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. She yelled at him and his mother, telling them about themselves and how ridiculous it was that she could allow him to be so irresponsible. She told him he should be ashamed, laying around like a kid when he has a child of his own now. I guess the deserved ridicule worked because after that beratement he finally came home.

My mother began to feel better and for my family things started to improve. My mom was working, going to school, and learning to navigate the city. My Dad was trying his hardest to be successful with his businesses.

One night after showing an apartment to some potential tenants my father was robbed and pistol whipped for the few hundred dollars he had on him. He came home that night bruised and bloody. I was still too young to remember, but they told me I could sense the trauma and lifted my little baby arms to his wounds with a cold compress. That’s when my mom started to get a sense of the danger Harlem had to offer.

Another night after work my mother accidentally left the keys in the door for the entire day. Fortunately the nice neighbors she knew found them and kept them for her. When they gave them back they also gave her a grave warning, intensely stressing that she never ever do anything like that again: “You’ll lose everything at best or at worst someone will take the key, make a copy of it, and kill and rape your entire family.” My mom never felt the same about New York after that and began feeling like it wasn’t the place to raise me.

My father had apartments in Brooklyn so my mother suggested possibly moving there. A few weeks before they were going to move in all of the plumbing was robbed from the house. Apparently older places with copper plumbing are worth a small fortune. Afterwards there was no way my parents felt safe living there and it was the last straw for my mother. She had tried it my dad’s way long enough. Now it was her turn. After about a year of negotiations she talked my dad into moving back to the town she grew up in, St. Clairsville.

We stayed in a small house there where I made my very first memories. All I remember is my dad’s brother visiting, my Uncle Jackie, and me being 3 years old riding on his back. I also remember falling down the stairs and Grammy being there, calling it a “big bad boom”.

Next when I was 4 ,we moved to a nearby town called Martins Ferry where I start to really recollect memories. This is where I first learned about the opposite sex, and the opposite race.

My neighbors across the street were crazy, always getting into fights. One time the police came to their house to break up a scuffle. I was scared and asked if we could drive to Gram’s house, which was a few towns over. My mother told me not to worry and that I would be okay.

The first time I heard the word nigger was from the neighbors across the street. They were laughing and pointing at me, calling me a nigger while I laughingly pulled my shirt up and played along. I had no idea what that meant. Later I asked my mom what a nigger is and she told me it was a mean word to call a black person.

My response, “well whats a mean world I can call a white person?”

“Cracker , she said.

My father was again coming and going as he pleased. Every morning I would wake up and the first thing I would yell into the next room was, “is Daddy here?”No, I’m sorry sweetheart , was always her reply.

I guess this is where my issues with abandonment stem from. And also everyday, my mother was forced to drive an extra twenty minutes before and after work to take me to day care where I would sometimes be at for 10 hours. No one knew it at the time but now there are various studies that suggest children taken to day care suffer from abandonment issues later in life. I don’t mean to complain. My mother was doing the best she could, working everyday to keep food on the table.

The workers at the Day Care showed favoritism to some children but not to me. It was infuriating to see them let a family friends’ kid stay up while the rest of us had nap time. I hated nap time. Other than that they were okay, some were nicer than others. There was a women there named Sonya who I lived in fear of. She was super mean. Ms. Linda was the owner and also the kindest. She did a lot for my mother, the providing discounts when financial hardships came to my family. Years later when my mother was more on her feet, she would return the favor, donating money every year to the day care. I was always proud of her for that.

Day care was very lonely but I had one friend that I still have to this day. My stuffed animal, Goofy. One time I forgot him at day care on a Friday and had to wait all the way until Monday before I could see him again and I cried. Time passes so much slower as a child.

Back at home there were several children in my neighborhood, most of them were older than me. A few of the girls were my age and that’s who I spent most of my time playing with.

Donny, one of the kids who called me a nigger, told me a story about one of the ladies on our street. He told me that Cindy, a grown woman took him into a room and let him see her breasts. I’ll never know if that story was true or not but judging by the craziness that was going on there then, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Hearing this story though I almost felt jealousy seeping into my psyche. I wanted to have a similar experience with her. I was probably only 4 at the time, weird I know.

I found myself alone with Cindy’s daughter Carrie, playing in a closet. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but we both ended up with our pants all the way down. Just looking at each other.

“Oohh baby I want to kiss you” I said.

My brain was already starting to be corrupted. Perhaps because my father wasn’t around and my mother was at work all the time. I had no guidance. I was left to fend for myself, way too young.

Days later I found myself playing with another one of my girl friends. At this point I was kind of assuming that pulling your pants down was the norm. We again were alone playing in a closet. I said to her, “aren’t you going to pull your pants down?” She did not and promptly told her mother.

Her mom who was babysitting yelled at me wildly, saying she was going to tell my mom as soon as she got there. I was terrified, perhaps more than I’d ever been at that point in my life. I waited outside on the porch while they talked for only a few minutes. That night I waited for the fury of my parents to erupt. I was so ashamed. But that fury never came. To this day I have no idea whether or not she actually told my mom. I lived with that guilt all throughout my childhood years. I’ve since forgiven myself, understanding it was misguided human nature.

I was beginning to formulate my own interests. I became obsessed with music. The first song I fell in love with was Dionne Warwick’s “Thats what friends are for”. Next was “We are the World”, the charitable collaboration of several popular musicians at the time. Of those artists, one would become my favorite and very first idol, Michael Jackson.

I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old but I loved his music. Bad, Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, these songs laid the foundation for what my musical palette is today. No one will believe this, because of how uncoordinated I am today, but back then I could moonwalk. I swear. I had the whole Michael Jackson dance down. My mom bought me the red zipper jacket and a sparkly glove. She even let me put the S wave in my hair one time. I cried when I saw how I looked in the mirror.

I’ll never know how she pulled this off, but one day when she picked me up from Day Care she had Michael Jackson tickets for that night in Pittsburgh. Not only that but when we got home to get ready, my father was there! My mom rolled her eyes thinking sarcastically how convenient it was for him to magically appear the day he’d get to see a Michael Jackson concert. Nevertheless we all drove an hour to the city and watched the show together as a family. As for my experience there, it was horrifying. I remember crying and being scared the whole time. I guess I was too young to wrap my head around the concept of pyrotechnics. My parents were maybe ahead of their time taking me to such a show so young. But creativity had snuck into my subconscious. I would never be the same. I’m forever grateful for that night. Allowing me to see the greatest performer and artist, perhaps of all time, cemented in me from an early age, an appreciation, respect, and curiosity for the arts.

Simultaneously I was exploring interests in my first crushes. I’ve heard stories of kids not being interested in the opposite sex until much older, but not me. I’ve been infatuated for as long as I can remember. My first crush was Punky Brewster, followed abruptly by Rudy Huxtable. It wouldn’t be until I started school that I could have real life crushes, which I would, a new one every year, and it’s always been like that – even now.

My life, for a moment, started to resemble normalcy. Both grandmothers would visit and everyone got along. Grammy noticing me walking with my head down gave me one of the only pieces of advice she ever did; “Why are you walking with your head down? Hold your head up when you walk. Be proud of who you are!”I don’t know why but that always stuck with me.

One evening with my father driving me and some cousins to our uncle’s, we got into a car wreck. It was raining and his car lost control and slid into a guard rail. Everyone was ok but we were all terrified. My father did best to console us immediately after, but I was afraid to get in a car with him for months.

Weeks later, after a fight between my parents with me in the middle, my father threatened to leave again but this time take me. He didn’t and left by himself, like he always did. His departure wouldn’t last long however.

My mother sat down to have a talk with me a few nights later. She asked what I thought about having a younger sibling. I told her of course I wanted one. About a week later her and my father sat me down again. They told me I would in fact get the opportunity to be a big brother. They even told me I could pick out the name. I decided on Jessica if it was a girl. We were always in church so I picked a name from the Bible if it was a boy, Joshua.