Chapter 1

Have you ever considered the improbability of being alive?

Think of all the near-death experiences our ancestors must’ve made it through. The earth had to be 93 million miles away from the sun. Every living organism that existed in the 6 billion years between Earth forming and the evolution of man had to make it through unimaginable difficulty, all for your parents to meet.

And like I said, mine almost didn’t. When it happened, it was a chance encounter.

My Mom and Aunt Phoebe had plans to visit their friend in Virginia – who ends up ditching them for some random guy; an encounter I can only imagine was as random as my parents’.

Not wanting to waste their vacation, my mom suggests Charleston. While there enjoying the summer day, they notice a group of guys. My mom was way too shy but my Aunt was the opposite.

She walked right over and started talking to one of them, named Curtis.

My father was one of 14 brothers and sisters, born and raised in War, West Virginia – the state’s southern most town. He and his siblings would grow to resent their country upbringing and began moving to New York City when they became of age.

They had family there who they spent their summers with as children. My father went to college however in Charleston.

The summer he graduated he found himself outside at the city fountain, discussing plans to finally move to New York permanently.

It was then when a heavy-set, light-skinned, African-American woman named Phoebe approached him, asking, “What’s there to do around here?”

My dad, noticing her pretty brown skinned 5’1 sister standing quietly in the background, invited them both out. He said he’d be happy to show them around.

They accepted his invitation and for the rest of that weekend they all hung out. Then my mom and dad exchanged numbers.

After a couple years of dating my parents got married. By then my father was living in New York full time, working real estate in Harlem, and trying to get his record label off the ground.

My mother worked for a doctor’s office back in Steubenville, Ohio. My dad eventually enticed her to move to the big city.

Through the lens of history it seems apparent now, but for them at the time, the magnitude of danger in Harlem 1983 wasn’t as obvious. And like the boiling frog, my father would slowly succumb.

He was also in mourning. His father was dying.

Most of the time then, my dad was nowhere to be found. Where he was and what he was doing, we won’t find out until I’m much older. It’s something that would change my family forever.

Fortunately for my mom, her mom who I called ‘Gram’, came to New York to help. Gram was an unapologetically courageous black women, though light enough to pass for white.

It was right around this time my mother became pregnant with her first child, me.