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 word 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, 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.