The likelihood of meeting the person you’re destined to be with is a statistical anomaly. That’s if you believe it’s even possible. Be that as it may, my parents almost never met.

My mother was in love with a man named Donald Dayton. In the 1970s when the automotive manufacturing industry was thriving, and before health and safety regulations were what they are today, Donald spent his summers working at a plant in Detroit. It was good money for a black kid at the time, but unfortunately the air he breathed working there was toxic. He developed a then fatal lung disease called sarcoidosis. This would not be the last time my mother would lose the love of her life to the American working environment.

Scientists today have said that sitting is the new smoking. It’s something we all do without the long term health risks being understood. Most of us sit all day staring at screens. Will we look back at our current day jobs through the same lens we look at the inhumane working conditions of the past? My guess? We definitely will.

After Donald’s funeral my mom got in her car and drove for days without any destination. It was the worst thing she had ever been through, up to that point. Unbeknownst to her then, it would also be the catalyst to propel her into the world she knows today. Even more important, for the purposes of our story, I owe my existence to this seemingly horrible event.

There’s this old fable of the wise man,

A boy in a village wanted a bike and finally got one. The people of the village thought it was great. Reserving judgement, the wise man said, ‘we’ll see’. The boy broke his arm riding that bike. The villagers then thought it was bad. The wise man said, ‘we’ll see’. Then war came, but because the boy had a broken arm, he didn’t have to go. The people changed their tune again and thought his arm breaking his arm turned out to be a good thing. The wise man simply stated, ‘we’ll see’…

These stories reflect the importance of non-judgement and non-attachment to any particular outcome. It’s best to stay here in the present moment. We never know where it will take us.

Chapter 1

Have you ever considered the improbability of being alive? Of all the near-death experiences I’ve had, my ancestors made it through just as many, probably more. The earth had to be exactly 93 million miles away from the sun in order to make life on this planet hospitable. 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 in order for your parents to meet.

And like I said, my parents almost never did. When it happened, it was of course a chance encounter.

My Mom and Aunt Phoebe had plans to visit their friend Nancy in Virginia Beach. Nancy ended up meeting a guy at the last minute. An encounter I can only imagine was just as random as my parents’. Because of this, she no longer wanted my mom and aunt to visit, so she basically stood them up.

Not wanting to waste their vacation time, my mom randomly suggested visiting Charleston WV instead. While there enjoying the summer day in front of their hotel, they noticed a group of guys hanging out by a fountain. My mom was way too shy but my Aunt Phoebe 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’d spent their summers with as children. My father went to college however in Charleston, West Virginia. The summer he graduated he found himself outside at the city fountain, discussing his 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 this weekend?” My dad, noticing her pretty brown skinned 5’1 sister standing quietly in the background, invited them both out that evening. He said he’d be happy to show them around, they just needed to pick him up. They accepted his invitation and for the rest of that weekend, the three of them hung out. My mom and dad exchanged phone numbers but she never thought she’d see him again. They ended up keeping in touch and before long they were taking trips to see one another.

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 circa 1983 wasn’t as obvious right away. And like the boiling frog, my father would slowly succumb. He was also in mourning, his father was dying. Most of the time then, he 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’, would soon be forced to visit 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.

Chapter 2

I don’t know much about reincarnation, but once out of curiosity, I googled who died the day I was born. Howard Dietz. We have some eerie similarities. Because I’m a Leo, I’ve always loved lions. Howard Dietz is credited with creating the Lion mascot you see at the beginning of every MGM movie. And not only did he die the same day I was born, but it was in the same city! If that’s not enough, he was a writer too. Creepy.

I also don’t know much about my paternal grandfather either, other than he died on July 1st, and by the end of that month I’d be born. You would think that losing your father and becoming one, within such a short time span, would create some sort of balance. But my father couldn’t handle death. Not even new life could lead him from the depression that followed.

My mother hadn’t seen him in days. Miraculously, he came home the morning she’d give birth to me. My parents had an arrangement with their neighbors. They were supposed to drive her to the hospital when it was time. When it actually happened though, they “chickened out” and gave their car to my father to drive instead. Racing from 127th – 12th street through Manhattan traffic on a hot Saturday night in July, they make it without incident to St. Vincent’s Medical Center (the hospital used first on September 11, 2001).

While my father was parking the car, my mom and grandma were getting into a heated confrontation with the security guard. He’s telling them they have to go in through another entrance. My grandmother is yelling, “Can’t you see she’s pregnant!? There’s no time! Her husband is parking the car, we can’t lose him!” My mom is thinking that my dad, with his temper, is seriously going to fight this dude. Just before my dad catches back up with them, the guard recognizes my mom…she works in the same hospital! He then let’s all three of them in, just in time. Crises averted.

At 5:38pm on July 30, 1983 I took my first breath in one of the most artistic and open minded places in the world, Greenwich Village. I was handed to my mother and father by a nurse with purple hair. Then it was back to harlem.

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 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.

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 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 6

As bad as I’ve done in school, my entire life, teachers have always told me I’m smart. I’d like to think that maybe I am, but it’s debatable. If there is anything that does set me apart, it’s awareness. I see things others don’t, and I don’t mean the blue man who walked into the wall.

When I talk about ideas like the totalitarian slave state we’re all heading towards, being complicit in our own subjugation by accepting the oppressive conditions we’re living in, most people just call that ‘going to work’. While on one level, they’re not wrong, there’s still something else, deeper, behind the scenes; I think they’re missing it.

I’ve tried discussing how institutions like marriage are not only archaic but actually counterintuitive to what love is supposed to be. I say that love is freedom and contractually obligating your partner to you, is in fact the opposite of what it means to love someone. I explain how a young couple starting a life together could better use those thousands of dollars they’re spending on throwing a pretentious party (wedding) for themselves, for something more important, like food and shelter. They never ever have even a remotely decent counter argument, they just mumble something about it being tradition and it’s what’s always been done. But the truth is like light and just like you can’t stop the sun from shinning, most marriages end in divorce.

Miss Lauryn Hill, the famously reclusive R&B singer once said, ”We spend our life in sacrifice to a system for the dead. Are you sure? Where’s the passion in this living? Are you sure it’s God you’re serving? Obligated to a system, getting less than you’re deserving.” I can’t help but to think she was referring to these systems created by now all dead men, that we artificially prop up to our own detriment. I dream of a world where we throw off these shackles of the past and forge ahead with a new enlightened, current and more relevant way of being.

Theres an expression that says if you raise a child in church, he’ll always come back. But really that just means you have to feed nonsense to a child because an adult will never believe the literal interpretation of these superstitions.

And even though my parents didn’t know any better and tried to raise me with the same arbitrary lessons passed down from who I can only assume were slaves, somehow I was able to see through it at an early age.

I remember my first ever debate. I overheard a kindergartener by the name of Scott describing in great length a conversation he had with the Cookie Monster, while watching him on television. Scott was explaining how the Cookie Monster asked how many cookies would he have left if he started with 5 and then ate 2. Scott proudly shouted, ”three!” at the T.V. and the Cookie Monster reassuringly said ”Yes that’s right”. I interjected the conversation he was having, trying to explain that not only can the cookie monster not hear him, but also that the Cookie Monster was in fact not real at all, but a puppet being controlled by someone else off camera. Some things never change.

Needless to say that regardless of how sound my argument was, he wasn’t mentally prepared to accept this truth. It’s not that Scott was dumb, he was a better student than me. What he lacked was awareness. This frustration that I had with Scott then I still feel today as I try to explain what I see as obvious truths, hidden in plain sight. I don’t let it upset me because just like Scott would eventually realize the cookie monster wasn’t real, soon enough you too will realize neither is anything else.

Chapter 7

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 8

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?

When I was younger I thought Curtis would’ve been a cooler name than Arthur but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to embrace it. I’ve always had a weird relationship with my name. Let’s be honest, it’s an old person’s name. The name Arthur is very typecast. When you’re Arthur, your fate is so clandestine, there’s no way you aren’t going to read books and wear glasses. 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 after 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. It was as if she didn’t get a say in the matter. They essentially left their kid on her doorstep, stork style.

It should come as 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 the driveway in his car about to take off. 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 parenting at the time.

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 9

Before we go any farther we should talk about something. I know I’ve maybe alluded to this already but I just want make it clear now and then we can move on: I was the only black kid in my class, and one of a few in the entire school. I don’t want to dwell on this more than I have to, particularly in these early chapters. This fact, being black around whites, and being different in general, is something I had a very limited understanding of back then. The older I get, the more I realize it’s impact on my life and the way I view it. And also, the way the world views me.

I said something before about liking a different girl every year. My crush in my second grade class is when the memories begin to change from analog to digital. I remember her well, Jessica G was her name. Her complexion was the same color as her hair, butterscotch. Does her being tan represent some sort racially ambiguous fixation rooted in me due to my surroundings? Perhaps, because this description would become archetypal in my life. I never told her though. I never told anyone come to think of it. Having the world know was for some unknown reason my worst fear.

I had a best friend named Mitch K. Mitch was what you would’ve called a bad kid. His Dad was what some might call a redneck. They liked me and my Dad though. My dad coached our flag football team. It’s where we all met. My dad must have learned how to get along with rednecks growing up in creepy West Virginia. I must’ve learned how in St. C. It’s a skill that surprisingly comes in handy sometimes.

Even though my dad was the coach, I rarely got to play. In his defense, I wasn’t very good and he let me know any chance he got. I was a lineman and needless to say, you don’t do much as a 7 year old lineman. My dad told me everyone referred to them as ‘dumb line men’.

Retroactively assessing this situation, I must say I’m pissed. Here this guy comes talking shit about me not knowing how to play football, when it’s his fault! He was never around to teach me. What I’ve found is people will make you into something, then resent you for becoming it. This is why you have to create yourself.

On recess Mitch and I were racing and near the finish line stood Jessica G. If I could win it would be an opportunity to impress her. Our friend Brian G yelled go, and we were off! I ran as fast as I could, keeping my eyes on her the whole time. But in the end it wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t keep up with Mitch who collided directly into Jessica. They both fell to the ground, she was crying hysterically. Mitch had been in trouble several times before and so had I. The teachers came and blamed me initially but ultimately had to concede it was Mitch, due to the eye-witness accounts. The next thing I knew the teachers were walking him off of the playground. Soon I found out his dad was taking him to another smaller school, in the hopes of curbing his behavioral issues. As for Jessica G, she now associated me as one of the bad kids, so that was the end of my crush. I was left with no crush and no best friend, no friends at all really, being I was the new kid in school.

Brian G. who yelled ‘go’ at the race, eventually became my new best friend. He was the best friend I’d ever had at that point. His older brother was in the same grade as my cousin Curtis, so we had that in common too. I had my first sleepover at his house and we would go on to wreak havoc on Mrs. Bizzari, our teacher, for the rest of the year. It was great.

Having a best friend and ‘older brother’ was vital for success in the game of grade school politics. A friend for companionship, and an older sibling for protection. In the early 90s bullying prevention wasn’t a thing like it is today. No one cared enough to try to stop it. It was like the wild west back then. We would settle our differences on the playground or after school. Sometimes one on one. Sometimes five on one. It made no difference.

Because fights were a regular thing, it wasn’t long until me and Brian got into one, over whose dad made the most money. It’s funny to think about this now because both of our fathers were broke. In any event, the fight ended our friendship. I still know Brian G and our relationship has never been the same since.

Right around this time cousin Curtis moved back to Virginia with his family. And I would be forced to navigate my way through this new terrain, of being the black kid at the white school, alone.

I was finally allowed to cross Main Street so I started walking home from school with some kids in my neighborhood. Fights would spontaneously combust. There were these two brothers, Chucky and Jonathan. We would beat them so bad that adults driving would pull over to see if they were okay. I was far from a bully though, getting beat up even more than I was doing the beating. Things were crazy then.

One time this kid Matt R called me a nigger and said he was getting diarrhea from looking at me. I politely asked the children standing in my way to excuse me, as I made my way over to punch him in the face repeatedly until Mrs. Krahel pulled me off. I was abruptly sent to the principal’s office.

Of all the fights I had been through up to this point, the biggest was just about to happen.

Walking home after school I found myself getting swung on, ferociously, by some kid I had never seen before. I looked up to see were my friends were. Not so much for help at first, but to make sure they weren’t seeing me getting hit. I didn’t want the embarrassment if I was about to get beat up. See no one back then was afraid of getting hurt. We were only afraid of losing. I kept getting hit with blows. The situation was deteriorating and had become such a spectacle my friends couldn’t help but notice. They came rushing down, presumably to save me, but when they realized who I was fighting with, they didn’t engage. The scene was too chaotic for me to process why. By now my assailant’s mother had taken him into her car and was driving away. My friends tried to stop me but I was too enraged. I yelled obscenities at the women and her son, laughing like a mad man and crying. I assumed she would just keep driving off but I was wrong. She stopped her car in the middle of traffic, right in front of the high school. She opens the door and gets out. I freeze. She’s calling me a nigger and a bunch of other things I’m sure I’ve mentally blocked out. A black high schooler named Corey overhears everything. He says, ”don’t be talking to a child like this, he’s just a kid!”. She calls him nigger too and finally gets back in the car and leaves. Corey maybe saved me. By now I turn around to my friends to ask why they didn’t help me. They all look like they’ve just seen the Tales from the Crypt keeper. One of them looks pitifully at me and says “that kid you got in a fight with was Jared W, him and his brothers are the toughest kids in school!” What I didn’t know then were the reasons why these brothers were so extraordinarily tough. They were raised by a psychotic kick-boxer father who taught them the craft since they were old enough to walk. No doubt he was abusive to them as well. These were my new mortal enemies.

I went home and told my dad what happened. My mom was at work. My father didn’t have a job because he had been ‘laid off’ which really just meant fired after getting into a fight himself. When my dad heard the story he was furious. He called the police and before I knew it we had a day in court approaching. The W brothers hated a lot of kids at school, with passions. They terrorized even more than they hated. But off all their foes, I had become their number one target. The older cousin and best friend would’ve been helpful here but what was even more valuable was the understanding that I would have to figure out life on my own. I figured out early that when it came down to it, I wouldn’t be able to count on anyone else.


Chapter 10

Yes I was failing classes. Yes I had the worst possible nemesis actively harassing me almost daily. Yes my dad was still in and out of my life, even though he knew new bullies were threatening me. Yes there were talks of suspending me from school, something unheard of, there, at that time.

None of that bothered me.

Before smart phones and tablets distracted and addicted children, we had to actually like each other. In the third grade it was Ashley Planes. I again never told her. I had some sort of complex about confessing my love. I assumed no one would like me since I was different and I felt embarrassed because of it. A classmate of mine liked her too and she liked him back. I took some of my mom’s earrings and gave him to give to her. I don’t even know why. I guess I wanted to be the reason she smiled, even if indirectly.

In Judaism it’s said that one of the highest levels of giving is when the recipient is unaware of the giver. Love should be altruistic. It’s funny how we understand this intuitively as children, until our modern world suffocates it out of us. This gives credence to the idea we discussed in chapter 4, that children are in tune with the divine before they arrive.

I was forming something of a double life. I was becoming very active in my church due to my mother. Church was in Wheeling, West Virginia. Because of some of the slander I gave WV earlier for being so country, you maybe wouldn’t expect Wheeling to be hood. But East Wheeling is, and that’s where I went to church. It may also seem to you like those rougher elements of the city wouldn’t be imposing on my church going experience, but you’d be forgetting about one thing. Most hood kids went to church when they’re young. Ok so the hood kids today probably don’t, but the hood kids back in the 90s definitely did. Their parents knew what they were up against in those streets, so they tried to keep them in the church as long as they could. It’s how I know that expression about ‘raising a child in the ways of the church’.

So while I was spending my weekdays with white kids, whose parents were mostly upper middle class. My weekends were spent with black kids, some who would eventually gang bang, others who already were.

I know how hard this is to believe, but surprisingly enough, these city kids didn’t like me. Saint Clairsville was one town of many, making up the tristate area of what is often referred to as The Ohio Valley, or The Valley. The only town you maybe would have ever heard of there is Steubenville, Ohio – famous for the Mafia, Dean Martin, The Sopranos, and the Wu Tang Clan. If the Valley was California, East Wheeling was Compton, Steubenville was South Central, and St. C was Beverly Hills. So here I was, the kid from Beverly Hills (but with no money) around the kids from Compton. Yea, they didn’t love me. Even though I was fighting as much as I was, even though I was getting in trouble in school, even though I’d end up having my own legal cases to fight, besides the assault against me, I still wasn’t considered tough enough to get respect from the streets, yet.

Did this juxtaposition of opposing lifestyles within my early years help to frame my perspective, hopefully cultivating intellectual duality and understanding? Does that sentence even make sense, and thus, do I even have any of those traits? All questions I’m not prepared to answer now and I definitely wasn’t then.

In the midst of all of this going on, I had moved on to my new 4th grade crush. Rachelle.

Not that she liked me back, or had any idea that I liked her. Just the fact that she existed could make me feel the way I felt, that was enough. That was hope. That was my escape from it all. Whatever else was going on, I could leave there, just by thinking about her.

With my advanced understanding of the inner workings of the cookie monster, you may have gathered I was watching a lot of TV, and you’d be right. But what I hadn’t come to realize was the effect all of this programming was having on my subconscious. For example, I always thought that everything would end up okay. While that may not seem like a negative at first, allow me to expound. TV shows usually have happy endings. I had come to expect that everything was magically predestined to work out. In order to create the change we desire, rational human beings understand, we must exert our energy to coerce the external world as well as inner. And even then sometimes we fail and things fall apart. Expecting anything to happen without taking responsibility for it’s outcome isn’t only foolish its lazy. And that’s what TV did to me.

I hadn’t learned this though until Rachelle. I found out that she liked someone else instead of me, my next door neighbor of all people. This is when, for the first time, I understood that the main character doesn’t always get the girl. I somehow came into possession of a note she had written for him. It said: “Dear Eddie I think you’re cute but don’t tell anybody”. I was devastated. I cried. My parents asked what was wrong, I told them I hurt my thumb. My dad found the note and told me to stay out of other people’s business. It was maybe the best advice he had ever given me, up to that point.

Things with Eddie and Rachelle wouldn’t work out sadly enough. Why? Years later we would find out that Eddie was in fact gay. She didn’t see that coming.

My idol, Tupac, once told his friend turned deadly rival Biggie, ”If you want to make money, rap for the bitches. Do not rap for the niggas. The bitches will buy your records.”

In other words, women know what’s popular currently. Which I guess is why they tend to set the tone for pop culture and fashion. In school they like who seems to be the coolest, at that moment. In adulthood, they go after the professional athletes and doctors. They tend to like their men older, more established. They’re put off by lame dudes, broke dudes. Who can blame them? I can’t. But as with any and everything, there’s good and bad to it. The bad side of going after what’s in right now is that it’s short sighted. What if that doctor is being investigated for insurance fraud and on his way to losing it all? What if that kid you don’t think is cool now is on his way to becoming a best-selling author? A big picture strategy is necessary in war, or in this game, of love.