One Chance Chapter 1

Chapter 1

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I have to accept that the world isn’t like me and I’m not like the world, good, bad or indifferent. I’ve searched for myself in others because I never saw myself in the mirror.

Real life situations can break your heart into pieces, in ways no human being can. We judge each other like we all had the same start. If that was the case, I would see more fucked up people like me. Chicago is a merciless city, thank God I got out when I did.

I was never taught how to live only how to survive. The things people took for granted every day I had no recollection of. I grew up with poor hygiene because my mother didn’t teach me how to take a bath every night or to brush my teeth every day. This is not a story about another black kid who grew up in poverty. This story is about a young man who located the silver lining and used his disadvantages to become a man.

Growing up, I had one brother and one sister that were a little older than me. I had the type of siblings who constantly plotted against me to get a rise out of me. When my mother would leave the house, they would put knives to my neck and tell me they were going to kill me. I would tell them I loved them and say,”Why are you doing this to me?”, they would laugh and say, “We are going to kill you.” Sometimes they would both grab me and put me in the closet. Mostly they would fuck with me by whispering to each other, looking at me and laughing. I think it has had a psychological effect on me. My mom was unaware and I can’t remember ever telling her about it.

I found my refuge playing outside with my friends Juan and Maurice. We all were between the ages of nine and ten. Every day we would race each other. Every day Maurice would win, Juan would come in second and I would be in last place. Juan and Maurice lived up the hill of my block. Juan lived in an apartment upstairs from a church his family owned and Maurice lived with his father. I lived in a house that my mom rented from my aunt. The best thing about being a poor kid is that you don’t know you’re poor. There were times I  looked at Maurice as a poor kid and felt sorry for him: his pants were always too big and he lived in a very small one-room apartment with his father. Every time I went to see him the apartment smelled like beans.

Being poor and witnessing what others didn’t have, including myself, often plays a part in the decisions you make later in life. My mom taught us how to hustle at a young age because her childhood wasn’t a walk in the park. When I was around nine, my mom taught me and my brother how to sell weed. Our mailbox was embedded in our front door. When customers came knocking, they would slide their money through the mailbox and in return got a ten dollar bag of weed. We never had to open the door or see the face of anyone. Mom would also give us five candy bars to take to school to sell to our friends. We sold candy, soda and weed out of our home. Every year we sold fireworks for the Fourth of July. We made a lot of sales during that time of the year.

One year all the kids on the block were playing with fireworks and having fun. Daryl, who lived across the street from us, always wanted to find garden snakes so he could light firecrackers in their mouths. One time I saw a garden snake’s mouth ripped open from the explosion. While we all lit our firecrackers, Jumping Jacks and Roman candles, Maurice stood there watching us. I didn’t understand why he didn’t have anything to light. I asked him did he have anything to play with and he said, “No.” I suddenly felt uneasy and became silent. I felt bad for him. I had already lit all of my Roman candles so I ran back into the house, hoping to find something to give Maurice. I started crying. I don’t know why, but I really felt bad that he didn’t have anything and I didn’t quite understand.

When I walked in the house, my brother was sitting there with two Roman candles. My brother was the type of person who purposely waited for everyone else to light their fireworks and just when everyone was finished, he would pull his stuff out and let everyone beg him to share his stuff. For example, if we all had Big Macs he would wait until my sister and I finished eating and then eat his. Basically, he went out of his way to be selfish. This night, I fell into his trap and asked him for one of his Roman candles. He said no. Just then Mom walked into the room and wanted to know why I was crying. I told her about Maurice and she offered my brother, two dollars to purchase one of his Roman candles. I was so happy. I took the Roman candle, ran outside and up the hill frantically yelling, “Maurice! Maurice! I got a Roman candle for you!” He looked at me like it was no big deal. It gave me joy to watch him light the candle. It was the first of many defining moments in my life. I was young and my mind was free. I had not yet realized that the world around me was not the fairytale I had in my mind.

As a kid, your mind is very impressionable. My mom was already teaching me how to hustle without me thinking twice about it. She also was teaching me to keep my mouth shut. My mother constantly reminded me what happened in the house stayed in the house” and everybody didn’t have to know our business. I was the youngest of three so the neighbors always questioned me if they wanted to know something. But I was smart and would get offended when someone asked me about my family business. It was amazing to see the look on an adult’s face when a ten-year-old’s response was “That’s none of your business!”

We lived in the Roseland area of Chicago at the time. Daryl was the guy we all sort of looked up to on the block. He was a little older than the rest of us, but he always knew the latest fashion and Kung Fu movies. He was a little more knowledgeable about everything than the rest of us. Daryl would give us survival tips such as if you had potatoes you always had a meal. Sometimes he would ask if we had certain food items in our house and he would match what he had in his house with ours and we’d share a meal together; he was a street-savvy like that. Although Daryl was a street guy, he was a cool guy. Being friends with Daryl was good for us because he knew how to do things and get things done.

There were times when we would go to the game room to play Pac Man and it didn’t matter that Daryl didn’t have money. He always had a way to get anyone to give him a quarter. In those days it was tough to get a quarter. Daryl eventually taught us how to cheat the video games and play as many as we liked. We would get a quarter, drill a hole in it and put a long piece of thread through the center. We would put the quarter in the game we wanted to play, then yanked it out just as the game gave us credit. We would do this all day until the store owner started getting smart about what we were doing. We were video game junkies: Bozek, Tempest, Ms. Pacman and Galaga.

My mom was very well-known for playing Pac-Man. She loved the game and figured out how to defeat each maze. Every time she played a crowd would surround her, though it was rare for her to go to the game room and play an arcade game.

Mom thought Daryl was bad news though. My brother and Daryl were really good friends. Mom and my brother were always arguing about him hanging out with Daryl, but eventually, she warmed up to him. After my brother tried to run away from home because he had to do the dishes and we didn’t know where he had been the entire day, Daryl caught him and brought him back home. Mom whipped his ass and still made him do the dishes.

My siblings and I were shielded from poverty because there was always money around. Mom kept a glass bowl on top of the television with money in it just in case we needed bread or something. When we came from school or if we sold some weed we could put the money in the bowl. Mom dealt with mostly cash because she would go to the flea market on the weekends and sell stolen merchandise that junkies would shoplift from stores.

During the week, Mom worked for the only black newspaper in Chicago, the Chicago Defender, as an accountant, but her heart and soul was in the flea market. My mother always talked about being a business owner and her own boss. During this time, she was making enough money to send all three of us to Catholic School and pay the tuition. We were the only kids on the block going to Catholic school. All the other kids on my block went to public school. We had to wear a uniform every day. I learned to love it, but my experiences in Catholic School there were not always good. I had a couple of horrible teachers.  I wish teachers understood the effect they had on students and how their influence could have an everlasting effect on a child.

My fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Langdon, came to school with her acoustic guitar and would have the whole class sing her country music songs. Ms. Langdon’s eyes were always bloodshot red and at times you could smell liquor on her breath.

When I was in school all I ever wanted was the teachers to notice me and give me attention the way they gave “so-called” good students. I grew up feeling like most of my teachers hated me. My fears were realized when Ms. Langdon made an announcement that she couldn’t find her keys and if anyone saw her keys to please turn them in. The class fell silent and no one came forward. She made this announcement every day and with each day she became more intense.

Ms. Langdon: “Please can someone return my keys! This will cost me a lot of money. I’ve had to catch a ride to work all this week! I can’t get into my home!”

The class went silent after each speech. She was clearly frustrated and by Friday she was a wreck. She gave the speech once more, then paused, looked at me and yelled at the top her lungs, “Give me my keys! I know you have my keys!” I said, “I don’t have your keys.”

Ms. Langdon walked over to me, grabbed my arm and pulled me into the hallway repeating herself over and over. “Where are my keys!? Where are my keys!?” My answer never changed. I was afraid, embarrassed and hurt that the entire week when she was making her speech about her keys she was really speaking to me.

On Monday morning her keys were returned to her by my classmate Gary. Gary was the quietest student in the class. Ms. Langdon never apologized to me or acknowledged that I had nothing to do with her keys. I believe those actions had a psychological effect on me. For years I would feel guilty about things that had nothing to do with me; if someone lost keys, cell phone or money, I always felt they were looking at me. I always felt guilty.

Aside from Ms. Langdon, Catholic School was good for me. I’m still in contact with some of the people I went to school with today. It was great because there was very little competition among us. We wore uniforms, but in Chicago, everything was about the latest fashion. The closest we got to a fashion show at school were the shoes we wore. They were the only articles of clothing that were not a part of the dress code. I got used to wearing a shirt and tie and after a while found my swag in wearing my uniform, but there was nothing better than coming home on a Friday and taking it off .

I loved coming home to what I considered the best place of my childhood. When you entered the front room, there was a wall of beautifully designed mirrors. We all had our own bedrooms as well as a nice size kitchen, a huge basement, and backyard. These were the good times. Every Christmas was better than the last. Mom would go all out to decorate the house. We’d spray paint the windows with fake snow and let the Christmas lights shine all night on an artificial tree. There was no better feeling in the world, then when I would get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and see the Christmas lights. It was like magic to me. I would become the lights and breathe in the beautiful colors and exhale without a worry in the world. It’s not like I had serious worries at ten years old. My biggest worry was if my mother’s boyfriend Marvin was bringing us some Church’s Chicken. He didn’t live too far from us. Many times we would call him to bring us something to eat and he would do it. But between Marvin coming over, there were a lot of women visiting us too.

I can remember my sister crying. She said, “I saw momma kissing another woman!” I can remember my mom trying to defuse my sister’s anger by denying it. My sister was absolutely sure she saw my mother kissing Rose. Rose was a friend of my mom who came over to the house now and then. I don’t remember seeing Rose after the accusations. This was the early eighties. People were not as open as they are now so my sister voicing what she saw was very taboo.

Although my mom was still married to my father, I had not seen him in years. She left him when I was probably about a year old. So I don’t have any memory of living with him. But as I grew up, I heard all the horror stories of what he had done. Though my mom never really spoke negatively of him directly to me, I wasn’t a fool. I read between the lines.  Mom dated several men throughout my young life. The men she dated were really cool. I can remember all of their names, but all the relationships seemed to end very badly.

In the midst of the men, there were always women around. My mom was notorious for letting people live with us. So over the years, many people came and went. People lived with us all the time. There are two people in particular that were around the most. A woman named Carolyn and Marvin. I don’t remember Carolyn or Marvin ever being in the house at the same time. Marvin was a good man. He used to give me money and take me shopping. Marvin seemed to really appreciate us.

I remember when his mother passed. He was never the same after that. I saw a man change right in front of my eyes. It’s like he stopped caring about us. He eventually left my mom for another woman. It was awkward enough that the woman stayed around the corner from us, but I was friends with her kids too.

Carolyn was a bad woman. For a long time, I didn’t think she liked kids. It seemed that she despised us. She drank all the time and did all types of shit. Apparently, she was a good friend to my mom because Mom had her around a lot and wouldn’t let us speak badly about her.

One late night Carolyn was drunk and she began to explain to us that she and my mom had a relationship. Deep down I think we all assumed, but we never spoke of it. As long as my mom didn’t say anything, we didn’t ask. Every now and then, a neighbor would make a joke or the kids on the block would spread rumors. This particular night apparently my mom was in the bedroom sleeping and she had locked Carolyn out. Carolyn started bragging to us that if we didn’t believe that she and Mom were sleeping together that she was willing to prove it. She knocked on the bedroom door and began to sweet-talk my mom through the door. After about five minutes, Mom opened the door and let her in. She didn’t know we were all standing outside the door. As soon as the door closed, me, my brother and sister fell to the floor in disbelief. You would’ve thought someone died! Just then, my mom came out of the bedroom to go to the bathroom, she saw us and asked what was wrong. When she realized what Carolyn had done, a big argument broke out. It was official. The speculation was over. The hardest part about my mom being a lesbian was her accepting it herself; the more she accepted it the easier life was for the family.

My mom was a unique individual. She was a very strong woman and had no problem expressing whatever she was feeling. She never sugar coated anything. After many years, my mom became comfortable having her girlfriends around us. Some of her girlfriends even lived with us. Mom never apologized for who she was, therefore I never looked at her as a gay woman, she was just Mom. It was nothing I ever thought about or even worried about. All my friends loved her and all my girlfriends looked up to her. We can spend our lifetime trying to live up to others’ standards, but it’s not until you’re on your deathbed that you realize that these standards are false impressions of what society wants you to think.

Order paperback on Amazon.com or at http://www.SoulConsciousBooks.net

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