By Sahmeka Chambers
Born to an alcoholic daddy and prostitute mama, I learned early on to depend on myself. Disappointment was a regular occurrence in our household, and my daddy even had a saying, “Girl, if you don’t expect shit, you won’t be disappointed when you don’t get shit.” After about the age of 6, I didn’t expect anything for holidays or birthdays, and he was right; I wasn’t disappointed.
Daddy was a jack of all trades and a master of none. He and Mama had a very strained relationship in that he was unemployed and hated her line of business. They argued constantly and although Mama loved him deeply, Daddy resented her zest for life. Daddy was very content with his drinking and lifestyle and thought Mama was foolish for wanting more. Daddy was pleased with liquor and had no desire to please anyone else.
Mama, on the other hand, was constantly trying to please both daddy and I. She turned tricks to make sure we had what we need to survive. Granted, we didn’t have a lot, but she made the best of what we had. Mama was an only child like me and used to say, “I have been caged all my life in these projects, but one day, me and you will be free.”
Our neighborhood was considered impoverished, but since I had yet to travel beyond the walls of the ghetto, I didn’t know what I was missing. Accustomed to life in the projects, the concrete walls of the buildings, linoleum clad floors, and poorly insulated windows were all that I knew. This was home and its familiarity outweighed the stench of urine in the walk ways, the roaches that possessed each residence, and even the occasional mouse that ate whatever leftovers were dropped.
At 14 years old, I felt as if everything I knew was being taken from me. “Baby, we’re moving. My section 8 voucher finally came through and its time for you to see something other than these damn projects,” mama said. “What?” I asked. “What do you mean we’re moving? I don’t know anyone outside of these projects.” Ignoring me, my mama said, “You should start packing your room. We’re moving on the first.” Falling face forward on my mattress, I cried. I cried until the midnight fight began right on schedule.
“So you think you’re living high on the horse now, huh?” yelled my daddy. “You expect me to just up and move because you’re tired of the projects? Well let me let you in on something; you ain’t nothing but a whore and you won’t be accepted anywhere but these damn projects. You can go if you want to, but don’t expect me to go, and don’t expect to leave your child here. Never knew if she was mine no damn way...”
“Thomas, don’t you run out on me! Thomas!” Mama yelled. After hearing the door slam, I crept out of my room to find mama sitting on the floor with her head in her hands. She shook with each sob she let out. “Mama, are you ok?” I asked, only for my words to fall on dead ears. Unable to do anything else, I sat next to her and allowed her to sob in peace. I joined her eventually; our tears united giving us the strength to move on.
I expected daddy to come back after the liquor wore off, but to my surprise, he didn’t. I overheard mama on the phone with Ms. Jackie from down the street a couple days later, and found out that he was staying with his brother until we left. After cussing and crying through that conversation, mama never mentioned him again. Neither did I because it wasn’t like I missed him. Hell, he said it best, “Never knew if she was mine no damn way,” with that, I’d like to believe I’m not.
Moving day came and mama’s friends all came to help us load the U-Haul. We got our minimal belongings loaded in less than 2 hours so mama asked me if I wanted to go outside and say goodbye to any of my friends. Shaking my head I replied, “Nope. Don’t want to even remember anyone that daddy knows.” Grabbing my hand, me and mama walked to the U-Haul and hopped in. Life was beginning anew and I was finally ready.
Nodding off, I napped as mama drove the U-Haul. When I awoke we were approaching a very nice town home in a cul-de-sac. The grass was green, the trees were tall and healthy, and the birds’ happily chirped while perched on tree branches. There were no liquor bottles randomly placed near the curbs and no gym shoes thrown over the utility wires. Picture book perfect, I didn’t know what to think. Startled, I sat up and asked, “Mama, are we lost?” She smiled broadly and said, “No baby, this is your new home.” My stomach began to feel like butterflies were fluttering as warmth moved from the soles of my feet up to my head. It began as a chuckle, then a giggle, and finally a full blown laugh! I was excited for the first time in my life, and so was mama. She joined me in laughter just as I had joined her in tears so many times before.
Moving in didn’t take long, for we didn’t have many belongings. Once settled in, I went outside to survey the area. I was greeted by several girls around my age. Apprehensive, I didn’t say much to them at first. I was taught at an early age to trust no one but yourself, and limit that ever so often. There was however, one girl that I found interesting. She didn’t approach me, and was lying on her blanket under a tree. She had several books surrounding her, and was intently reading. Seeing me look towards the mystery girl, one of the girls said, “You don’t want to talk to her. She is a section 8 resident and both her mother and father are on welfare.” Looking down at my worn clothes, I looked the girl squarely in the eye before walking down the street to greet the mystery girl. I knew that one day the truth about me would come out so I may as well make friends in my likeness now.
“Hi, I’m Kay,” I said to the girl. Slowly turning over to face, me she replied, “Hi. My name is Shawna. So, you must have been rejected by the middle class crew?”
“Actually,” I said, “I rejected them because we have nothing in common. So, what’s your story? Where are you from...” This began a fast friendship. Shawna and I hung out everyday and when we weren’t together, we were on the phone. The summer was great! We explored the neighborhood and met plenty of boys. With our street savvy and ghetto lingo, the middle class boys were infatuated with us and we knew it. By mid-summer, the middle class crew was trying to hang with us but we weren’t having it. We were a force to be reckoned with and dared anyone to try.
At around the end of July, Shawna and I saw him. Johnny was about 5’11, 175 pounds, with a caramel complexion, wavy black hair, and flour white teeth housed behind supple bow shaped lips. He had a walk that boasted self confidence and a presence that demanded attention. Taken aback, Shawna and I watched him with the girls. Anything he asked of them, the middle class crew would give. They lived for the opportunity to please Johnny. He was the proverbial GOD in our neighborhood.
“Do you see how they flock to him,” I said making a face as if something smelled foul. “Ain’t nothing new about that,” said Shawna, “They act like he can walk on water.” Laughing hysterically, Shawna and I vowed then and there never to be as stupid as those girls. Seconds later, all eyes were focused on us due to our laughing. “What’s up?” Johnny said has he approached Shawna and me. “Nothing, what’s up with you?” I said, appearing to be completely unfazed. He stared intently into my eyes, searching for an ounce of admiration. When he found none, he turned and walked away. Shawna and I laughed loudly once again. We had denied him what he thought was his birth right; the ability to have any woman he wanted.
Used to the “Johns” my mother brought home, I blocked out any noises that randomly occurred during the night. This night was different. Lying in my bed, I heard, “Little boy, I don’t want your money. Go on away from here and get you a little girlfriend,” mama said. Tuning in, I waited for a response. Low and behold, it was Johnny’s voice that I heard next. “Come on, I need some. I won’t tell anyone...” he pleaded. The back and forth pleading and denying continued relentlessly, stopping abruptly. Then the headboard began to hit the wall.
From that point forward, Johnny wore a smirk when he saw me and Shawna. Shawna would just smile at him and continue to converse with me. I, on the other hand, began to hate Johnny. He knew that I was aware of his sexual encounter with my mother and would say things to ensure I knew. “You can call me daddy,” or “Don’t you look pretty, stepdaughter,” were a few of the things he would say when he would see me alone. He made me feel like we had a dirty little secret.
After several encounters with Johnny, I began feeling a fire build in my stomach. A smoldering hotness that threatened to erupt in a barrage of words that would tarnish his image. The problem was that verbally assaulting him would tarnish not only his image, but my image and my mother’s image as well. So I allowed the resentment to build quietly against both Johnny and my mother. I pretended that Johnny did not exist, and distanced myself from my mother as well.
The rest of the summer passed without incident and school began in September. Shawna and I were excited to begin. We wore our brand new outfits and were happy to have some of the same classes. School days were uneventful up until the second week. It was Tuesday during 7th period. “Kay Johnson, please report to the principal’s office,” blared over the loud speaker. Looking at my teacher, I grabbed my belongings and walked to the office. When I arrived, I was asked to take a seat. “Kay, there is a serious matter I need to discuss with you. It appears as if John Jacobson has made allegations of your mother sexually abusing him. He has tested positive for HIV and has spoken to me about filing charges against your mother. Do you know of anything pertaining to the relationship between John and your mother?” asked the principal.
Flashing back to that night over the summer, I began to cry. Never answering the question, I grabbed my belongings and ran out of the office bumping into Shawna as she came out of the vice principal’s office. Reaching out to hug her, she deflected my hug. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Your mom just killed me.” Stunned, I stood with my mouth gaping until she was no longer in sight. Now, I understood her secret smiles to Johnny.
As my heart began to palpitate, all I could think about was getting home. I dropped my backpack and I ran. I ran beyond the breathlessness, until I reached my doorstep. Huffing and crying, I fumbled to get the key in the lock. “Mama!” I yelled as I entered the house. “Mama, where are you?” Running upstairs I hesitated when I got to her door.
Knocking lightly, I flung the door ajar when I didn’t get an answer. Seeing my mother’s lifeless body spread across her bed next to an empty pill bottle should have saddened me.
Seeing Johnny sitting on the bed with his head down should have infuriated me. Instead,
sighing loudly, I turned, closing the door behind me. She was finally free.