I have my apartment now...I'll be staying in Jersey City, NJ!!! Anyway...this is going to be long...here's my story.
There’s always that question that you have to ask…why? I don’t know what it is about us as people, but either we’re nosey or overly concerned. Many times that’s all we want to know…why. Well, call me nosey – but I wanted to know why! I mean for real, I had some real life questions and I needed some real life answers. I wanted to know why was stuck in the perpetual mess I was in; I wanted to know why did I not have any type of relationship with my father before he died; I wanted to know why did I have to be physically and verbally abused by my mother’s husband; I wanted to know why could I not have the perfect relationship with my mother; I wanted to know why God took my grandmother; I wanted to know why was I only 17 years old and had experienced this. I wanted to know why.
The beginning was probably the most confusing to me. I can remember I was 10 years old. I thought I’d had a pretty decent family situation at this point. I didn’t know anything else, so I was sure that my standard way of living was the way it was supposed to be. There weren’t any silver spoons…any golden spoons…as a matter of fact, there weren’t any spoons. I remember at one point having to eat my cereal with a fork. It was so bad that I’d put some cereal in my mouth and drink some milk to at least simulate the effect. What can I say, I was innovative. Anyway, I digress.
I can recall one Saturday afternoon when I was ten years old. I was with my mother doing something I absolutely adored (and still do to this day)…grocery shopping (smile)! I’m sure she wasn’t looking, but someone had their eye on her. They eventually hit it off pretty well. They hit if off so well he shortly moved in to live with us. I can’t say that this new move didn’t excite me. I felt it’d be interesting to finally have a father in my life. Think about it: Imagine living your life for 10 years, being influenced by friends and the television, that a perfect family living situation must include a father in the household. I had honestly believed this until a few weeks later and the transition didn’t happen as smoothly as it was supposed to.
I have so many memories of my childhood that I can vividly recall. I’ll start with this one: It was a Thursday afternoon – after school in the 6th grade. I remember I was supposed to take the garbage out before I had left for school that morning and I didn’t, I had simply forgotten. At this point he hadn’t lived with us more than 3 weeks. I remember coming home from school to grab some things for a study group at the library. Before I was able to go, I remember him telling me that he had to discipline me for not doing what I was told. In my mind, I didn’t understand how my mother would let a man who I’d known for less than a month discipline me with a belt. I can vividly remember looking in her face, wondering, why she’d let him do this to me. I looked at her. She gave me a cold blank look in reply. Physically, that response didn’t say much. But, mentally her response spoke volumes that she’d never know.
Later that same school year, there was an incident that occurred during the return of Christmas break. As a Christmas gift, my biological father granted one of my Christmas wishes; a pair of Michael Jordan gym shoes. The first day back was an exciting time, because you were able to show off things you got for Christmas. At 11 years old, this is all that you have running in your mind. Yes, in retrospect it was a bit superficial. But hey, at 11 – that’s the kind of stuff that you live for. I was excited for the opportunity to wear the shoes to school. My mother’s boyfriend told me I couldn’t wear the shoes. My mother – she told me I could.
Later that evening I can recall him coming home from work. I remember him asking me did I wear the shoes. I told him I did because my mother allowed me to. I didn’t think it would be an issue. I remember his next question without incident. He clearly yelled with force, “What the hell did I tell you?” That accompanied him reaching for one of my mother’s high heeled shoes and launching it at me. The tip of the heel punctured my right eyebrow where a scar still resides today. The fact that blood was gushing from my face didn’t bother me. The fact that my mother attempted to stop the bleeding didn’t bother me. The fact that I felt as though I was being wrongly punished didn’t bother me. What bothered me is that my mother allowed for this to happen without once stopping the situation from going too far. The only solace from her was a high pitched rhetorical yelling of his name.
The next few years would probably prove to be the worst. I can vividly remember being a freshman in high school at Lincoln Park. I remember when I got my acceptance letter in 8th grade. Happy was an understatement. I remember doing the happy dance in Mr. Garth’s class when my counselor brought the letter to me. The new found freedom was just what I had been longing for. Of course, there was some adjustment to the way life used to be, but hey, that’s normal. I can remember being exposed to an entirely different world. I was definitely adjusting to life as a high school student. I was involved in many activities including ROTC, the gospel choir, the chess club (I can still kick some butt), and the band! I was enjoying this. I just knew that life was going to be okay if getting an education included experiences as diverse as my experience thus far.
That was until a year later. The decision was made by my mother’s boyfriend that I could no longer attend that high school. The only reason they could muster is that it was simply too far. This was extremely difficult for me to digest. I think this was one of a series of events that led me into building an internal defense mechanism. It’s a subconscious mechanism that guards me…my feelings. It a mechanism that I have developed with people I come in contact with. Somehow it allows me to cope and deal with people but never allow the standard rituals of life to hurt my heart again.
I remember at this point, growing was difficult. I had lived with a series of relatives because of the friction that was caused between my mother’s boyfriend and I. The friction was caused just because we didn’t have chemistry in any way. I think he wanted to “re-raise” me to meet his standards and I had been the man of the house for 12 years, so I was fine just like I was. Besides, there were other things that led to our division. He was a truck driver and when he’d get home I’d have the gruesome task of catering to him as he pleased. I remember many times being made to clean out the bath tub once he was done bathing. That doesn’t compare to the many times he’d call for me to come and bring him an ashtray that was on the other side of the room. Probably the epitome of events happened on a Thursday evening. I had been at school and I stayed late preparing for the academic decathlon with my team. When I got home, I lay down on my bed and eventually fell asleep. Not having mopped the floor, he came home and yelled for me. As a punishment for not doing what he said, all I remember were foul words coming from his mouth and him launching at me. He punched me a few times in my eye. This was yet another incident that led to blood shedding.
I can recall how I lay in the bed after the bleeding had stopped. I ended up in the fetal position and for some reason I couldn’t stop crying. I was crying to the point until I was literally wailing. Not wanting anyone to hear me in pain, I muffled my wails by covering my mouth with the pillow. As I calmed down the memories reformed in my mind. As a release I wailed again…each time being sure to cover the wails with my pillow. I cried hard for 20 minutes. The crying wasn’t just because of the physical pain I was feeling, but moreso a release of all the events. My crying ended in a plea with God. I remember at 14 years old just asking him to take it away. My mother walked past my room as I was crying. She peeked her head in. I was glad because I was ready to be consoled, I was ready to be comforted, I was ready to feel the consolation that only a mother could provide. Her exact words hit me like never before, “quit crying like a little sissy. If I knew you were going to turn out like this, I would’ve gotten an abortion like your father told me to.” She then walked away. Those words resonated in my mind until I fell asleep.
The next years were extremely difficult. After some thought, I had reconciled that the only way to survive this was waiting until I was free. For the next 2 years I was numb. Yes, the name calling continued. Yes, the unnecessary chores continued. Yes, the physical abuse continued. There were many times where I was “disciplined” to the point that bruises remained, including a two by four log. I remember standing in the threshold of the dining room and the corridor leading to the kitchen being threatened and hit on my waist with the log. Ironically I didn’t feel a thing. I was just that numb. I had reconciled in my mind that freedom was two years away and I would become a soldier and endure whatever had been brought my way.
Finally, it was June of 1999. I had completed my 4 years of high school. I had made it through living with relatives. I had made it through devastating punishments. I had made it through broken promises. Yup, the sun was shining and this day was a good day. I had made it! I was ready for any and everybody to join in with me on my day of celebration. If no one had joined in, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was a stump in my day though. My mother didn’t have the money to give me for a hair cut. Still being enthusiastic with my accomplishments, that didn’t stop me. I simply cut my own hair.
That June morning, I put on my white robe because I had maintained a cumulative grade point average that afforded me an induction into the National Honor Society two years prior. I was proud of my accomplishments – I was graduating with honors! As I marched in with the other 11 honor graduates, I scanned the audience. The first familiar face was my Sunday school teacher, Yvette Williams. That meant the world to me! As all the graduates walked and were seated I scanned the audience. Since I was on stage with the other honor students, I had a good eye’s advantage. I eventually saw my mother enter. The fact that she was late immediately made me upset. But, I remembered my vow for the day. I got myself back together, rejoiced in the fact that I was number 5 out of a class of 274 and continued to enjoy my celebration as we all stood to sing our class song, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.”
Not much happened after graduation. I remember being treated to lunch by my Sunday school teacher. We shared an interesting conversation. She had encouraged me beyond belief. As I poured out my heart to her about my feelings for the day, she encouraged me never to let these types of temporary situations get me down. The advice she gave me still sticks with me today.
After graduation, I went to live with my grandmother…again. Things were so bad at this point between my mother’s boyfriend that I could no longer live in the same household with them. So, this would only be for a few months. I had received my acceptance letter to Loyola University Chicago, so my mind and heart was set on this new journey that would occur on August 28, 1999 – I would be moving into Mertz Hall on the college campus. The next few months were enjoyable. My grandmother and I had a bond that I don’t think many people knew about. In public she was the strict disciplinarian, but behind closed doors she acted a fool. We’d often sit around and crack jokes. Believe it or not, she turned me onto watching Mama’s Family – and I’m still stuck to this day on that television program. At this time in my grandmother’s life her health was failing. It was a difficult time because she was in and out of the hospital. When she was home, her sister devoted a lot of time to taking care of her. This meant some good down south meals for me! After we all helped in cooking and we ate, there was nothing left to do but sit around and talk. This connection to the institution of family felt good to me. It was something I didn’t experience often, so I valued those moments.
I remember one week day evening that probably served as a pinnacle event for me. My grandmother was lying on the couch. She kept complaining about it being too warm in the house. Eventually she wasn’t feeling better so the decision was made to call for emergency assistance. I remember sitting on the porch for about 45 seconds before a fire truck arrived. It was dark outside and all I remember seeing was the lights that seemed to come from every direction as they rotated atop the vehicle. The ambulance came next. It wasn’t 5 minutes later they had my grandmother attached to a cart as they rolled her into the back of the ambulance and eventually off to the hospital. This wasn’t a good sign and my prayer was that everything would turn out okay. Yup, God answered my prayer. I arrived at the hospital about an hour later. When I told the doctor who I was he said it was finally nice to meet me. Apparently my grandmother had been referring to the doctor as Darius since she was there – and she wouldn’t stop calling my name. That was my sign that God was listening to me.
I remember starting college – my grandmother was still in the hospital. Despite the rough summer, I was still excited. Probably one of the reasons that I was so excited was because my pastor was going to drive me up to school. I’ve always looked up to my pastor – even before he was my pastor. Because I knew him and knew about his life, I was able to learn a lot just from the decisions that he made. So, this was more than just moving into a dorm room. This was an honor. Besides, I’d never ridden in a Lexus truck before and I just knew that was going to be our mode of transportation. He totally shocked me as my pastor pulled up in his older – slightly more used vehicle to move me and my things. I guess a luxury vehicle with leather interior isn’t probably the best vehicle to use in transporting cargo. Well, it was worth a hope.
Despite taking advantage of the opportunities in college, I must say life did catch up with me. There’s a saying, “what doesn’t come out in the wash will come out in the rinse.” Well, let me tell you - I thought the clothes had been dried and folded. In actuality, the washer hadn’t even stopped going yet. We all have a few skeletons in our closet. One of mine: once during the summer months before beginning college, my grandmother sent me to the ATM to get some cash for her. Access to her pin number was all I needed to enjoy the rest of my summer. I had some new found freedom by graduating high school. Having what I thought was unlimited access to money was the icing on the cake. It started with just a few dollars here and there. By the time I was done I was sure I had stolen at least $500 from my grandmother. Of course this isn’t something I’m proud of. But, when you’re sinning, you never think about how it’s going to affect your future. You’re too caught up in the moment of pleasure. There was a turning point for me. I remember it like yesterday. In the confines of his office, my Pastor looked me square in the eye and told me, “I love you – and there’s nothing more or there’s nothing less that you can do that can reverse that. We can make it through this.” Affirming at this point that I no longer had to feel alone was what I needed to make it through. He prayed with me. He even gave me a financial plan that would help me on my way to getting my own finances together. Realizing my wrong, my earnest prayer to bring this incident full circle was to confess what I had done to my grandmother.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I was leaving one of my classes – it was about 2:30 in the afternoon. My mother called me and told me to come to the hospital immediately. In the back of my mind, I knew what I was coming for. About 45 minutes later, an agonizing ride up the elevator at West Suburban Hospital, and looking at tons of familiar faces – I knew what to expect. Sure, I was saddened. Because God had prepared me for this very moment, I was okay. I knew I’d be able to keep on. I grieved in privacy, thanked God for the time I was allowed to spend with her, and prayed for my other family members. Either it was the collard greens I ate the night before the funeral or it was God’s intervention, but I had a number of dreams that included revisiting many of the happy times I experienced with my grandmother. This was rough, but I knew I’d be fine.
I remember going on summer break after my first year in college. I had funneled through a bunch of experiences – some good, some bad, and some indifferent. I had to move back in with my mother and now, her husband. Living with my mother was difficult. My stepfather and I have never had a decent relationship. Over the years the relationship that I had with my mother had now deteriorated as well. At this point I was 18 years old. Not wanting to continue to live in the situation I was, I was frantically working a full time job to save money.
The living arrangement didn’t make much sense to me. I was supposed to give $125 a month to my mother as rent. Honestly, was giving the money a problem? No, of course it wasn’t. In retrospect it was the principle. The principle of giving money to someone who I had felt had let me down so many times in the past. The thought of having to give my mother money so that she could continue to do what she pleased, when just a few years ago I lacked so many things materistically, was an issue for me.
Living in the house for this amount of time wasn’t easy. So many times I retreated to my bedroom and literally refused to come out to be involved in an era of negativity. There was once a time when I came in too late the night before. My mother demanded my house keys because I was “irresponsible.” The doors in the house had locks on both side. You needed a key to get in and out of the house. The next morning when I was ready to leave for work, no one was home. I called my mother on her cell phone a few times, she didn’t answer. My mother had purposely locked me inside the house with no way to get out.
The highlight of my life: July of 2000. I remember being told that it was time to pay up, the rent money was due. I was desperately trying to save up so that I could move out. Making that a priority, I told my mother and her husband that I wouldn’t be able to pay the rent for the month because I’d be leaving in less than two weeks. It was a Sunday morning – I remember my mother was standing firm, right by the stairway. She had a look on her face that I’d seen many times before. My stepfather told me to get out of his house immediately and never come back. I looked my mother in the eyes. I was looking for something…some type of comfort, some type of refuge, anything. I looked at her and she turned her head so our eyes couldn’t meet. I was devastated. I remember my little sister coming down the stairs and my mother’s voice telling her to go back into her room. I remember the walk from the front door, down the stairs, and out the gate. I remember starting my car and driving. I don’t remember anything but tears constantly falling down my face. I cried so hard and for so long. I cried and drove. I don’t remember driving east bound on the Eisenhower expressway. I don’t remember driving north bound on Lake Shore Drive. Before I knew it I had ended up in Evanston. I needed to get medicine for a migraine and with red eyes and tears still falling, I remember a woman asking me a single question, “Are you okay?” Without response I kept walking.
I think those next 6 days were difficult for me. There were a ton of things I did with response. I just did them just because. For the majority of that week my thoughts rambled on and on. I didn’t have a place to stay. So for the first couple of days I lived in my car. I parked my car by the lake front and slept there at night. I would get to work early before anyone else showed up and I’d take care of my personal hygiene. This wasn’t the best way to live, but at this point it was all I had. I wasn’t at all concerned with the situation I was in. I think it was just the by-product of being numb.
I remember days later – my mother got a hold of me. She called me on my cell phone. I recognized the number and hesitated before I answered. My hesitation was for a few reasons. Primarily, my hesitation was a hope that the consolation and comfort that only a mother could give would be waiting once I hit the “talk” button on my cell phone. She told me to come and get my things. This was not the response I was looking for. As I drove down the block to the house, I remember being so in a daze that a squad car that was obviously in a rush asked me to pull to the side so they could get through. I walked in the house and immediately went into the basement where I stayed to gather my things. I wasn’t there more than three minutes before my stepfather began yelling obscenities in an effort for me to hurry up. Within two more minutes my mother came down stairs and told me to leave immediately. I hadn’t had an opportunity to gather many of my things. As I left the house my stepfather said many things to me. Being fed up I asked him not to speak to me in that way anymore. His response was full of passion as he began to yell and scream so loud on the front porch that all the attention was now on what was occurring at 4902. As I was leaving he kept walking behind me screaming at the top of his lungs.
That same police that occupied the same squad car that warned me to pull over were finishing an earlier call at the house directly across the street. I was walking toward my car. My stepfather was walking behind me yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs. Noticing this, the police motions for my stepfather to stay right where he was. They affirmed my actions by telling me, “you’re doing the right thing…keep going.” I put some things in the trunk of my car. As I slammed the trunk in preparation to enter my vehicle, my stepfather screamed “the next time you come, you better bring them [the police] with you.” Days later, I did bring the police with me. They blocked the street, entered the house to make sure all was safe, and they helped me get all my things successfully out of the house.
My next years included simply growing up…fast. God placed me in this next situation so I could learn how to be a dependable adult. I had to learn the basics of working, saving, paying bills, and maintaining a household. I can’t say that it’s been easy – I can’t even say that I’ve mastered it. But, with the practice I’ve had – I’m a lot better than what I was. Yup, that was the question I wanted to know. So, I heard someone tell me once, “If you want to hear from God, then you have to be quiet.” Whew…for years, I’d be quiet. And guess what I heard…absolutely nothing! So, I figured this wasn’t the way to go. Rather, God was speaking – just not how I expected him to speak. You see, I’m hard headed (most boys are) and if God would have told it to me straight up, I wouldn’t have listened. So, he had to show me better than he could tell me.
God had been speaking and when I finally realized there wasn’t a little man walking around in my head and it was God’s voice, that’s when I began. I began a journey. Where was I going? I know for a fact that I was, and still am, on my way to destiny.
I prayed! My prayer, it was simple; to be used in a way where I’m fulfilling my purpose in life to bring glory to God. The saying goes, “you better be careful what you ask for.” Well, I asked and 69 days after praying and stepping out on faith – wait, why do we always say that? Who is faith and why are we stepping on faith? Isn’t stepping a form of violence? Didn’t God say to stand still and let him fight for us? Anyway, with faith on my side (you know what I mean) I reacted and in 69 days God answered my prayer.
I had always assumed that I was walking on the right path. I thought I knew where I was going, where I had been, and where I’d end up. I just knew my soul was in tune with God’s will. The fact that his thoughts aren’t our thoughts had to catch a hold of me. When it caught me, it cautioned me, calmed me, and told me – it’s time for a new direction. A new direction for the soul…