Some may say that from the very beginning I was doomed for failure. Growing up in the inner city of Chicago, in the projects. My father was an alcoholic and a sometimes Dad, here one week and gone the next. To continue that way until even today. My Mother was a drug addict and on welfare. To top that off she was a single mother trying to raise four children. She did her best with what she had I can give her that much. Unfortunately her best just wasn’t good enough, not just for her children but for herself as well. Watching my mother go from that strong mother figure and going after her dreams to a woman dependent on drugs was a hard pill to swallow for a ten year old. I often wondered what her breaking point was. What happened in her life that bad to make her resort to drugs and to leave her children? I often wondered.
The years that followed were up and down for my family. My mother was in and out of treatment centers. She wanted so desperately to change, to stop taking drugs. I myself couldn’t understand what was so hard about it. I felt if you wanted to stop you just would and since she didn’t she must love the drugs more than she loved her children. We did have some good days though. The days that were good I can remember them like they were yesterday. Me and my oldest brother looking out our bedroom window in Chicago on the tenth floor of our lovely home in the projects waiting on our mother to come home from her job as a nurse at Chevy Chase Hospital on the Southside.
She would bring us the best butter cookies you would ever want to taste. And she would sit and talk to us about her day. She was beautiful, her eyes so bright – full of hope and full of life. Those were the best years of my child hood.
Years later I remember over hearing a conversation my mother had with someone. They were asking her how her life on drugs started. Her response was that she had a nervous breakdown after her grandmother died. She mentioned how she first got hooked on prescription pills, then the hard core drugs, she also metioned that she often got high with her younger brother Johnny as well. It made what they were doing seem almost okay…. How can a person be that weak, allowing circumstances such as a family member dying or depression to be your excuse just blew me away? That one statement was the changing point in my life. I vowed to be stronger than my mother and to not make the same mistakes she did. That’s one thing I was for sure of.
When I was sixteen my mother decided she really wanted to change her life and ours and decided to move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We were all excited, we knew she needed a change of scenery away from all the drug dealers that were always knocking on our door and throwing bricks through our window because of money she owed them. Being the most talked about family on the southside of Chicago. Just hearing all the rumors about what they saw my mother doing to get some drugs. It was becoming unbearable….
My oldest brother stayed in Chicago with our grandmother whom practically raised him and it was just I, my mom and my two younger siblings that made the move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was kind of difficult for us at first; we went to stay with my mother’s father whom she hadn’t seen in years. He was a drug addict as well so that didn’t help her situation any. They eventually started getting high together and we were in and out of motels for a couple months. We eventually moved into a decent apartment and it appeared that all was going well. She filled our home with new furniture and we also had food stacked in our freezer. My mother sister came for a visit to see how we were and she was able to leave with a good report on our new life. Not long after that visit we lost that apartment and were forced to move into a drug infested community.
Things got worse really fast, you wouldn’t think living in Milwaukee was worse than living in Chicago but it was.
We didn’t see our mother for days at a time and when she did come home she brought tons of her drug addict friends into our home to get high with. The days she was gone on her binges, I was the mother. I had to take care of my two younger siblings; there was no food so I had to resort to begging and stealing food. I will never forget a lady who lived in our building. I would knock on her door everyday and ask her for eggs and potatoes, she would hand me food every time. She was truly a Godsend for us. I often wondered what ever happened with that nice lady. There were times when we didn’t go to school for weeks at a time, I wonder where the child protective services were back then.
I had made a few friends in the neighborhood and had started hanging out here and there.
Me and my sister would go outside and walk to the store and guys would whistle at me, I started feeling pretty. It was something new to me, I’ve never really got attention like that, I was an awkward child. But I was now glowing in my new found pretty, so to speak. On one of my ventures out to the grocery store I met a guy, he seemed nice enough he asked us if he could walk with us and we said yes. He charmed me with his handsome smile and we exchanged phone numbers. We would talk on the phone for hours and meet at the park or his house to hang out. His name was Darrel and he told me he was nineteen so I really felt special, I had a older guy show me some much needed attention. One day I went over to his mother’s house with him. He invited me over to play cards with him. I was comfortable around him and felt he was safe. If you lose you have to give me a kiss, he said. Loser has to kiss the other and take off their blouse. I lost and I was at first kind of resistant, saying I didn’t want to. He eventually coerced me and next thing I know we are in the bed. I can remember laying in the bed with him on top of me and hearing all the kids playing outside the window. I heard my sister calling out for me saying carla come on we have to go home or something to that effect. But I just lay there, having sex with a man I hardly knew and it was my first time. It was simply awlful! Was this what sex was all about? If so, I want no part of it every again. I couldn’t wait for it to be over!
A little while later it was over, I got up, picked up my clothes and went into the bathroom. I was so scared and confused, wondering if I was pregnant. I walked out the bathroom and asked him what if I was pregnant, he assured me that I was fine and not to worry. I left feeling lower than I ever felt before, I saw my little sister outside playing with a little boy and I screamed to her to bring her fast ass home with me. She looked at me like I had my nerve, she said we all saw you through the window having sex with that man, you the one that’s fast. We walked silently the rest of the way home.
I started seeing Darrel on a regular basis, going outside more than usual. My mother eventually questioned my comings and goings, I lied and said I was going to hang with some of my girlfriends that lived on the block. One day when I was outside talking to some friends, I saw Darrel walking up the street. He stopped by to say hello, we lived in a 3 story project building and I was standing out front. I wasn’t really comfortable about talking to him there, especially when my mother was home but I did anyway. My mother happened to look at the window and screamed for me to come in the house. I said my goodbyes and went inside. What did I do? I asked. She said. Who was that guy you were talking to, I replied just a friend. She said, I’ve seen him around and he’s always up to no good so stay the hell away from him. I was like, why?? He’s a nice guy, she said he’s not and I bet not see you talking to him anymore. Of course at that time, I had no clue as to why she said it…I really didn’t care less because I knew I would continue to see him.
Early one Saturday morning about 3 am I heard my mother fumbling with the lock to get into the front door. As I put my head up to see her coming into the house I noticed someone walk in behind her. Initially I thought it was a man, but soon noticed it was a lady. They came in and walked right into the bathroom, but didn’t close the door. I put my head back down to pretend I was still sleeping. The lady looked very manly that’s why I initially thought she was a man. She was standing so close to Kitty, a nickname we had for our Mom, it really looked un-natural. The man - girl started to kiss my mother and when I saw that I was shocked…all kind of things were running in my mind. Huh? My mom is gay? What the hell!! This is crazy! I knew then that I wasn’t gonna lay here and let them traumatize me with a sick vision in my head or my siblings head for that matter for the rest of our lives. They could be playing sleep just like me for all I knew. All I can remember is making a sound --- a clearing my throat sound to be exact. That got my mother’s attention real fast. I heard her tell her friend…. “you have to go”! The unknown friend finally left and my mother looked over towards my direction. I looked into her eyes --- I know it was a look of utter confusion and hurt, that she saw. She didn’t say a word to me…just put her head down and walked into her bedroom. I lay there for hours before dozing off, why did she do that…I wondered. She’s not gay! Maybe she just did that to cop some drugs, yeah that’s what it was I thought. That was the answer and yes I was happy with that. It’s better than her being gay--- so I ran with that idea in my mind. Then attempted to bury the awlful memory…another awlful memory for me to forever put away in that box of secrets in my mind. I knew I would take this memory to my grave. No one could no this, no one.
About 11 am the next morning me and my lil sister got up and asked if we could go over to one of our friends and then go to the park. Our mother probably still filled with the shame of me seeing that said yes. She had been watching me like a hawk lately and I was happy to be going. The plan was for Darrel and some other friends to meet us there.
When I saw him, he was looking funny. I was like, hey what’s up. He asked if I was trying to avoid him and I said no my mother has been tripping. He asked if the lady that screamed for me to come in the other day was my mom and I said yes. I asked why and he said no reason. I said, naw – you tell me why you asked that. He said it’s really nothing but I have seen your mother around. I was like, no you haven’t. He said yes, I have. I’ve seen her around the neighborhood about 1 and 2am turning tricks for drugs. I couldn’t believe what he had just said. What!!?? Bad enough she was on drugs – but now selling her body for them??!! I couldn’t breath. My legs got weak. I said you are lieing and you better stop. That’s my mother and I would know. He said that’s why I didn’t want to say anything, I knew you would be like this. I told my sister to come on we are going home. She reluctantly followed. And we left Darrel and his friends there at the park, just thirty minutes after we had arrived.
When we arrived home I was surprised to see our mother home watching t.v. I was happy she was there because I wanted to confront her about what darrel said.
She said you are back early. It was too hot out there I replied. Can I ask you a question Kitty? Which was the name we called our mother. Don’t know why we called her kitty, but we have for long as I could remember. Maybe it was because she was a teen mom and everyone around us called her Kitty so we did. She never told us not to…
Of course you can ask me a question she said. That guy I was talking to the other day, when you told me to come in….do you know him? Why you ask that? She replied. Well you did tell me not to talk to him, I was just wondering if there was a particular reason.
Carla, he’s bad news…I’ve seen him in drug houses! Huh, drug houses…what…does he sell you drugs? Hell no, she screamed,,,he takes drugs Carla…just like me! Noooooooo! You’re wrong…you’re lieing! He doesn’t take drugs…why are you saying that! He told me he saw you at one and two in the morning walking the streets, for drugs! Well, he’s lieing Carla! Now just stay the hell away from him! I went into the bathroom and locked the door…I turned the water on and just started crying. Liars, liars, liars, they both are liers. I sat in that bathroom for hours crying. I finally found someone that I liked and my mother hates him and he hates her. Both of them…..are made for each other.
It’s over….no more Darrel…whatever it was between them two it was enough for me to not see him ever again. To have dirt on my mother like that, I knew I couldn’t look at him in his face ever again.
Days went by, the same ole story. Summer days, kids hanging out getting into trouble.
My baby brother constantly crying for the much needed attention from our mother.
One Saturday afternoon our mother woke us up and told us to take the bus over to her father’s house for the day. We were all excited, we hadn’t seen him for a couple of months. As we got closer to his house I started feeling funny. Remembering his house, remembering him when he was high. I hope he’s sober I thought or we will be heading right back home.
We arrived to his neat duplex on the east side of Milwaukee, we walked up the five stairs and my little sister knocked on the door. After a couple knocks he opens the door and low and behold he was sober. Whew….what a relief I thought. Well, what do we have here? He said. Hey Kermit, Kitty told us to come over and check on you. He said, is that right? Yes, that’s right my baby brother Jesse said. Well yall come on in and I will make you little rascals some lunch.
When Grandpa Kermit was sober he was alright. His house was neat to, except for the roaches that seem to come out of the cracks. He made us some hotdogs and chips and we sat and ate…talked and laughed. We all needed that. We sat on his front porch for awhile then we decided to head back before it got too dark. Yall come on over again soon and tell my daughter to come see me too. Alright we screamed…love you!
When we arrived home our mother was in the house with friends getting high. Me and my siblings went into the living room to attempt to watch t.v. and ignore what we were seeing. A little while later a big argument broke out with our mom and a lady who was part of their getting high group. Give it back, you had yours that’s mine, our mother screamed. Hell no, you aint getting this the lady screamed. By that time we all ran over to see what was going on, we started screaming saying Kitty, just let her go please. All the others in the group started getting all there paraphenella together and leaving before the police came. My mother was screaming, get out of my house and she ran the lady out the apartment. As my mother was chasing the lady down the stairs the drug crazed lady turned around pulled a knife out. I screamed she has a knife, our mother jumped back but the lady wheeled the knife toward her and instead of getting her in the heart she sliced her arm. We were all screaming and crying, she stabbed you, she stabbed you I screamed. My younger brother and sister were crying. Our mother ran into the bathroom put a towel over her arm and said she was okay. We all were saying please go to the doctor, please, please but she refused.
Days past and it was business as usual, school, home, chores and the comings and goings of drug addicts. Our mother was adamant about not going to the doctor about her arm which was getting worse by the day. You could smell her arm rotting, the start of ganegreen. One night as I was falling asleep I overheard my mother and a friend talking. My mother was complaining of the pain in her arm and the friend said, let me shoot this up in your arm to numb the pain. I lay there and wondered if that really worked. If there could possibly be something out there, something in that little tiny syringe that could numb the pain in my heart. The constant pain of seeing my mom torment herself day after day, watching her destroy her life. No child should have to endure a life such as that I thought and as I lay on my mat on the floor I promised my unborn children that I would never subject them to a life such as this.
One Morning we awoke to a strong stinch in our moms room. I walked in there to find her sitting on the bed looking distressed. I said, your arm smells really bad, that has to be a bad sign, please go to the hospital. She agreed and she left that afternoon to catch the bus to the hospital. We all sat patiently waiting for her return or a call with some news. I made dinner for my sister, brother and myself and we eventually dosed off to sleep. We awoke the next morning to a knock on the door. It was one of our mom’s friends with a message from her. The doctors had to keep her, ganggreene had infected her entire arm and was seeping through her blood stream. If she would have waited another night she could have died. We were devastated, and all alone again. What were we to do? I wondered. The next day we awoke to another knock on the door and it was my mother’s friend again, he said that my mother wanted me to make my way to the hospital she needed to speak with me. As I was getting dressed, I felt suddenly sick to my stomach, I ran to the bathroom aand threw up. What in the world was wrong with me I thought? I’ve been so preoccupied with what was going on with my mother and trying to take care my younger siblings that I didn’t even remember not having my period. Oh my….this can’t be, this is all I need….to have to worry about being pregnant. I couldn’t put it out of my mind forever but for the time being I would. It’s not about me today, it’s about my mom. So I washed my face, brushed my teeth got dressed and made my way to the north side of Milwaukee. I arrived in the very neat suburbia about 2 hours after I left home. I was really scared didn’t really know what to expect. Was she okay? Is she mad at me? What was to happen to us? All these questions and more ran through my head. Whatever she was going through or whatever was to come I would be there for her, regardless I knew that. Because deep down under all that selfishness, drugs and destruction was the mother we all loved.
As I walked into the clean hospital room I looked around. Everything was perfectly in place, she had food a t.v and a phone, for a moment I was struck with a tinge of jealousy. What was I thinking, my mother laying in a hospital room in pain just out of surgery and I’m upset, how absurd . I walked closer to her bed, she looks so pretty and helpless. I ask her if she’s okay and she says yes. She explains to me that the doctors told her if she hadn’t came in when she did she could have died. She already had one surgery and one skin graph. They had to take a big chunk of her arm out because it was poisoned with ganegreen. She told me that they were needing to do one more surgery before she could be released. She would have to be in the hospital for about 2 more weeks and she needed me to take charge more than ever before. I just started crying uncontrollably…I didn’t want to cry…I just couldn’t help it. I said well where are we going to go? What are we going to do? The landlord has been knocking on the door asking for rent money what are we going to do? She told me to stop crying, pull yourself together and be the strong young lady that I know you are. She told me to go home and pack everything that we could possibly take on the bus. She would send a friend over to pick us up tomorrow to take us to the greyhound so we could move back to Chicago. I gave her a big hug around her neck…I didn’t want to let her go. She was clean…free of that damn drug…I was so happy for her. She reminded me of the mom I knew when I was ten…staying up to wait her return home from her old job at chevy chase hospital. That seemed like an eternity ago... I wiped my face and told her that she could count on me and that I love her….more than she could ever know. She kissed my check and looked at me funny…like she was seeing me for the first time… she asked… are you okay? Looks like you are losing weight. I was caught a little off guard for a moment…. I said oh, I’m fine, everythings okay. Don’t worry….
The last thing I wanted to do was to leave her in this god forsaken place. I dreaded leaving her – would she come for us eventually or would she get caught up and stay in Wisconsin forever. Reluctantly, we hugged one last time and said our goodbyes…. I told her that she could count on me and that I loved her. Her eyes showed at that time how much she appreciated what I was doing and all I could really think about at that time was …. Making her proud…Making my mother proud.
I knew by that time without a doubt that I was pregnant and I didn’t have the faintest idea as to what I was going to do. All I knew at that moment was that I was happy to be moving back to Chicago and I couldn’t wait to get out of that city. Getting as far away from Darreyl as possible meant I didn’t have to think of the baby growing in my stomach.
The next day, we packed up all we could and just like my mother said her friend came over to pick us up and take us to the greyhound. He gave us money for our tickets and a little money for food and we headed out through the streets of Milwaukee. Never to see again, I hoped. We passed our friends in the streets that we would never see again, the stores, schools and low and behold I even saw Darrell, walking into the neighborhood convience store. I ducked my head down so he wouldn’t see me. Whew that was a close call, I never wanted to see him ever again.
We finally made it to the busy greyhound terminal in downtown Milwaukee. It was a breath of fresh air, regardless of the stinche inside. I went to the vending machine and used 2 of the 5 dollars we had and brought snacks for the three of us. It was a three hour drive back to Chicago and the time just flew by. There was a lot on my young mine as well as I’m sure my little sister and brother. My baby brother was six years old and he was a momma’s boy, and for him not to have his mother with him was devastating to him I’m sure. I tried to console him and show him love and attention but he really missed her and all he could say was I miss Kitty.
To Be Continued