Names have been changed.
As a child, I wanted to do kid stuff and play with other kids. But instead I was put into adult situations very young. My family home was a trap house, a place people come to buy drugs. The drugs my mom sold out of our apartment in the Bronx included cocaine, weed, and different kinds of pills. I would also see people I didn’t know go into my mom’s and my sister Tanya’s room and then I’d hear the noises of them having sex. My mom prostituted herself and I think my sister did, too.
My oldest sibling, Felicia, was 11 years older than me, and then my mom had Tanya, Tom, Anthony, and me, one after another. We all had different dads. I didn’t know my dad, but the man in the pictures looked like a future version of me. I knew he was one of Harlem’s drug dealers. He didn’t have much going for him. He didn’t go to school when he was younger, and he was either in prison or doing illegal things.
My sister Felicia was the only one who had a bond with her dad. When she was about 3, her dad got out of prison and started taking care of her. When she was 12, she went to live with her dad’s side of the family to escape life at my mom’s.
I knew way too much about adults’ relationships. When I was 8, my favorite aunt came over to talk to my mom about her boyfriend sexually abusing her. I overheard their conversation from the next room, and I understood that my aunt’s boyfriend was choking and hitting her while they had sex. I knew what having sex was from television and movies and from hearing the noises from my mom’s room. It seemed nasty and I didn’t understand why people did it.
But I knew what was happening to my aunt was worse. Right after my aunt’s confession, my mom went out in the hallway of our building to sell her drugs. I went into the kitchen and asked my aunt why she was sad. I wanted to show her I cared for her. I thought she needed a talk and some love. She said, “You’re too young to understand,” but gave me a big hug and cried on my shoulder.
After the Drugs, On My Own
After my mother and other family members took their Xanax and weed and whatever else, they’d tell me to go to my room and play with my toys or my video games. I knew after they did the drugs, I’d be on my own for the night. I would eat and go to sleep while they argued and did other things loudly.
My brother and sisters were known in my hood as the next generation of drug dealers. They were smarter than my mother but still stupid. They went to school and made some right decisions but still sold drugs for my mother and represented the Bloods in our hood. My brothers got into fights and my sisters got looked at weird. Felicia had enough sense not to rep Blood or sell drugs. She focused on school, especially after she moved in with her dad, who showed her the right path in life.
My mom went to prison for a street brawl with some of our neighbors when I was about 7. She was in there for about six months, but she didn’t learn anything. When she came out, she continued to sell drugs and fight. She used to go out without feeding her kids. A lot of times during 1st and 2nd grade, I was so hungry I fell asleep in school.
The summer after 2nd grade, on the 4th of July, my mom’s house got robbed. They stole jewelry and electronics and also broke a lot of furniture, I guess to send a message.
I was moved to my grandparents’ house. Right after I got there, my grandmother, who had cancer, went to the hospital for stomach pain. While I was visiting her, she started shaking and bumping, and spit came out of her mouth. I went to get doctors for help. The room was cold and nothing seemed real. The doctors pronounced her dead.
At the time, I didn’t feel mad or upset. I was just shocked. I replayed that day in my mind afterward. Sometimes when I was going to sleep I would replay the image. I felt guilty that I hadn’t been able to save her.
My grandpa became depressed after his wife died. Every day for about a week, he drank and smoked heavily, missing important appointments. Two weeks after my grandmother died, he got robbed at gunpoint by a 17-year-old he owed money to. The teenager shot my grandpa in the chest for $1,280. He died a couple hours later.
I went to stay with my aunt because my mom’s house was unsafe. My mom’s drug customers had threatened to hurt me or kill me to get at her. What drug dealers did to people was another thing I wish I didn’t know about as a 7-year-old. Looking out the window, I would see and hear dealers fighting with people about money.
My aunt took care of me for the rest of the year. After my grandma’s funeral I said my goodbyes to my mom and the rest of the family and went home with my aunt. At her house I clung to her, saying “I love you.” I wanted to make her feel happy.
She was upset about her parents’ deaths and about her boyfriend abusing her. I would hear him hurting her in the middle of the night. I don’t know if my cousins knew because I pretended I didn’t know, and they never brought it up either.
Meanwhile, at school, I was being bullied. This was a lot to deal with at a young age. To escape my life, I watched basketball. My favorite team was the Knicks, and my favorite Knick was Carmelo Anthony. On the court, he was a beast, and outside the court he was inspirational. He often said, “Never give up” in post-game interviews after a hard loss.
In my aunt’s house, the tone was peaceful, comfortable, not ghetto. My cousins were nice to me. They shared their xBox with me. We watched Spongebob Squarepants together and created things with Magic Sand and Play-Doh.
My aunt was nice, too. She bought me ice cream after school and, if I was good all week, pizza from Dominos. When I messed up, she talked to me about what I did wrong. One time I lied to her about breaking her phone charger. Instead of hitting me, she asked for an apology. (My mom would have whupped my butt and grounded me.)
I would study with my cousins and play outside. They were close to my age, and we talked about our favorite movies and shows. My aunt and cousins were nonviolent, while my family had abused me physically since I could walk and talk.
I wasn’t as lonely at my aunt’s. For the four months I was living there, I could forget about the other stuff I was put through at school and at my mom’s.
By the beginning of 3rd grade, I was on top of my grades and happy with my life. The bullying had stopped. That October, I switched to a school closer to where my aunt lived. I liked that I didn’t have to see the people who had bullied me. Switching schools gave me a chance to start over and be happier and more positive.
Still, even at my aunt’s I was too close to adult situations. In the middle of the night, I’d hear yelling about money or unwanted sex. I was too young to help her while I was there. My aunt went through a bunch of problems and later she told me she suffers from major depressive disorder. She also has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She became pretty messed up, and I went back to my mom’s. My aunt and I don’t talk anymore.
The lack of a good role model had a lasting effect. When I was 14, I went into care after my mom cracked open my face with a skateboard. After I went into care, I felt very alone and lost hope. I turned to drugs. Marijuana made me feel happy and laugh a lot. I sold drugs for a few months to get money, which helped fill the hole of loneliness.
But I realized I could ruin my future if I stayed on that path. Now I look at drug dealers as weak, and I don’t touch drugs. I want to stay in school and off the streets for the simple reason that I don’t want to end up dead or in jail like everybody around me.
Seeing the messed up lives of my grandma and grandfather, my mother, my siblings, and even my aunt makes me determined to have a good life. I promised myself that I’d finish high school, get a job, and make enough money to support myself.
On the negative side, it’s hard to trust people. To prevent bad situations, I stay humble and somewhat isolated. I don’t push people out of my life, but I hold back. I give enough love to make people love me but not enough love to where they can hate me. It’s sort of like feeding a child: You want to give the child enough food to fill their tummy, but not so much that they’re overstuffed and throw up. I’ve seen love turn into hate quickly after a person has been let down, lied to, or when people just didn’t turn out to be what the other imagined them to be.
To avoid those traps, I put into a relationship what I’d like to get out. I don’t trust people yet, but the sort of person I would trust in the future would be kind, genuine, positive, and caring.
For now, I want to keep the painful things I’ve been through to myself. I’d like to forget about them and just move on. I want to try to be happy and do some of the things I couldn’t do as a kid, like go to Disneyland and to a Knicks game.
People say everything happens for a reason. I didn’t get to live life like a normal kid, and I wonder if that wasn’t meant for me. I don’t know now why I had to suffer so much, but maybe in 20 years I will understand it.