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Welcome To SORMAG's Blog

Monday, June 19, 2006

EXCERPT: My Life Is All I Have

My Life Is All I Have
by V. Anthony Rivers
Reminisce Over Me


All my life I wanted to be free. When I got old enough to have attitude, I defined my idea of freedom in very simple terms. I wanted to be a bitch, a princess, and a queen all rolled up into one. Young ladies ain’t supposed to be all hard. I keep hearing that if you living in modern times you gotta be able to stand up to all the shit being thrown your way on a daily basis. You can’t worry about being courteous or being a fuckin “lady.” Shit. I never once put in my list of dreams to become a part of the “in-crowd” and wear all that designer stuff. I can find just as good or better at the Slauson Swapmeet. I ain’t stupid. I know what to do with my damn money. I learned how to shop from my mama. It was about the only thing she taught me that was worth knowing.

I started realizing mama knew what she was talking about when I went to the mall one day, by myself. The only thing I could afford up in there was a t-shirt and maybe a cute little belt. That’s what I bought, too. I felt so bad. I’d see other girls from my school hanging out and acting up. They was fast and I was just getting started. Teenage boys stepped to them left and right. I sat down in the food court area and just watched the show. I learned a lot from watching. I liked the idea that females could have so much control. That’s what I saw when I watched those girls from school. They had control over any male that tried to talk to them. That is, if they knew what control was all about. I noticed most of the girls just collected names until they found themselves face to face with the most popular boys in school. Even though I wasn’t a part of any clique, I took notes until it was my time.

Just about every Saturday I sat inside the Crenshaw Mall, watching. Mama thought I was either at the park or at some weekend school event. There was always something going on at my school so it was a good cover for me to be somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be at. What mama didn’t know didn’t matter. She hardly went anywhere on the weekends so I didn’t worry about bumping into her. Plus, people don’t watch each other’s kids no more so I was free and clear.

We lived over on Buckingham Road, not too far from the mall. I could walk there with no problem other than worrying about those men that hangout in front of the liquor store on Santa Rosalia Drive. I always walked on the other side to avoid hearing them talk shit to me. That wouldn’t stop them but at least it didn’t hurt as bad when I’d hear them say things that made it hard for me to swallow my own spit. They would say some really nasty stuff. I got used to it the more I walked by. I learned to turn a deaf ear to all that shit though I’d never become completely immune.

I’d breathe a sigh of relief once I’d step inside the mall. I’d start smiling as soon as the cold air and bright lights hit me. Plus, it’s always busy up inside there too. People be loud as hell. Kids run all over the place. They got a beauty supply store in there where ladies go buy the freshest weaves and yell at the Korean owner when she says how much it cost.
I went in there with mama one day and she was mouthing off cause she was mad about the price of synthetic hair.
She said “how these folks who never been to Africa before know so much about the texture of our hair?”

I looked at mama and asked her “you been to Africa before?”

The two ladies that were paying attention to her laughed. Mama was kind of embarrassed and didn’t talk to me in the car on the way home. I didn’t understand at the time but I figured it out soon after that.

One other thing that stood out at the mall was the Police station inside. That was a trip to see. I stopped sitting on that end of the mall because I got tired of watching them parade the latest criminal they caught. It gave me a bad feeling every time I’d see Police officers holding on to somebody with handcuffs. They’d walk them slowly through the mall and most people stopped what they were doing to look directly at the person in handcuffs. I guess I was sensitive about certain things until I learned how to control what I’d felt and not really care. I exposed myself to so much just from going to the mall on weekends. That place turned out to be my learning ground and my first taste of envy.

I was only fourteen years old and in the tenth grade at the time. I envied this girl named Janina Parrish. That was before I learned to call her a bitch and be done with her ass. She knew I was jealous of her. She could feel it. The look in my eyes was a dead giveaway and because we happened to be in the same grade, that gave her twice the pleasure of rubbing in her superiority over me.

Janina’s parents had money so she got all her clothes from the big department stores on the other side of town. She wouldn’t keep it a secret at all. She’d announce to the whole class whenever she went to the Beverly Center in Beverly Hills. Then she’d say some stupid shit like letting us know that she saw Keith Sweat or Da Brat up in there buying clothes too.

Places like the Beverly Center were foreign to me. A thirty minute drive to some store across town was like an international flight. Mama didn’t see the value in going so far unless you were going to work, had a job interview, or a doctor’s appointment. Her way of thinking just gave me another reason to look forward to independence. But in the meantime, I’d want what Janina had. I wanted to be the shit and even at her age, be able to walk around like it don’t stank.

I watched her with a different outfit on every single weekend. Guys approached her, demanding for her phone number and she played like it didn’t mean anything. That usually made them weak ‘cause she wouldn’t give it to them right away. It made them try harder to please her. Then, since she was only fourteen like me, the best way to make her stop and talk was to offer to buy her something or take her to see the latest, most popular movie. Janina needed to be seen going places where others could envy her just like I did. She wanted all of us to talk about how lucky she was and act like she some damn Queen Bee. After a while, I got pissed. Not so much at her but at myself for falling in too deep behind the rest of the crowd, waiting to get popular like her. She had a stranglehold on her status. I had to put a stop to that shit.

Funny thing though, I found myself one day getting advice from my Grandmother. I always called her “Grammy” and she was my heart. She didn’t live too far from me and mama so again, it didn’t take much to walk over and visit with her. She lived on the other side of Crenshaw in the Leimert Park area, over on 42nd Street. I liked her apartment a lot because it was so clean, which mean’t no graffiti. The neighborhood looked pretty much the same as ours but for some reason, people were nicer and you didn’t run into a lot of thugs or drug addicts. That was another thing I didn’t understand. Why life seemed so different depending on what street you lived on. Maybe deep down, I envied Grammy too but those feelings only came up when I was at home, listening to the muffled sounds of somebody getting their ass kicked. Or sometimes I’d all but jump out of my skin because we have this front gate outside that bangs really loud whenever somebody closes it. People go in and out all night long. It’s hard to sleep sometimes.
Mama seemed used to all the noise. I think she got to the point where she’d block out everything including the sound of my voice because most of what I’d say to her, she wouldn’t hear. That’s why I wouldn’t just walk to Grammy’s place; I would run. Yeah, even though I was a first year, high school student, I’d still run to see Grammy as if I were a little kid. I hadn’t built a reputation or was looked upon as being cool so nobody noticed me with my long hair trailing behind as I ran. They probably thought I was just trying to hurry my ass through those rough streets. And when I’d get to Grammy’s apartment, I’d be so happy. She’d open the door and instantly smile. Ain’t nothing like being greeted by a grandmother’s smile. That was something I never took for granted.
The day that I asked her for advice was when I confessed to my jealousy of Janina. Grammy was disappointed a little, but she tried not to show it too much. She just sighed heavily, shook her head and thought for a moment. I had to wait in her silence until she spoke. I sat nervously. I kept shaking my right leg and staring at Grammy with a puppy dog look on my face. Her silence grew deep. I could see she wasn’t pleased at all by my confession, but as she sat there thinking, she’d finally put aside her displeasure and talk to me as only a grandmother could.

She said “baby, you have nothing to be jealous of. Now whoever this other young lady is, I can’t see how she can even imagine being better than you. Nobody in this world is better than my grand baby, nobody. Don’t you ever forget that. I know I taught you better than to want to be like somebody else.”

I listened to Grammy as though my life depended on it and in my mind, it did. Her words were wise, of course, but more so than that, she cared about everything I did, say or thought about doing. I told her that what I felt wasn’t because I believed Janina was better than me. I just wanted for once to have some nice things too.

“Leesha, you have to be patient. If you were a little older I’d say to you, go out and get those things for yourself. But, since you’re still so very young, all I can say is that in time, you’ll have those things and more. But baby, you have to want for the right reasons.”

I tried my best to take what Grammy said and use it to squash what I’d felt about Janina but it wasn’t working. I basically had to lie to her because she’d suggest that I stop going to the mall. She said it would be good for me because that way I wouldn’t want what I don’t see.

“You’re right, Grammy” I’d said and she was beyond pleased to hear those words.
“I tell you what,” she said. “Pick out one thing that you really want and I’ll just go into my little retirement fund and get the money to pay for it. It’s not like I’m going on a cruise anytime soon.”

I was so excited when she said that and then I felt guilty. Grammy was gonna take out money from her bank account just to buy me something so I could feel good about myself. When I walked home that day, I got really mad. I even walked on the same side of the street as the liquor store where folks be hanging out at. My mind was on an island of guilt somewhere, far, faraway. One guy said something to me and I told him to go fuck himself. He just laughed. Maybe I was lucky that he didn’t take me serious but I was so mad that I didn’t care where I was or who I’d encounter. When I got home, I went straight to my room, closed the door and sat on my bed. I stayed there until nightfall, listening to the noise outside and thinking about everything Grammy had said to me. I didn’t like disappointing her and I really didn’t want to take her money.

That night as I stared out my bedroom window, I’d seen some guys standing around, drinking, messing with this girl and listening to music. They all looked like thugs, even the girl. I just watched for a while and listened. My concentration was so focused on them that I’d twitch a little whenever that noisy gate would close. Then simultaneously as the gate slammed shut, I saw one of the guys slap the girl in her face. She went down instantly and didn’t get up. She just stayed on the ground, holding her face. I could see her legs moving but she wasn’t trying to get back up. My heart was beating like crazy because I didn’t know what else to do besides watch. I thought about telling mama so she could call the police but it was late and she’d probably try to hit me if I woke her up.
Finally, one of the guys helped the girl up. I could see her bleeding from the nose and she could barely stand. They acted as if what happened was okay. Nobody seemed to care. The guy that helped her to stand up, opened the back door of the car that he and the rest stood around, and she got in. Another guy followed and got inside the car with her. Then they closed the door. I knew what they were doing because I’d heard about females who wanted to join gangs but I thought they’d just get beat up by other girls. I kept watching as one guy after the other got inside the back seat of that car. They were taking turns. And the more I watched, the less scared I became. I watched as though I understood. It was normal. It was a part of life in my neighborhood.

When it was over, the girl’s spirit seemed taken from her. She looked ashamed. She was so unlike how she was before. She got beat down in more ways than one and those guys controlled her like a dog on a leash. She walked away clutching her shirt with her head bowed. I didn’t like seeing that at all and never wanted to experience what that felt like, again. I say again because I felt like all my jealousy over Janina translated into a mental beat down of my very own and I was the one walking home with my tail between my legs. I was the one afraid to look up whenever men or anybody else talked shit to me. I was the one jumping out of my skin every time that damn gate would close. Things needed to change and I’d planned to take my first steps toward making that happen.
One day in English class, the teacher announced that she had a very special project for us to do. Nobody was excited and most of us sat there worried that whatever it was gonna be, it would probably mean that we had to stand in front of the class and read something. I hated that shit and most times nobody listened, they just looked at you. If I was gonna stand up there and do something that I hated, I at least wanted people to listen.
My English teacher was alright. Ms. Stafford was cool most of the time. She just didn’t tolerate anyone that sat and did nothing. You couldn’t just sit there and expect to pass her class. You had to speak up and speak clearly. She’d stop you in mid sentence if you said anything that sounded like slang to her. I actually learned a lot in her class. I hated that she kept on our asses all the time but at least you knew she was serious about teaching you something.

When she announced our special assignment, my mouth dropped open. She called herself doing something out of the ordinary in order to bring honesty to the classroom and get past any hidden feelings that might exist among students. Ms. Stafford was going to school herself during that time. She was taking child psychology. I think a lot of the assignments she’d give us were things she could use to satisfy her own educational requirements. In a funny way, I respected her for that because she was doing her thang. She was killing two birds with one stone, teaching us shit and doing her homework at the same time. She was yet another example of a woman in control and I loved that about her.

“Okay class!” she announced. “The assignment I have for you is to do a report on someone in the class that you don’t know and, or don’t like.”

When she said that, the class started buggin out. Chairs were moving around, students were moaning and as I said, my mouth dropped wide open. Ms Stafford had to keep telling everybody to be quiet so they could let her finish.

She said “in this assignment you’ll be able to express your true feelings and in the end perhaps you’ll find that this exercise will bridge the gap that exists between you and this person that you claim to dislike.”

Ms. Stafford went on to say that so many of us in this world tend to make up our minds about people without really taking the time to get to know one another. She felt that by teaching us to recognize this condition now will make us better people when we become adults and have to face the world each day. She had me thinking about Mama and all the shit she’d say about people she don’t even know. Mama be pre and post judging all the time. She can talk non-stop even about Grammy. I don’t like it when she does that and I guess that’s why I’m always asking her a question that belittles the comments she makes.
After the students in my English class settled down, Ms Stafford asked us all to write down on a piece of paper, which person we chose to write about and why. I couldn’t believe she put us on the spot like that, right away. I thought she would at least let us go home and write our reports. Funny thing though, it didn’t take me long to do what Ms Stafford requested. All I had to do was look toward the third seat in the second row from the door and find the subject of my report. That’s where Janina sat. I stared in her direction the whole time Ms Stafford was telling us to write down the name of our subject. I smiled and then while in mid air of my devious thoughts, she caught me looking. Janina had turned her head to the left and seen me staring. I sat in the fourth seat of the fifth row. She saw me and she looked at me like I was nothing. She’d never made eye contact with me long enough to even say hello before so this moment was a rarity. Then as she returned my stares with her what-the-fuck-you-lookin-at glare, she began to write something down on her paper. I kept my eyes on her all the while writing her name down. Janina Parrish, I wrote. And then I listed why I hated her.

“Okay class, make your answers honest. As I said before, I want an honest portrayal of your true feelings. Think out your answers people. Don’t just give me simple ones. You can do this!”

Ms. Stafford forced me to really think about what I was writing so I had to disconnect from the cold hard stares that I was locked into with Janina. I hated being the first one to look away. It felt like I’d let Janina get the best of me and even worse, she might’ve thought that she did too. Bitch.

I thought hard and began to list my feelings. I wrote about how I felt Janina looked down on others and anyone who called themselves her friend, really meant nothing more to her than her personal cheering squad. Then I let my bitterness show. I wrote “Janina is nothing more than a bitch. She acts like she’s all that but I bet when she gets home and is all by herself with no audience around, she don’t do shit but mop floors and take out the trash for her parents. They only send her to the mall all the time so she won’t be around and they have to look at her ass. Janina is nothing but a fake, wanna be hoe and I’ve got no love or respect for her. She ain’t earned shit and don’t deserve shit.”

That’s what I wrote as I sat for a moment, thinking to myself, what the hell? Then I started trying to write down something else to turn in but the school bell sounded. Ms Stafford was already in my row, collecting papers. She didn’t care what was on the page. She just snatched pieces of paper off of desks as she walked by. I tried to fold mine up so I could hide it but by the time I made the first crease, Ms Stafford was standing there with her hand out.

“I’ll take that from you, Leesha. Looks like you had plenty to say in such a short time” she said.

I just nodded. I felt so embarrassed and couldn’t believe how I’d gone into a whole-nother zone when thinking about how much I hated Janina. Ms Stafford glanced at my paper. I noticed her reaction as she read over what I wrote. I started to get up from my chair when she said my name.

“Leesha…”
I looked at her and began apologizing before she’d even questioned me.
“I’m sorry Ms Stafford, I just…”
She stopped me in mid-sentence.

“Leesha, I’m looking for honest feelings so I can’t fault you for what you wrote. However, I’ll have to really think about whether or not I can have you read this before the class. Words like these would get us both in trouble, don’t you think?”

“Yes ma’am…”
“When you bring in your paper tomorrow, I want to read it first. What I may do is simply have you and Janina meet with me in private. There seems to be some deep seated anger in your words, Leesha. Does Janina know how you feel about her?”
“I don’t know…”
“Hmm, I’m really curious…”

Ms Stafford had something serious on her mind. She turned toward the door and noticed Janina about to exit the classroom. She called out to her.

“Janina, can I see you for a moment?”
Janina turned and walked over to us. We made eye contact again, for a moment. She gave me that look, just like before. I can’t stand her either. She had me wanting to write down some more shit about her.

“Yes Ms Stafford?” Janina said.

She acted completely different when she approached the teacher. You could tell she’s one of them spoiled kids who know how to play the game and then once they’re out of their parent’s sight, they do all kind of shit to fuck up your life.

“Janina, I believe I picked up your paper, correct?” Ms Stafford asked.
“Yes, you have mine already.”

Ms Stafford thumbed through the papers she’d collected until she came to the one done by Janina. She smiled to herself and then began to nod her head as if she’d made some type of discovery.

“Thank you Janina. I want to have the two of you in class alone tomorrow. I’d like for the report that you write to be read to each other, rather than to the class.”

Janina and I both asked why, simultaneously. Then we looked at each other. She probably had the same I-hate-you thoughts going through her mind that I did.
“Just bear with me. You both appear to have issues with one another and I think if we recognize those feelings now, perhaps we can do something about them. So, I’ll see you both here tomorrow.”

Janina and I moaned with displeasure. She left the classroom first. Actually, Ms Stafford held me for a moment and waited until Janina was gone. Then she allowed me to leave. I guess she could feel the tension. She should have since she stood between Janina and I. Ms Stafford was good at recognizing potential problems but she had no clue that this one would never be solved. At least, not the way she’d want it to be.

I’d made it to Ms Stafford’s class early the next day, thinking that I’d beat Janina and be able to have the upper hand on her ass. But then, as soon as I walked in, there she was, waiting. I’d felt like I couldn’t win. Is she for real? I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe she had beaten me to class and to make matters worse, she was carrying a really big folder. Deep inside I’d reached the panic zone. The paper that I’d written was folded and stuck in my back pocket. Janina had her shit in what looked like a leather or vinyl organizer. I hated her even more and was mad at myself for letting her get the best of me in more ways than one.

When I stepped inside the classroom, Ms Stafford spotted me immediately.

“Come on over Leesha!” she said.
Only a few students were inside the class and Ms Stafford told them to leave. As they filed out the door with smiles on their faces, my eyes quickly focused upon Janina, standing with that look in her eyes again. She didn’t say a word to me and I didn’t say shit to her either.

“Okay, who’s first?” Ms Stafford asked.
“I will go first, if it’s alright with her?” Janina said with an air of conceit in her voice.
“She has a name Janina so I think we need to be more respectful of each other.”
“She does? And what is it because I forgot.”
“Ladies?” Ms Stafford warned as she’d seen the look in my eyes go from anger to boil in less than a second. I was about to kick Janina’s ass.
“I’m quite sure you know her name Janina so please, ask if there’s no problem with you going first.”

Ms Stafford was trying her hardest to keep things civilized. I couldn’t tell if she was in denial of how things were between Janina and I or if she really thought she could make us like one another. That wasn’t happening.

Janina glanced over at me briefly and then spoke after turning her head to look forward.

“Is it okay with you…um, Leesha, if I go first?” she struggled.
I responded without any hint of struggle in my voice.
“Yeah bitch, go head on!”
Ms Stafford was so shocked by my response that she’d froze in her tracks, giving me time to lunge at Janina. I knocked her to the ground with my open hand to the side of her face. I think her ass was shocked too but she tried to get up and defend herself. I kicked her ass, literally and figuratively before Ms Stafford got herself together and pulled me off of Janina. I kept on kicking my legs because I didn’t want Janina to think she could take advantage of me being held back by Ms Stafford. I quickly realized that wouldn’t be a problem because Janina was too busy checking her bloody lip and holding her stomach where I kicked her at a few times.

“Have you lost your mind, Leesha!” Ms Stafford repeated several times.

I never answered her, nor did I say very much at the Principal’s office either. They sent me home after about thirty minutes of interrogation. I was told that since it was my first time getting into trouble that I would be suspended for two weeks instead of being kicked out of school. I would also be responsible for making up any assignments that I missed. That didn’t bother me none because my classes weren’t that hard. I felt like they just gave me two week’s vacation and when I went home, I was celebrating. Mama was still at work and it was just me, the television and some leftover beef stroganoff.
My celebration lasted for about an hour. Mama came home early. She had this look on her face as if she knew something. Either that or somebody at work pissed her off so bad that she had to leave. She confirmed my first suspicion as soon as she shut the door behind her.

“Leesha have you lost your damn mind! Girl, I got a call at work saying my child was fighting and using all kind of foul language! Is you crazy? You aint learn to act that way in this damn house!”

Mama just went off. She threw her purse down and took off her shoes. There she stood in her blue polyester dress suit, screaming at the top of her lungs. One moment she had her hands on her hips and the next moment she was pointing so hard at me, I thought she was gonna stab me with that finger of hers. I never responded to her. I just sat there and listened. Her voice was so loud they could probably hear her down the block. I’m pretty sure everyone in the building knew I got suspended from school. Mama was giving me a verbal beat down but not once did I have feelings of regret. If Janina had been standing in my living room, I’d kick her ass again, right in front of mama.

I can’t even remember how long the verbal assault lasted. However, it did come to an abrupt ending when she’d tell me that I sickened her, which hurt my feelings and got my attention. I looked up at her, standing over me and breathing hard as if she were completely exhausted behind all the yelling. We both had eyes filled with tears.

Mama said “Leesha, it really hurts me what you did today. While you’re on suspension, I want you to go live with your grandmother. I called her from work already. I’m so ashamed that I don’t think I could look at you for these two weeks. You stay with her and do me a favor… Think about what you’ve done and see if maybe you realize how wrong you were.”
I never responded verbally to the things mama said but when she pointed for me to go to my room and pack some things, I had no hesitation in my step. As much as it hurt me to be yelled at, I was really happy to be going to stay with Grammy. My earlier thoughts of being on vacation had returned and the more clothes I grabbed from the closet, the more I’d felt like smiling again. I was gonna stay with Grammy and that was alright with me.

1 comment:

lady said...

In reference to "My Life is All I Have". I did not know which way the reader was trying to go by just viewing the exerpt. Is she telling us about every negative event in her life? It becomes tiring. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe we should hear that at the beginning and then go into the different issues. Hmmmmm....

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