So I’m sure some of you read the title of this blog post and you’re like, “What does she mean by true self-publishing?” Last year, before I released Love’s Deadly Masquerade, I began looking into Amazon’s KDP Select program. I was enrolled in it back when I first released A Thug’s Redemption in 2012 but did not like the idea of my book only being available through Kindle as a stipulation. There are quite a few readers out there who legit don’t fuck with Amazon Kindle on any level. So to make that commitment, I would have been leaving out Nook readers, Kobo readers, Google Books and others. And to be honest, for them to only be paying $0.0047-$0.0053 per page read, they need to either lift that dumb ass condition or raise the payment per page amount to at least $0.05 per page. Shit at least then, authors can see a decent amount of money for a full read on their books.
Last year, I converted all of my books to ePub documents and uploaded them to my servers so I can begin selling my eBooks on my own. And this is where I get into true self-publishing. Outside of wholesale distribution, if you are using sites such as Amazon Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo etc to push your eBooks ONLY, and you don’t have a personal website with links to purchase your paperbacks, audiobooks and eBooks, solely through you, you are not FULLY self-published. You’re pretty much working through various middle men to push your books while allowing them to take 35% if not more, of your earnings. Now some of you may say, well hold on a minute, Amazon grants me access to MILLIONS of readers. Yes they do! But are they marketing you? No. Are they promoting you outside of when or if your book gets over 50 reviews? No. You are still doing that footwork. You are still prospecting readers for the types of books you are writing. You are still doing the footwork to generate new readership. So if you are putting your feet to the payment to get these readers to buy your book, why shouldn’t you get 100% of the profits?
Let’s be real. Self-publishing isn’t cheap and it isn’t easy. It takes hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Some authors are content with what they get from Amazon and other eBook outlets, but imagine what more you could do if the thousands of readers who found your book links for Amazon through word of mouth and purchased your books, found your OWN links and purchased directly from YOU.
For those of you who are writing books as a hobby and are content with whatever royalties you get from Amazon and other sites, this won’t matter to you. But for those of us who write books because its who we are and we intend to get paid for our talent and our craft as well as our hard work, seriously consider this option. Don’t make yourself feel because you don’t want to feel like you’re doing it for the money. Remember TLC and New Edition? I’m sure they did it for the love of the music with the intent on getting paid. Keep that in mind, I don’t know about other authors, but I do it not only for the love and passion I have for this gift I have with putting pen to paper and creating some amazing stories, but also because I love getting paid for my talent as well.
Now moving on… All of my books have PayPal buttons with a link to the book being purchased attached. Meaning, as soon as you make your purchase, you are sent to the link to download the book directly to your reading device. You don’t have to worry about me sending it to you after you make your payment, the download is immediate similar to Amazon and other eBook outlets. Be sure to leave reviews for my books because that still helps!
Are you ready for a preview to Hoop Dreams Deflated? Kick back and relax. This story is sure to put you so deep in your feelings. The link to purchase will be at the very end. Support an indie author while indulging in your passion for reading. Enjoy!
HOOP DREAMS DEFLATED
I remember the first basketball game I watched as a young buck. I was five years old and LeBron James was a rookie playing for the Cavaliers, who were cooking the Sixers. I sat on our living room floor in our old house on Medary Street watching the 27-inch Zenith television with the fat back. Pops had just gotten cable for us and while my little sister and I should have been watching cartoons, we were both tuned into the game, cheering as though we had courtside seats. Watching LeBron dominate on the floor amazed me, and I vowed as I watched that game that one day, I was going to make it to the NBA as well.
Roaches crawled down the dingy walls in the living room of the three-bedroom house we were currently living in. Janaya, who was two at the time, pointed at one as she squealed, “Ewww! Rooooach!”
I scooted close to the bug and squashed it with an envelope like I had seen Mommy do numerous times. She frowned but then went back to playing with her doll baby. I sighed and cupped my chin in my hands while sitting Indian style on the dirty, carpeted floor. Once again, we were home alone, left behind by our mother who more than likely was out at some bar. She promised she was going to bring us back some Chinese Food for dinner. Though I couldn’t quite tell time yet, I knew she’d left just as the game had started and it was now the third quarter, so she had to have been gone for over an hour. My stomach growled loudly and I closed my eyes trying not to think about how hungry I was. Janaya was just as hungry as I was, if not more.
“Dah-Dah, C’ave some?” she asked me as she pulled on my shirt. It was her way of saying “Davion, can I have some?” Dah-Dah is what she called me since she couldn’t pronounce my name. I looked over at her angrily but her soft brown eyes and thick, curly bush made me calm down. I had already told her three times that we had to wait for mommy to come back with the food, but she was hungry now, and we couldn’t wait anymore. We shouldn’t have to wait anymore.
“Alright Janaya, let me see what’s in the kitchen,” I said to her with a smile. But I knew there was hardly anything in there. I got up just as the Sixers were calling time-out and went into the kitchen. Janaya followed behind me. The kitchen’s only measly light blinked off and on as though the bulb was about to blow out. I cringed as I looked around at the grimy, dirty stove. The linoleum on the floor was supposed to be a soft pink and egg-shell color, but since Mr. Clean hadn’t seen these floors in probably a year, the floor was dirty and grimy with old, crusted grease caked up near the stove and the cabinet under the sink. Roaches scattered around the sink that was filled with dirty dishes from more than a week ago. I opened the refrigerator and frowned at the smell that seeped out from the old food and spoiled milk that should have been thrown out weeks ago.
My stomach growled again and I was beginning to feel sick. Janaya squeezed past me so she could see inside of the refrigerator and then pointed to the jar of grape jelly. “It’s no bread, Jah-Jah,” I said to her. I guess her determination was greater than mine and maybe she was a little braver than me because she yanked on one of the vegetable bin drawers, pulling it open. Inside was some bread. I grabbed it along with the jelly and pulled it out, excited. But when I opened the bag, I saw that the bread on top was molded.
“Ill,” I groaned. At that moment, my hate for my mother became stronger than any emotion I could remember having towards anyone at five years old. Janaya was still excited, thinking we would be able to have jelly sandwiches. I pulled the first slice off and threw it in the trash before checking again. I ended up having to throw most of the bread away, but the slices in the middle and towards the bottom were still salvageable. There were no clean spoons in the drawers to the cabinet near the sink, so I dug into the pile of filthy dishes and grabbed the cleanest dirty spoon I could find. I rinsed it off, scraping the crusted food bits from it before drying it on my shirt and made my baby sister and I sandwiches. Just as we were chowing down and filling our hungry bellies with the yummy snack, the lights fluttered again only this time, they cut all the way off.
NYEARRRONNN! was the noise the power made before the house went completely dark. Janaya screamed and I shushed her. I could feel her tiny arms cling to me out of fear of the dark. I strained to see in the pitch-black kitchen, using my hands to find the rest of our sandwiches on the kitchen counter before we made our way to the living room, with Janaya clinging to me the whole way there. The lights in there were off as well, and the TV too. Now I was scared, also.
“Dah-Dah, I want Mommy!” Janaya cried. The silence of the house accentuated her tearful cries making them seem louder than usual.
“Be quiet before the neighbors hear us! Shhh, Janaya!” I said, trying to calm her down. I pulled the curtains back a little bit and saw when the Peco Energy worker placed an envelope in our mailbox before leaving our porch. Using the light from the street lights in the front of our house, I was able to find the house phone. I said Pop’s number in my head the way he taught it to me as I dialed it. I waited while it rang, peering from behind the curtains, trying to keep watch for Mommy, knowing that if she caught me calling him, she would beat me senseless. But we were hungry, home alone, cold, and the Peco man just turned our lights out.
“What?!” Pops said into the phone with base as though he was expecting it to be our mother.
“Da… Daddy?” I said with a stutter, a bad habit that I had at the time whenever I was scared.
“Oh, hey son. Sorry about that. Wassup?” my father said, softening his voice. “Nuh…noth… nothing. Me… me and Juh… Janaya are in the house buh… buh… by ourselves and thuh… thuh… thuh… the Peco muh… muh… man just tuh… tuh… turned off the lights,” I took a deep breath trying not to cry on the phone. I didn’t want my dad to think I was a punk.
I heard Pops sigh angrily over the phone. “Where the hell is your mom?” he asked. “I don’t know. She said sh… sh… she was guh… guh… getting us suh… suh… some Chinese Food buh… buh… but she didn’t get back yet.” I could hear some shuffling around where I guess my dad was trying to muffle the phone so I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
“Babe, swing me around Medary street so I can get my kids. This bitch done left my fucking kids in the house with nothing to eat and they done turned the muthafucking lights off. I’m so sick of this fucking broad man, she really ’bout to make me fuck her up over my kids, man!” he hissed. I heard a woman respond back but couldn’t make out what she said. “Get your little sister, I’ll be there in like five minutes.”
“Oh… Oh-kay,” I said before hanging the phone up. Just hearing that my pops was going to come rescue us from this messed up situation gave me a burst of energy. I grabbed onto Janaya and kissed her cheek. “Daddy’s coming to get us,” I said with a huge grin on my face.
“Yaaayyyy!” Janaya shouted with glee. We both climbed onto the sofa and watched out the window for his arrival. It seemed like forever, but then this really dope, hunter-green Nissan Maxima pulled up blasting 50 Cent’s cut “In Da Club”. As soon as I saw my father hop out of the passenger seat, I grabbed Janaya in my arms and hurried to the front door.
“Daddy!” Janaya said with glee as he scooped her into his arms.
“Hey baby-girl! Gimme ‘dem kisses, boop.” He made fart noises on her cheeks causing her to laugh loudly before grabbing me by the head and pulling me close. He felt me shiver. “Where y’all coats?” He then looked down at me and looked at Janaya. “Ay yo, why y’all dressed all dirty like this and where the fuck are y’all shoes?”
I opened my mouth to tell Pops that I couldn’t find our coats and shoes in the house because it was too dark and we were dressed in what mommy had us wearing for the last three days when I saw our mother coming up the street. My eyes widened in fear.
“What the fuck are you doing at my house?” she sneered as she marched over to the porch. “Davion, what I tell you about opening my fucking door for folks without me telling you to?” she sniped at me. I scooted behind my father, using his leg to hide from her.
“Y’all go get in the car,” my father said to us as he put Janaya down. “I’ma take y’all shopping, okay? How’s that sound, y’all like that?” he asked us with a smile as he knelt in front of us. We nodded our heads rapidly.
“You not takin’ my muthafuckin’ kids no got-damn where! Fuck is you thinking?” My mother snapped with her head wagging back and forth. I could tell she was trying hard not to stagger as I looked back at her while Pops’ girlfriend helped us get into the car. I also noticed that she didn’t have any Chinese Food with her either.
The inside of the car was crisp clean with cream leather seats. The TVs in the headrest were turned on for me and Janaya while we snuggled close to each other, waiting for the heat in the car to work its magic on our chilly bodies. Shrek came on and Janaya tuned in, oblivious to the argument our mother and father were having outside.
“I know got-damn well you ainâ’t bring yo’ bitch to my house, nigga. What fuckinâ’ tip are you on?” my mother hissed.
“Bitch, you left my fucking kids in the house with nothing to eat by they-self while you out drinking and getting high and the fucking lights just got turned off! What the fuck did you do with the money I gave you, huh? Why my fucking son looking like he ain’t had a hair-cut in months and Janaya looking like her shit ain’t been combed in who-the-fuck-knows how long?” My father tore into our mother. I could see the neighbors cracking their doors open and peeking outside to see what was going on.
My mother waved her hand in the air in a dismissive manner. “Nigga, don’t question me about what the fuck I do. I take care of these kids. That little bitta-ass money you gave me don’t stretch but so far.”
“Man, fuck outta here,” my father said as he turned to walk off the porch. He zipped his grey hooded Akademic sweatshirt up and pulled the hoodie up over his head.
“Wait, nigga where the fuck is you takin’ my kids?” My mother hurried after him.
“Yo, Joselyn I ain’t for your shit man, you better go the fuck ‘head. They coming with me, fuck is you talking about?” my father replied as he looked at her as though she was crazy.
“Not-ine, nigga, take my fucking kids outta that bitch’s car, right now!”
My father’s girlfriend whipped her head in my mother’s direction and before I knew it she was out the car.
“Who the fuck you think you talkin’ to? Bitch? Bitch? Yo, I will mop the fucking block up with your crackhead ass boo-boo, you got me fucking chopped!” Pops jumped in between them just as they were about to come to blows. He hemmed Meagan up against the car.
“Watch ya mouth yo! That’s my kids’ mom, I got this.”
“You betta check that girl. She got the right one tonight.” Meagan said angrily.
“I got this yo, just get back in the car, man, chill!”
“Don’t think beause you fuckin’ that nigga that it mean shit, bitch. You ain’t the only one, bitch! Believe ‘dat!” My mom shouted.
My father turned towards my mother and gripped her up by her collar. She swung her tiny arms at him, trying to push him off her as she yelled for him to let her go, but he shoved her back to her porch. “You a sorry excuse for a mother and a waste of fucking oxygen. It’s a good thing I love my babies, ’cause had I known you woulda turned out like this, I woulda just nutted in your mouth. If you want these fucking kids, you better take me to court. But as long as you out here on that shit, snorting that shit, smoking it, whatever-the-fuck-you doing, you ain’t never getting these kids back. Now, believe ‘dat shit! Believe ‘dat!” he said, mocking her. And with those words, my pops came back to the car. He opened the driver side door and motioned for Meagan to get out. He apologized for the disrespect she endured at the hands of our mother before giving her a kiss. He then took the wheel and she got in on the passenger side. I watched as the two of them held hands. Meagan had always been nice to us the few times that we had been around her, and I secretly wished she was our mother instead of Joselyn. But as the saying goes, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family.
I fell asleep in the back of the car, dreaming about playing for the hottest team in the NBA and being one of the most talked about players. My dream was interrupted when my father tapped me on my shoulder. I squinted and stretched before my eyes were finally able to focus on him.
“Come on boy so you can eat dinner. But first, I want you and your sister to come outta those dirty-ass clothes so y’all can get in the tub, a’ight?” he said to me with a serious look on his face.
“Alright, Dad,” I replied as I opened the door to get out. He scooped Janaya up in his arms and carried her to the house. She had also fallen asleep in the back of the car and rested her head on his shoulder, clinging to him as the cold night air chilled her body.
We walked up a neatly paved walkway attached to a freshly cut front lawn that was lined with green hedges. I looked around and was in awe at how clean the block was. Everyone’s grass was freshly cut and their hedges were neatly trimmed. There was no trash on the ground, and the porch lights made the block look cheerful even on this cold, dark night.
“This where you live, Dad?” I asked as I looked up at my father while we walked up the pathway.
“Yeah, Meagan and I just got this house about a month ago. I wanted to get everything straight in here before I brought y’all here, nah-mean? Make sure y’all rooms were tight. We’re not done, but it’s still cool.
“Man… I wish we lived here.” I sulked.
My father was quiet for a moment as Meagan unlocked the door. He held it open so we could all go inside. “Well, if things work out, y’all can stay with me permanently. You know what that word means, son?”
“Don’t it mean like, forever?” I guessed with an unsure look on my face.
He smiled at me and nodded his head. “You a smart lil’ dude. Yeah, it’s kinda like that, but the exact definition is when something remains unchanged for all time.” He laid Janaya down on the couch and then stood back up to face me. “See, your pops was smart back in school, too. I shoulda went to college but well…” he trailed off and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ma make sure you have that opportunity when you get older so you can be smarter than me, make better choices than I made, and just be an all-around better man than I am.”
“I don’t think anybody could ever be smarter than you, Pops.” I said to my father with a smile.
He took me upstairs and showed me to my room which was mad dope. There was a basketball hoop on the back door, posters of Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the wall. My bed had big pillows on it with Pokemon sheets and a comforter, and there was also a nightstand next to my bed with a cool lamp with swirly stuff inside that changed colors.
“Cool, dad!” I exclaimed as I pointed to it.”What’s that?”
“It’s called a lava lamp. But look,” he said as he turned out the light. Dinosaurs appeared in the same colors as the ones in the lava lamp on the ceiling and they looked as though they were moving around.
“Wowwwww!” I said as I stared up at the ceiling completely mesmerized. Back at my mother’s house, the only thing that ever moved around on my ceiling were roaches, and I didn’t even have a bed. I had a mattress that I slept on with Janaya.
My father turned the light back on, snapping me out of my thoughts before giving me a pat on my head. “Meagan is running you a bath. Come out of those clothes so I can throw them out. There’s some underwear, undershirts and pajamas in the top dresser drawer.”
I nodded my head and began to slowly undress, hoping my father would leave the room.
“Why you moving so slow, boy? Hurry up so Janaya can get in the tub too, and y’all can eat dinner.”
I looked up at my father nervously but moved faster. I tried to peel my pants and underwear down together and ball them up so he couldn’t see the condition they were in. He frowned up his nose.
“Ay yo… you don’t wipe yourself when you go to the bathroom?” he asked me with a frown on his face.
I opened my mouth to speak but closed it as I lowered my head in shame. My underwear was soiled with thick poop stains and the smell permeated throughout the room.
Pops shook his head in disgust before reaching in the hall closet and grabbing a trash bag. “Put those in there. Listen, I know things were crazy at your mom’s house. But all that is going to change while you’re here, understand? I’ma teach you what I wasn’t able to teach you since I wasn’t in the house with y’all, and the first thing is, you gotta wipe ya’ ass when you take a shit, understand?” my father said to me as he passed me a towel, a washcloth and a bar of soap. I nodded my head trying to overcome the shame of having my father see my underwear as they were and smell me like he had just done.
He helped me get in the tub and instead of letting me wash myself, he washed me himself as he talked to me, schooling me about the importance of having good personal hygiene as well as explaining how I needed to properly wash while always keeping a fresh haircut, and making sure my clothes and sneakers were always neat and clean. He stressed the importance of always looking my best not just for the “ladies” as he put it, but because it would make me feel good about myself. I took in everything my father said to me while I was in the tub, promising myself that I would be the best I could be just for him. I admired and respected my father so much from that moment on, wanting to be just like him. I knew I would look like him when I got older. He was extremely tall, probably as tall as LeBron, and was thick. We both had the same light-brown complexion only he had dimples and I didn’t. The twinkle in his dark eyes probably dazzled the ladies, but to me and Janaya, that twinkle let us know that we were safe and everything would be alright from that point on.
That night, we sat at the dinner table like a family; me, Janaya, Pops, and Meagan. We ate pizza in the brightly lit dining room while ESPN played the highlights to that night’s Sixers’ loss against the Cavs, laughing at the jokes our father told.
As I was laying in my new bed staring up at the cool dinosaurs that moved about over my head, Janaya came into my room dragging the teddy bear that Meagan gave her. I wasn’t surprised since she had been sleeping in the bed with me for more than a year. She climbed up on my bed and laid her head on my chest just as she had done at the other house before sticking her thumb in her mouth and falling asleep. Yeah, things were definitely going to be all right from now on.
“Hurry up, Janaya!” I yelled to my baby sister as I stood outside our father’s house bouncing my basketball. It was four years later and we were living with Pops and Meagan fulltime, but visited Joselyn on the weekends. They fought in court over us for over a year before the judge finally let me testify on me and Janayaâ€™s behalf. After telling the judge about us being left in the house by ourselves with no food, the way the house was always left in a dirty, nasty condition and spoke of the time the electric got cut off while she was out drinking and getting high, the judge ruled in Pops favor and granted sole custody to him.
I still remember how my mother broke down in tears like one of us had died. At that moment, I felt sorry for her. She promised us that she would do better and she would “get her shit together” so that we could be back home with her where we belonged. I believe her at first, but later on, I knew she was only making those empty promises because no kids meant no welfare check.
Nevertheless, Pops didn’t want to cut Joselyn out of our lives like that, which I believe he should have. Things would have been better if he had just severed ties with that crackhead bitch and raised us with Meagan. But even though he would never admit it, I believed Joselyn was still a soft spot for him and he had hopes that she could be the good woman he always imagined she’d be. He would never leave Meagan for her though, that much I knew. But I guess some stupid sappy side to him still had love for her. I, on the other hand, hated that bitch with a passion.
So, Pops talked things over with Joselyn and told her that she could have us every other weekend. His whole thing was, kids need their mother and their father. Meagan was a better substitution, but whatever. Janaya was all too pleased to see the woman she still calls “mommy”. But whenever we go over there, I spend as much time away from that house as I can.
I dribbled the ball between my legs before stopping and letting out an annoyed sigh. “Come on, man!” I yelled again
“I’m coming, Dah-Dah, dang!” Janaya hissed. Even though she could fully say my name now, “Dah-Dah” is what she insisted on calling me. She was the only one I would let get away with that. A couple of homies would call me that, too. But it was annoying when the little girls around Pops’ and Joselyn’s neighborhood called me that.
A lot of people say Janaya and I look like twins even though we are three years apart. She’s pretty tall for her age, standing close to my height. We both looked just like Pops spit us out and Joselyn had nothing to do with birthing us, which was cool to me. The less association I had with that woman, the better.
Janaya’s hair was super thick and long. Meagan had taken her to the salon earlier to get it pressed and braided and they took like five freaking hours before they finally got back. I wanted to hurry up and get around the old way to hang with my homies before Joselyn tried to kick that curfew shit.
Janaya ran out of the house with her Bratz book bag on her back with her long-beaded braids swinging back and forth. Her face glowed with Coco-butter and if I didn’t know any better, she had a glossy look to her lips. She ran up on me as though she was playing defense and I dribbled the ball back and forth between my legs as she posted up.
“Unh, take that…. Up… too slow!” I laughed as I did a mini cross over. Janaya laughed but stayed with me and before I knew it, she smacked the ball from my hand and dribbled it away from me.
“Oh! That’s my Lil’ Mama! Go ‘head Boop!” Pops said as he came out of the house. He locked the door behind him and walked over to us giving Janaya a pound. “You better watch it, Davion. She gon’ mess around and be better than you if you don’t tighten up,” he said with a chuckle.
“It’s cool, Pops. That’s when you know I’ve done a good job teaching her when the student out does the master.” I smiled back. My father tapped his fist against mine in midair.
“My man,” he said in approval. He looked us over to make sure we were neat and clean before nodding his head in approval. He always kept us fresh to death with the latest, flyest lays. We kept our best clothes at his house though, and rocked the plain stuff to Joselyn’s house. I had on a pair of high-top black and grey Air Max’s with a pair of gap jeans and a black and white striped long-sleeved polo shirt. Janaya was wearing a pair of pink and blue New Balances with a pair of Gap Jeans and a pink graphic long sleeved shirt with her jean jacket.
We climbed in the back of Pops’ Chevy Tahoe and he pulled off blasting T.I’s “Top Back Remix”. We maneuvered through the streets on that sun shiny day going from the Cedarbrook section of the city to nut-ass G-Town. It was Spring Break and the kids were out and about playing tag-football, jumping rope, and riding their bikes. I hated the neighborhood that Joselyn lived in, but some of my team mates were from around the way so I hung with them. To make sure the fast-ass little girls in the neighborhood didnâ€™t try anything, I kept Janaya with me.
We pulled up on the block and Pops parked. I had an instant attitude and he could see it in my face.
“What’s the problem, Davion?” he asked me as he turned around to look at us.
“Why we gotta come here?” I asked with a frown.
“We go through this every time and I’m getting tire of this,” Pops said to me sternly.
“I’m getting tired of coming here,” I mumbled in a smart tone.
“Ay, who the hell you think you talking to, boy? You better check yourself, I ain’t one of your friends.” Pops said with base in his voice. I immediately humbled myself. “Now you know the routine and I done explained the situation to you, which was a courtesy because you a little-ass boy and I really don’t have to explain shit to you. You just do what the hell I say, got that?!” he said loudly.
“Yes sir,” I mumbled while looking at the floor of his truck.
“Regardless how you feel about her, she’s still your mother and you better respect her as such. One day she won’t be here and you’re gonna wish like shit she was.”
“I doubt it,” I thought to myself, knowing better than to say it out loud.
He reached in his pocket and handed each of us twenty dollars. Janaya had a huge grin on her face as she stuffed the money in her book bag. I folded mine up and put it in my back pocket.
“Come on. I gotta make some runs. Remember what I told y’all.”
“Be respectful, be peaceful, set a good example for each other and look out for one another. Because attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Janaya and I said together. Pops nodded his head in approval and got out of the truck just as Joselyn was opening the front door. I secretly was hoping that she wasn’t home so Pops would take us back home with him.
“Gimme kiss,” he said to Janaya. She jumped in his arms as though she was still two-years-old and he picked her up before spinning her around, making her laugh out loud. He then made fart noises on her cheek and she did the same to him in return before he put her down. She ran over to Joselyn and gave her a hug.
“Don’t give ya momma a hard time, boy. She’s trying. And in this world, you can’t fault a person who’s trying to do better, and you can’t make ‘em feel like shit about their past either because that does more harm than good, understand?” he said as he knelt in front of me.
I sighed and nodded my head before tapping my fist against his. I then turned and headed towards “my mother.”
“Hey Ma,” I said plainly before giving her a hug. She squeezed me tightly.
“Hey baby. I heard your team won the other day. Sorry I didn’t get to come to your game, I had a doctor’s appointment to go to,” she fumbled.
I shrugged my shoulders knowing she was lying. “It’s cool,” I replied in the same plain tone.
“You good?” Pops asked our mom.
“Yeah. How’s things with you?” she asked in a surprisingly pleasant tone.
“Everything’s straight on this end. Let me know if they need anything.” Pops always kept it brief with her. She watched him as he got back in his truck and pulled off.
“I’m about to go hang with Lamar and ‘nem.” I said after dropping my book bag on the living room floor.
“Well damn, boy. You just got here and you already wanna run the streets. You can’t sit down for a minute?” Joselyn frowned with a hand on her hip.
I huffed as I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned onto the raggedy couch she still had. I looked around and noticed that she had cleaned up a lot in there. I felt her staring at me and it began to annoy me so I huffed again.
She shook her head and waved her hand at me. “Fine, take your sister with you. But take those book-bags upstairs first and make sure you have your key.” I snatched me and Janaya’s book bags up from off the floor and took them upstairs quickly. I then hurried downstairs and grabbed my basketball before we both ran from the house. I didn’t know about Janaya, but I felt like a runaway slave who was getting my first taste of freedom.
“Don’t stay out too late!” Joselyn yelled after us.
I ignored her as Janaya and I ran around the corner to go to Lamar’s house.
Lamar’s mom was way different than Joselyn. Unlike our mother, Ms. Aretha actually gave a shit about where her son went, who he hung out with, and the rule at their house was “your ass better be on these steps when the street lights come on or I’m coming for you.” She fried the best chicken wings and made the best macaroni and cheese. I remember the first time she offered me and Janaya something to eat right before we went to go live with our father. I was mad embarrassed when I came into Lamar’s house and saw how clean it was and the way it was decorated. It smelled sweet like she was baking a fresh apple pie. Their house, to me, is what every family’s house should be like.
I completely felt out of place there because my clothes were bummy and I was dirty looking. But she was extremely nice to me and Janaya. And when we sat down at the table with her, held hands and said grace, I got a taste of what family life was supposed to be like. I tore that fucking food up, too. Ever since then, Lamar’s house was always the house we went to whenever we had to come stay with Joselyn. When Pops found out how nice Ms. Aretha was to us, welcoming us in her home to play with Lamar on days when it was super cold outside and giving us dinner and snacks, that’s when he started giving us a little more money and let me know as a young man, to never go to Ms. Aretha’s house empty handed even if all I brought her was a Pepsi.
“Hey Davion and Janaya!” she said with a smile when she opened the door for us.
I dug the Pepsi out and gave it to her. “Here you go, Ms. Aretha. Is Lamar home?”
Ms. Aretha chuckled. “Boy, I keep telling you, you do not have to bring me a Pepsi or anything when you come over here. You keep that money for you and your sister,” she said to me. “And yes, he’s home. He’s upstairs cleaning his room. I told him his ass isn’t going anywhere until that damn room is cleaned.”
“Janaya has her own money and I don’t mind, Ms. Aretha. That’s respect,” I said with a charming smile. “I can help him clean his room.” I volunteered.
“Sure, if you wanna go up in that pig sty, you go right ahead.” We all laughed before I ran up the stairs to Lamar’s room. Janaya went into the kitchen to help with dinner.
“What’s up, Lamar?” I said to my friend as I came into his room. I looked around and whistled. “Damn, it look like a tornado hit this jawn.”
Lamar chuckled before stepping over a messy pile of clothes to give me a handshake. Even though I volunteered to help him clean his room, I had no idea where I was going to begin.
“I don’t think we’re going to finish in time to go play ball today. It’s already after 5 o’clock.” I said to him.
“Yeah, we probably won’t. But we can just play the PS3 instead.” Lamar suggested. That was cool with me. We separated dirty clothes from the clean clothes, putting the dirty ones in his hamper and folding the clean ones up and putting them in his dresser drawers while we talked about basketball. Almost two hours later, the room was finished with the exception of us having to vacuum. I could smell the fried fish that Ms. Aretha was making downstairs and it made my stomach growl. We heard a tapping on Lamar’s door.
“Yo!” he called out.
Janaya opened the door and peeked in. “Ms. Aretha said dinner will be ready in five minutes so wash y’all hands so you can come eat.”
“Alright, here we come,” Lamar replied as he moved his bed so we could vacuum under it.
“Oh, and she said don’t even think about hiding anything in the closet or under the bed ’cause she will be checking,” Janaya said, imitating Lamar’s mom. She almost sounded just like her.
“Alright man, chill!” We all laughed as Janaya closed the door. Lamar and I looked at each other and quickly pulled trash from under the dresser and in the closet before dumping it in a bag.
“Damn yo, how did she know?” I asked.
Lamar huffed, “She’s a mom. Moms always knows.”
“Shit, my mom wouldn’t have known. Doubt she would’ve cared either.
Lamar was quiet for a moment before responding. “Chris said he saw your mom copping from Slice the other day.”
That wasn’t news to me. I had known for the last three years that my mom was on something more than just E&J and weed. But I didn’t care. That was her life.
“Yeah,” was the only thing I said with a sigh. Lamar peeked over at me before turning the vacuum on and hitting the areas under his bed and behind his door. We then washed our hands and went downstairs to eat dinner.
The tilapia fish was a golden brown with just the right crispiness around the edges and seasoned perfectly. She made dirty rice and string beans that had a buttery taste to them. The sweet and warm Hawaiian roles completed the meal and we washed it down with tall glasses of lemonade. Janaya and I helped clear the table. I offered to wash the dishes while Lamar went to set up the PS3, but Ms. Aretha declined my offer. I noticed Janaya was checking her pockets and her jacket as though she was looking for something.
“What’s the problem, Jah-Jah?” I asked her.
“I can’t find my money,” she grumbled as she searched her jacket.
“You put it in your book bag, remember?” I reminded her. She looked at me with her mouth gaped open and then pouted.
“Aww man. I wanted an ice-cream Snickers from the store,” she whined.
“Don’t worry about it, I got you,” I said to her. I then asked Ms. Aretha if it was okay for Lamar to walk us to the store. She gave him the okay and off we went. I blew through the money left from the Pepsi I bought Ms. Aretha earlier buying snacks for all three of us. We were on our way back to the house when we noticed a group of boys standing on the corner. Lamar sucked his teeth.
“I hope they don’t start no shit today. I ain’t in the mood, man.” Lamar said in a low voice. I looked all of the guys over not really recognizing them from the neighborhood and continued eating my chips, not really paying them any mind.
“Ay yo, ya name Dah-Dah?” one of the guys asked me just as we were passing them.
I turned around annoyed. Only a few select people were allowed to call me that. “Yeah, why wassup?”
“Ain’t ya mom Joselyn?” the same boy asked me with a smirk on his face.
“Yeah, why wassup?” I asked again wondering what the point was.
“Oh, my mans told me she was at the trap house giving neck for dime bags,” the guy tried to maintain a straight face as his friends burst out laughing. Lamar pulled on my arm, encouraging me to let it go and keep walking. I was hot inside and wanted to knock the young bol’s teeth out of his mouth. Even though I didn’t bang with my mom like that, I wasn’t about to start letting niggas on the street disrespect her. I shook my head and turned with Lamar to continue back to his house.
“Come on, Jah-Jah,” I said to my little sister. She was looking at the boys in disgust.
“Shit, I might as well let that bitch suck my dick, too,” another boy said causing them all to roar with laughter. “Them crack whores put in work.”
“Don’t be talking about my mom like that!” Janaya said in a loud squeaky voice. Even though she was only six, she was explosive like a fire cracker when set off.
“Shut up you lil bitch. You can eat a dick, too,” the same boy snarled at my little sister. He really fucked up now.
Lamar grabbed my arm when he saw me drop my bags and move towards the main guy with the loud mouth. “Come on, Davion, it ain’t even worth it.”
“Nah fuck that,” I said as I continued to the guy. “You better watch how you talk to my little sister.” I said when I got close to him.
“Fuck you gon’ do. You betta take ya dirty ass back to Medary street,” the boy challenged.
Before I knew it, I had cocked my fist back and popped him dead in his mouth. We started fighting. It was my first street fight but I was landing some good punches. I guess his friends didn’t appreciate him getting beat up because a couple of them jumped in it.
“Get off my brother!” I heard Janaya scream, and before I knew it, she had jumped in it as well. One of the boys smacked her and pushed her to the ground but she got right back up and fought back.
A few adults who were nearby ran over to us and broke everything up. By that time, someone had stolen the snacks that I bought from the store for me and Janaya. I wasn’t pissed about that, though. I was pissed that Lamar was supposed to be my friend and really stood there and let them jump me. My baby sister had more heart than him.
“Yo, that was fucked up!” I yelled at Lamar, huffing and puffing, trying to catch my breath as I checked Janaya to make sure she was okay. She had a couple scratches but nothing major. I could look at her and tell she wanted to cry but she held her own. Â
“How?” Lamar yelled back. “I told you to just keep it moving, but you wanna be swinging on them niggas.”
“So, you just gon’ sit there and let them jump me? Seriously!” I asked back in disbelief.
“What was I supposed to do?” Lamar asked stupidly.
I looked at Lamar as though he were the dumbest fucking kid on the block. “Dickhead, jump in it and help me, that’s what. Like yo, if that was you getting rolled on, I would’ve jumped in that shit for you!” I didn’t usually curse that much but I was pissed.
“Man, whatever. I ain’t getting rolled on because you wanna be mad over something somebody said about your mom. You know what she be out here doing.”
I looked at Lamar for a couple of seconds and was tempted to beat his ass right there. But it was at that moment that I knew he was not a real friend and would never be somebody I could depend on when shit got real. I sealed my lips while we continued back to his house.
“Oh my goodness, what happened?” Ms. Aretha asked when she saw us after we came back into the house.
“Nothing,” I mumbled. “Jah-Jah, get your jacket so we can go home.” I grabbed my basketball from out of the corner while I waited for my baby sister to get her jacket.
Ms. Aretha stared at the both of us. “Something happened out there while going to the store. And where’s your snacks?” she asked. I still refused to say anything, too pissed to even begin telling her how much of a fucking coward her son was. Janaya threw her jacket on.
“Some boys called my momma a crackhead and Lamar let them jump my brother!” Janaya said angrily.
Ms. Aretha looked at Lamar shocked and then looked at us. Lamar opened his mouth to defend himself as he did with me, seeing his lack of action as justified, but his mother put her hand up to silence him.
“That’s your friend, Lamar. He came here to visit you, helped you clean your room, more than likely bought you snacks from the store and you didn’t help him while those boys were jumping him?!” she said, sounding like she was appalled.
Lamar’s facial expression was priceless. I bet he couldn’t believe his mother was siding with me. “I told him to just keep walking. He swung on the bol’ first.”
“That’s besides the point! It would have been different if it had been a fair one on one fight and Davion lost. But you stood on the side line and watched your friend get jumped and wouldn’t do anything? I raised you better than that!” Ms. Aretha scolded him. Good for his ass. Lamar slumped down on the steps with his face twisted up in anger.
Ms. Aretha turned to me and Janaya. “Do you want me to walk you two home?” she asked us nicely.
“No, it’s okay. Thanks anyway, though.” I grabbed Janaya’s hand and we left the house. It had already gotten dark outside and judging by the limited lighting in the house, I could tell Joselyn wasn’t home.
“Is what that boy said about mommy true?” Janaya asked me as I put the key in the door and unlocked it.
I was quiet for a moment not knowing how to answer her. The mean part of me wanted to say “Hell yeah it’s true. Mommy’s a fucking dope fiend and I wouldn’t be surprised if she really was sucking dick for her next fix.” But I didn’t want to taint the image that Janaya had in her head of our mother.
“No, he was just trying to start trouble,” I lied. “Come on, let’s watch a movie.” We went upstairs to my room and I turned on Lilo and Stitch, which was Jah-Jah’s favorite cartoon at the moment. Dad bought us our own beds to have at the house and Janaya had her own room, but she still insisted on sleeping in the room with me whenever we stayed in this house. It was something about her room that scared her.
While sitting on the bed, she grabbed her book bag and reached inside. “Hey…” she said as though she was stumped. She checked the zipped-up pockets and inside the side pockets of her book bag. “Where’s my money?!” she exclaimed. She turned her book bag upside down after taking her toys out and her change of clothes, but nothing came out. Big surprise there. That’s why I never leave my money in my book bag. I always keep it in my pockets and when I take my jeans off for the night, I sleep with whatever money I have left underneath my pillow.
“Maybe you dropped it in the back of Dad’s truck, or maybe it fell out in the back of the truck when you were getting out,” I suggested, even though I knew better.
Janaya looked as though she was in deep thought, trying to remember whether or not she dropped it. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the rest of the money I had from the last time we went to the store and saw that I only had four dollars and some change left.
“Come on, we can run across the street real quick before the store closes and get your ice-cream Snickers,” I told her as I made my way to the bedroom door. Her frown quickly turned upside down and she skipped across the room to catch up with me.
Just as we were making our way down the stairs, the front door opened and Joselyn came into the house. I stopped in the middle of the stairs with Janaya behind me. I looked her over and could immediately tell that she was high.
She looked up at us with her eyes low. “Oh hey, baby. I was just about to check to see if you were still at Lamar’s house,” she said as she closed and locked the door behind her. She stood facing the door for a moment as though she was trying to get her bearings together. “Did y’all eat? It’s some left over spaghetti in the fridge if ya hungry.” She sashayed over to the sofa in a wobbly manner before flopping down on it and laying her head back against the flattened pillows. I stared down at her in contempt before shaking my head. My mother was a dope whore and I was fighting harder for her than she was fighting for herself. That’s not something a nine-year-old boy should have to worry about.
“Jah-Jah, go back upstairs and watch Lilo and Stitch while I help mommy. I’ll get your ice-cream Snickers in a minute.”
“But I wanted to go with you,” Janaya whined.
“Go upstairs!” I yelled at her not meaning to. She whined some more and then stomped back up the steps.
“Ay! Stop yelling and making all that damn noise. Shit, I got a headache,” Joselyn complained.
I came the rest of the way back down the stairs and walked over to her on the couch. I wanted to slap her high ass. I wanted to slap her and shake her and tell her to clean herself up and do what a mother is supposed to do. like come to her son’s basketball games, or her daughter’s awards’ assemblies. Bake cookies for home and school, come to back to school night, help us with our homework. But I knew she wouldn’t listen and I doubted that it would make any difference.
Looking at her in her zooted up stupor, I began to feel sorry for her and wondered what happened that caused her to start getting high. I reached for her shoes and began to untie them so I could take them off. She stirred and then looked at me with heavy eyes before smiling.
“I knew you didn’t hate me,” she mumbled. “Thank you, baby-boy.”
“You’re welcome, momma.” I replied as I untied her other shoe and began pulling it off. I couldn’t stop thinking about what the boys on the corner said about her, and the entire scene of him talking about my mom sucking dick in exchange for drugs began to eat away at me. I took a deep breath in hopes that it would keep the tears from falling. My eyes stung and I blinked them away as I lifted her legs up so she could lay across the couch and get some rest. She snored lightly while I reached in the closet and pulled out a throw blanket. I laid it over top of her and she snuggled up under it as I kissed her lightly on the forehead.
“I love you, ma…” I whispered before leaving the house and getting the ice-cream Snickers I promised Janaya.
The next morning, I heard someone knocking loudly on the front door. I jumped up out of my sleep with my heart racing in my chest. I was positive that it was the cops coming to get my mom and drag her away because of something she did to get her drugs.
“Joselyn, open the damn door!” I heard my father say. He was here early. Me and Janaya wasn’t expecting him until Friday night. It was only Wednesday morning.
I grabbed a shirt from out of my book bag and threw on my slippers before hurrying down the stairs. Janaya was a heavy sleeper so she didn’t hear anything that was going on. Sometime during the night, Joselyn must have gotten up from the couch and gone upstairs to her room to go to bed. I unlocked and opened the door for my father. He looked pissed.
“Where’s your mom?” he asked as he walked inside of the house.
“I think she’s in her room sleeping,” I replied wondering what the hell was going on.
“Get your stuff, get your sister and let’s go. I’m taking y’all the fuck home. Aretha called me and told me how you and your sister got jumped because these lil’ young dickheads wanna be starting shit with you behind the shit your mom is doing, and I’m not fucking having it. Get your shit, let’s go!” Pops said angrily with base in his voice. I scurried upstairs and woke Janaya up.
“Come on, daddy is here. We’re going home,” I told her as I shook her awake. She whined as she always does whenever she has to wake up before she wants to.
I heard my father as he came up the stairs. He pushed her door open causing it to bang up against the wall. Joselyn stirred in her sleep. My heart raced a mile a minute as I listened while trying to get me and Janaya dressed.
“Wake yo ass up!” Pops said in a loud voice. I heard Joselyn groan in her sleep. “I said get up!”
I peeked out of my room to see what was going on. Pops snatched the sheets back from Joselyn and started going through the things on her dresser. She realized what he was doing and jumped up to stop him.
“Nigga, don’t be going through my stuff, what the hell is wrong with you?!” she hissed at him as she tried to stop him. Pops mugged her away and then pushed her onto the bed. He opened her dresser drawers and rummaged through them until he found what he was looking for. He held up a glass pipe.
“You still doing this shit around my fucking kids, huh? You still sucking on this glass dick and getting high around my fucking kids!” Pops yelled in a voice I had never heard before. It terrified me. He threw the glass pipe and it shattered against the wall.
That’s old, Cortez. I don’t mess with that stuff no more, I told you I gave that shit up.” Joselyn lied.
“No… NO! You’re not even supposed to have my kids. These are my kids and you got them around this bullshit. My son out here getting jumped in these streets defending your crackhead ass while these little niggas is teasing him about the grimy shit you’re doing to get high. You’re supposed to be protecting them, not the other way around!” Pops continued to yell at her. Joselyn mumbled something incoherently and then it sounded like she was crying.
“I’m finished with this shit. I’m tired of giving you the benefit of the fucking doubt only for you to piss that shit back my way. You ain’t never gonna see your fucking kids!” Pops stormed out of her room and yelled at us. “I said for y’all to come on!” We both jumped as we scurried to grab our book bags. Mom stumbled out of her bedroom after my father.
“You can’t take my babies from me, Cortez!” she cried.
“Get some help, Joselyn. Otherwise, if all you wanna do is get high and be out in these streets, I’m not bringing these kids back around you. And I mean that shit,” Pops told her. He closed the truck door behind us after we climbed inside and then jumped in the driver seat before speeding off.
“Daddy, did I drop the money you gave me yesterday in the back of the truck?” Janaya asked.
“Shut up, Jah-Jah,” I said in a low voice.
“No, baby-girl,” Pops told her.
“I told you I put it in my book bag,” Janaya sneered at me.
“What’s the problem, you lost your money?” asked Pops.
“I put it in my book bag when you gave it to me and Davion took the book bag upstairs in my room, but when we came back home, the money wasn’t in there” Janaya told him. I hunched my shoulders once I saw the pissed off expression on Pops’ face through the rearview mirror.
“Fucking bitch,” I heard him mumble. We drove the rest of the way home in silence. When we got there and put our things away, Pops made us some pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausages for breakfast. Meagan was already at work, so we spent the day hanging with him. He did his best to make us laugh and try to keep things as normal as he could. But I could tell that it bothered the hell out of him that I had been jumped defending Joselyn against the neighborhood kids slandering her name. It would be over four years before we saw Joselyn again.