“Nobody loves me but my mother/And she could be jiving, too.”
That B.B. King lyric cuts deep! I grew up in the crack era. I grew up in the actual crack era, not the one you always hear rappers rap about where they were all rich and knew Pablo, Papi, Hector or some other random Spanish name that fits to make the bar rhyme.
I grew up watching men and women fall from descent, working viable people to zombie-like shells of themselves. I watched TV as former President Reagan and his self-righteous wife said, “Just say no,” and created the false “drug war” that was really just a war on Black boys and men, the poor and the addicted.
In the “trap” we called these unlucky people who suffered from the illness of addiction J’s (short for junkies). As the CIA and Reagan’s man Oliver North allowed cocaine in the US (Iran-Contra), unskilled and skilled labor jobs left the country and cocaine became the alternative economy for urban areas. Little boys became household breadwinners and lots of mothers became addicts.
Within these children, deep-seated cynicism began to creep in and fester like a cancer. The drugs that turned once decent folks into desperate sick addicts, willing to sacrifice what dignity they had in exchange for a drug, had a parallel effect on the community; it turned sellers into cynics void of compassion and sympathy. The same family members you loved and would give you school money were now shells of their former selves.
I connected with Jay-Z’s music more because of a story he shared about his shooting brother on “You Must Love Me.” Whenever I listened, I remember having my “bomb” (package of rocks) stolen by a dear family friend, Eric. I can still smell the gasoline-filled bottles I prepared as I sat at the stop sign waiting for the lights to go out in Eric’s mother’s house. I remember seeing his mom and her live-in, mentally-challenged boarders and him go in the house.
I remember Rodney “J,” a good and decent man once, now sadly just a “J” walking up and asking me for a sack. I remember the puzzled look on his face when he said, “Fat boi, what’s wrong? Why you ain’t smiling? You’re always smiling.”
Then, I remember the look as he noticed the smell of gas and saw the four freshly filled bottles with gas and sugar in them and realized I wanted PAY BACK! I saw a sadness in him like none I had ever seen from him. He had known Eric had stolen from me and he knew I was gonna get pay back.
Rodney, in that moment, dropped the “J” and was just an older Black man schooling an angry and misguided child. With all the moral fortitude he could muster he sternly said, “Fat Boi, what are you doing, man? Son, you cannot do that.”
He told me there are innocent folks in there, and he reminded me that he, Eric and even my mom were sick. They all had the same disease and one day I will look back at this and it will not be as important. He was right. That moment is below petty, and I was just a stupid, angry kid about to throw my life away for 2k in drugs!
I wish I could say that after Rodney took the cocktails and high tailed it, all was good and I learned my lesson and became a better me. I didn’t. After Rodney took the gas-filled glass grenades, I waited on Eric for two days, I caught him, and I beat him up pretty badly. I dragged him the front yard for the neighborhood to see, and I wanted every “J” to know you cannot steal from me. I wanted the other dealers to see you will not take advantage of me. I did it in my mom’s front yard because I knew, somewhere deep in me, she was involved. Her addiction had made her party to this theft. I knew that I could not hit her, so I punished Eric with all the 18-year-old strength I had.
I sent him away to DeKalb Medical broken and bleeding.
I left my humanity there in that yard alongside his blood. I left my sympathy and compassion there, I abandoned my humanity. I killed part of me that day. I killed the boy that loved and trusted his mother. I killed lil’ Michael who always honored Denise because I knew her addiction and bipolar disorder would be the death of her and possibly me if I didn’t.
I am glad for the time God gave me a healthy, honorable and engaging mother, even if it was only a few short years. I hope one day my mother’s mental illness and the illness of disease will loose her from their vise grip, but my self-defense is cynicism and in reality I doubt it. I guess what I’m saying is I accept her. I know she is broken and will more than likely die because her kidneys have failed and she now lives only because of dialysis due to years of drug abuse and hard living.
But she’s mine.
She is the mother I was given and I’m thankful for her regardless. She’s my mother. She died for a few minutes while having me at 16, and she says something of her got left on the other side, and all the goodness she had left she put in me. So I’m fighting, girl, I’m fighting to foster that good and retain my humanity. It’s hard but I’mma do this. I have to for her grandchildren, my children. I have to be fully open to all emotions for them.
I cannot blame these folk for being fun-loving partiers; they like the current users of X, oxy, syrup, etc. They had no idea what kind or turmoil cocaine and crack would do. Cocaine was an atomic bomb that wiped away our collective moral compass. If they were able to see face-to-face 20 years ahead, maybe they would have opted out of the 80s/90s party scene. Maybe women like my mom, young business owners/mothers would have put a lot more time into their biz and kids, less into their friends and the social scene. Maybe, just maybe, my life and the lives of countless other early 30s folk would be different.
We used to watch The Cosby Show and envy those kids with two parents, dinners together, money without crime, fun without drugs. I am determined to forgive my mother for leading a wasteful life and get back on the path of good with her. I am more determined to be a whole human being for Malik, Aniyah, Pony Boy and Michael.
Kids of the ‘80s and ‘90s, it’s time to forgive and let go.
We have to be what our generation’s adults were not. We gotta be more like the Cosby’s and less like us rappers. We have to reclaim our humanity by releasing this hate that is in us and being open to love. Love your people—imperfections and all. I forgive my mother, not for hurting me or my sisters and her own mom and dad, I forgive her for hurting herself. I know she’s still sick, I know it will probably be the death of her. I know she has betrayed me many times, but I also know she loves me… and she ain’t jiving… she’s just sick. In honor of mothers and sons everywhere, people fighting with addictions keep fighting. You can win!
BONUS: “All for You (Niecy’s Song)” [Produced by Cool & Dre] Off Monster, 2003