A place to call home

In the 1978 movie The Wiz, Diana Ross sang this song Home. The lyrics of this song make me tear up every time I hear it to this day. I mean straight out the gate in the first verse:

“When I think of home
I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing”

I did not consider any place that we stayed in California to be home. From my perspective, there was no love to be found, let alone overflowing. I wished I was back in St. Louis where I had real friends, family, encyclopedias to read, and all the streets and things I had been knowing. In St. Louis I could get away from my mom and her friends when they had cards night with all the drinking, smoking, and arguing. In Cali, my escape would only last until the street lights came on and I had to return to the room and listen to the muffled sounds of drunken shit talking and the unfiltered sent of whatever they were smoking. This was what many nights were like, even on school nights. I remember once getting so mad because I had spelling bee baseball at school the next day in Mr. Domalski’s class (he looked like Clark Kent and dressed as Superman that year for Halloween I was so in love). We know how hard spelling was for me, but I vowed to super study just for him, lame right! I had stuck to my promise I studied and studied because I was the captain for the first time. That’s why I was extra agitated that night and possibly a little out of my mind when I opened my room door and yelled: “hey it’s a school night can you please be quiet!!!!!” It was dead silent, and I slammed the door. We all know how this ended. Yup ass whooping! I was forced to listen to the muffled sounds of the adults laughing and reenacting my breach of protocol. This was definitely not my home.

“Maybe there’s a chance for me to go back there
Now that I have some direction
It would sure be nice to be back home
Where there’s love and affection
And just maybe I can convince time to slow up
Giving me enough time in my life to grow up
Time be my friend, let me start again”

I wanted to go back and start again, to go back to just being a kid, because now I was basically a mother of two. I cooked, cleaned, changed diapers, gave baths, read books and everything that all the other moms did. I didn’t like it I just wanted to be free, to go play and not have to worry about keeping an eye on my little brother or worry about anything happening to them. If anything happened or if THEY did anything wrong I would be the one getting the whooping. They were MY responsibility. I was sick of responsibility and began to stockpile anger and resentment towards my mom. This was all HER fault!! I watched her every move. I judged her against the mental perfection I had created of my “real” mom and she fell short in every category.

This is going to sound crazy but just hear me out. There was a drive-by that nearly killed a few of us kids that were playing out in front of our complex. Turns out this was the best thing that could have happened!

We were all playing out in the grassy space between the apartments there was a cinderblock wall, so some of us kids were inside playing kickball on the grass and others were outside the wall bouncing basketballs or jumping rope on the sidewalk. It was a good day (Ice Cube voice)! In the middle of our adolescent shenanigans, the loud roar of an engine made most of us stop and look in the direction of the sound. Moments after that shots began to ricochet off the blocks of the wall and every kid hit the ground, except one. It was a boy from the building across the lot he stood looking frozen by fear, just stood there!!!!

I closed my eyes because from my vantage point all I could see was his head above the wall and I did not want to see the consequences of him not getting on the ground. I used to imagine that the splattered seeds mixed with the green and white chunks of Osage-orange flesh were what brains on the pavement would look like.  I thought that until a few kids and I stumbled on a bunch of blood and what appeared to be brain matter on the ground behind a building on our walk to school just about a week before. It was not the same, at all! We, I mean I, poked at some of the larger greyish chunks with a pencil from my bag. I was so fascinated by the soft and delicateness of it. It didn’t seem reasonable that this soft fragile mass could be the source of who we were. I could not comprehend what happened to the magic of the memories, thoughts, and love as the neurons that produced them lay in the street.  I knew what was possible and I didn’t want to see it happen live, in front of me, to a kid I knew! When I heard the car far off in the distance and opened my eyes much to my surprise his head was still on!! He was still standing there in a daze until his mom came over and beat his ass for not dropping to the ground. This was crazy, right? I said before no one was hurt but this was the last straw for my mom. There were a lot of shootings. There was a murdered woman’s body found one morning at our school, gang violence was intensifying, and then the drive by. So, we were going HOME!

” Suddenly my world has changed its face
But I still know where I’m going
I have had my mind spun around in space
And yet I’ve watched it growing

If you’re list’ning God
Please don’t make it hard to know
If we should believe in the things that we see
Tell us, should we run away
Should we try and stay
Or would it be better just to let things be?”

I was so happy!! In my mind, we would go back and basically start where we left off. We hadn’t been gone for long, it would be just like before, in my young mind I really believed life was like a storybook and that all my family and friends were kinda on pause. No, not just frozen in space but, just doing the exact things I remembered them doing every day waiting for my return. It’s crazy how the same mind that was advanced enough to ponder neurons and what happened to the memories when they were broken into pieces was also the same mind that believed that people and things back home would be lying in wait for my return. Oh, the naive arrogance of a child, no one was waiting, everyone had grown, everything had changed, nothing was the same, and it never would be.

 We stayed at my grandma’s house but only briefly that summer before sixth grade. The encyclopedias were still there but they looked smaller, outdated, and dusty. Most of my friends had moved away, the buildings looked abandoned and rundown. All this had transpired in just a few years, I was angry. I wanted things to be good. I wanted to be happy, and to finally be home.  We had no home. My mom was not the easiest person to live with. We ended up at Christ Church Cathedral, sleeping on cots arranged in rows, in a large room of strangers. To add to the mood of things, most of what little we owned was stolen within the first week after we arrived there.

“Living here, in this brand new world
Might be a fantasy
But it taught me to love
So it’s real, real to me

And I’ve learned
That we must look inside our hearts
To find a world full of love
Like yours
Like me”

This was the summer before I started sixth grade. I was so unhappy. I had been living in a fantasy with all these hopeful ideas about my “real” mom, love, and home. My reality was nowhere near that and wasn’t even headed in that direction. I had simply traded one version of misery for another. That summer and for the next year or so we were homeless. There would be no place to call home…

Christ church cathedral

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