I was born in Baltimore twenty-seven years ago, and then I died—twice. I died both times because my mother was filled with drugs and so was I.
Crack babies are messed-up babies, and, according to what the doctors were saying, I didn’t have a prayer.
But they brought me back from death’s door. Someone or something keeps bringing me back from death’s door.
I don’t understand it, but maybe writing this book will help me see who I was and who I became.
Sometimes I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine myself back then:
A little-bitty baby small enough to fit into the palm of the doctor’s hand, no bigger than a puppy or kitten; a baby who has to be fed with an eye dropper
’cause her mouth is too small for the nipple of a bottle; a baby born cross-eyed due to the drugs running through her system.
A baby born to die.
But that same doomed-to-die baby finds a way to live.
Sure wasn’t because of Mama. Mama was Loretta Chase. The woman may have wanted me—I can’t know that for sure—but I do know that she couldn’t care for me.
Later I learned that Mother was the kind of lady that always kept a drug dealer around to fill her needs. She could do that because she had a pretty face, long wavy hair,
and a fine figure. Men flocked to her. My daddy ran from her—or she chased him off. I never did get the story.
I didn’t get a lot of the stories about my real parents. They’re ghost figures in my childhood. I saw them in my dreams when I was a little girl. Sometimes they creep back
into my dreams now that I’m a grown woman, but they’re always covered in mystery.
The mystery was heavy because as soon as I was born I was put into a foster home owned by two people who had a row house in the toughest neighborhood in
East Baltimore. Their names were Cora and Levi Pearson and their place was on East Oliver Street, three doors off the corner of North Montford. That’s where I grew up.
Oliver and Montford is where it all happened.
When I arrived the Pearsons were already in their early sixties. Sweet folk. They took care of me, but I still wanted my mama. And when I heard that Mama was calling
for me, I got happy all over. I wanted to see her.
All little girls wanna see their mothers. All girls need their mothers. The earliest dreams I can remember are dreams of my mother. I’d see her standing there before me,
holding out her arms, hugging me tight, putting me to bed and tucking me in.
“You’re my precious baby,” she’d say.
I’d smile at her, close my eyes, and fall asleep inside my dream.
My memories of Mama’s visits are like dreams.
During the first two visits we were at the park. I remember clouds and rain, I remember a dark sky, wet grass, and plastic slides in the playground.
I remember Mrs. Simms, the white social worker, who held my hand until, from behind a tree, a woman appeared. The woman was beautiful. She ran to me with her arms wide open. I didn’t move. I didn’t know what to do.
“It’s your mother,” said Mrs. Simms. “Go to your mother.”
I let the woman embrace me. She smelled of cigarettes and perfume. Tears ran down her cheek. I didn’t know why she was crying.
She held me tight and said words I don’t remember. I imagine that she said she loved me. We walked for a while. She, Mrs. Simms,
and I went to a candy store where I got a soda and a little bag of M & M’s.
“You and your mother look just alike,” Mrs. Simms said.
I loved hearing those words because I knew my mother looked like a lady in a magazine.
The rain stopped—I can’t remember if this was the first visit or the second—and children were in the park. My mother said something about my pigtails.
As a little girl, my hair was done up in little pigtails.
“If you let your hair grow out,” she said, “it’ll look like mine.”
She let me touch her wavy hair.
“Can I bring her to my house? Can I be alone with my daughter?” she asked Mrs. Simms.
Mrs. Simms said, “Maybe. Maybe next time.”
Next time came soon. The night before I was too excited to sleep.
What would my mother’s house look like? I was sure it’d be pretty because she was pretty. I was sure it’d be big. The house on Oliver Street had three
floors and three bedrooms, but I knew my mother’s house would be bigger. The house on Oliver Street had all sorts of people living there—
grandchildren and cousins to Mr. and Mrs. Pearson. But I was my mother’s only child. I wouldn’t have to share the house with anyone but my mother.
Maybe I could live with her forever.
I always hated dresses, but I wore one to visit my mother because I wanted to look pretty. I wanted to look like my mother. My dress, lavender and
embroidered with white lace, was brand new. My foster mama had bought it for me to wear to church.
My excitement built as Mrs. Simms drove me to my mother’s. But when we arrived, I was sure she had made a mistake. It wasn’t a house at all,
but a tiny one-room apartment with a small kitchen, and a couch that opened up into a bed. The room was messy and didn’t smell good.
This couldn’t be where my mom lived. But it was.
When Mrs. Simms left us, my mother sat down on the edge of the bed. Something was wrong. She was crying and shaking. I didn’t know why.
She didn’t hug and kiss me like she had in the park. She didn’t even look at me. I just stood there.
Then her mood changed. She got up from the bed and told me to take off my clothes. I didn’t understand why. I wouldn’t do it.
“Do it!” she cried.
She screamed at me until I did it. I took off all my clothes, dropping them on the floor.
“Now get in there,” she ordered, pointing to the closet.
I tried to run but my mother caught me. She pushed me into the closet and locked the door behind me. I began wailing at the top on my lungs.
“Stop crying,” she said. “I’ll be back.”
Then the sound of her leaving the apartment.
The fear of being locked in.
Baby girl fear.
I carried on. Kept crying. Kept screaming louder, but no one heard. Cried so loud and long that I cried myself out. I finally fell to the floor and started kicking.
I had to get out. Someone had to hear me.
I don’t know how much time passed, but when I heard the voices of Mrs. Simms and my foster father, I screamed my head off. They broke open the door and
set me free. I was hysterical.
“Imagine that,” I heard Mrs. Simms tell my foster father, “selling her little girl’s clothes to buy crack.”
I was never allowed to be alone with my mother again.
Sometime in my childhood my mother reappeared at the house on Oliver Street.
Each time the visit was short, and with each visit she looked less beautiful. Her eyes were crazy. Sometimes her dress was dirty and worn.
She’d come into the front room and just look at me. She’d try to smile, but the smile wouldn’t come. She’d cry and leave.
Her visits became more infrequent. Finally they stopped.
That’s when Mrs. Pearson became Mama and Mr. Pearson became Pop.