by Jasmyne K. Rogers @poetic_jaszy
May 4, 1991
There was something very peculiar about today. The rain fell hard while Mama cried. I do not know why she picked today to cry. Mama rarely cries. She bought me this pink notebook with the blue band down the side so that no emotions would build inside of me. She said that was unhealthy. I eat chocolate for comfort, but she never tells me that’s unhealthy. Oh well. The rain is still coming down.
May 9, 1991
My big sister, Deborah, had her baby today. She became a mother to a beautiful, eight lbs., 16 oz., baby girl. I think she named her Jodecy or Jody, similar to the name of the new R&B band that just came out, Jodeci. They sound pretty good. The lead singer is really cute. It didn’t rain as much today.
June 6, 1991
It’s been a while since I picked up this notebook. A lot has been going on. Jody (my baby niece) is fussy. She cries all through the night. Mama is dog-tired. Deborah just weeps. She cradles Jody close and weeps while her eyes stare at the newspaper clipping illuminated by the wax candle shining.
June 7, 1991
Deborah is sad. I spend more time with Jody. She (Deborah) says Jody favors him too much. Today’s a weird day too. Whoever said it never rains in southern California lied. Grandma Annie says Mama and Deborah have a lot in common. I replied, “I know that, Grandma. They’re mother and daughter.”
June 19, 1991
I walked in Mama’s room to ask her the definition of a word that I didn’t know. I was reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. She had fallen asleep with the candle burning. I blew it out and saw a burned spoon next to it. I guess the food that she had eaten was too hot.
I would ask her the definition of the word tomorrow.
August 12, 1991
I’ve been thinking about my father a lot lately. I don’t know why. I have never seen him in my life. Mama said he died when I was still in her womb, but she never said why. She would choke up sometimes when I asked about him, so I just let it go. But tonight while the candle burned, I wondered about my father. If he was still alive, would we still be poor? No. I don’t think so. We would have a big house over in Hollywood and live amongst the stars. And wear those big glasses. Then Deborah wouldn’t have to look at that worn news clipping anymore. We would be a family. Mama, Daddy, Deborah, baby Jody, and I would be a real family.
August 30, 1991
I turned thirteen years old today. Mama made my favorite cake, red velvet with cream cheese icing and pecans. Grandma Annie, Aunt Jean, Uncle Joe, and some of my cousins came over. Everyone was happy. Deborah was singing and snapping her fingers. Baby Jody was cute and giggly. Mama just stood in a corner and smiled. Aunt Jean talked about the Watts Riots of 1965. Grandma carried on about Mama running around trying to be a part of the Black Souls. But I tuned all of that out and ate my favorite cake. That was my only concern.
September 5, 1991
I found a picture of my father in my Mama’s lockbox. My father was very good-looking! There were some words on the back of the photograph that had faded out. He was smiling on this picture like he had won the lottery. I wondered why Mama cried all the time now and why Deborah cried her hardest at night. Why wouldn’t I cry like them?
September 16, 1991
I looked inside Mama’s lockbox again while she was resting. I wanted to make out the faded words on my father’s picture. His smile was so beautiful. I could not stop staring at him. Each time I tried to put the photograph down, I would pick it up again. I don’t know if I liked staring at his beautiful smile or his sad eyes more. It seemed like he had been through a lot. Now that I looked at his sad eyes, his smile didn’t seem as beautiful. Maybe someone had hurt him or he had just gotten into it with someone before he smiled for the picture. Whatever it was, his happy smile was make-believe.
September 17, 1991
I still wondered why Deborah and Mama cried so much. Deborah would cry her hardest when she rocked baby Jody to sleep at night in our room. Sometimes I would catch Mama crying in her room when it rains. I had to figure out what made my family sad.
September 25, 1991
I was finally able to make out the faded words on the back of my father’s photo while the candle burned. It read:
I will love you a million lifetimes until our souls find each other again and we are able to experience love as free and peaceful beings. I hope that this photograph will remind you of the good times. Always remember the good times even when I am long gone. They will come for me soon.
I wondered who “they” were. The light from the candle is dimming. I will have to write and wonder later.
September 26, 1991
I felt happy today. For thirteen years, I hated my name. I walked with my head high today. I was named after my father. For the first time in my life, I felt proud to be Akeena Sanders.
September 27, 1991
Akeen Daniel Sanders was my father’s name. He had been a member of the Black Souls. I had heard a lot of good stories about the Black Souls. They were a group that wanted to build a better neighborhood. The Black Souls always fed the kids from the neighborhood. He helped to start the branch here in South Central. Wow! My father was a hero.
October 1, 1991
I found out how my father died. There was a drug raid at the local headquarters. Now I was confused. I thought my father was a hero. How could he be a hero if he sold drugs?
I did not want to look at anything else in the lockbox tonight. I slammed the lid so hard that it made the floor creak. I don’t know if I’m even proud to be Akeena Sanders anymore. I learned in school that we should always say no to drugs. My father should have said no to drugs. Then he would still be alive.
October 3, 1991
I looked at the worn news clipping when Deborah fell asleep. The headline read, “South Central’s Largest Drug Bust in Recent Years; Five Teenagers Slain.” I read what I could make out on the clipping without disturbing Deborah and the baby. Deborah’s baby father, Jody Harrington, was bound for UCLA on a full scholarship. He was shot nine times in the crossfire.
Deborah started to shiver so I put the news clipping back in the dresser drawer. I grabbed my blanket from my bed and covered her and the baby. Maybe that would keep them warm at night. Maybe that would help to stop the tears.
October 15, 1991
I asked Mama why drugs killed black people. She put her cigarette out and looked me squarely in the eyes. She told me the government conspired against the black community so that we would lose our power. The government implanted various drugs in the hood so that we would be so doped up, we would not want to fight for our rights. Instead, we would place more emphasis on finding our next high.
I asked her what “conspired,” “implanted,” and “emphasis” meant. She shook her head at me and went inside the house.
November 25, 1991
We went to Grandma Annie’s for Thanksgiving. Everyone was there. Auntie Jean, Uncle Joe, my cousins, and friends from the neighborhood showed up. After dinner, I overheard Auntie Jean and Mama having a hush-hush talk. Auntie Jean said, “South Central haven’t been the same since the Black Souls and neither have you, Margaret.” I saw Auntie Jean grab my Mama’s left hand, but she pulled it away. “They took him away from me,” Mama’s mouth trembled.
I had a feeling she was referring to my father. I wanted to know who “they” were badly. One of my cousins interrupted and grabbed my hand so that I would join her and the others in a card game. I pulled my hand away. I wasn’t in the mood.
March 14, 1992
I haven’t really picked up this notebook in a while. It’s hard to write how you feel when you don’t really know how you feel. I am still trying to find out how my father died and why my mama and sister have been so sad lately.
May 9, 1992
Baby Jody turned one today. Deborah actually smiled. Jody wore the pink bow I made her. I really love my baby niece. She makes me smile.
August 30, 1992
I turned fourteen years old today. Nothing special. Mama barely told me happy birthday and she did not bake a cake this year. I was worried about her. She was acting a little crazy today. She walked back and forth and kept saying that she was cold. I went and got her a blanket, but she didn’t want it. She said she needed something else to fix it. She asked me had I spent my birthday money. I reached in my pocket and gave her the five dollars. She said that she would pay me back later. I did not care about the money. I just didn’t want Mama to be cold anymore.
October 2, 1992
I found out why my father died.
I finally made it to the bottom of Mama’s lockbox and found a letter from an inmate in the federal prison, about 290 miles outside of Los Angeles. It was addressed to Mama and told her about the night my father died. It stormed that night. My father was accused of being a druglord and trafficking drugs from South Central to Oakland. My father reached in his pocket to pull out something and was shot over ten times.
My hands began to shake as I folded and put the letter back in the box. I saw the lights of the bus at the corner, but I could not hear the people getting off and on like I normally do. I did not hear my mama open the front door and walk into her room. I looked up at her and could only see her mouth moving. I could not hear anything. It took almost everything in me to get off the floor. I crawled in bed next to Mama.
I just wanted to be warm.
October 3, 1992
I found out who killed my father.
I read the rest of the letter. The man in the federal prison said my father was trying to pull a picture out of his pocket. The picture was glued to the bottom of the letter. The picture was of him and a man at South Central Park with tons of kids around. The kids’ smiles were wide and their cheeks were full. They were eating breakfast food. The man in the photograph with my father was the same man who accused him of trafficking drugs. He was the same man who murdered him.
I wondered why he accused my father and murdered him when he was in the photograph with him. Why did he kill my father?
October 10, 1992
I did not feel like doing anything today. I kept thinking about how my life would be so different if my father was still alive. He seemed like he really loved Mama. I bet they would have married and we would have lived in a big house in the suburbs. We would not need candles because our power would always stay on. We would always have Thanksgiving dinner at our big house every year. Mama would wear a nice red dress and some cute jewelry. Deborah would be able to rock those gold, 10k earrings that she always wanted. I would be able to hug my father and tell him about my day. We would go to the park every Saturday and feed the neighborhood kids. It would have been fun to have him around. We would have been a real family.
October 16, 1992
There was another letter at the very bottom of the lockbox. It was from the same man in the prison out in Atwater, California. This letter really shocked me! He said that the man in the photograph with my father set-up the Black Souls. The man’s name is Gary Watts. He set my father up. He was actually a police officer. There were no drugs found at the Black Souls’ headquarters. In the news clipping, the headline for May 16, 1978 read: “Large Quantities of Heroine and Crack Cocaine Found at Black Souls’ Headquarters Housed in South Central, Los Angeles.” No drugs were found in my father’s system either when they studied his dead body. I know he is dead and the letter will not change that, but I was still happy to know that my father was not a drug dealer.
Mama was right. I finally looked up the definition.
October 17, 1992
I did not really sleep last night. My eyes were red and I felt hot all over. Real hot. I couldn’t believe they set my father up like that! Mama asked did I feel sick. I said no. She still checked to see if I was coming down with something. Then she asked had I become a young woman yet. I said yes. I had my first period almost five months ago.
October 19, 1992
I walked into Mama’s room to ask her something. The “something” is not important right now. I saw my Mama sitting at the edge of her bed, a white shoelace around her left arm, and a needle in her right hand. I asked her calmly was she shooting up. Her eyes stayed leveled to the floor and she told me that it was her insulin.
October 20, 1992
We went to Grandma Annie’s house today to eat and be a family. I helped Grandma Annie cook. She told me how Mama used to always eat the pigtails out of the collard greens. I told my Grandma Annie that Mama couldn’t eat that anymore because she’s a diabetic. Grandma Annie looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. “Margaret, do you have sugar?” Grandma Annie went to the living room and asked Mama. “Of course not, Mama. I always watch what I eat. I’m eating my pigtails today!” Mama laughed. Grandma Annie laughed too. I did not laugh. Mama had lied to me about using insulin. I was boiling like the pot of greens that I was stirring.
I found out what drugs could do to a community of people. I found out how it affected my mother in particular. Nothing was the same. I kept thinking about the conversation that my mama and I had about how drugs killed black people. If she knew that then why was there always a burned spoon or a needle on her nightstand? Why did she act crazy? Why couldn’t she see that Deborah was still really sad over Jody’s father’s death? I hate having all these questions in my head. I hate the government for putting drugs in the hood. I hate the person who gives drugs to my Mama. I hate that I have to use the candle to write in this diary because we can’t afford lights.
October 22, 1992
Deborah and baby Jody moved out today. Deborah said she couldn’t bear to see Mama in her “condition.” She and the baby went to live with Grandma Annie. They wanted me to move too. I said no. I had to stay home and take care of Mama. She needed me.
October 30, 1992
Today, Mama seemed like herself. We were sitting on the porch watching the leaves fall from the tree. Out of nowhere, Mama said she had to go in the house and get something. When she returned, she was holding her lockbox. My eyes grew big because I thought she was about to yell at me for going through her things. She sat back down on the old milk crate and opened a small compartment on the lid of the lockbox. She handed me a folded letter. I looked at my Mama and she gave me a little smile. I opened the letter and it read:
I loved you before you were even a thought. Your mother and I knew that we would conceive another girl. I was always scared. I was afraid that I wouldn’t see you grow up. Now, I’m sure that I won’t. Your mother needs you, Akeena. She’s a strong woman, but strong to a fault. I know that you will be beautiful. You will be the extended strength that she needs, simply because you’re an extension of myself—my innocent self. I love you, sweetie. If you question that, look at the trees. If you find them dancing, just know that it is a reflection of me rejoicing in the presence of your present.
Akeen D. Sanders
As I was folding the letter back, a small, gold chain with a locket dropped in my lap. I picked it up and opened the locket. Inside, was a picture with my mother, father, and Deborah smiling. Deborah looked like she was about two. She and Daddy had their hand on Mama’s pregnant belly. I asked was that me. She shook her head yes. I smiled and looked up at the tree again. Sure enough, it was dancing.
November 1, 1992
The letter my father wrote me made me feel important. The gold chain with the locket made me happy. We were a real family.
Tonight, I held Mama as she shivered. I told her I would never leave her and we would get her off those drugs. She smiled at me and I noticed a tear. This time she was not alone. I had finally found my tears.
Jasmyne K. Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama and graduate of Georgia State University. She thoroughly enjoys writing that reflects black history, culture, and progression. She is also a contributor for Nu Tribe, an up-and-coming magazine. Follow her on Twitter--@poetic_jaszy and Facebook--www.facebook.com/thesoulfulone.