I never knew I was poor until my mother got sick. Crohn's, they called it. I was 15 when it consumed her, just shy of the super sweet sixteen that was called off because of financial shortages masked as me having a bad attitude. In the prologue, life was sweet. My biggest responsibilities were maintaining good grades and not losing any balls or barrettes because coming home without them was the ultimate sin. "Cutie" was what everyone called me, still calls me. "What you got on it, Cutie?," my stepfather's best friend has greeted me this way since I was knee high to a grasshopper. "I got 5 on it, Walt!," was the reply that'd get me popped in the mouth by my mother. every. single. time. I may have very well had 5 on it with all the petty cash people would slip into my unemployed pockets.
Still, my mother wouldn't have her one-year-old daughter in anything less than a $200 FILA coat, and didn't feel the need to rationalize that to anyone. She was the nonfictional Tracy of the cult classic Flyy Girl— almond brown skin, the waterfall mullet, and signature gold bamboo earrings to accent the rings she wore on every finger. The bands, one in the shape of an AK47, and 2 nuggets. Of all the rings my father gifted her, the nuggets were my favorite. At 15 years old she had a baby by a dope boy who was murdered within the same year. She tightened up and got one of the "good jobs" (classified as anything non-retail in Kansas City). She made it her business to rear a daughter who didn't have to see the world through her POV. Doing what you can for who you are at the time, Rif calls it.
There was no one my age on my mom's side of the family, I give my father's side credit for my exposure to the world and being able to find the humor in its ways. We'd take at least 15 cars on those family reunions in my early years. I'm not sure how they kept up with all us cousins, my Aunt Helen had 30 of her own. My paternal grandmother had 14 and called herself trying to be the "Candy Lady" until she realized she couldn't keep anything with us around. We'd just hop in the backseat of our favorite older cousin's ride pretending that the decibel level of the bass didn't impair our young ears. The vibrations massaging our backs the entire way. I wanna be a baller, shot-caller .. 20 inch blades on an Impala. The summer of '99. Lil Troy and a few underground anthems looped the entire ride down the freeway to Arkansas in the backseat of a white Suburban. The irony of longing to make money the fly way but knowing that there's got to be a better way has been the soundtrack of my early 20s. Nothing mattered then.
My love for Too $hort, Project Pat, and UGK stemmed from riding in cars that made young kids scream "Bingo!" Where I'm from the dope boys is the rock stars, but they can't cop cars without seeing cop cars. I guess they want us all behind bars. I know it. And that's precisely where every last one of my "favorite" older cousins went. Assaults, liquor store robberies, and the cringiest: sexual assault. As a 12 year old, it's difficult to process not being able to see someone you love and look up to again until you're 21. Coming from a place where college is an *actual* joke because, how can you go away to school if every day you're trying to figure out how to feed yourself with the $5 you don't have on it? Where are the studies that show urban high school drop out rates due to decision fatigue?
My mother always told me I was going to college. She had no concept of academic programs, scholarships, or resources. She didn't know the how but she knew the that. Im not even sure that she believed it as much as she willed it with her tongue. But it happened. And it was paid for. And along the way I lost sight of the things that I loved from my youth including simple concepts of humanizing individuals as an adolescent and how fucking cool it is to grow up hood rich. Donuts in the parking lot, gold grills, and riding slow as hell through the park on Sunday with your new sound system so that everyone sees you.
I'm just a girl that escaped her circumstances. My mother calls it favor. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet.