By: Cassandra Edwards
I am not sure what kind of joke was being played when I was created but the life I was dealt could not have been deliberate. Growing up black was one thing, something I thought I could handle with my hands tied behind my back. Growing up in St. Louis, Mo which was labeled the murder capital of the world was a task within itself. Coupled with my struggles of peer pressure, homelessness, and even childhood molestation was a recipe for disaster, unless you were me.
I took every pain and every struggle and used it for my motivation to excel beyond even my own desires. While my grandfather caressed my body, I fantasized of another world in which not even he existed in. I plunged into my poetry to release my pain. As gun shots rang out across my Northside neighborhood, I nestled myself in the local library propped against the bookshelves jotting every thought and every dream down on paper.
I would not be a victim of Lee and Newstead, just another graduate of Beaumont High School, or even a statistic of St. Louis Missouri. I pushed myself. I proudly held my head up as I marched past the gang members, some of whom were my own family members, daring to wear my school colors of Blue and Gold in a neighborhood of Bloods who frowned upon it. Although they guarded every corner with their pistols on their hips I was more afraid of not making it out of the neighborhood than I was of ever reaching my primary destination.
Like many young black children I had been shuffled among many addresses due to my mother’s inability to pay rent. Being evicted and having our belongings placed on the sidewalk no longer shamed me, it encouraged me to work harder. Many of nights I sat hungry in anticipation of our next meal as I prayed for a breakthrough. I laughed sometimes as the humor God showed when creating my journey of life.
My teenage hormones almost consumed me when entering high school but the fear of becoming a statistic, of being a teenage parent lingered in the back of my mind and saved me from my own youthful desires. In a world of so many teens dying I decided to fight to live. I was embarrassed that my mother did not have a job and my afternoons were spent riding the makeshift bomb pop truck my uncle owned. I was humiliated that we had to shop at the Veterans Village for someone who I didn’t even know and me down clothes.
I was infuriated at the fact that my bad attitude and quick temper kept people from believing in me. No one understood the pain I had bottled up inside. I was a teenage parent raising three kids and had never even had intercourse. I watched my mother hunched over so many nights in pain from her dialysis treatments three times a week and though I knew she needed my help, I regretted giving up my teenage years to chase after three kids I never even asked for. My anger had been handed to me because of my experiences.
I found refuge in the poetry club at my high school and then finally in the same gangs I had walked past for years. I fell victim to the thrill of the streets and craved to hang on the corners after school. The toughening of my interior emotions showed on the outside through my demeanor and attitude. To prove I was tough enough and worthy enough I allowed my work at school to subside. I began hanging out places unfit for a blossoming teenage girl with the body of a full grown woman. I longed to dive into the lifestyle of my older peers but my conscious would always snap me back to reality.
I began to use my mother’s sickness as an excuse to leave school to simply hang out and be considered cool. I wasted so many hours of instructional time for recreational activities now that I think about it. My friends at school and my friends in the neighborhood were from two different worlds though we only lived miles apart within the school zone.
I learned to successfully camouflage myself to fit the environment I had been succumbed to. It took teachers who taught beyond the classrooms and a year of being homeless to make me realize the importance of living beyond my circumstances. No one knew we lived in motels and sometimes were forced to sleep in my uncles van or my mother’s car. No one suspected that I had not had a meal since lunch the day before. And I thought no one cared.
I no longer cared what others wanted me to do or what they thought I should I put in my mind what I needed to do was escape. I had been gifted with intelligence so my grades were never an issue, but it was not until I decided that life beyond St. Louis was my goal that I began to seriously contemplate valuing my education. As time went on my mother got even sicklier and the doctors gave up hope that she would ever live without Dialysis again. My hope was activated that if I could make enough money I would pay for my mother the kidney that was stopping her from living life.
My senior year in high school came and though we were no longer living in motels we still struggled day to day. I was vying for the title of Valedictorian of my class, had been offered a full scholarship to every school I applied to besides Harvard, and was well on my way to becoming more than what I was ever expected to be. I was at peace in my mind and for once I felt stability.
Just twelve months after accomplishing my first goal, my life again spiraled out of control. I watched as they lowered my mother’s body into the ground and felt a piece of me die. After attempting suicide on my own life I finally got the revelation that I had defied the odds.
All my life I had been faced with struggles and issues that many never overcame. I did not become a statistic of my neighborhood, my city or my circumstances. My mother’s death was the final blow meant to take me out and though it almost did I was victorious. It may have seemed bad growing up a black teenage girl and being faced with the statistic of becoming a teenage parent. It may have been assumed to be bad growing up in St. Louis attending an inner city high school. Growing up homeless and enduring the pain of molestation was a terrible thing, but it was not so bad growing up as a black girl destined to make it.