Today marks 7 years that I decided to move (and stay) in New York. Today is also the day that I am launching my new blog, The Book of Laws. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited (and a bit nervous) to finally share it with you! The true story you are about to read involves rejection, molestation, homelessness, attempted rape, depression, and relentless determination to reach a goal. It details the harrowing, complicated journey that life took me on so I could follow my dreams and move to New York on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. I hope my story enlightens, inspires, and motivates you to chase your dreams no matter what you may face along the way. Please feel free to like, share, and comment! I look forward to reading your feedback and sharing my life experiences with you!
“It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard”
Lauryn wasn’t lying. The decision was so simple. It was also complex and life changing as fuck. As I sat on one of two queen size beds inside the La Quinta Inn room in west Little Rock, Arkansas that I had rented for two nights, August 28th and 29th, 2010, as temporary residence for my older brother, Michael; younger sister, Jocelyn; and myself, I contemplated what my next move should be. After my mom had kicked me out of her house for the third time in as many years, I realized that staying in my hometown was just not an option. It may sound dramatic, but it would be a death sentence to my personal and professional career goals. I knew I would never live up to my fullest potential or experience everything that I envisioned for my life if I remained. Even though I love Little Rock, it was my “Ex-Factor.” On the other hand, New York had chewed my country, Black ass up and spit me out twice before. However, I still believed “The Big Apple” was my “Next-Factor.” Fuck. Fuck. FUCK! What do I do now? How the fuck did I get here again?
“Loving you is like a battle, and we both end up with scars”
My first trip to “The City that Never Sleeps” was the catalyst of me resigning from my job at the Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings, a defunct AF2 team, in late June 2007. After I was told that I would no longer receive compensation for mileage (I got paid more in mileage than total hours worked) as a Group Ticket Sales Representative, and that my paycheck would now solely consist of my minimum wage rate and meager commission from ticket sales, I abruptly said thank you for the opportunity, but I got to move around and put in my two weeks’ notice. I had been working there since March 2007. At the time, I was living in Simsboro, Louisiana which is about an hour drive one way from the Battle Wings front office in Bossier City. While I loved my two bedroom dwelling at Pine Ridge Apartments (an apartment I had since my sophomore year in college), and I knew I had advanced as far as I could professionally working as a Student Assistant for Grambling’s football team for the last four years through the work study program, it was time for me to spread my “battle wings” – pun intended – as I had my sights set on much, much more.
In early June 2007, my sister and I secretly took a weekend trip to New York for a job interview I had at a marketing firm, and we both knew in our hearts that NYC was the place to be. Growing up, our love for New York stemmed from the stories our mom told us about the gritty city - the good, the bad, and the dangerous. We didn’t want to tell mom we were driving up there because we knew she would deter us from going. When we finally made it safely and got settled in our hotel room, we took a picture of the blue and orange “Welcome to… Marcy Houses” sign in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and sent it to our god-brother, Jeff so at least someone in our family would know where we were. Somehow, we thought that mom getting the news from him (if he decided to snitch) that her daughters were in the borough she was born in wouldn’t be as bad as us outright telling her that we dipped out of state without saying where we were going or the reason why. Jeff was our proxy voice of reason. He called us a few minutes later, and we told him everything was ok, and we would be back down south in a couple days. We lied. Things weren’t completely ok.
We neglected to tell him that we got pulled over in Ruston, Louisiana on the way to New York because the cops said my sister was following another car too closely on Highway 80, and we had a wobbly back tire. After asking for her license and registration, the officer said he smelled a strong scent of marijuana inside the car (impossible, we had the car detailed the day before), and then he promptly radioed for backup. Two more officers arrived with a K-9 and directed the dog to sniff around the trunk while they searched my sister’s dark tinted, tan 2006 Chevy Cobalt. They found five blunts in a Swisher Sweets box, a dub sack and other drug paraphernalia behind some papers in the glove compartment. I tried to explain that whatever they found wasn’t ours. I said that we let some friends use the car the day before, and they must have stashed their stuff and forgot it. I was lying, it was ours. As they continued their search, one officer asked why we had $600 folded up in a Ziploc bag and printed out driving directions to NYC. I told him that was gas and food money that I purposefully set aside for that reason, and I had a job interview in Manhattan the next day. I even showed him the email confirmation the marketing firm sent for our meeting. Since they already saw our luggage in the trunk, they believed me. They confiscated the marijuana, pipe, and crusher, gave us a citation, and sent us on our weedless way. Thankfully, they didn’t detect that it was Bacardi Silver wine cooler in our Taco Bell cups.
A few days after returning back to Simsboro, I got a call from the marketing firm offering me the job. Later that day, I received the “your-paychecks-are-about-to-be-shit” news from my boss so I took that as a sign from the heavens. I called my new boss and asked if he could give me a month to relocate then I accept the job offer, and he gladly agreed. I didn’t renew my apartment lease which was ending July 1st, sold all of my furniture, décor, and some of my personal effects for crack prices, and dropped off my white 2000 Saturn L-Series at my mom’s house in Little Rock. My sister and I packed our clothes and shoes in suitcases, stuffed them into the trunk of her car, and drove until we saw the New York City skyline. I can still remember the almost 21 hour drive from Little Rock to the “Big City of Dreams.” We only stopped for gas or to use the bathroom and subsisted on sandwiches and chips, trail mix, sunflower seeds, water, coffee, French vanilla cappuccinos, 5 Hour Energy shots, Black & Milds, and rap music to keep us awake. Hello Lover!
“Tell me who I have to be to get some reciprocity”
The job I took at the marketing firm turned out to be a complete bust. I told the HR director during my interview that I was looking for a sports related internship to fulfill the requirements of receiving my graduate degree in Sports Administration from Grambling State University that December. He told me they had several different national sales accounts and marketing campaigns that catered to the sports and entertainment industry. Based on the job description in the online posting and his reassurance, this was the perfect opportunity. In reality, the position consisted of going door to door selling Quill office supplies to mom and pop shops in Chinatown. I stayed at the job for a week. Broke, busted, and disgusted, my sister and I were relegated to sleeping in her car in random parking lots or at the homes of kind but weird strangers we met along the way who thought we were nice southern girls with big dreams that desperately needed assistance. We had come so far, and I’d already given up so much that I was determined to make it… by any damn means necessary.
One day while at the West Hempstead public library, I applied for an intern job posting that didn’t list the company name on CareerBuilder. At this point, I was applying to any and every job that I could. Little did I know, the posting was for a position in the Communications Department at Madison Square Garden. They called me about two weeks later for an interview, and on Wednesday, August 22, 2007, I had new hire intern orientation. I started the internship the following Monday. Divine favor would have it that the friend of a guy we had met earlier that summer, when I yelled “Hey Kool-Aid” at him at a gas station because he was cute, dressed in all red (he could have been a Blood, I didn’t care), and we needed to ask for directions to get to our uncle’s girlfriend’s place in Hollis whom we were unaware had just died in her apartment and her body hadn’t been found yet, was renting a house in Jamaica, Queens and had a room available to sublet. I gave him $500 to move in the weekend before I started my internship. Two months later, I found out from a bank representative that the mortgage hadn’t been paid in over 6 months, and the property was in foreclosure. She advised that I needed to stop paying my “landlord” rent, and we would have to move out in about 4-6 months once the lender took possession. Hello housing bubble.
“See, no one loves you more than me, and no one ever will”
Working at Madison Square Garden was truly amazing! I was the only intern chosen to work in two separate divisions in the Communications Department: VIP Services and The Garden of Dreams Foundation. I learned so much and gained valuable experience that would help me later in my career. I worked Rangers games as a Guest Relations Representative, gave back to disabled and disadvantaged children in the tri-state area through our partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, processed VIP ticket requests for various events, met a bunch of cool people, and even received a signed Stephon Marbury jersey at the end of my internship in December. Office politics dictated that I would not be offered a full-time job after my internship considering all that was going on with the lawsuit between Anucha Browne Sanders and Isiah Thomas, and the $11.6 million in punitive damages she received as a result of her being wrongly fired for complaining about his unwanted sexual advances. I was told by one of my Black bosses that I was seen as a “potential liability.” “You’re young, attractive, Black, and educated,” he said.
Well, damn! I was speechless and appalled. I was also so confused. I had busted my ass working at The Garden. I was always the first intern in my department to get there early and the last to leave. I always asked was there anything else that I could help with before I left. My work was impeccable. I got along well with my coworkers and my superiors. I even worked a weekend when no other interns were there processing a back log of ticket requests. So what was the problem?! Was he being straight up with me because he knew they really weren’t going to hire me because of what I look like? Was he trying to block me from progressing here and that was the excuse he gave me because he deemed me as a threat? Were they not hiring any interns from my department, period? I questioned whether or not I should go to HR about his discriminatory comment. Would they believe me? We’re both Black. I was just an intern, but this was still dead ass wrong. After seeing all the controversy one of my other bosses, Kathleen Decker, went through during the lawsuit, I decided that it would be in my best interest to not speak on the matter if I wanted to work in the sports industry again. The interns were given a stipend of $25 a day to offset travel costs plus college credit, so by the end of the internship I was broke. I couldn’t afford to travel to Grambling to attend graduation on December 14th and receive my Master’s degree. I honestly didn’t want to go anyway after learning that I wouldn’t be hired. What would I tell my classmates, friends and professors if they asked about my internship experience and plans after graduation? I wasn’t ready to answer those questions. My sister and I packed up the belongings we had accumulated in the last 5 months, gassed up the Cobalt with money I received from reluctantly selling my laptop, and begrudgingly drove back to Little Rock. Six days later, my degree arrived in the mail.
By now, you are probably sitting there reading all of this like what in the entire fuck, Jennifer?! You probably have a host of questions, some of which may be… The cops took your herb bearing seed, but didn’t take you to jail? Bitchhhhh… you and your sister lived in her car in New York during the hot ass summer? Were you not scared for your life? Your uncle’s girlfriend died and no one knew? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes, but let’s get back to the original reason for this post. I am protecting a long-held dream. I will live in NYC. I will work in the sports and entertainment industry. What I am facing: This is the third time I’ve been kicked out of my mom’s house, and I’m at La Quinta Inn trying to figure out the next step of my shitty existence.
“This is your third, right? (in my Mama Rose voice from The Temptations TV series)”
Yes, but we haven’t got to that part… yet. Let’s continue. We pulled up in the driveway of our childhood home after a day long drive three days before Christmas 2007. The Great Recession just hit, I was unemployed, and I knew Sallie Mae’s ass would be blowing up my phone soon asking for high ass monthly student loan payments. I felt sick to my stomach, but I was also trying to find the silver lining. “Shit ain’t that bad…” I said as I looked over at Jocelyn. We both let out an overwhelming sigh and exited the car. I was glad to see mom and spend time with my family and friends during the holidays. I was also already missing New York and all that it had to offer. In some ways, I felt accomplished that I had set out to do what I’d planned to do. I also felt defeated because I wanted more, and that my goal of getting an internship to receive my degree just wasn’t enough if I didn’t have a job lined up afterwards. I wanted an exciting, fulfilling career in the sports and entertainment industry, and that was my New Year’s Resolution. I set my plan in motion to get a job, save up enough money, and move back up to New York in six months. Or so I thought… John Lennon was right. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
My mom and I had a great relationship. Sure, the teen years were a bit sketchy at times, but we had a strong mother-daughter bond overall. She was a very caring, loving, strict single mother who worked hard as a nurse and provided for her three kids the best way she knew how. We never went without, even when times were lean. However, since I graduated from grad school and had arrived back home, everything - and I do mean everything - changed. When I came back to Little Rock, no one told me that I would not get my Saturn back. I left my car in Little Rock when I went to New York, and we took my sister’s Cobalt instead because it had fewer miles on it, and she had a newer model car than I did. My brother, Michael, wrecked his Hyundai Sonata so he took my car as his own, and mom let him. Had I known that I wouldn’t get my car back while I was still in New York, I probably would have tried to stay there even though I had no job and was about to get evicted out of the foreclosed home I was residing in. Yes, having a vehicle in Little Rock is that essential. My sister and I were stuck sharing her car which proved difficult at first when we were both looking for employment. Eventually, it worked out as we both got jobs in downtown Little Rock. She worked at Children’s Hospital, and I worked as a temp hire through Staffmark for Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Between February and May 2008, it was hard to save up money because my mom made me pay $400 for rent a month, but she didn’t ask my older brother, 29, that still lived there or my younger sister, 21 – both of whom were working. They gave her money and here and there when she asked, but it wasn’t a huge amount. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind paying to stay there and help with bills, I just wanted mom to treat us fairly and equally especially since she knew I wanted to move back to New York as quickly as possible. It was also frustrating that while I was thankful I had a job, I also emphatically hated it. Being a Billing Specialist was a far cry from what I was doing at Madison Square Garden, and the pay was lousy. I tried getting two jobs, but the recession fucked the job market up. Besides, I was overqualified yet inexperienced according to the HR managers for the few jobs I did get an interview for. By May, the temp assignment I had concluded and tensions with my mom over money were at an all-time high.
It all came to a head when Jocelyn confided in me that her repressed memories of Michael molesting her when she was very young were not so repressed… anymore. She was having nightmares and couldn’t sleep. I told her I knew exactly what she was talking about because he molested me too, and that for years I tried to lock it away in the recesses of my mind. We had never spoken about it since it had happened when we were very young. I told her if she wanted to confront him about this then I would stand by her side and support her. A couple days later, we spoke with mom about it. She brushed off the allegations, and said my sister shouldn’t “dredge up old stuff.” She discouraged her from confronting Michael, but mom knew she couldn’t stop her. The next day, Michael approached Jocelyn and asked her was there something she needed to ask him as if mom had already gave him the heads up that she wanted to confront him. Jocelyn, feeling ambushed, didn’t want to discuss it, but I did. He flat out denied it then walked away.
Yes, my mom knew that my brother molested us when we were kids. She had come home early from work one day and saw him touching me inappropriately. I still remember sitting alongside my brother and sister on the reupholstered pink sofa in the living room and being scolded about something I really didn’t know anything about. I was four years old. I hadn’t even started kindergarten yet. Mom taught us about stranger danger, not about bad touches from a sibling. I don’t remember everything that she said, but she did tell us it better stop (as if Jocelyn - who was two years old at the time - and I were making Michael touch us) and that we were not to speak about it to anyone. It wasn’t until I progressed in elementary school and learned more about puberty and my body that it really dawned on me. I was sexually abused by a family member – someone who I’m suppose to trust and look up to. There was a point when I didn’t speak to Michael for almost a year when I was around 12 or 13. He would wake up and say good morning, and I didn’t even acknowledge his presence. I literally didn’t talk to him at all, and treated him like he wasn’t there. Mom would get mad at me because I was acting rude and being a “crap keeper-upper”, the name she used to refer to my actions, in her house. It was just that – a house and not a home. I didn’t always feel safe there, and I felt embarrassed and ashamed to articulate why I was acting the way that I was. I felt like my feelings didn’t matter, so I kept quiet. In my adolescent mind, I was guarding my well-being the best way I could – shut negativity out and pretend like it doesn’t exist. If I had to live with my abuser and not talk about it then I wanted to have minimum communication with him. Growing up, my brother and I argued constantly and actually came to blows a few times. What made it worse was that he was obese and much taller than I was – with us being 6 years apart in age – so his punches really hurt. Our sibling relationship was never strong for as long as I can remember, and that estrangement still remains today.
“Tonight, we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another”
June 3, 2008 is a night I will never forget. It was the night Senator Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination for president and made history by becoming the first African American to win the presidential nomination of a major party. It was also the night that all hell broke loose in the Laws household. Late that evening, mom started to probe Jocelyn about the molestation conversation they had earlier while we watched coverage on CNN. An intense argument quickly ensued. Mom left the den, where Jocelyn, Da’Vida (Jocelyn’s best friend and our close play-sister), and I were still sitting, and went to the garage to smoke a cigarette. Continuing the conversation, we followed her and told her how she was being unsympathetic and not fully understanding how something like what we endured could affect a person. My mom responded insensitively, and also said that she would not take disrespect in her house because we were starting to raise our voices. I told mom she was acting detached and totally disregarding our feelings. Soon, everyone was yelling and cursing back and forth. Michael, who was in his room, heard the commotion and came into the garage asking why we were yelling at mom. When Jocelyn got in his face and told him why, he forcefully pushed her off of him. She flew a short distance across the garage and fell onto a piece of block cement that was lying on a crate cutting her hand and arm. Beginning to bleed, she managed to get to her feet, picked up a piece of the cement that had broken off and fallen to the floor, and tried to hurl it at him. It missed. He then picked up a four prong garden fork that was close by and started coming towards Jocelyn. That’s when I picked up a crowbar and began charging towards Michael, who was near the vicinity of mom, to defend Jocelyn. I guess mom thought that I was headed towards her so she ran from the garage back inside the den, and called the police. We all sort of froze, but everyone was ragingly heated.
Realizing the cops were on the way, Da’Vida told us to call her, and then she got in her car and left with a friend who had just pulled up right before everything went haywire. The police arrived soon after. Mom told them that I picked up a weapon and was trying to harm her, even though I wasn’t. I tried to explain to the officers why the argument started in the first place. One officer explained that I could file a police report, but the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse had already expired so nothing could be done. The police allowed me and my sister to get our backpacks and fill them with some personal items before we were asked to leave the residence at mom’s fervent request. Michael wasn’t kicked out with us and was allowed to stay. It was now after midnight on June 4th. I had very little savings after just having paid mom $400 for rent a few days earlier. I was officially homeless, and I had to look after my little sister who was already suffering mental, physical, and emotional distress. I would later learn that my mom got an order of protection against me. I couldn’t contact her, send her a letter, go to her job, or come back to the house I grew up in or I could go to jail. I’m sure Senator Obama and his lovely family was having a much, much better time than my family was. I desperately needed hope and change I could believe in.
“Fuck it, let’s go (back) to New York Pt.1”
And so the journey began. I was numb. Furious. In shock. I couldn’t believe what just happened. Did my mom really just kick out her two daughters in the middle of the night? Yes, she did. Jocelyn and I walked around west Little Rock inquiring at various hotels about available rooms, but everything was either booked or out of my price range. With very little battery left on my cellphone, I called a guy named Mark that I had been talking to and told him in not so many words what happened. He insisted that my sister and I spend the night at his place until we figured things out. He picked us up at Taco Bell on John Barrow and drove us to his place on East 19th. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was angry, beyond pissed and hot. I began to sweat. I wanted to take a shower, but I waited until he left for work the next morning. Mark was kind of like a sweet stalker. He would drop by my mom’s house all the time without calling first, but he was so kind that I just kept him around. The last thing I needed was for him to try to make a move on me while I’m washing away rejection, tears, pain, and perspiration. Even the thought creeped me out, and I knew we couldn’t stay at his townhouse long.
In less than a two week time period, we went from Mark’s house to my Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Linda (on my deceased father’s side) picking us up from there, giving us $20, and dropping us off at my god-mother’s house – this is Jeff’s mom; we call her Aunt Susie. We stayed there for less than a week before we wore out our welcome and were asked to leave. With no place to go that night, we slept on a playground set at Romine, our old elementary school. I still remember how cloudy it was, and it looked like it was about to rain. We both prayed to God that we hope it doesn’t rain and asked that He protect us since we didn’t have an umbrella. The next morning when we woke up, we weren’t wet and neither were our backpacks. We noticed the pavement, grass and part of the playground set near us was wet. It wasn’t just morning dew nor did it come from a sprinkler; it definitely rained – just not on us and neither one of us heard the sound of it.
Fed up with our situation, we walked across town to a shelter in east Little Rock and stayed there for 30 minutes before we mustered up the courage to call our pastor at Greater New Hope Baptist Church. He didn’t answer, but he called us back a few minutes later. We cried while telling Pastor Bennett everything that happened, and I could tell he felt really bad for us. He told his older daughter, Tori, to come get us from the shelter. She gave us some of her old clothes, and let us shower at her apartment. I told Pastor Bennett that we really wanted to go to New York and that we had friends there. I also mentioned I could get a job in sports on the professional level – something I couldn’t do in Arkansas as they have no professional sports teams. After some convincing, he was more than happy to oblige, though he was concerned about what our living arrangement would be once when we got there. He gave us a little spending money and bought us two Greyhound bus tickets headed to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. I guess my New Year’s Resolution came to fruition after all… well, somewhat.
“When the background check comes back”
We arrived in New York, and one of the first things I did was call my line sister, Tiffany. She was established, had been living in Queens for a few years, and was a teacher. I told her, in a nutshell, what was going on with me and my family, and she, without hesitation, rented a hotel room for me and my sister at the Howard Johnson on Queens Boulevard for a few days. Man, I was so appreciative! She really did me a solid, and I will FOREVER be grateful to her for looking out for me during such a desperate time. After the hotel stay, she talked to her aunt and we stayed with her for a week. Again, we were immensely thankful for the hospitality she gave us. During our stay at her aunt’s house, I started having bladder issues and lower back pain so I went with my sister to Jamaica Hospital to get checked out.
That is where we met Tiny. She was wearing a huge marijuana leaf belt, and I gave her a compliment and said I wish I had some since the pain had increased. We all started talking and laughing in the waiting room until I was seen by a doctor. I had a mild urinary tract infection, and received antibiotics. Tiny exchanged numbers with Jocelyn, and we would eventually stay with her for a while… until things went left, for me anyway. While we stayed with her, I was in the Back to Work program and had two interviews at Madison Square Garden for a coordinator position. Everything was going as smoothly as it possibly could be until my sister and I got into a huge argument at Tiny’s apartment, and then she purposefully went missing for two weeks with no way to contact her. I was over trying to help others when I could barely help myself so I really focused on trying to find a job so I could get stable housing.
Things were starting to look up when I met a guy named Charles at the program. He was funny and nice, and we had a lot in common. One weekend in early August 2008, he invited me to come to Atlantic City with him. Although I was initially hesitant to go because I had very little money in case anything happened, I seriously needed to get away from all the drama, and not worry about the current pressures of my vagabond life. He insisted, and said since he offered – I didn’t need to worry about paying for anything. We departed NYC late on August 1st, arrived in Atlantic City early the next morning, got a hotel room, rested a bit, freshened up, and headed out to have some fun. We took in the sights, gambled, ate at Capriccio, and even snuck in to see Damon Wayans do stand-up comedy at the Resorts Atlantic City. It was the most fun I had in a long ass time.
After the show, we got some drinks and his attitude quickly changed once we got back to the hotel room to rest before we planned to visit the boardwalk. He tried to force himself on me in a very aggressive manner, and I pushed him off multiple times. He got really mad and started yelling at me, and I became nervous and really scared. I feared I was about to be raped, and all I could think about was not being able to contact my sister or mom, and getting out of there unharmed. I guess he thought he deserved sex after the day we had and the money he spent. I thought he was a nice guy, but we hadn’t known each other that long, and I definitely wasn’t ready to take it to the next level with him especially with all that I already had on my plate. After some tense, awkward moments and about five minutes of arguing, I made it very clear to him that I was ready to go. The fun-filled trip promptly ended, and we were on the next bus headed to NYC – in total silence. Once we got back, he went his way, and I went mine. I never saw him again.
When I arrived back at Tiny’s house, Jocelyn, to my surprise, was there too. We all got into a big argument with them ganging up against me and before I knew it, I had to quickly get my shit and get out. Tiny had an issue that I was able to “afford” to go to Atlantic City so she assumed that I had money and could afford a place of my own. She didn’t believe that a guy would pay for me to go. She also didn’t believe that I was almost raped. I don’t think Jocelyn did either; neither one of them really cared. That night, with my suitcase in tow and still reeling from what just happened in Atlantic City, I slept in Rufus King Park on a playground set near the Jamaica Center-Parsons/Archer subway station in Jamaica Queens. I was homeless… again. Sleeping on a playground set. Again. This wasn’t my first time, but it would most definitely be my last. If I hadn’t hit rock bottom before, I was definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel now. I seriously needed to get my shit together. And fast!
I wound up going to the Help Women’s Shelter in Brooklyn. It was there when I started going back to church and reading the Bible. I also got a call from Madison Square Garden. They called to offer me the coordinator position and it was contingent upon a successful drug screening and background check. That was everything that I needed to hear. Thank you, God! I’m back on the right track! I went to LabCorp and took the drug test, and after going through assessment at the shelter for 9 days, I was transferred to Turning Point Brooklyn – a transitional house for women – one day before my 24th birthday. It was a turning point in my life indeed. For the few days that I was there, I did a lot of soul searching, writing, and praying. Then I received a call the day after my 24th birthday on August 14th…
“Ms. Laws, this is the human resources department calling from Madison Square Garden. We would like to offer you the coordinator position, but you have a warrant out for your arrest in Ruston, Louisiana. If you can’t get this matter resolved in the next few days and provide documentation, then I’m sorry, but we will have to rescind the offer.”
FUCK! FUCK! FUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!
“Mama, I need to come home”
One of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to make was when I had to hustle up some change to use the old payphone in the basement inside the New York Public Library on 5th next to Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan to call my mom to tell her I needed to come home to clear my name, and that I needed money to do so… her order of protection be damned. I knew I was risking it all, including my freedom, but at that point I had no other choice. My cell phone had just got cut off after I had lied for the umpteenth time to Sprint that I would make a promise to pay and didn’t pay. It was the first time in a long time I had to swallow my pride and be vulnerable to her, and it was the first time in a long time she listened to me and showed kindness and compassion… kind of. She told me she recently removed the order of protection so my call to her didn’t put me in jeopardy of going to jail. She also agreed to buy me a Greyhound bus ticket bound for Little Rock so I could travel to Ruston and face the charges looming over my head. However, when I did finally reach the residence I was once banished from, I immediately felt unwanted. The room I shared with my sister growing up was a complete shitshow, and I was certain we didn’t leave it that way when we were kicked out just two months earlier. Our belongings were literally thrown everywhere. As I inspected the room further, I noticed that some high school senior class pictures that I’d taken at Sears were ripped to shreds and thrown about on the floor. I picked them up as my mom entered the room. “I didn’t have time to clean up,” she said. Yet, she knew I was coming home three days ago when she bought me the bus ticket. With hurt and disgust, I looked at her with a torn picture of half my head in my hand. She said, “I was very angry with you.” She paused for a second, looked around at the trashed bedroom, turned and just walked away. Welcome home, Jennifer.
I drove down to Ruston twice to clear my name, and it took two weeks for them to review my case so I had to forfeit the job offer at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” Thankfully, the District Attorney had mercy on me since I had never been in trouble with the law before (minus that misdemeanor theft charge I got in high school for stealing from Dillard’s at McCain Mall in North Little Rock, Arkansas with a couple friends that they didn’t know about (more on that full circle moment later) – yeah, I went through a rebellious phase, and I was banned from shopping at that Dillard’s location for a year), and I told him I had a Master’s degree, was a published author, and served in the Army Reserve. So I think that evidence of my character, coupled with heavy prayer, saved my ass. Yes, I walked in that courtroom with my college transcript and actual degrees, a copy of my book, and my enlistment papers in my purse. I came prepared with I’m-really-an-upstanding-citizen receipts to fight those charges! They put me in the pre-trial diversion program, and said the charges would be dropped and my record expunged if I successfully completed it. I had to pay an $875 fine, do 24 hours of community service, write biweekly emails about my progress in the program to Kay Taylor Gilley, the pre-trial diversion program director, attend 15 one hour AA meetings, and get a signature from the head session sponsor each time I went.
Hello. My name is Jennifer, and I’m an alcoholic… but I’m really just here to clear a dope charge. Can you sign this please? Thannnnks…’preciate it.
I contacted Staffmark, and they were able to put me in a two month temp position working for the Arkansas Board of Education as a Human Resources Assistant. Since I knew that job wouldn’t last long, I also snagged a part time job at Dillard’s inside Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock working in the Ladies Shoes department which later turned into a full time job. Life is funny as fuck, ain’t it? I worked there from September 2008 to April 2009. I was the #1 seller in November 2008 to February 2009, and #2 seller in March and April 2009 averaging about $40,000 a month in sales – give or take. I made $10 an hour plus commission, and my commission checks were always more than my regular paychecks. Mom still made me give her $400 plus a month to live at her house. Michael, of course, was still living there rent free, and Jocelyn would leave New York in December 2008 and move back in, too, rent free. The gang’s all here. Break out the 40s!
By April 2009, I had saved almost $4,000. Mom would pick fights with me about money and get mad when I would come home with a brand new pair of heels that I got on discount from my job or when I came in with food from a restaurant. She was really pissed when I bought myself a brand new HP Pavilion laptop for Christmas. There was one time in November 2008 when I didn’t have any cash on hand and was running late for church. I asked her can I borrow $20 so I wouldn’t have to go to the bank. I think she got mad at me because I asked her for that much, but she gave it to me anyway. I told her I would pay her back the next day as I had to go to work after church. The next morning I was about to go for a walk across The Big Dam Bridge when Michael alerted mom and me that her name was in the local paper for delinquent personal property taxes. Feeling ashamed for the family, I went for my walk then went to the Arkansas Revenue office and paid the balance in full. It was a little over $380. After that, I went to McDonald's for a breakfast sandwich and came back home. When I walked in with food, mom was sitting on the couch in the den watching the news. With a snarl, she looked up and asked me did I have her $20 that I borrowed the day before. I told her I had something better and handed her a folded up sheet of paper out of my purse. As she opened it looking confused, she asked, “What is this?” It was the receipt for her taxes. She looked at me and said with a slight attitude, “Thanks, but you didn’t have to do that.” She then folded the paper back up, put it on the table in front of her and went back to watching TV.
Five months after that occurred, she kicked me out of her house again. She would take back her car keys from me forcing me to be late to work at Dillard’s. Jocelyn was using her own car at the time, so I had to call Da’Vida who lived across town to come and get me. She would drive pass my job to come to mom’s house just to drive back to Dillard’s to drop me off and go back home. This happened for about a week, and every time I would try to go to work and use her car because she said I could – and this is what I had been doing since I came back home – she would start an argument with me, and then take the keys. I got fed up with her picking fights about absolutely nothing. I got fed up with being late. And I got fed up with asking Da’Vida for rides to work because she was going through her own problems with her mom being sick, and I didn’t want to put my issues on her so I told my boss on April 4th that today would be my last day. He expressed his disappointment in me for not putting in a two weeks’ notice, and because he was losing his best seller. I really didn’t have a choice. On April 22, 2009, I departed Little Rock for New York – this time by plane. Da’Vida and my mom dropped me off at the airport, and we even took pictures which was really awkward and weird. I wasn’t expecting mom to come see me off nor did I ask her to. I could tell by the look on mom’s face that she didn’t want to be there, and I’m still not sure why she chose to be there. Maybe she felt guilty. Destiny would have it that I wouldn’t stay in New York long either. It wasn’t even three weeks before I was back in Little Rock. To save money until I found a job and stable housing, I returned to Turning Point Brooklyn when I got to NYC. Bedbugs got the best of me, and I went to Kings County hospital in Brooklyn for treatment. I was covered in bites, shame, and hydrocortisone cream. I looked like a fucking hot ass mess, and I felt even worse. For the first time, I did not want to be in New York. Not like this. This can’t be life.
“Mama, I need to come home… again”
This time coming home was a bit different. Da’Vida picked me up from the airport, and we were both hungry so we went to IHOP. When I finally arrived home, my mom really took pity on me. Or maybe it was the nurse side of her that did. I had pinkish welts and sores all up and down the left side of my face and body. I went to the doctor several times over the next few months. Thankfully, I had not contracted any diseases from the bites – one of my biggest concerns besides scarring. I slathered myself with aloe vera and cocoa butter lotion every day, multiple times a day. I barely wanted to go outside. On one rare day when I did venture out, I went with Da’Vida to Fletcher library. Da’Vida’s mom had been in hospice care for the last couple of weeks, and it was at the library when Da’Vida received a call that her mom had just died. It was really a rough time, and I was completely depressed and disillusioned with life. I regularly spent whatever savings I had left on fatty food, gunja, and alcohol.
It took me four months to find a job, and just as long for my dark brown bedbug scars to begin to fade. I needed a creative outlet to be inspired so I took an after school position working with UALR Children’s International as a Creative Writing Instructor at Wilson Elementary. Between September 2009 and January 2010, I didn’t have to pay my mom rent because I didn’t make enough money. If I remember correctly, the after school job paid $15 an hour, and I only worked 8 hours a week. It was basically enough to pay my cell phone bill each month, occasionally indulge in my vices, and continue my horrible diet. That January, I got a second job with the U.S. Census. I was a Recruiting Assistant and Enumerator. The job paid well and lasted until August 2010. The after school job with UALR Children’s International ended in May 2010 when the school year was over. By this time, things were even going well with mom. Can you fucking believe it? I gave her a card and $1,000 for Mother’s Day 2010, and had already started paying her rent again. Whenever she was hungry, I bought whatever food she wanted and took it to her job. I never asked her to pay me back even on the few occasions when she tried to reimburse me. Because we were on better terms, she let me use her car – argument free. I made sure I kept the gas tank full, got the oil changed, and the car detailed regularly since I was doing a lot of driving for my job counting the residents of Little Rock. I was doing everything I could to keep the peace.
In July 2010, my mother’s side of the family planned a family reunion in Orlando, Florida. This had been in the works for months dating back to October 2009 when I traveled to Atlanta for an interview with the Hawks and Thrashers for an inside sales position and finally met my older cousin, Day-Day. I didn’t get the job, but we did make solid plans to meet up again soon, and we wanted all the family involved. I purchased my plane ticket and hotel room in May 2010. When July rolled around and everyone was preparing to descend on Orlando, my mom, brother, and sister didn’t have the funds to go. My brother and sister talked me into giving my plane ticket and hotel reservation to mom and suggested I drive her car down to Orlando with them since she had been letting me use it regularly anyway without issue. Being the generous (to a fault) person that I am wanting everyone to go to the reunion, I agreed and paid $150 to transfer my plane ticket to mom. I even paid for the gas round-trip for the eight hour drive to Atlanta to meet up with Day-Day and his family, and the subsequent six hour drive from Atlanta to Orlando and back to Little Rock. I still had to get a hotel room when I got down there since I didn’t have anywhere to stay, and mom agreed to pay for a room for me and Jocelyn while Michael stayed with Day-Day’s dad, Uncle David. The four day family reunion was amazing! Everyone had a great time, and we all came back to Little Rock on Cloud 9. Well, that is until that cloud dissipated and storm clouds appeared less than a month later.
“Vegas baby, Vegas!”
My 24th birthday was spent in a shelter in Brooklyn. For my 25th birthday, I was broke, unemployed and still recovering from bedbug bites in Little Rock. For my 26th birthday, I was going all out! I wanted to go to LAS VEGAS! The thing is, although I had a cousin living in Vegas, I didn’t want to go by myself. Jocelyn had never been on a plane before, and I really wanted her to come with me. So I talked things over with mom, and she agreed to pay for Jocelyn’s plane ticket to Vegas with a bigger than expected loan she had received from the credit union for the purchase of a new water heater. With the loan, she had recently bought Michael a truck, and Jocelyn asked for braces and was in the process of getting them. All I wanted was for her to do something for someone else for me so I could really enjoy my birthday. As August 13th drew near, I continuously asked mom about purchasing Jocelyn’s ticket. I told her I wanted us on the same flights and our seats together since Jocelyn had never flown before. Each time we spoke, she basically blew me off and said she would pay for it. It was now August 10th, and of course ticket prices are much higher as you get closer to the date you want to depart. My goal was to get the earliest flight out on Friday, August 13th, and fly back to Little Rock on Sunday, August 15th. When I asked mom, yet again, about paying for Jocelyn’s ticket, she got mad for no reason, and said she wasn’t going to pay for it.
I was so angry! I just paid to have my plane ticket switched to her name so she could see her family that she hadn’t seen in over 30 years, and she couldn’t do this for me after she had promised me for weeks she would?! I guess she thought by not purchasing Jocelyn’s ticket, she was going to wreck my birthday plans, but I quickly bought two round trip tickets, made hotel reservations at the Rivieria, and arranged for a cab to pick us up at 5am on the 13th. The plane tickets, hotel, and cab fare cost a little over $1,700. When she found out we were still going, she was beyond pissed. The morning I turned 26, the cab arrived and we were headed for the door. Mom stopped me and said, “Here is $50. You can use it to pay for the cab ride.” I took her money, said it was already taken care of, and walked out the door. Thanks, but no thanks... I'll still take it though.
Jocelyn and I had so much fun in Las Vegas! Our cousin, Wendy, took us on a tour. We hung out at her house, saw American Storm Revue at the V Theater at Planet Hollywood, smoked at a hookah bar, ate good and drank even better, swam at the pool at our hotel, walked the Vegas strip, saw an Elvis impersonator, took plenty of pictures and just had a ball! This birthday definitely made up for my last two shitty birthdays, and I was so grateful to God that everything worked out. When we returned home from Vegas, Michael picked us up from the airport and mom was waiting at home. When I showed her the souvenirs I purchased, a Vegas key chain and an ashtray with my name on it, she asked, “What did you get me?”
It took me a second to even register the question. She didn’t ask Jocelyn what she got her from Vegas. She asked me. After all she put me through… was she serious? I’m the motherfucking birthday girl! I wanted to tell her, “I wasn’t supposed to get your ass any got damn thing! It’s MY birthday! The fuck, Linda?!” As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I came back to my good God-given senses and remembered I also bought a mug that was actually half the size of a regular mug. It read on the outside, “This is all I could afford to get you after I gambled everything away in Vegas.” I handed it to her. She gave it a quick glance and said, “I need some help around here. I need some money.” On the first of the month, I had just given her $400. What happened to the loan she just got? She didn’t use it to help me, and Jocelyn never got her braces. The Vegas high was officially gone, and the party was over. I could barely put my bags down and go take a piss before she was already asking for money. With her, it’s ALWAYS about money. Things only got worse from there.
“Fuck it! Let’s go to New York”
While in Vegas, Jocelyn promised she would take me to see “Eat Pray Love”, a film of self-discovery starring one of my faves, Julia Roberts, once we got back to Little Rock. Befittingly, the movie was released on my birthday. We saw it the following weekend with one of my friends. During that time, my brother had a new girlfriend, and she had a young child. He noticed that his girlfriend didn’t have much food in her refrigerator, and she couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. Obviously, he couldn’t afford to buy her food either because he was chronically broke even with a steady job at UALR. He asked mom if she could come over and have dinner at our house which had food in abundance. Mom basically hoarded food to the point we had so much we would have to throw some of it away because it would rot. We just couldn’t eat it all, and I never understood why mom bought so much plus the vegetables we had from her garden. It was actually quite disgusting the amount of food we wasted. Mom agreed to let Michael’s girlfriend come over, but she wanted the house cleaned. That meant me and Jocelyn would have to clean the house which we regularly did anyway.
Mom not only hoarded food, she also hoarded old newspapers and bills, magazines, junk mail and just a bunch of stuff in general – all of which she didn’t want us to touch. If she came home from work, and noticed a stack of magazines or newspapers or some other old shit missing, she would throw a bitch fit. So we stacked it all neatly, as we always did, on the two end tables and coffee table, cleaned the rest of the house, and we left to go to the movie. The next morning, Jocelyn and I got up and went to the kitchen to get coffee. Out of nowhere, mom busted in the kitchen and yelled, “LADIES!” We were startled. It was way too early for arguments and foolishness. She was upset about the house not being cleaned to her standards. In reality, the house was very clean – as clean as it could be. She was just upset about all the shit she hoarded, that she told us not to touch, making the house look cluttered. Another argument erupted, and the unbearable tension lasted for a week. My brother’s girlfriend never came over for dinner, and mom was now mad at all three of us... because of stacked papers. Seriously. After some words were exchanged between her and my brother, she kicked all of us out and changed the locks on the doors. Yep, I was homeless yet again.
This time, I truly, thoroughly had enough. This time, I had reached my threshold of bullshit, and I was completely over it. I checked us into a hotel room at La Quinta Inn, went into the bathroom, and just cried my eyes out. It was a heart-wrenching, spirit-crushing, soul-churning, snot-inducing, I’m-so-sick-of-this-shit, I-just-want-peace-and-a-career, why-can’t-I-move-forward-and-have-a-normal-life, what-now-Lord, come-to-Jesus-moment kind of cry. I was probably in there for ten full minutes before Jocelyn realized I had finally broken down. She came in, comforted me, and told me everything would be OK. It definitely didn’t feel like that though. What do I do now? How the fuck did I get here again? This time, I gave myself an ultimatum.
Jennifer, you are going to New York. You will buy two Greyhound bus tickets for you and your sister, gather what little belongings that are scattered around the hotel room that you were able to retrieve before mom changed the locks, and you will take your Black ass back up to New York and never look back. I don’t give a fuck what happens to you when you get there. You have no home to come back to. New York is now your new home. Failure is not a fucking option, so figure it out!
That day was August 29, 2010. A few days before, on the 26th, I chopped off all my permed hair and went natural. I decided to finally cut off a bunch of dead ends, literally and figuratively. We left Little Rock the night of August 30th. My brother stayed in Little Rock. I remember the song “Deuces” by Chris Brown playing on the radio in my brother’s truck as we got out and headed to board the bus. How incredibly fitting. We arrived in New York City in the early morning hours of Wednesday, September 1, 2010. It was the best decision I ever made…