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About the Author
David Ritz is the author of What I Know For Sure, co-written with Tavis Smiley. He has also collaborated with Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Laila Ali, and B.B. King on their life stories. He has won a Grammy, a Deems Taylor ASCAP award, four Rolling Stone/Ralph J. Gleason book awards and is the co-composer of "Sexual Healing." He lives in Los Angeles.
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By Thompson-Hairston, Jemeker
Grand Central PublishingCopyright © 2010 Thompson-Hairston, Jemeker
All right reserved.
There’s nothing better to start my day than a bubble bath.
A warm bubble bath always clears my head and calms my nerves. As long as I’m in the tub, my body is relaxed, my mind calm, my emotions at ease, and my soul at peace. I’m on the top floor of a luxury South Beach Miami hotel, overlooking the beautiful turquoise blue of the ocean.
Last night, I ended up with a man whose bed I left just hours ago—a one-night stand with one of the Kansas City Chiefs. I don’t care if I ever hear from him again. Last night wasn’t about him, it was all about me.
Suddenly the phone rings.
My eyes open and my stomach feels ill.
I used to be happy when the phone rang. A ringing phone meant business was good. Now it makes me wonder if they know where I am.
I’m alone and confused and unwilling to admit it. I’m not living in the deepest part of my mind. Instead, I’m living on the surface and skating over thin ice. I’m holding on to control because they’ve been chasing me. I’ve been running so that I can’t be caught. Being caught is not an option. There are no mistakes allowed. They can make mistakes. But I can’t. As long as I stay in control, I keep my freedom.
I listen to the phone ring. Could be the front desk and could be the Feds. All I know is that no one should be calling me here. So much for relaxation; my therapy session is over.
I climb out of the tub and begin to dress myself: Bob Mackie suit, Maud Frizon pumps, gold Rolex, diamond tennis bracelet, imported Italian wig. Everything that I’m not wearing is packed and ready to go.
The phone continues to ring and the gears in my head continue to turn.
If it’s the front desk calling, they don’t know I’m in this room. If it’s somebody else, I don’t know what they know.
I have several aliases, each with a matching ID and credit card: Jann Quinn, Wanda Jones, Lisa Jones, and the one I’ve got with me—Tami Jones. The IDs say everything but Jemeker Mosley, whom the FBI wants for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, money laundering, and I don’t know what else.
I know what I’ve done.
If they know, it means life without parole.
I’m not going out like that. They’ll have to kill me to catch me.
One thing at a time, I tell myself. Get it together. Make it to the airport. Keep moving. The important thing is not to panic.
I grab the rest of my belongings from the nightstand but the last item stops me cold. It’s a photograph of a happy, smiling nine-year-old boy. He looks just like Jane, Tami, Wanda, Lisa, and Jemeker. It’s the only thing they all have in common—a beautiful son named Anthony.
Seeing his picture takes me back to happier times. Back to before they were chasing me. The memories flood my mind—the first time Anthony called me “Mama,” his first birthday party, the first time my baby told me he loved me.
Get it together, Jemeker.
I usually don’t mix what I feel and what I do. But when I see my baby, it’s difficult—I haven’t held him in my arms in six months. We used to be inseparable—wherever I went, he went. Now he stays with my mother, where he can go to school and have a normal life, not like mine. But Lord knows I miss my son.
When I call, it always ends the same:
“I miss you, Mom.”
“I miss you too, baby. And I’ll be there soon.”
“That’s what you said last time—when you said you’d come to Granny’s for Christmas. Then it was Easter. When are you coming home?”
By the time he’s in tears, I’m asking myself how I’ll ever make it up to him. I can live with everything I’ve done except for this.
But Jemeker can’t go home.
Once a week, the Feds case the office where Jemeker built up her hair business. They can’t open the books or the cash box because it’s a legitimate company, but they can stake it out, which is exactly what they do. And when they aren’t doing that, they’re at my mother’s house, harassing her as well.
“Where’s your daughter, Missus Johnson?”
“I don’t know. Same as the last time you came around.”
“Do you know that your daughter is one of the biggest cocaine dealers in America?”
That’s the message my mother relays when I call her. She says that the Feds are asking about me.
“And what did you say?”
“The truth. I don’t know your business.”
“Did you get the money I sent?” I ask.
It’s quiet for a moment. “Anthony’s sixth grade graduation is the day after tomorrow,” she says, then adds, “He wants you to be there.”
I could keep running forever.
That’s what I think ten minutes after I hang up the phone. I could keep changing my identity as long as necessary. I have friends, connections, and unlimited money. As long as I’m still Jemeker from the Game, I’ll always be a queen. I could even walk out of my life and never look back. I could forget about everything and everyone I’ve ever known and run. But then I reach in my purse and look at my baby’s picture and that notion evaporates. I have a moment of clarity.
I’m separated from my son. He doesn’t understand why. I know the embarrassment and shame he feels because my mom tells me so. I’ve been selfish, trying to control my life, even if it means I might ruin Anthony’s. It’s just too much. I know the risk if I show up, but it’s worth it for my son.
I call a cab and go to the airport.
The lady behind the counter asks me where I’d like to go.
Tami hands over her credit card.
“Los Angeles, please.”
Jemeker is going home.
Six hours later, I’m back in Los Angeles, safe in a town house I keep in Westchester. It’s not much to look at from the outside—and you’ll never see me coming or going through the front door—but the inside is laid out. I lock the dead bolts, set the alarm, and draw the shades.
I’m safe for the moment.
Remember why you’re here.
I start thinking about what needs to be done. Lisa Jones wants to pay the car note, rent, and utilities. Jane Quinn wants to work out. At the gym, just when she’s about to complete her workout on the sit-up bench, a man asks, “How many sets do you have left?”
“I’ve just started.”
“Mind if my friends and I work in?”
“Not at all.”
Three gentlemen and I take turns using the bench. When we are through, they invite me to lunch. It turns out they are all police officers. It might sound like I’m playing with fire, but I’m not nervous. I feel safe among my new friends, knowing that this is the last place the Feds will look for me.
Back at my apartment, I take a nap to clear my head and fall into a dream. I’m not normally a dreamer and I don’t remember them when they happen, but this one is different. Actually, it doesn’t feel like a dream at all—it looks and feels like real life.
I’m at the gym. I’m working out. Working hard to work through my problems, like lifting weights will clear my head again. Except the harder I try, the harder it is to concentrate.
Did I tell the cops I was Lisa or Jane?
Which days do I work out?
What day is it today?
What do I do after this workout?
I wake up and try to shake the dream—forget the gym, the police, and whatever day it is. I can always run again.
Again, remember why you’re here, Jemeker.
The graduation is tomorrow. That still leaves tonight to party. I call my friend Sumer—we go all the way back to high school—and my younger brother Fernando and tell them we’re going out tonight.
Sumer shows up with Fernando around eleven thirty. She’s smart about it: she drives around the block three times to make sure nobody’s following, then pulls in the alley and pages me on my beeper. I walk out the back and get in the passenger seat and we drive off.
On the way downtown to a club called Safe Sex, I tell Fernando, “Pass me the Hennessy bottle and the joint.”
Fernando is shocked. I don’t ever drink or smoke. But tonight I don’t care.
Even when I’m high and drunk, I can’t stop thinking about my baby. His first wobbly steps. His first birthday party at the house on Fifty-fourth and Western—where I turned the whole yard into a carnival. His first graduation from preschool. The first time he called me “Mama.”
I try to control my thoughts to escape those familiar feelings of pain.
My mind is still spinning when we arrive at the club.
“Girl, look at this line,” Sumer says. “Do what you do.”
We walk to the front, past the players, hustlers, and wannabes. Some I recognize. Some I don’t. But they all know me. When we hit the door, the head bouncer simply peels the velvet rope back. I don’t have to say a word.
Once inside, I numb the memories of everything I’m trying to forget. Hours later, I choose a Mr. Right Now to go home with. Sumer follows me to his place. I’m not there long. I don’t know if he got his, but I got mine, and that’s all that matters.
This time, when I return home and fall asleep, I don’t dream.
I come around the next morning at nine thirty. Graduation’s at ten thirty.
Hold it together, Jemeker. Come up with a plan: 1. Take a shower. 2. Get to the school by noon to catch the end of the ceremony. 3. Take Anthony to Benihana. 4. Hit the road again by nighttime… maybe Vegas, maybe Detroit, maybe back to Miami, maybe Atlanta.
After my shower I pick out a black linen Donna Karan dress—nothing flashy. I think twice about wearing a wig and decide against it, choosing some gold-rimmed Chanel glasses with extra dark lenses instead. Then I go to the flower shop, where I pick out two dozen yellow roses for Anthony.
On the way to school, I pray: God, let everything go smooth today. Don’t let any of my wrongs affect my son. Whatever happens, watch over and protect us.
God has always had my back.
I’m the most blessed lady I know.
But even with my prayer, my heart’s hammering inside my chest. I’m so close to seeing my baby. I’ve still got both eyes peeled for police, Feds, helicopters, anyone following me. Can’t slip now. I am not making any mistakes today, June 29, 1993.
I have to see Anthony.
I need to hold my baby in my arms.
I get to Cowan Elementary at noon. I park in front of the school and walk toward the auditorium, keeping my head down. The graduation’s over and there are kids and parents out front.
Everything’s going to be fine…
I can’t see Anthony but he sees me.
“Mom!” he yells.
I hear my baby’s voice…
But as soon as I turn my head, a strong hand grabs my left arm. I look up to see a handsome light-skinned man with nice hair, dressed like a distinguished gentleman.
“Come quietly,” he says as he walks me back toward the street. “There’s a lot of kids here.”
He’s so smooth in his approach, he might as well be my escort. But my heart stops cold and falls into the pit of my stomach.
I look back, lock eyes with Sumer’s, and wave her off with my right hand. She knows exactly what I mean: Don’t come near me, girl. Go get Anthony. Don’t let my son see this.
Soon as we get to the curb, another agent in a tweed coat takes my other arm.
This is it.
I look into my son’s eyes and know what he’s thinking:
Mommy’s being arrested.
They walk me down the block, around the corner, and out of sight. Undercover police are coming out of the woodwork. Anthony, Sumer, and Mama Lera, Sumer’s mother, follow at a distance. Sumer takes my baby in her arms. She tries to calm him down but it’s no use. All three of them are crying.
Suddenly, I remember I have five thousand dollars, the keys to my car, Jane’s ID, and a couple credit cards in my purse.
The ID and the cards are another case.
I throw it to Mama Lera.
A policeman dressed like a janitor goes after the purse. Mama Lera clutches it to her chest and starts screaming at him: “You ain’t getting this purse!!” The janitor threatens to arrest her and she screams, “Then we’re ALL gonna go to jail!!” After that, she’s on a roll: “You don’t know who she is!” and “She didn’t do nothing!” and “Y’all can’t do this!” and a whole lot of other stuff a lady shouldn’t say. She’s yelling so loud and cussing so bad in her island patois, I wonder if they’re going to arrest her too.
She doesn’t know what’s going on.
The handsome light-skinned agent tells the janitor to let the purse go. I ask him if I can say good-bye to Anthony. He says yes. I move to take my son in my arms.
“I’m so proud of you,” I whisper softly.
I will not cry.
Jemeker, you WILL not cry in front of your son, these police, or anyone else.
“You made it,” he says. Holding my baby feels so good, I don’t ever want to let him go. For this one moment, everything’s okay.
But then I feel the handsome light-skinned agent’s hand on my shoulder again. “It’s time to go, Missus Mosley.”
I’m still staring at my baby’s face as they take me back and read me my rights. Feels like I’m dreaming again. I can’t take my eyes off Anthony as he starts screaming, “I want my mommy!! I want my mommy!!” and he won’t stop looking at me. My lips move—I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry—but they don’t make any sound. My guts turn inside out. I feel dead.
The Feds hustle me into the back seat of a government car. Sumer yells something about calling a lawyer as they shut the door. I toss and turn to look behind me as the car pulls away from the curb. I can see the tears streaming down my baby’s cheeks.
BEFORE THE GAME
EVICTED When I was eight years old, spring arrived early. I remember coming home from school one day to the sound of the baby birds crying in the trees, crying so loudly I knew something was wrong. In my little-girl mind, I imagined those baby birds were crying for their mommy to come home and make everything okay. Looking back, I think I was scared my mother could not take care of me. It was easy to think, especially on that afternoon in May when me and my three brothers were standing in front of the little house on Sycamore Avenue that our mother rented. We were standing there because we had been evicted. The sun was shining and the baby birds were crying their hearts out up in the big avocado tree behind our house. As a crew of workers carried our stuff out the front door, the man who owned the house fired up a chain saw to trim that tree and clean the property up for somebody else. I just stood there, listening and watching. An old car sputtered by. Across the street, a squeaky screen door kept opening and slapping shut. Neighbors came by and stared but no one offered to help. At one point, I saw my friend Connie’s mother look into my eyes, then look away, like there was nothing she could do. Like she was afraid we were going to ask her for help. I could see the fear and humiliation in her eyes, but she wasn’t the one out on the curb. “Where’s your mom?” she asked me. “At work,” I replied. “Help me! Help me!” I imagined the baby birds saying over the chain saw. Were they going to lose their home too? Something told me they could cry all they wanted but it was no use. Just like them, there wasn’t anything I could do. Standing out there, exposed and ashamed, we might as well have had a sign over our heads that read Homeless. By now, the movers had put everything we owned out on the lawn: the furniture my mom and dad used to have card parties with. The dishes my brothers and I used for meals. The TV we used to watch Saturday morning cartoons—where would we plug it in now? The record player, my little pink bike with the white basket, all my toys… even my favorite dress draped over the rosebush with the newly blossomed little yellow buds. Everything. The note on the door said it all: Immediate Eviction. I guess Mom didn’t have the money to pay the rent. I stood out there, naked to the world, hearing those little babies crying, “Help me! Help me!” and thought about them in that big avocado tree. I wondered if they had family they could stay with. I wondered if their mother could find them another place to live. I wondered if she would get back to them before the man with the chain saw did. Where was their mom? Was she out trying to get them food? Did she know they were being evicted? Was she going to save her babies? I flat out hated the whole thing. Hated not knowing where we were going to go, hated not knowing what we were going to do next. Hated not being able to do anything about it. Hated knowing my mom worked so hard and we still didn’t have enough.
Excerpted from Queen Pin by Thompson-Hairston, Jemeker Copyright © 2010 by Thompson-Hairston, Jemeker. Excerpted by permission.
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