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About the Author
Lateysha Grace appeared on a British reality television series called The Valleys.
Read an Excerpt
The Autobiography of Lateysha Grace
By Lateysha Grace
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2015 Lateysha Grace
All rights reserved.
BACK TO THE OLD SKOOL
In the words of my idol Beyoncé 'let's take it from the top' and start at the very beginning of my humble story. The Lateysha you all know and love was born to my mother, Deborah Grace, and my estranged father, Leroy Henry, on 25 November 1992. I was officially named Lateysha Naomi Henry, but as you will come to read I've had some troubling times with my father and so I decided to use the name Lateysha Grace instead, to honour my mother.
Why my mum was ever interested in my dad is beyond me, but I understand she was only twenty and very naïve when she first met him. Originally from Port Talbot, Mum moved to Birmingham one summer for work. She was working in a jeweller's and had been having a few drinks in a pub called Rosie O'Grady's when my dad took a shine to her.
Mum has always been a good-looking girl. Long brown hair, sexy green eyes, a button nose and a petite frame ensured she was never short of male attention. As the story goes, she was strutting her stuff on the way out of the bar when out the corner of her eye she saw this car slow down. Leroy was so taken with this beautiful young woman he approached her and asked for her number. My mum was flattered, as any woman would be, and after Leroy had worked his charm on her, she agreed to give him her digits. Just like that. A few days later he took her out on a date and it all happened from there, very quickly. When I think about it now, a man with that kind of confidence is usually a player; they will try their luck with all sorts of girls. For those guys, picking up chicks is like firing loads of bullets; in the end you are bound to get one or two targets.
When my mum and Leroy got together he already had two kids with another woman, a fact that surely ought to have set alarm bells ringing in Mum's head, but it didn't. I guess she fell for him and his smarming pretty hard. Mum met his kids a few times and did her best to be cool with the situation until one day, when she found a note pushed through her door with photos attached. It seemed another woman was claiming to have had a child with my dad and he was refusing to believe it was his. This other lady had tried to get in contact with Leroy many times, but for whatever reason he didn't want to know her and wasn't there for his new son. Probably because he had someone else occupying his time now – my mum.
I couldn't say they were love's young dream or anything because all I ever hear from anybody is that they weren't in a very good relationship. My mum says Leroy wasn't very trustworthy: he was sneaky with his phone and his movements, which made her wary of him and meant she could never fully believe what he said to her. But despite turbulent times just a few months after they had met, she fell pregnant with me. The situation wasn't ideal, but at no point did Leroy ever say he wouldn't support her, so she agreed to keep me despite being only a tender twenty -year-old and earning a pitiful wage.
Five months into the pregnancy, Mum finally realised Leroy was a useless waste of space because he was cheating on her with other women and sleeping around. One night, after they had had yet another blazing row, she made the tough decision to leave him and move back to Neath, South Wales, to live with her dad, my Grandpa Michael. My grandma had moved away when they separated.
Upping sticks like that mid-pregnancy was daunting. Times were tough for Mum, her whole world had been turned completely upside down. Now she had no job, no boyfriend, no money, no fixed address; in other words, no stability. She once told me she would wake up every day panicked about the future and because of this she became terribly anxious and deeply depressed. Hearing all this as an adult saddens me beyond belief. I can just imagine my young mum being scared and alone. And not enough credit goes to these women. No one goes out there wishing to be a single mother, but sometimes it happens because men decide not to be fathers.
When she finally went into labour with me, she had virtually no one around for support and in the end she had to call one of her old friends to coach her through the birth. By all accounts it was a dreadful delivery; for a full twenty-four hours Mum was in screaming labour, until eventually out I popped into the world.
When the nurse handed me over to my exhausted mother, Mum says she looked down at me and couldn't quite believe how ugly I was! After all that agony she had just been through, this hideous baby was the result of the pain and suffering. I had no hair, I was all crinkled up, with a huge head, and weighing in at a pretty hefty 8lb 13oz. We have a laugh about it now but when she tells me I looked like a little gargoyle, I don't believe her. I categorically refuse to think I was anything but a cherub.
After my birth, my father Leroy had very little to do with me. In fact, the first time he saw me, at four months old, he was convinced I was a white baby and completely denied I was his. It wasn't until I was a little older, around eight months, when my skin began to darken, he turned round and said, 'Ah, now she looks a lot like my son.' To this day, I don't think he even apologised to my mum for saying I wasn't his. Cheap shot, if you ask me.
Mum didn't take to motherhood like some women do and even though she loved me she admits bringing me up was extremely difficult for her. I think a lot of it was down to her situation. She was still living with her dad at the time, but they had a very strained relationship. He wasn't happy about my mum having a baby so young and distanced himself from her, despite them living together. It must have been awful for Mum. She had literally no one to help her out, financially or emotionally. I can't begin to imagine how challenging life must have been for her back then.
Mum kept in contact with my dad and updated him on how I was when I was younger, whether he wanted to know or not. But it wasn't until I was about four that my warring parents decided to mend some bridges. Mum arranged for me to be babysat by my auntie Paula, so she could go to Birmingham to see Leroy. She says her reasons for going were so she could make peace with him, build a relationship and, hopefully, make my life easier. Even though he had so far been a disinterested douche, Mum didn't want me to grow up never knowing anything about my real father, so you can't blame her for wanting to go and visit.
Incredibly, when my mum and dad met up again they got on like a house on fire. Gone were all the arguments and ill feelings. Instead they spent the whole night chatting about me and how I was growing up so fast. The undeniable chemistry and Leroy's unfailing charm, which had been there when they first met, was back. I suppose you could say one thing led to another and you've guessed it, they slept together again.
Leroy must have some pretty powerful swimmers because that one night of wild passion led to my brother Regan being conceived. Mum was stunned. It's not like she planned to get pregnant, but she reasoned that she and Leroy had got on so well that evening, maybe there could be a future. But come on, let's be honest – Leroy already had four kids he wasn't bothered about, so why would he care now?
At first to me the idea of having a new baby brother was unthinkable. I didn't want to be vying for my mum's attention and competing for her affections with another child. But as soon as Regan was born, in December 1996, I was totally smitten. I loved him more than I could ever have imagined and today we have an unbreakable bond that no one can deny.
Like I said, things never worked out with Leroy and Mum despite her now having two children with him. She tried her best to involve him in our lives but he wasn't interested. Not that it bothered me – I didn't care because I didn't know any different. But I remember Mum crying over the rejection many times and she became very depressed and miserable. She never envisaged this was how her life was going to be; when Leroy said he would support her, she believed him. All her future dreams had been shattered, so I guess she was allowed to be depressed. Had it been me I wouldn't have been able to cope at all. My mum doesn't really like speaking about that time much because it brings back many bad memories. She's told me in the past she 'wished my upbringing had been better', but she was so sick at the time. Depression is a horrible illness, and just because you can't see it doesn't mean it should be taken any less seriously than something like self-harming.
No kid ever wants to see their mum upset and some of my earliest memories revolve around her tears, which in itself says a lot about my childhood. But back then, to be honest, I preferred it that Leroy was out of the picture. We didn't need him, we would be absolutely fine, just Mum, Regan and me – they were my whole world.
If only it could have stayed that way.CHAPTER 2
As you've probably guessed, times changed fairly quickly after Regan was born and even though I was selfishly content with our little family trio, my mum wasn't. Don't forget she was still a young woman, only twenty-six, with two small kids to look after. She's never been one of those downtrodden, scummy mummies, either. Mum has always been a looker even when she was pushing a pram and doing the big shop. Wherever she went, she garnered attention and it wasn't long before another man was wooing her.
When I was five, Mum met a new guy called John, who started off great. He was so friendly whenever Regan and me were around and we were pleased he was in our life. It was only after a few months of knowing each other that Mum and us moved in with him. And a couple of months after that she was pregnant again. You can imagine how fuming I was about that: it had taken me a good while to get used to having a little brother, but now my mum was having another child to add to her brood.
She didn't find the pregnancy easy, and neither did Regan and me, but after nine exhausting months, she finally gave birth to my sister Paris in November 1997. Both Mum and John completely doted on this new little girl. I felt kind of pushed out when she came along because Mum, John and Paris were one family unit, and because Regan and I had a different dad, we seemed like outsiders.
I know that feeling wasn't in my own head, either. I'm not just saying all this for effect; that's how we were made to feel, especially by John. Because Regan and I weren't his children, he didn't love us in the same way he loved his own child, if he ever loved us at all.
I don't want to unnecessarily slag the guy off because he is still my sister's father and all credit where it's due, he has been a very good father to her. I can't take that away from him, but I can only tell you about my impression of him and it's not a very good one.
My overriding feelings about John were that he was a mean person. I knew it from the way he would look at me, scold me and become frustrated by me. After all, I was only a six-year-old girl who should have been enjoying her childhood, but I was completely intimidated and frightened by this man.
Regan and me were treated so differently from Paris. Even though she was only a baby, Paris had a massive bedroom to herself, while my brother and I were made to share a bland box room, which had no decoration or anything. It was like the room where you stash all your junk when you can't be bothered to throw it out, with a bed for us to sleep in. Where I come from it's not unusual to share a bedroom with your brother or sister, though – many of the families struggled to cope without much money or opportunity knocking around.
Despite being so young I was still old enough to know when we weren't welcome. Most nights, we would be made to eat our food off plates on the stairs, while John, my mum and my sister Paris would be all eating at the table. It was being excluded like that which made us feel unwanted and it's a horrible feeling to have in your own home.
I know what you're probably all thinking: 'Why didn't you tell your Mum about the way you were feeling, Lateysha?' So let me make this clear ... from the beginning my mum and me had quite a cold, frosty relationship. And it has been like that all the way through my life up until about two years ago. I don't think I ever had cuddles, or had her tell me she loved me in the way that most mums do. Our relationship now is much better, but growing up it was very emotionless. I couldn't really speak to my mum about some of the concerns I had about John because I didn't want to upset her even more. Like I told you before, she was suffering with depression. She didn't need me to heap any more grief on her.
Later, John became very abusive to my mother, Regan and me. On more than one occasion I would see him lash out at her, while she cowered against the wall. Other times, I would hear blood-curdling screams, which made me stop in my tracks and I would be forced to listen to him hitting her. Terrified, I would just cry and scream. I hated it when they argued, fearing for the whole house.
We were all frightened of John, especially when he flew into a rage. Unkind and dislikeable, he was also extremely controlling. He was an insecure person and wouldn't even let my mum go to the shops without him questioning exactly where she had been and what she had been doing.
There are so many things I could go into here, but what I remember most was the little things. Like when he would be putting us in the car and fastening our seatbelts, he would pinch our legs hard and tell us not to distract him driving. Or, whenever he walked past us, he would deliberately push us into a wall, making us lose our balance and fall down. Who does that to little kids? His behaviour was bullish, bizarre and nasty for the sake of it.
Of course my mum knew his behaviour was unacceptable but she felt trapped at the time. Also, John could be so nice at times and when he fucked up he would always apologise and say it would never happen again, although it always did. These days my mum stays very quiet on the subject. At the end of the day, he is still Paris's dad and she wouldn't want her to think badly of her father.
Another time, my little brother (who was still wearing nappies) took his nappy off and smeared the contents all over our bedroom wall. Obviously it was gross, but Regan was only young and he didn't know what he was doing. No one discovered what he'd done until the morning and by then you can imagine the smell. Instead of just relaxing and putting it down to kids' behaviour, John went completely berserk. He came into the bedroom, saw what Regan had done and became thoroughly enraged. Grabbing my brother by the arm, he swung him round to face the wall he had soiled. He kept screaming, over and over, 'Look what you've done, you dirty little shit!' My brother began to wail, but I was in a complete state of shock and just froze. I didn't know what to do – I wanted to leap in to defend my brother but I was terrified of what John would do to me too. He beat Regan and it was absolutely heartbreaking to see.
It seems so weird saying I watched John beat my brother, like it was something so matter of fact and regular. I now know that it's not, but when you don't know any different – how would you know that it's not normal to hit your kids?
At that time the whole household was perhaps unsurprisingly not a happy one. In fact, it was terrible. I was glad to go to school because I knew I would be safe there. All my friends used to hate school, but for me it came as a relief, providing an escape from John and his ugly moods. I would literally do anything to get out of that horrible, aggressive environment. I remember once some Jehovah's Witnesses came knocking on the door and tried to speak to my mother about their beliefs. She wasn't interested in what they had to say and told them to leave but I begged them to take me with them on their house calls. They didn't mind and my mother, after seeing how desperately I wanted to go, gave her permission. Of course most mothers wouldn't let their six-year-old girl go off with strangers, but I guess she needed the break from me, too.
Excerpted from Valleywood by Lateysha Grace. Copyright © 2015 Lateysha Grace. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One – Back to the Old Skool,
Chapter Two – New Dad,
Chapter Three – Father Figure,
Chapter Four – Jekyll and Hyde,
Chapter Five – Daddy Cruel,
Chapter Six – Shattered Dreams,
Chapter Seven – Living with the Devil,
Chapter Eight – School Daze,
Chapter Nine – Miracle,
Chapter Ten – Heroin(e),
Chapter Eleven – First Love,
Chapter Twelve – Fisticuffs,
Chapter Thirteen – London Town,
Chapter Fourteen – Fame Calling,
Chapter Fifteen – Tough Choice,
Chapter Sixteen – A New Beginning,
Chapter Seventeen – Valley Life,
Chapter Eighteen – Secret's Out,
Chapter Nineteen – All Alone,
Chapter Twenty – My Day in Court,
Chapter Twenty-one – Backlash,
Chapter Twenty-two – Blasts from the Past,
Chapter Twenty-three – Two's Up,
Chapter Twenty-four – You Beautiful,
Chapter Twenty-five – Third Time's a Charm,
Chapter Twenty-six – Twitter War,
Chapter Twenty-seven – Parisian Dream,
Chapter Twenty-eight – Love Sasha,
Chapter Twenty-nine – Rumour Has It,
Chapter Thirty – Are You Serious?,
Chapter Thirty-one – Welcome to Miami,
Chapter Thirty-two – Amir Khan,
Chapter Thirty-three – Booty Call,