by Essence Bryant, staff reporter
I looked up at my mother as she cried. Her cheeks were wet and glistening and her nose was turning red. She sat on the couch, her phone cradled in her hand and pressed into her ear. It was very rude for me to be eavesdropping like this, but what else was I supposed to do? Watching my mother cry like this hurt me and my siblings more than she could ever understand.
“I’m sick and tired of this…” She yells into the phone. “You know how much I hate to ask you for money…” I frowned softly, uneased by the way her voice cracked, as more tears slipped down her face. It was unnerving to see how stacks of colored paper was worth more than the happiness of my mother, who was always so strong and resilient. Money- if it is, in fact, the root of all evil, then our family never stood a chance.
Because of her eccentric combination of genetics, my mother was always chased after, by men and boys alike. I can remember her recounting the times boys would whistle at her as she walked by and captured their hearts. The boys, who would swoon at her long lashes and die for a feel of her long hair, were the same boys who would brag about who they had shared their beds with, and which girl they had head-over-heels for them. But my mom didn’t know that it was just a game to them.
All she knew was that these boys were sporting the assets she was into; light eyes and a fast talking rhythm. Being pregnant so early in high school, she never got the chance to be a teenager. She had to care for the baby that was to come, and so would her grandfather. Even with the rigid views of her grandfather, with whom she lived with, she still fell under the veil that was teenaged pregnancy, where she thought the love she felt was mutual, even though it was anything but.
This is how I came to be. A pregnant, 15 year old Annie Baker was rushed to the hospital on the first day of her sophomore year, on October 8th, 1997. She was scheduled for a c-section, and at 5:37 pm, a small baby girl was born, her name was Estelle Aaliyah Baker. My father, a twenty-something year old bachelor, didn’t care enough to show his face during or after the procedure. Ever since, it’s always been me, my mom and my siblings against the cruelty of the world.
We’d always had a problem with money and stability, and even now this problem is still as complex. Having to rely on government checks and rent-paying programs became our lives. My mother hopped from job to job, looking for a comfortable setting, which, of course, she never found. And because of the student loans and late payments, getting hired was always a hassle.
I heard the thick sound of my mother continuing to cry and felt a churning in my gut. It sickened me when she cried, especially because the guy she was with didn’t deserve my mother, let alone her tears. He abused her and put her down every time she tried to pick herself up. Annie was constantly having to ask for money, or diapers for her infant baby.
She continued to argue on the phone, insults were traded and curse words were strewn across. “Just give me what you owe, and that will be the end of us.” She said, with a sense of finality. I could see the stress in her eyes and in the way she rubbed her throbbing temples.
As tough as if was for my mother, it was even harder on us. Having to grow up without the luxuries every kid wants or needs. We had to live without the normal experiences like going to camp or taking ballet classes. A day as special as my sixteenth birthday had to come and go because there was nothing we could afford to do but to blow out candles with a few family members. We rarely, if ever, had the chance to choose going to a movie over that night’s dinner.
Its a misfortune I have come to love and respect. With the close proximity of age with my mother, I have a little more ability to talk to her about the things that older parents might be unconcerned about. Like my anxieties, or worrying about school or boys… But it’s not always as easy as that. I often have to watch my brothers and sisters, and it gets in the way of me being able to hang out with my friends when I want to.
Given our dire situation, my mother was doing the best she could with the cards she was dealt. After the phone call was over I came and put my arms around her. “I’m so sorry you have to go through this, I hate being a burden,” I said quietly, my voice muffled by her hair.
“Estelle please, you’re not a burden, you’re my responsibility, and I love you,” She said, her voice lovingly chastising, despite the tears that had previously claimed her cheeks. As I held her tightly I felt her reciprocate the same love in the way she held me.
“I’ll get a job to help you out, Mom,” I said. But then she pulled me away and looked me in the eyes, her hands gripping my shoulders.
“Estelle, you are a smart, beautiful young lady. I am so proud that I raised such an amazing daughter. Don’t ever think that I regret having you so early in my life. To be honest, I am still figuring things out myself, while trying to help you guys too. So just bear with me okay? Having you and your brother and sisters in my life is more than enough. I do not want you to trouble yourself with my burdens. You should be worrying about things like physics tests and prom.” She said, smiling softly. “You just continue being the phenomenal lady you are and let me worry about the rest okay?”
I nodded softly, still keeping myself barricaded in her arms. I knew that it was hard, and in our unique trading of words, I felt a thought flow through me and combine with my principal foundation. It was the thought that no matter how tough it gets, it will only get better if you make it better, and the only only way I could make it up to my mom was to stay far away from the path that she chose to follow.