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    Excerpt from Chapter 7: Walking Away

    After the toothpaste episode, I wandered the halls of my high school like a zombie, shuffling my feet and staring at only the ground in front of me when I walked. When I returned home from school, I’d look at my neatly folded and creased breakdancing gear, my hard-toed Adidas, and want to kick something. I was no longer a part of that life, that crew, and yet, I also wasn’t just the buttoned-up, second-hand-store wearing, L.L. Bean dude either. I felt like I was spiraling into a losing battle.

    Every time I had music class, though, my mood lifted, and I felt like I was closer to who I wanted to be. Other than Coach Miller, Ms. G was the only other adult whose opinion mattered to me—besides my mom, of course, and even then, things were sometimes strained. When I walked into Ms. G’s class, the reminders of the street life, of breakdancing and robbing people, taking advantage of girls and having a gun put to my head, all of that fell away.

    One morning Ms. G read a special announcement.

    “Listen up, kids. ‘This Friday, between nutrition and sixth period, we will have college counselors in the multipurpose room to answer any of your questions. All juniors are encouraged to attend.’

    A lump grew in my throat and chest. I used to dream about going to college, finding a way to escape the hard knocks into which I’d been born. But despite the closely examined Northeastern University TV commercials and regular assurance from my mother, there was nothing else in my life that reflected to me that college was a good idea. I slumped down in my seat and pulled my hood up over my head.

    “Douglas, see me after class?”

    I looked up at Ms. G with a painful recognition of “the talk” she was about to have with me, and still, a part of my spirit soared in that moment. She sees me. She knows what I’m capable of.

    After class, I gathered my backpack and zipped it up slowly, just as Ms. G moseyed over to me.

    “You are planning on going to college, right, Douglas?” She looked at me with those grandma eyes—the ones that will spoil you but never let you get away with anything.

    “Yeah, my grades aren’t so great. Probably not.” I stood, fixing my sweatshirt and tossing my backpack over my shoulder.

    “Child, you can play Tchaikovsky on that violin. There’s no reason that should go anywhere but college first.” She squared her shoulders at me, all four-feet-eleven inches of her, and looked up at my face, into my eyes. “Do you hear me? You’re going to college, and I don’t care who says opposite.”

    “Ms. G, I’m barely passing my classes, and I haven’t played violin very much in the last few years. I think I missed my shot.” I shifted my weight from foot to foot and stuck both hands in my pockets, trying to shove out the thoughts of worthlessness, of past violence and trauma.

    “Douglas, you come to choir. I’ll find a place for you. I’m not hearing any more of this waffling. Say you’ll go to college.”

    I stared down at her petite face and frame, and for the first time since I could remember, happiness, recognition, rose in my chest without the aid of drugs or alcohol.

    The next afternoon, I attended Ms. G’s after-school choir. All the kids were theater kids, and I didn’t feel like I fit in at first. But once I opened my mouth to sing, once we all opened our mouths to sing, the music brought us together, and I found my new place. It didn’t take long for me to consciously put down my violin and bow and put that energy toward my vocal cords in the school choir. 

    I found out quickly that I enjoyed singing even more than I enjoyed playing the violin; it came more naturally to me. Music always had its way of speaking to my soul without saying a word, and when I’d hear people sing from the bottom of their hearts, it always sent chills down my spine. When I listened to them sing, the heavens seemed to open up over my life, and my perspective became one of endless possibilities. In those moments, I forgot about feeling trapped by used clothing and fearing going hungry. From the bottom of my toes, I felt that through music, I could find joy and happiness.

    Ms. G taught us to sing from our hearts and not from our heads, to be one with the music. It was a way that we could express our feelings and develop our God-given potential, so I sang, and sang, and sang. I, like Mama Luff, enjoyed listening to the radio and creating the harmony to almost every song I heard. This preference sometimes got me in trouble in music class or choir practice with Ms. G. From time to time, instead of singing the notes on the page, I would listen to the song with my soul and instinctively add as many harmonies as I could find. In a way, I felt like each of these moments was a combination of Mama Luff’s and Ms. G’s influences: Mama Luff raised me up singing, and Ms. G showed me how, and that was a powerful combination!

    One example of this was at Christmas as we practiced for our upcoming performance. We got to the end of the song, and before I even realized it, the music took control of my senses. I swayed back and forth like Ray Charles, my eyes rolled back into my head, and I ad-libbed the missing bars to the song in perfect-pitch harmony. Then, as was par for the course, the entire piece came to a complete halt.

    I slowly put my head forward, opening one eye at a time, and I saw a few students shaking their heads at me, while others laughed. Despite us all being from different corners of the universe, we all loved to sing and found empathy for each other when the time was right.

    “Douglas, I need you to stop singing what sounds nice to you and just sing the notes in front of you.” Ms. G always spoke to me in a serious-but-I’m-teasing way, but, at the end of the day, we all knew that Ms. G allowed it to happen because it was a part of growing our self-esteem and self-confidence . . . and we were grateful for it.

    Ms. G’s love for music and service extended outside of school. That same holiday season where I got busted for singing my own version of “O Holy Night,” we went to a nursing home during the holidays to perform Christmas carols.

    When the double doors opened up to the main entrance to the home, the smell of antiseptic and old people overwhelmed me. Even the white walls lacked vibrancy, as there didn’t seem to be much of any life happening in there. As we made our way to the community room where the residents ate meals and often socialized and played bingo games, a group of seniors sat talking with one another in the corner. I imagined for a moment that they were telling old war or drinking stories, much like I imagined I might if I were to get that old one day. But aside from this little bunch of men, the majority of the residents were nestled in their wheelchairs or hanging onto their walkers with their heads down.

    Our youthfulness and boisterous voices were foreign sounds in this otherwise transitory place, and we drew more and more attention with each passing minute from other corners of the facility. Ms. G gathered us to run through the song order once more, and I caught myself in a daydream. What did these folks do in their heydays? What colleges did they go to, did they have children and grandchildren, and how many of them can sing?

    The moment we hit our first unified chord, the faces of all the residents watching lit up like daylight, and seeing the looks on their faces when we started singing brought so much joy to me that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face the entire performance. I even had to stifle a chuckle or two when the oldest, most tone-deaf resident, got so into the carols that he sang them at the top of his lungs, off-tempo, from the back of the room. It was all in good will, and for me, it was magical to see how the whole environment and mood in the room changed because we were singing together.

    Music was my lifeblood, and it became the thread that pulled me out of the muck and through the toughest points in high school. I’ll never forget Ms. G telling me to go to college; her voice, her reason, became the guiding reminder to me that anything really is possible.

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    Excerpt from Chapter 6: Living Two Lives

    After someone my age died right before my eyes, my internal compass went haywire, bouncing in all sorts of opposing directions. The push-pull between wondering if this was the type of life I was meant to live always contradicted the bible stories my mother taught us about love, patience, and fairness. Deep in my heart, I knew I was meant for more. The outside may not have reflected it, but I knew that just like an oak tree starts as a seed, I wanted to grow into the person my mother believed I was. The problem was that when I looked in the mirror, I did not see that person.

    Despite my best intentions, I felt like I held court, every day, with an angel and a devil on each shoulder. I’d take a deep breath and center myself with my new resolve, and I’d turn around and my alter ego would say things like, “Douglas, listen. What you are doing is not so bad! Come on, man up. Enjoy it! This is all you have to look forward to, so get used to it.” In those moments, I’d have a clear picture of the two separate directions I was being torn between, but the sad, lonely, and broken up parts of me believed the darkness more than the light.

    During this time, I found myself stuck between two distinct lives: many weeknights, you’d find me sitting on a street corner with the crew smoking weed, drinking forties, and appraising whom to rob next. The next morning I might be playing Tchaikovsky at a nursing home.

    As a freshman in high school and at the height of the polar opposite lives, I felt the familiar ocean-rush of blood and nerves vibrating in my ears when I’d go to school, wearing my hand-me-down khakis and second or third-hand flannel shirts Mom bartered in exchange for cleaning homes. But when I went home, I also felt a similar zing—one that encouraged rebellion. I’d take the day-Doug uniform off and sneak into a different uniform of baggy jeans, hoodies, and hard-toed Adidas. Throughout the halls of my school, I walked around with a chip on my shoulder, an aggravating sense of discontent for a number of reasons—the primary ones being that I was struggling academically and unable to understand who I was or where I fit in the world.

    The gangster danger I experienced evolved from the Charlotte Klein Breakers—in the club, at roller rinks, in filthy, dark alleys—and grew the more I dove into that world. I started breakdancing with the Charlotte Klein Breakers, which started as a nice wholesome crew, but from there we created Crazy Action Crew (CAC), which was the dark, gangster side of breaking. Even there, when I was with that crew, I never felt like I truly belonged. Every time we’d rally to drum up something fun to do (which was sometimes illegal or unconscionable), I’d get sidelong glances of concern . . . even they knew I should have been doing other things. But my butterfly knife and I were intimate, always linked to one another as a perfect match. And despite the angel and devil demands, after a while, I learned how to keep the angel quiet with the right amount of malt liquor.

    Forty-ounce beers—the biggest bang for your buck—were our crew’s preference. Through the blur and fog of this period, I remember the beginnings of slamming back countless forties. Many of our friends’ single-parent households, just like mine, would offer to host us as we drank ourselves into oblivion. Their theory—and this was my mother’s as well—was that if we were going to do it, we might as well do it where there was someone around who could keep an eye on us.

    One evening, I stayed out long past curfew at a friend’s house getting drunk on these infamous beers. Much of that night is completely lost in the black hole of my memory, but having only enough strength to crawl up the stairs to my house is firmly cemented in my mind. It was in early September of the tenth grade, and in the middle of the night. I drooled all over the doormat as I tried to gather the clarity of mind and strength of body to right myself and insert my house key. I sat there, on my hands and knees, moaning and banging my head against the door, which eventually woke my mother.

    I heard the deadbolt unlock, then the knob turned, and the door creaked open for her to see who—or what—was moaning on the front porch.

    “Douglas! Douglas what are you doing? Are you okay?” She rushed to my side in the middle of her sentence, but by the time she fully exhaled, she knew what was wrong—I reeked of stale beer, and I couldn’t hold myself up above my elbows. After dragging me inside into the entryway, she rolled me over and stood above me, examining the mess I’d made of myself. I heard her mumble something to Jesus, praying for his mercy, though the only other thing I remember like piercing lead was the phrase: “You’re just like your father.”

    Unfortunately, even though I knew she was right on some level, those words drove a wedge between us that had been growing since I stopped playing baseball. Drinking forties and coming home plastered was the least of my issues—I now had confirmation of my previous anticipation: I was a disappointment to my mother . . . I had let down the only person in the world who really knew my name and truly loved me.

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    Excerpt from Chapter 5: Breakdancing

    In the early eighties, I put my John Mellencamp and Air Supply albums to rest and picked up rap music. The first record I played over and over again was “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang. This was the first rap song to go worldwide, and the long version was over fourteen minutes. I remember putting the needle to the record in my room and being astounded by what I was hearing. That’s not a song—that’s a short story! I had no idea music could evoke a world I recognized.

    When I was thirteen, I was at home with my brothers watching music videos on MTV. That was when I first saw Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long” video. All across the screen, people were popping, locking, and breakdancing, exerting total control over each individual limb. I was especially mesmerized by two little African-American boys, around ten years old and commanding their bodies along with the rest of the dancers. I instinctively felt I had more in common with them than I did with my middle school classmates. My elementary school had become a K-8 school, and now that I was in seventh grade, there were still less than a dozen kids of color in the entire population.

    I was the only one in my family who seemed captivated by the growing urban phenomenon called breakdancing—and captivated I was. I sat in front of the TV for hours, just waiting for the video to play again. Then I jumped up, suddenly alive with adrenaline and eager to imitate the motions I saw on the TV, desperate to feel as though I were a part of that community—of any community. At night, I stayed up until midnight waiting to listen to the only local college music station that dared to play rap music. “Planet Rock,” “Jam on It,” and “Rock It” brought me to life in a new way.

    In that same year (1983), I came across Motown’s 25th anniversary special on TV. Out walked Michael Jackson to perform “Billie Jean.” Michael Jackson in the eighties, of course, was like The Beatles in the sixties and Elvis in the seventies. He was the King of Pop, and all eyes, all over the world, were on Michael that night. When I opened the window and craned my neck out, I could see and hear other families gathered in their living rooms watching the once-in-a-lifetime performance. Whenever Michael Jackson took the stage, you knew something magical was going to happen. That night, everyone in my house watched in amazement when he displayed his signature moonwalk. My jaw dropped. It was the same moonwalk I saw the two African-American boys do in the “All Night Long” video. That was it. I was hooked.

    Almost every day after school, I retreated to the attic in our apartment to practice breakdancing. I did it alone at first, because I was somewhat embarrassed to show others that I was stepping out of my comfort zone. Then, as I started catching on, I recruited three or four friends from school to join me. Even right up to this moment, the song that sent me into a trance was “Planet Rock” by Afrika-Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force. When that song played, it did not matter who was watching—I just had to move my body and break.

    At the time, my mother worked as a housekeeper at two Catholic churches and brought home information regarding their youth programs and activities. Every few months, the churches held a Friday night dance where all the boys stood on one side of the room and the girls on the other. No one danced until one or two songs came on. One was always a Michael Jackson song, and the other was usually the last song of the night—“Open Arms,” by Journey. In between Michael Jackson and Journey, the DJ occasionally went out on the edge and played what was considered a rap song. Invigorated by “Planet Rock” or “Rock It,” the local breakers drew into a circle to perform. During one of these dances, I decided to go for it: I cut into the middle of the circle and let it rip. My peers, many of whom had never seen these moves before—let alone from me—cheered me on, and their cheers fueled my confidence. Then I really cut loose.

    Not long afterward, I heard about a dance that students from different schools would be attending. They knew how to breakdance and wanted to see what I had to offer. I still considered myself a novice, but to those who went to these church-hall dances, I was a pro! Back in those days, our lives were sheltered, and we were all waiting for that freeing, footloose experience. Perhaps breakdancing was it.

    The Friday night came, and I hitched a ride from a friend to another church hall dance in a different community. Beneath the sanctuary, the room was cavernous—it could easily fit two hundred people. There were no decorations except for pictures of the apostles and various saints on the walls. When the dance started, all of the lights were turned down except the stage spotlights, which illuminated the DJ area. As usual, most of the kids there were white, and true to form, the boys lined up on one side of the room and the girls on the other. No one took to the dance floor until a Michael Jackson song rang out. Then, as the dance progressed, the tension rose as various song requests were made so that a breakdance competition would take place.

    Finally, without warning, the beat dropped. All the wannabe breakers circled around one another in the center of the dance floor. The energy in the room was friendly, inviting, and exciting—we all wanted to see others express themselves. Since I had already put myself out there at the other dance, I had to strut my stuff here as well—but, as with my first baseball practice, I sat back to check out the competition first. The majority of the crowd was white, and though some of the kids were in my circle, others were distant acquaintances with whom I never thought I had anything in common. I clapped and cheered along with the rest of the crowd as the dancers busted out their best moves. That was when I saw a familiar face in the middle of the circle: Richie Miller, Coach Miller’s son. Richie had played baseball with me; it had been around two years since I had seen him.

    “Richie!” I exclaimed, cutting into the circle.

    “Magic!” he called back. He laughed, and we united on the dance floor, showing each other our signature moves. For the next ten minutes, we imitated our favorite dancers, cheered at each other’s moves, and sweated out all our teenage energy. The adults there looked on with a mixture of entertainment and caution—worry flashed in their eyes when our bodies hit the ground and some darted forward with concern when a dancer attempted a head spin. But for the most part, they left us alone. It was harmless, wholesome fun, and toward the end of the dance, some of us exchanged numbers and promised to get together to practice our moves. Maybe we’d even put together our own crew.

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    Excerpt from Chapter 4: Coach Miller

    The first year was a learning one, and though the coaches didn’t seem too interested in teaching me, I got through it. When I was ten, I had a choice: I could play another year in minor league and then move up to Little League, or I could try out for Little League and see what happened. When I told my minor league coach that I was thinking about trying out for Little League, he chuckled.

    “What, you think you can play Little League all of a sudden?” He hit an assistant coach on the shoulder, both of them enjoying a laugh at my expense. “You’re not good enough for Little League, boy. Just do one more year of the minor leagues, work on your fundamentals, and try out after that.”

    I nodded and walked away, deflated but also a little indignant. Why was it such a bad idea for me to just try out? After all, if I didn’t make it, I would just spend another year in the minor leagues. But what if I did make it?

    The day for Little League tryouts came, and I decided that despite my minor league coach’s advice, I was going to give it my best shot. I was trying out with other ten- to twelve-year-olds, and there was a nervous rumble in the dugout as we all waited for our names to be called.

    “Douglas Luffborough!”

    I bolted up, and they asked me to take the infield position that I wanted to play. I ran over to third base, ready to field ground balls and throw them to first. Just behind home plate, I could see my minor league coach with his arms crossed, shaking his head. His presence intimidated me so much that the first ground ball went right through my legs. The laughter that ripped around me made something in me come alive. I punched my glove. Bring it on!

    I fielded the second ground ball cleanly and made a strong throw to first base. I made the next play and the next, and then they timed me as I ran the bases. I liked running and could take any kid my age in a race (chalk it up to those bullied days), so the Little League coaches were impressed with my speed. Then came hitting. I was not the best hitter, but I took big cuts at the ball and was not afraid to go down swinging. At the end of tryouts, I walked off the field satisfied with my performance but not sure if it was enough. Was I Little League material?

    When I got home, my mother was in the bathroom washing our clothes in the bathroom tub. With wet, sudsy hands, she stuck her head out of the bathroom when she heard me arrive.

    “How’d you do?” she asked, smiling.

    I shrugged, scuffing my feet on the floor. “I gave it one hundred percent, but I don’t know if it was good enough.”

    In her gentle manner, Ma said, “It’s in the Lord’s hands now, son. You did your best, and that is all you can ask for; let God do the rest.”

    I did not hear from anyone until the day of my minor league team practice, which I did not attend—because on the phone talking to Mama Luff was Coach Miller, a former professional baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles. He had a son my age and was looking to start a Little League team of players that he could coach for a few years. He’d watched me during the tryouts and said that I had heart—and that he would be honored if I joined his team. My mother was all smiles as she gestured for me to take the phone. “He’s right here,” she said, all but wrapping my shocked fingers around the device.

    For a couple of seconds, I was amazed into silence. The feeling of being wanted consumed me. I had made it. I was good enough. I did have what it took to play Little League. What I remembered from our conversation was that Coach Miller was direct, straightforward, and had big expectations for the new team. Our conversation was brief and matter-of-fact, but I was excited to speak with him.

    When I hung up the phone, I realized a valuable lesson that I live by today, an echo of what motivational speaker Les Brown once said: “Never let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality. Only you can determine that!” I was so glad I had not let the voice of my minor league coach become louder than my inner voice that insisted, “You can do this!”

    The first practice came up, and my inner battles of insecurity and low self-esteem started to once again consume me. I arrived early to see what was going on but kept to the outskirts of the field until more people arrived. There is something vulnerable about showing up first, and I was worried about putting myself out there. I wanted to scout out what I considered the competition to see if I would fit in. The savage, scared voice in my head was saying, “You are not good enough to play Little League. You don’t deserve to be here.” So I watched the other players to see if they looked like me: were there any kids of color? Would I fit in? Or were they all white kids from affluent families? My heart sank when I saw no one resembling the person I saw in the mirror. I then turned to analyzing the way they played ball; even if we had different lives, different stories, could I match their skills?

    I loitered in the background until the entire team arrived and formed a circle around the pitcher’s mound. Coach Miller stood in the middle of the circle, welcoming his young crop of players. He looked like a clean-cut baseball player with a permanent tan, dressed in our team baseball cap, an orange polo shirt, black slacks, and a black jacket. He had a square face with a strong jaw, and later I’d discover he smoked cigarettes in between practices and games. As I approached, he stopped what he was saying and turned to me.

    “Luffborough,” he said gruffly, “I was just talking to everyone on the team about the importance of showing up early in life. If you are fifteen minutes early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late, and if you come late without calling me, you run—so put down your gear and start doing laps around the field. I will tell you when to stop.”

    My heart sank. The last thing I wanted to do was to disappoint someone who believed in me, someone who was giving me an opportunity to play Little League. I had been there early but let fear and intimidations overwhelm me. What a horrible first impression I’d made. Never again, I vowed.

    The first practice for me was more like track practice—I never even used my glove. Immediately afterwards, I spoke with Coach and apologized for being late. His response was short and sweet: “Luffborough, you are not in the minor leagues anymore!”

    I left practice defeated and angry with myself. I did not want to sabotage this opportunity because of my insecurities, but up until now, assuring myself of my unworthiness was the only way I knew how to deal with new situations. It gave me a backwards sense of comfort; after all, if I told myself I wasn’t good enough, didn’t stack up, then I didn’t have to put myself out there and really try. When I got home, my mother asked me how practice had gone and I told her it was fine, but I needed to make some adjustments.

    The next day, I arrived to practice thirty minutes earlier than needed because I wanted to warm up and run before the rest of the team arrived. To my surprise, many of my teammates were already there doing the same thing. I had never seen that level of commitment from my peers before, but as Coach had said, I was not in the minor leagues anymore.

    When Coach arrived, he greeted everybody, and we started running as a team. If one person started to lag behind, he had the stronger runners run backwards so we all stayed together. Coach Miller was intense and managed us as if we were professional baseball players. He had a spirit of excellence and expected one hundred and ten percent from each player, regardless of talent and natural abilities. Coach despised laziness and laid into anyone who took a laissez-faire approach to practice or games. He led through fear and intimidation at times, but that was motivated by a desire to help us be the best we could be. His presence demanded it.

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    Excerpt from Chapter 3: The Grass is Not Always Greener

    That summer was the worst. Instead of playing outside like most kids my age, I was so depressed about staying back in the third grade and having to face the same teacher again that I spent most days in my room, sleeping and listening to music. My Huffy bike collected cobwebs. When my neighborhood friends came to the door, I told them that my mother would not let me play with them anymore. “Just leave me alone,” I said quietly, shutting the door.

    The saddest point of my summer came when my mother was supposed to attend her stepsister’s wedding. Several months earlier, I had overhead my mother talking with Joe about her stepsister wanting her to be in the wedding. “Do you think you could give me money to buy a dress?” she asked. “And help me get to New Jersey?”

    Joe was already messy on Schlitz, and he stroked her arm with a big paw. “Sure, baby,” he said, “if you help me out a little, too.”

    As the months until the wedding became weeks, and then the weeks became days, Joe, sober, withdrew his promise. “No, I will not buy you that dress for that wedding, and no I will not give you the finances to go to New Jersey. Figure it out on your own.”

    Like I had in the principal’s office, my mother dropped to the floor. Tears streamed from her eyes like rapids from a breached dam. Between moans, she rocked her body back and forth and prayed, “Lord, have mercy. Jesus . . . Jesus . . . Jesus.” In total desperation, she pulled on one of his pant legs and begged him to help her. He looked down at her with a sense of pity, cracked open a can of Schlitz, lit up a cigarette, and walked out back to have a smoke. It was like a scene out of The Color Purple. In my entire life, I had never seen my mother so broken, so painfully defeated by life’s disappointments.

    My mother stayed on the floor for some time and then slowly rose and picked up the phone. “Doreen, I’m sorry—I won’t be coming to your wedding after all.”

    For the next few weeks, my mother spent most of her time laying down in her room, sharing only one or two words of conversation and sleeping off the pain and disappointment she was feeling. It was as though this event had stolen all the joy from her heart. Sometimes, she sat in the room all by herself reading her bible and talking with God about things only they could understand.

    After that, my mother turned to the bible more and more. She carried her bible, worn and tattered, everywhere she went—cleaning homes, at the grocery store, on the bus, and even to social gatherings at our school. She talked to God out loud, not caring who else was around, and started sitting Darrell and I down for weekly bible studies. One Sunday evening, she shared that since we did not go to church on a regular basis, she wanted to bring church to our home.

    “I want you all to know God’s word, and the best place for me to start with you is in the book of Proverbs,” she said.

    I thought, Proverbs, why this book?

    “Since your dad is not in your life and Joe is doing his own thing, let Proverbs be your Father,” Ma said. “Let it give you spiritual guidance, wisdom, and insight on how you need to live your lives.”

    So we all sat down once a week and listened to my mother explain the book of Proverbs to us. She pointed out that we needed to live a life that honored God, pay attention to our actions toward others, and ask God for wisdom and discernment in all we did. Joe was never interested in our bible studies. He just snickered at us as if we were crazy. On some occasions, even we thought my mother was crazy, all her out-loud talk to a God she could not see but so desperately believed in. There were so many times growing up that I questioned whether God was really there and if he really heard my mother’s cries for a different life. I see now that he was there, listening, and my siblings and I have become the answer to her prayers, but back then, it was my mother’s way of keeping a positive perspective in the midst of deep sorrow. 

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