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I don't know where to begin with this nightmare, so I'm just gone start right around the time Johnny got his get-out-of-jail card, because that was when all the goddamn drama started going down between us. And I know everybody probably gone have something to say about the situation, but nobody knows what happened like I know.
To begin with, I loved Johnny with my whole heart, so whoever tried to say I was using him or that I was some gold digger, they can kiss my black you know what for real. All the sistahs out there who've ever had a brother on lockdown will be able to relate to what I was going through back then: that sometimes it gets hard for a girl when your man is miles away in some jail and you still got needs.
Don't misunderstand me. While Johnny was away in jail I was committed to him, but just not completely faithful. But the hard-core fact was, he was the one who got sent upstate for five years, not me. I still had shit I had to take care of on the outside, although Johnny was deep inside my heart and forever on my mind. Everyone knows that a sistah from the hood gotta get hers for herself, because ain't nobody really trying to give you a damn thing out here in these streets but the blues.
So, yeah, I'll straight-up admit that I was laying the pussy down on Rico, an NO rapper who held down the dirty South like Lil' Wayne and Juvenile.
If I don't say nothing else good about that lying, cheating nigga, I have to give Rico his props. He had mad skills on the mic and wasn't like some of those fake-ass rappers out there who talk about living the game and coming up from the cut because it helps them sell more records. Rico lived every bit of the street life. The shit he rapped about, I felt it deep down in my bones like a cold fucking breeze on a zero-degree day.
I came from nothing, y'all, for real. My mama raised me and my two brothers in the Florida Project off of Desire Street without nobody's help but the good Lord's. Not to sound all broke-down or try to get some kind of sympathy either, but I have seen some shit out there in the world that could last me a lifetime. Although nothing beats seeing my own brother Eric get shot down like an animal in the streets by some crazy-ass nigga who was jealous over the fact that his woman had lust in her eyes for my brother.
Niggas know they be killing one another for nothing. Took my brother's life for simply looking at his woman, but that ain't even half the shit me and my family been through in that lower Nine. I'm talking about the Ninth Ward, that is. And I for damn sure have a lot to say and to get off my chest, but some things you just gotta take your time with.
Like I was saying, Rico was rapping about life in the projects, which I could relate to, so that's one of the reasons our friendship was so special. The other reason was the fact that we was both artists. Where Rico was a rapper, I could work a goddamn stage and dance a nigga right out of his drawers.
Yeah, I was a stripper. Babee, ain't no shame in my game. And I ain't even trying to hide or deny it either. You see, I'm not ashamed of my past at all, because the past has only made me the strong woman I am today.
I was stripping down at this spot called Club Circus in the French Quarter, right off of Bourbon Street when Rico first saw me doing my thing, shaking and clapping my ass for dollars. My stage name was Booty. You know that song "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child? It was like they were singing about me.
"Oh baby, you so hot, girl, you sizzle!" some corny nigga with a played-out Jheri curl and a mouthful of gold teeth hollered. Jheri Curl--what I would come to call him--was a regular at Club Circus who got on my last fucking nerve. "And, girl, you got the kind of ass that a make a nigga go bankrupt. Just booty on top of booty!"
Jheri Curl would show up every night, sit up front near the stage, and say the exact same line to me until him and all of his li'l podnuhs started joking around and calling me Booty, which I didn't have any problem with. Them niggas were breaking me off with a li'l change every night and every li'l bit helps when you broke. It was my booty that attracted Rico to me in the first place.
After I got offstage one night, Rico informed the manager that he wanted to meet the girl with the big, sexy booty, but I quickly shut him down. I passed the word along that I was not interested in anything he was offering. Rico was a player, and every woman from the Third to the Ninth wards knew he was the biggest whore this side of the Mississippi, so I was not even about to set myself up to take a hard fall like some trick with no goddamn sense.
Besides, I had Johnny--a real soldier--and I knew one day he was coming home to love me again. We was once high school sweethearts and so in love with each other that everyone just knew we would be together forever. No man had ever loved or been committed to me the way Johnny had. He made me feel safe and secure in those strong-ass muscly arms of his. So, nobody can't say it wasn't true love. Me and Johnny had that kind of strong love that people wrote songs and made movies about. Damn, y'all got me thinking way back. It was no fairy-tale meeting, but I fell for that nigga the first time I looked into his eyes.
Me and my girls was walking home from school when we heard these dudes behind us cracking jokes. One of them, Johnny, was talking about my sexy ass, but I was trying to ignore him. Sometimes I liked the attention niggas showed me over my body, but other times I just wanted to be left alone. Johnny caught me on one of my off days when I just wasn't feeling it.
"Girl, you got the kinda ass that make a nigga fall down on his knees and thank Jesus!" His strong and deep voice blended in with a laughing crowd of kids from around the old neighborhood. Latisha and Tamika, my girls for real, grabbed hold of my arms. They wasn't about to let some niggas disrespect me. Latisha and Tamika always did have my back, which they've proved time and time again since middle school.
"Come on, nah, baby," another dude shouted. "Why y'all gon' be like dat? My man just tryin' to holler at the one with the big booty." More laughter.
"Girl, just ignore them," Latisha said, dragging me by the arm.
"They so damn ignorant," Tamika added, flipping her long hair out of her face and pulling at me, too. She was the prim and proper one in the crew. Tamika was also conceited, stuck-up, and didn't take crap from nobody. We was walking as fast as we could, but them fools stayed behind us the entire way home. I don't know why niggas think we love this kind of shit, anyway. We don't want nobody whistling, honking, and shouting at us like we some stray dogs or runaway cats. Step up to us like men and maybe we might take your asses seriously.
"Hey, li'l mama, why don't you do like Juvy," Johnny called out, "and back that ass up fa' me."
"You know what?" I pulled away from Tamika and Latisha, swung around to face the crowd, and went off. "Y'all are so fucking immature!"
"Oh, so you feisty and hot." Johnny made his way to the front of the crowd and stared me in my face. I noticed he was wearing a football jersey with a big number thirty-two on his right sleeve, which was the winning number that year. Johnny was our school's football star, and he had broken more records than any athlete in Higgins High's history. But I didn't give a damn who he was.
"You got something to say?" I got right up in Johnny's face and gave him a piece of my mind, sister style: hands on my hips, neck twirling, and everything. His boys was cheering, roaring, and trying to get some shit started. Latisha and Tamika stepped to my side and got into kick-ass mode.
"Then be a man and say it to my face," I said.
After which, Johnny did something that shocked the entire crowd, including me. He got down on one knee like he was about to propose. All of a sudden you couldn't hear nothing, and everyone stopped dead in their tracks.
"What I was tryin' to say was . . ." Johnny took hold of my hand. He was staring me in my face with those dark brown eyes of his that made a bitch like me melt. But I was holding on with a tight face and trying my best not to give in to his charm and good looks. Johnny had done pissed me completely off, and I wanted him to know it, too.
"I was wonderin'"--he cleared his throat, like what he had to say was really hard to get out--"if you would go to the homecoming dance with a nigga."
"Girl, forget him," Tamika said, nudging me in the back. "Tonya, didn't you hear me?"
"Yeah, I heard you." I looked into Johnny's eyes. It was like he had a hold on me or something. For a brief moment I couldn't think, move, or speak.
"So, what's up?" Johnny asked with the widest grin on his face. He had me eating out of the palm of his hand, but I tried to keep it together. "You gon' let a nigga take you to the dance or what?"
"Okay," I heard myself say, cracking a smile and shaking my head from side to side. You know every woman wants to be swept off her feet, and Johnny had done just that. It was the perfect sunny day for falling in love.
You see, Johnny's charm got him what he wanted, but his anger often kept him in a whole lot of trouble on the other hand. Now, that brings me back to the story.
Johnny waited until our senior year of high school to do something completely stupid, even though I admit that my ex-boyfriend Greg was a jerk and deserved to get his ass kicked for trying to manhandle me.
It all went down one night after a high school football game, and I was waiting at the front gate for Johnny. Greg drove up in his daddy's BMW, trying to impress me and claiming how badly he wanted me to be his girlfriend again. I told him to get lost, and that was when one thing led to another. Greg tried to force me inside the car. Said he just wanted to take me somewhere so we could talk. I was kicking and screaming when Johnny came flying out of the school gate like Superman. It must have looked like Greg was attacking me or trying to rape me or something. Johnny went too far, although I understand how it may have looked from his perspective. He fucked Greg up so bad, the boy ended up in the hospital for weeks with multiple bruises on his chest and face. Doctors didn't think he would make it, which totally freaked me out. Our high school romance turned into a nightmare overnight. Johnny wound up in jail for almost killing Greg.
Whatever the case, I didn't turn my back on Johnny or look at him any different. Part of me understood that he was only trying to look out for my best interests. So, you damn right, I stood by my man, despite what other people thought: taking three-hour bus rides to visit him in Sierra Leone, Louisiana, and writing love letters to him into the early morning, until my fingers would ache. Although it was hard, and sometimes a sistah got lonely, I wasn't out there looking for someone to take his place. Even though Rico slowly made his move on me by showing up at the club night after night and showering me with expensive gifts, I continued to remain faithful to Johnny.
I stripped at the club every chance I got and tried to make ends meet every which way I could. But the shit wasn't easy, y'all. That li'l change them niggas was giving me at the club wasn't enough to buy a Happy Meal at McDonald's. It seemed like the more I stripped and shook my ass, the farther I seemed from getting anywhere. Here I was, living with my mama in a run-down two-bedroom house off of Louisa Street and trying to help her pay the bills, but every month it seemed like we never had enough--like we could never get ahead of the game.
Although stripping at Club Circus paid some of the bills, I had this one dream of dancing in music videos on BET and touring the country with some famous rapper like P. Diddy or Jay-Z. I was just as talented as some of those dancers on TV in Diddy's and Jay-Z's videos, but unlike me, they wasn't shaking and clapping their asses for some li'l change in some smoky, dark club, but getting top dollar for their skills.
Well, the big dream did come true for this girl from the lower Nine who a lot of people probably thought wasn't gone be nothing in life because I was poor and black from the projects. But I showed all of their hating asses. One day Rico introduced me to a lifestyle and made me an offer that I could no longer resist, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to become a music video dancer and tour the world with him. I know some folks would try to say I was only with Rico for the fame and money, but it wasn't even like that.
Dancing for Rico's company was a chance for me to be somebody in life. Sometimes you gotta rewrite your own story and not live the one that was written for you at birth. My grandma had it hard in life, raising five girls and six boys on the strength of her back without nobody's help, including this shameless-ass government or that low-line handout they call welfare. And some of my aunties, uncles, and cousins also had it hard, burying sons and daughters before the age of twenty-two, but I was gone be damned if I was gone struggle all my life, too. I had seen my mama work all of her life to keep food on the table with minimum wages that was like a goddamn slap in the face. I knew that was not the life I wanted for myself. God had something better in store for me. I just thought that better life was with Rico, especially since he was lavishing me with all the material things I had always wanted.
Who wouldn't get caught up in that kind of fantasy?
The best part about dancing in music videos was the thrill and high it gave me. I felt special, wanted and needed. You know, like I was making a difference and connecting to something big that the whole world would see.
From the Trade Paperback edition.