Upstateby Kalisha Buckhanon, Chadwick Boseman, Heather Simms, Chadwick Bosemann
UPSTATE is an absolutely stunning, powerful coming of age novel filled with tragedy, struggle, love and triumph—a modern The Color Purple
Set in New York in the 80s and 90s, UPSTATE tells the story of two young lovers, Antonio and Natasha, torn apart by tragedy and struggling to survive against all odds. When a horrific tragedy sends Antonio/b>/i>
UPSTATE is an absolutely stunning, powerful coming of age novel filled with tragedy, struggle, love and triumph—a modern The Color Purple
Set in New York in the 80s and 90s, UPSTATE tells the story of two young lovers, Antonio and Natasha, torn apart by tragedy and struggling to survive against all odds. When a horrific tragedy sends Antonio to jail, their worlds turn upside down.
Antonio struggles to stay alive on the inside; Natasha battles society on the outside. Over the course of 10 years, they share an intimate correspondence as their lives change dramatically and they often have only each other to turn to. Will fate bring them back together, or will they remain forever apart? Ripe with unforgettable characters and two haunting voices, UPSTATE is an audio program not to be missed.
“A realistic love story that's set against an urban backdrop as gritty as its characters are memorable.” People magazine
“Heartbreaking and true...I'd read it again just for the power of the language.” Dorothy Allison, National Book Award Finalist and author of Bastard Out of Carolina
“Wild and beautiful...The story is told using the epistolary form with brilliant skill not seen since The Color Purple.” Sapphire, author of Push
“A literary gem. Upstate is a stunning debut. Completely unforgettable.” E. Lynn Harris, author of What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
“Upstate is intimate, wrenching...a story about love, surviving love, and the forgiveness that only love brings.” Achy Obejas, author of Memory Mambo and Days of Awe
“A gripping debut...I was thoroughly impressed.” Mary Monroe, author of God Still Don't Like Ugly
“Kalisha Buckhanon has unleashed brilliance in this debut novel. Upstate is creative, raw, and honest.” Darnella Ford, author of Rising and Crave
“A modern love story that is real and raw in its humor and tragedy.” Zelda Lockhart, winner of the Hurston/Wright Award and author of Fifth Born
- Macmillan Audio
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- 4.82(w) x 6.34(h) x 0.78(d)
Read an Excerpt
January 25, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father? I need to know if you believe what everybody saying about me because I need to know if you got my back. Right now I don't know who in my corner and who ain't. I looked in the mirror this morning and I didn't see nothing. That's how I feel, like I'm nothing. Like nobody see me or hear me or care about me or care what I got to say. Ma told me that some of my cuzos say they gonna kill me when I get out, say they gonna put a shank in my throat just like everybody say I did my daddy. They saying I better hope I got to do time cause when I get out it's a wrap. But see, they don't know me like you do. They don't know what I been through like you do. You was the only person who ever listened to me, you mostly, maybe Trevon and Black. Sometimes Ma. But mostly you. Remember all the shit we used to talk about late at night on the phone? About dropping out of school and going to Mexico or down South or somewhere like that? About us opening up some businesses and shit? About my music and me balling and you doing hair and shit? I know you remember. I do. I remember every word you ever said to me.
You thinking about me? I hope so because I'm thinkingabout you. I know you hadn't heard from me, but I'm in a large holding cell right now with a bunch of other cats, they trying to decide if I should be transported because I'm a juvenile. But they gonna move me soon, that's for sure. I'll let you know when they move me and where I'm at. I'm not even supposed to be writing this and mailing it to you cause I ain't got those privileges where I'm at. But two cats been looking out for me these past few days said, Tell us what you need son and we can hook you up; they've been here many times before. I told them, I need to write my girl. They know a guard who keep the communication flowing between the outside and in, so that's why you getting this letter. Baby girl I miss your fine ass so much I can't even think about how I'm gonna get out of this shit. I can't believe I'm here. Don't even know how I got here. I don't care. I'm thinking about the last time we saw each other. It seem like just yesterday me and you was bugging out in St. Nick Park, jumping over cars and shit. Member that white man watering his plants on his fire escape, and how he hollered bout calling the pigs and Black threw a bottle up at his ass and told him to get out of our hood? That shit was wild, that shit was funny. It was fun, the best time in my life. Then remember me and you went up them high steps that go to city college, and you let me suck your titties and rub you until you got all creamy and wet? I know you wanted to do something, if Black and Laneice wouldn't have been all up in the business, laughing and shit. Mad because they wasn't getting none. Remember what you said when we was walking back down and you was buttoning up your shirtand patting your baby hair down? Remember when you said you loved me?
Write back soon,
January 27, 1990 Dear Antonio,
What happened? Did you kill him? Did you really do it? It's been on the news, in the papers, everything. Everybody at school and on the block keep asking me, keep wanting to know if I was there and if I seen it and if I helped you keep it a secret. I keep telling them naw, I didn't have nothing to do with that shit, but they don't believe me. Popos been over here three times asking me questions. They keep asking me was you on drugs and did you hit me and stuff like that. I told them no, but they kept on asking and they wouldn't leave and Mommy was getting upset. So, I didn't want to, but I told them you get high. I lied and said you didn't do it that much, just once in a while. They asked me if you did crack and I said "Hell no! Antonio wasn't no hype, he just smoked weed that's all." I think they believe me because they ain't been back since. You know I would never give you up, I would never tell about any of the shit you did. That's how much I love you. I got your back baby, cause I know you would do the same for me. I miss you so much I can't evenbreathe. I can't even get on the train or the bus no more cause I'm so used to taking it with you. I been walking everywhere now, but I don't mind. It give me some time to think, to clear my head, to figure out what the hell is happening with you, with me, with everything.
People at school won't stop staring at me and asking me questions. And Mr. Lombard, with his two-faced racist ass, had kept me in class after algebra wanting to know if I was okay and if I needed to talk to somebody. I didn't tell him shit either. I told him I was fine and I just wanted to go home so I could get ready to fix dinner cause Mommy was working late. I still ain't forgot about how he lied on me and said I was talking in class when I wasn't and I got in detention hall for a week. Don't try to be my friend now. But anyway, that's off the subject of what happened. I want you to tell me what happened. I promise to God swear on my daddy's grave that I won't tell nobody, not anybody, not even one living soul, not even Mommy. Just tell me. It won't make no difference. What I said that night was true.
February 1, 1990 Baby Girl,
This the deal yo, I can't talk about nuthin. I don't want to tell you what happened unless we face to face in private. Ican't talk about nuthin. Everybody up in my business, out to get me. I can feel it. I can tell. I can see everybody looking at me, I can hear them talking about me. Them motherfuckers opened your letter. They opened my shit and read it. When I got the envelope, it was ripped in half and the letter looked like it had been wet up. So, I know they reading this. I know they read everything I write. I wanted to tell the cracker who brought it to me that he ain't had no right to read my baby's shit, that it was between a man and his woman and that's always sacred, but I didn't say nothing. I just shook my head, cause I'm not trying to make no trouble. I'm trying to get out of here. They not gonna get me on some dumb shit. They not gonna win. So, to whoever reading this, fuck you and your mama too. Fuck you over and over and over again. I hope you die.
I been sent up to another facility right now.It's on some island right off the Bronx. Natasha, they put chains around my ankles and connected me to a lot of other cats being transported from Manhattan in this big van. The ride was bumpy, but quiet. Nobody said a word, nobody looked at each other. When we got to the new joint, they unchained us in this big room that looked like a warehouse and told us to take off all our clothes. We had to stand there naked. I was shaking it was so cold, and one by one they searched our mouths and other places I don't want to tell you about. I got my own room with a tiny cot, a toilet with a sink on top, and this really long, narrow window that's about three feet tall. The walls is white concrete like in the pj's. I'm writing really fast cause I wanna finish this letter beforedark. There's no light, when the sun goes down, that's it. But I don't care. At least I'm not in a holding cell no more with twenty other funky cats and a stopped-up toilet like I was in Manhattan. People keep coming to talk to methese court-appointed lawyers from someplace called the People's Advocacy or something like that. So far, it's been three different lawyersthis blond lady, some nerdy black dude, and now this fat white guy. Every time they switch they tell me the other one got busy cause they're overloaded with cases. I just say, Oh well as long as you know I'm not a murderer and what I did was in self-defense. I don't think any of them believed me though, cause they all said, That's what they all say and let me decide your defense. I feel a million miles from Harlem. But I think I can see the Empire State Building from here. I wish I could tell you everything that's happened to me, but it seem like it happened so fast I can't remember nothing.
A neighbor in my building called the popo's on the night everything went down. She had heard all the noise coming from my apartment, but when they came my mother answered and told them everything was alright. They came back a few days later after my daddy didn't show up for work for two days and we didn't answer the phone. My mother begged me not to open the door, begged me not to fess to anything, but I pushed her off me and told her that I was a man and I would live up to what I had done. I opened the door myself and took them to where my daddy was. They threw me down on the ground in front of Ma, Trevon, and Tyler. I put my hands behind my headI didn't resist. But they didn't care.They put their knees in my back and twisted my arms anyway when they put the handcuffs on. They took me to a police station all the way downtown and fingerprinted me and took a mug shot. They left me in a dark room with a slide-back window overnight. They didn't give me nothing to eat or drink. They didn't let me out to go to the bathroom and I had to whizz in the corner cause I was already a little sour under the arms, just from being scared and getting roughed up, and I didn't want to piss on myself and smell like that too. Next thing I knew, I was in this big room all by myself with three cops asking me why I stabbed my father over a dozen times. By then, I was having second thoughts about confessing so I just lied and said I didn't do nothing until they got tired of screaming and yelling at me. They just handcuffed my hands and ankles together, and put me in this long hallway where other guys kept getting called in one by one to this room that I really couldn't see into. I asked the dude sitting next to me what was going on, and he said something about rain. When they finally brought me in there, I realized it was a courtroom and I was standing before a judge. This blond lady I never seen beforethat was the first lawyersaid something about entering a plea of guilty by reason of insanity and I yelled, No I'm not crazy! The judge stopped everything and told my lawyer to take me back and calm me down and get our story straight before we show our faces again in his courtroom. They took me back to the first room and I was waiting for the lawyer to show up so I could explain to her that I was just trying to stop my daddy from hitting my mother and it was an accident andI'm not crazy I just stabbed him too hard when I just meant to scare him, but she never showed back up.
But Natasha I do want you to know I'm okay. I want you to know that you all I been thinking about and there ain't shit that's gonna tear us apartnot the cops, not these pen walls, not my daddy, nothing. I need you to come see me soon. I need to see your face so bad it hurts. I can't have no phone calls right now but we need to talk to each other in person so I can tell you what happened.
Write back soon,
February 4, 1990 To My Baby:
Okay, so you still didn't go into details about what really happened, but it don't matter to me anyway. When I told you I loved you, I really did mean it. I'm glad I said it then because if I would have waited I would have never got to tell you face to face, just in a letter and that's not the right way to do it. So, I'm not gonna ask you no more what happened. I just know that whatever it was, it wasn't on you. It wasn't your fault. So, all that matter to me is that I know it wasn't your fault and you know I believe you didn't never want to hurt nobody. I walked past your locker today in the C wing. I know that ain't my wing and I wasn't supposed to be over there, but I think in my mindI kind of hoped that you might be standing there waiting for me after lunch the way you used to. Of course you wasn't, but I was glad I walked by anyway. It kind of smelled like you when I walked by. Not no bad smell cause I can see your face right now all twisted up. Naw it was real good. That black licorice oil you wear and Cherry Now n' Laters you like and that coconut hair grease I used to put on your scalp before me or Laneice braid your hair. That's one of the things I love about you, the way you smell. Sweet all the time, like a girl. I bet you wanna know some of the other things I love about you. Well, I like the way you kiss me all deep, the bumpy curls on your head that are soft like cotton balls, the muscles in your arms and your stomach, the way you say my name, the way you put your palms on your cheek sometimes when you talk, that birthmark on your left shoulder, and the way you say other words like son and for real and baby sometimes (when we doing it). What you love about me? You never told me before so might as well tell me now.
February 4, 1990 Dear Natasha,
They gonna let my mother come see me. I don't know the exact day yet, but my lawyer asked me if there was anythingI needed and I told him I wanted to see my family. He said he could try to get me that privilege since I'm only sixteen and all. So, they gonna let her come. You try to come too. I really need to see you. I can't write much cause the sun is already down and I can hardly see in the moonlight. Just try to come see me.
February 7, 1990 Dear Antonio,
I talked to you mother and I think we all gonna come up there and visit you this weekend, especially since your birthday coming up. I had planned on buying you some new kicks and a cap and maybe even a chain if I had enough. Wish I could cop you a nickel bag. The lawyer said family only, but Black said we could lie about it. He said that when his cousin was moved upstate from Riker's, the whole school came to see him and his cousin's moms just kept on telling the guards, "My man kept me real busy." I thought that shit was funny. So, we gonna be there on Sunday. I think that only four or five people can go. I know your mother said she going, and she gonna bring Trevon because he 13 and old enough. But she said she didn't want to bring Tyler. She said he was too young, that she didn't want him to see his bigbro like that. I think he would love to see his big bro no matter what, but I guess that's her son so she gotta right to do what she want.
I know your problems are bigger than mine right now, but Antonio I just have to say I'm so sick of hearing my mommy's and stepdaddy's mouths I don't know what to do. All they talk about is this shit that happened and how they told me to stay away from you. I wish I could tell them to go to hell, but I can't. I wouldn't have nowhere else to go. I don't want to do like Drew did when Mommy got with Roy, move to Grandma's house in the Bronx. It's too far from school and my friends and you. I'm a Harlem Chick 4 Life!!!!!! That's why I'll be glad when all this shit is over and you get out because I think that we should get our own place. I think that we should just go and apply for one of those nice, new buildings that they fixing up finally around here, and we can stay in one of them. I went past one the other day, on 123rd and 8th. It's going to be called "Frederick Douglass Gardens" when it's finished. Wouldn't that be nice baby, to live in something called Frederick Douglass? At least I know that Frederick Douglass was black and he tried to free the slaves, I think. He was somebody who was brave and didn't take no shit and stood up for his rights. Right now, it's nothing but a big hole in the ground and a bunch of bricks and dust and wood and stuff. But they got a big billboard picture of what the building gonna look like and it's nice. It looked like a bunch of connected houses, with two and three stories. Not like thebrownstones all stuck together or the pj's, but like real houses with a balcony and white paint and a nice little window on the front door. It was this nice Dominican man outside working on the building. He said he was the supervisor for the construction, so I figured he would know about moving in. So I asked him how you could move in. He told me they're condos and you had to buy them. I told him I wanted to try and he said that it was really hard because there was something like forty thousand applications for twenty houses. I told him I didn't think that there was even forty thousand people in Harlem, but I guess there are. Then he said that some of the applications was from people overseas and I wondered why somebody would want to move from overseas to Harlem, but I didn't ask him. I was running late for my hair appointment on 110 and Columbus. But he told me to call the phone number that was on the sign. That there was a lottery for people from the community, which I guess meant us. He was real nice. I gave the number to Mommy when I got home but she was too tired from work to call.
Well, how you doing? Tell me some more about what it's like in there. Is it a bunch of faggots running around, trying to feel your booty? Antonio, you better promise me that you don't do nothing like that. You better promise me you don't turn homo. You will go to hell if that's what you start doing. That's nasty and it's a sin. Matter of fact, any sex is a sin if it's not a man and wife who are married. That's why I think Antonio we shouldn't do itanymore. Antonio, I love the way you make me feel, like I'm a real woman and you make me wanna cry sometime it feel so good, but I feel really guilty that we did it and I'm not a virgin anymore. I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to snap, but Mommy tried to take me to the clinic on 116th and Lenox a couple weeks ago to get me that shot, but I wasn't about to do that shit. I wasn't about to get all fat and disgusting and have all my hair fall out. I told her we wasn't doing nothing. How could we? I told her, "You and Roy watch me like a hawk, y'all watch every move I make." If they knew I was skipping school and lying about track practice to be with you, they would kill me. So, I committed two sins: fucking and lying.
This Sunday in church with Grandma, when the preacher called people to the altar, I was the first in line. I think I want to get saved, to get baptized for real this time, not like when you a kid and you don't know what's going on. I don't know what happened to me. I just started crying and I couldn't stop. I was mostly thinking about how I was going to go to hell for having sex outside marriage, for lying to my mother. Then, I thought about how maybe that was God's punishment for you was to put you in jail because we sinned. And I just couldn't stop crying and shaking and then my legs got weak and I fell to the ground and I was crying and screaming and people started fanning me and putting their hands on me and the holy women started singing and the organ started going real fast and loud in myhead, and I heard somebody scream "Save this child Jesus" before I passed out.
February 11, 1990 Dear Baby Girl:
You looked so good this weekend I thought about just saying fuck it and trying to fight my way out of here. I thought that maybe if I just lay low and act all sweet and innocent that these co's will let their guard down around me, and I could pull a fast one on them like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. My mother used to make me watch that shit all the time when it came on late at night on cable, and I remember the first time I saw it I cried cause he didn't get away in the end. I bet I could get some of these older cats to help me out. They call me young blood cause I just made seventeen. It's two named Mookie and MGD who kinda look after me. I eat and lift with them and shit. They call me Bird because they say I got a bird chest, and I told them motherfuckers that's all right cause I'm gonna be eighteen and I'm gonna keep drinking my milk and grow up and whoop all they asses. But for real though, you looked real sweet and luscious in all that pink. I see you wore that little Karl Kani shirt I bought you. I got XS so it could fit just like that, all tightaround your tatas. I wished nobody else was there so I could put em in my mouth for a minute, suck them like you like. And I like your new do, all braided tight and long down your back. That shit is hot. But the kiss was nice, it was enough to hold me over for a minute. It was so soft and sweet and wet. It felt like wet grass between my toes when we let the hydrants loose in the summer, or soap bubbles before you squeeze them too tight. I love your lips. I can't stop thinking about them and I still got that lip gloss flavor on em cause I won't wash it offI think this time it was peach and not strawberry like you normally wear. I smelled it in my sleep so I dreamed about us. You coulda gave me a little bit more you know, but I understand if you was embarrassed, with my mother and cousin and brothers and shit all around. You gonna have to come by yourself one day, if they let you. If you dress up and put on some makeup you could look eighteen, you would just have to think of something to tell your mother and your stepdaddy.
I'm gonna have to finish this letter up because my lawyer is going to be coming here any minute now, and he wanted me to write down a minute by minute account or some shit like that of the day before it happened. I'm saying "it" and not murder because I ain't no murderer and you know that so we don't have to go over it again. But I haven't done it yet. I don't know why, I guess I just don't wanna think about it right now. So if I don't finish it then he can just be mad at me. I don't care if he get mad at me because he ain't gonna do shit but huff and puff and fiddlewith his glasses and swirl that one long hair he got on his head around his bald spot and grab his briefcase and run out and say something like, Antonio I'm here for you, I'm trying to help you. If you don't want my help then fine, or some other crackerjack talk. But before I go, I want to tell you Natasha that I love you with all my heart and a man don't say that often so when he does, he means it. And you don't have to worry about me turning into no gay faggot. I'm 100, no fuck that, 200 percent strong Black man. I do love you, that's why if I find out that you messin around behind my back, giving it up to somebody else while I'm in here, then you won't have to worry about me going to jail because I will just kill myself. I'm serious. I will find something to slit my throat or hang some sheets from the ceiling or make one of these big, swole niggaz in here so mad at me that they break my neck. To answer your question from the last letter, or I don't know if it was a question but I'll respond, what we do together is not a sin. It's a sin when two people get down and they don't love each other and they in it just for the thrill of the moment, for a little bit of pleasure. But see me and you is like a team, like Adam and Eve in the Bible, so how can that possibly be a sin if we love each other? You're right, lying is a sin and fucking is too. But we don't fuck, we make love.
PS. You know what? I'm sick and tired of McDonald's and bologna sandwiches. Remember how me and you used to cut Mr. Lombard class every six and seventh period so we couldgo to McDonald's and get a vanilla shake and large fry and Big Mac to share? Well, Mr. Lombard don't have to worry about me skipping his class for Ronald McDonald no damn more. You know they feeding us Mickey D type shit, right? Every day and morning and noon and night. Mickey D's. In the morning we have them sponge pancakes and nasty eggs, and at lunch we have shitburgers and at night we have shitburgers again. Sometimes they'll substitute a bologna sandwich. When I first got here, I had to do number 2 all the time cause of all the Mickey D's. I was embarrassed, but everybody told me not to worry about it cause they all did it too. But know this much, when I get out of here, I don't want to see the golden arches ever again in my life!
February 14, 1990
Dear Sweety Pie Honey Bunch Baby Love Strong Black Man Antonio,
Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Belated Birthday! Bonjour. Comment ça va? Je suis très fatiguée and sad and missing you a lot. Okay, I tried a little bit of French. If Madame Girard come over and snatch this note I'm writing to you, she can't say it don't have nothing to do with class. But I said bonjour, which means hello or good day. Then I said how are you and I'm very tired and you know the rest. Thank you for my card and the teddy bear and everything. It was so sweet. When Black gave it to methis morning and told me that you told him exactly what to go out and buy, I started crying a little bit, I ain't gonna lie. I'm glad you liked the way I looked this weekend. Me and Laneice stayed up all night doing my hair and I wore that shirt you bought me on purpose. Antonio, you so nasty asking for a kiss in front of your mother. You right, I was a little shame at first, but I forgot about them real quick when I felt your tongue in my mouth. On the way back, you know Trevon and Black was making fun of me, making sucking noises and shit. But your mother just looked at me and then looked at them and then looked back at me and smiled that little smile she does when she know me and you ain't been to the movies like we said. And she was just like, "Ain't nothing wrong with a little bit of kissing, nothing wrong with a little bit of love." When you get out, I'm giving you all the love in the world. And you getting out of there soon baby! Did you hear on the news that this man in South Africa named Nelson Mandela got out of jail after 27 motherfucking years for some shit he didn't even do? Can you imagine being locked up for 27 years for something wasn't even your fault? Mr. Lombard made us sit in a circle and shit and get all cozy and talk about it, and here everybody go looking at me. Like I know about it just cause you in the joint. All I'm thinking is, it gotta be some hope for you Antonio if this man can hold on for 27 damn years and not break. You can stay strong for the few months it's gonna take to get you out of there. You know what the best part was? His wifewas waiting for him when he got out, just like I'm gonna be waiting for you.
But I guess you wanna know why I'm tired? Same old shit, different night. Mommy and Roy got into it last nightagain. The worst part is I think it's my fault. You remember when I told you about those new houses that they're building? Well, I thought my mother wasn't paying attention to me and wasn't listening, but I guess she was. She called the number last week and went down to this place in Midtown where they help people like us, you know without any money, get houses. Well, Roy found out about it the other night cause me and my mother was at the kitchen table trying to figure out the paperwork. She needed me to help her understand stuff like combined household income and assets and net worth and all that stuff we learned in econ. So anyway, we sitting at the kitchen table with our pencils sharpened and the calculators out and going, and this nigga come in the house smelling like weed and acting a fool. He is just so ugly to me Antonio, with them big red bubble eyes and those little nasty braids sticking up on his head like ant legs. Mommy keep trying to tell him he ain't never gonna grow no dreads because he's losing his hair, that he just gonna have one or two locks hanging on for dear life, but I guess he's like Jesse Jackson and trying to keep hope alive. Me and my mother was having so much fun too. She was laughing and she had pulled out some of her old tapes, stuff like Chaka Khan and Patti Labelle and Regina Belle. She was eventrying to sing a little bit, and she had just promised that she would do my hair for over the weekend. My mother hasn't done my hair in so long Antonio, so I was getting excited just thinking about sitting between her legs while she parted my hair and rubbed my scalp until I got sleepy like a baby. But Roy messed all that up real quick, just like he been messing shit up for the past two years he been in our lives. He came in the kitchen and sat in the chair all backward. He said, "Denise what you doing?" and my mother just told his ass, "Nothing Roy, it don't concern you," which made me think that if we get this house he won't move in, which would be perfect. So he was like, "What you mean it don't concern me? Why you gotta be all bitchy? I just asked a question." So she lit a cigarette, which meant she was getting nervous cause Mommy only smoke when she nervous, and she told him, "I'm thinking about trying to buy me something." And Roy was like, "You need all them papers just to buy something? Must be a pretty big something." Then she said, "It is big. I want to buy a home." And he started laughing, howling really, all loud and sloppy and exaggerated. And I was thinking it really ain't that funny so he must be just trying to hurt Mommy. And I was right, cause he started going on and on about how nobody was gonna give her a house cause she didn't even have her high school diploma and couldn't pass the GED and she couldn't pay for a house and then she started saying that he wasn't no better andhe couldn't help her do shit and she could do bad all by herself. Before I knew it, she had scooped all the papers up and stuffed them in the kitchen junk drawer. That was the end of that.
I just got up and went into my room and shut the door and turned up my Queen Latifah record real loud so I wouldn't have to hear all the arguing. I pulled out a picture of my daddy when he was alive and when I was first born, you know the one I showed you that looks kind of orange, with me and Mommy and Daddy and those fake trees in the back and I had those two Afro puffs and a sailor suit on? And I was mad at my daddy, mad at him because he had to leave me and my mother and die. Then I got mad at the world for the fire that took our building and my daddy. I mean Antonio why did MY father have to die? Out of all the daddies in the world, God just had to take mine. I was only eleven. Eleven years ain't no time with your father. It's not fair. It's not right. And I got mad at you too, Antonio. Mad because you couldn't talk to me about what was happening in your house and what was going on so I could have tried to help you, so you wouldn't leave me too. Sometimes, I wonder what the point of loving somebody is, if all they gonna do is turn around and leave you in the end. I hope you got a good lawyer, because I can't stand the thought of you being locked up for life. Because in that case, you might as well be dead to me. I'm not trying to make you feel bad, but I just don't know howmuch more I can take. I'm real lonely out here in this world, on the outside like you like to call it.
Au revoir (that means until I see you again and I will see you again soon),
PS. J'adore Antonio ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
February 18, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Okay there is not much I can say in this letter. I'm gonna have to wait until I see you again because like I told you, these crackers read my shit and I don't want to say anything that might incriminate me. My lawyer told me not to talk to anybody about anything, because it could all be evidence against me in the end. But baby, please don't be mad at me right now. I can't take you being mad at me right now. That thought is like a dagger in my heart, or swallowing a razor and shitting it out. Remember when we were at the library and you found that book showing how white folks threw slaves in the ocean with anchors and chains around their ankles, so they could sink and never come up again? That's what you made me feel like, a slave in the middle of the ocean with a anchor around my feet. Like I was in some deep dark ocean where nobody loved me or cared about me, like I was in the dark with water all around me and inside of me. Like I should just give up andnot even try to fight or struggle anymore. When I read your letter my stomach got all twisted and I got a taste in my mouth like the cod liver oil my mother used to force down my throat when I was sick. You all I got right now, you and my mother and that's it. Maybe Trevon and Black, but it's a different type of loyalty we have. I ain't a punk, but the only thing I can say right now is that I need you, Natasha. I never thought I'd say I need no female, but I need you right now and I can't stand the thought of you being mad at me. I can't tell you totally what happened the night Daddy died, and I wish I could because I know that it would help you believe in me. Let's just say it's not what you or other people think.
All I can say is that my lawyer is a good guy and I think he really working hard for me. He joke with me all the time about how I'm going to be back in school and back on the courts in no time. He told me that all we have to do is get my story straight and argue that I snapped from seeing my father hit my mother one too many times and I couldn't take it anymore and that's why I did what I did. And that's the truth, it's not a lie. You'll hear in court what happened, the truth will come out when I have my day in court. They want to try me as an adult because I'm seventeen now. He told me that he's trying to persuade the judge that I shouldn't be tried as an adult, and he said that he is sure he can do that for me. Which means, Natasha, that the longest I can be locked up is until I'm 21 and that's not a long time for us to be apart. When I'm 21, you'll just be 20. When I get out we can get married real quickand start a family and buy a house where you can do hair or make clothes in the basement and I can have a music studio or sumthin down there too. We can do it. We can get through it and this can happen for us. I just need for you not to be mad at me and not to leave me, just to stick by me and not to leave me. Write me back as soon as you get this.
Love always and forever,
Michael Antonio Lawrence II
February 28, 1990
Antonio, I'm so sorry that it has taken me so long to answer your letter. I know you wanted me to write back as soon as I got it, but the truth is, Roy had your letter and was keeping it from me. Yeah, he read your shit. I saw an envelope with NEW YORK STATE INMATE CORRESPONDENCE SERVICES balled up on the dresser in my mother's room when she sent me in there to get her purse so I could go to the corner store. And I snatched it off the dresser and came out demanding to know who opened my shit and who read it. And my mother looked like she didn't know what I was talking about, and then Roy started laughing that ole stupid laugh of his. Talking bout, "Girl calm down. I just wanted to know what the little nigger was talking about. You better write him back soon, cause I don't want the young'un drowning in the ocean." I don't know what happened, I just couldn'ttake it anymore. I had to do something. I had to hit somebody. I hate him Antonio. I hate him so much. I just started screaming and kicking, and my arms were swinging around like the fan blades and I was saying, "I hate you I hate you I hate you!" over and over again. He was laughing at me the whole time, grabbing my arm and lifting me up off of my feet like I was a rag doll. And my mother was screaming, "Don't hurt her Roy! Don't hurt her please don't hurt my baby!" and then he finally put me down. I just left the house in a daze. I don't know how, but I ended up on the 2 going to the Bronx. I stayed at my grandmother's house this weekend. I'm not leaving. I'm not going back there. Drew was smart getting the hell out of that house when Roy came. I don't care what my grandmother say about trying to get along. I'm not going back.
So Antonio, I'm sorry that I didn't write back soon. I didn't get your letter and I thought you weren't thinking about me because you were too busy getting ready for your trial and stuff. Write me back soon. Or try to call me collect at my grandmother's house cause this is where I'll be for the rest of my life.
March 1, 1990 Dear Whore:
Natasha you are a stupid bitch. You don't care about me. All you know how to do is think about yourself. You don't think about me waiting for your letter every day you don't think about me calling your house and you're not there and I don't know where you are if you dead or alive or if you got somebody else. You're selfish and you get on my nerves bitch bitch bitch hoe hoe hoe bitch I hate you
March 14, 1990 Dear Antonio,
I don't know what's going on with us. I don't know why you're treating me like this but you need to chill. Stop breakin' on me for something that wasn't my fault. Antonio, I miss you so much my stomach been hurting and I can't eat no more. I was even throwing up the other night and Roy black ass gonna tell Mommy, "You better go get the girl a piss test and see if she pregnant." I told him, "Leave me the fuck alone," and called him a gorilla-looking son of a bitch under my breath. Why he always on my case? But I miss you so much Antonio, I'm gonnadie. I swear I'm gonna just lay down and not get back up. I think I lost about ten pounds, maybe even more. Them tight skirts you used to like on me ain't even tight no more. I don't have a belt tight enough to keep em up. Antonio, I'm so worried about you I don't know what to do. I NEEEEEEEDDDDDD to see you. I don't know why you not calling me. What did I do to you? I can't even eat and I can barely sleep because I'm so worried about you and scared that you hate me. I had to leave Mr. Lombard class the other day because I was crying again. He tried to talk to me after class again, telling me that he was always there to talk and asking me if I needed counseling or some shit like that. I don't know why that white man always trying to be my friend after class when he treat me like shit in class, but whatever. I don't know if you got beat up in there or what. I talked to your mom and she said that you were calling the house. I asked her if you had asked about me and she said that you said you were through with me. She asked me, "What did you do to my son?" and I told her I didn't do nothing. I explained to her about why I didn't write you back, about Roy and stuff, and she just nodded her head and said something like, "Antonio just acting real sensitive right now." I don't think she believe me because she been acting funny now when I stop by, so I don't stay long no more. Or maybe she just sad, real sad that you ain't there and Mr. Lawrence is dead and Tyler and Trevon is asking her why they daddy gone and they big brother is locked up. So I didn't ask if I could go with them to see you thisweekend. If your mother's mad at me and you're mad at me, then I didn't want to place myself in a uncomfortable situation.
But I just want you to know that I do love you. I'm sorry if I wasn't thinking about you and what you're going through. I guess I shoulda wrote to you even if you didn't write me, and I promise it won't happen again. I promise you I won't ever hurt you again or ever cheat on you in life. The prom is coming up and I swear to you I'm not going with anybody. Me and Laneice and some of my cousins might all go together and wear the same colors, but that's it. You'll be there in my heart. I'll put your picture in my purse. Write me back soon or call me when you get a chance. I'm back at home now with my mother, so you can call me there. I will sit at home all week if I have to and wait for your call.
March 17, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Baby, I'm so sorry for everything I ever did to you. I'm so sorry for making you upset and making you cry and I promise I will never do it again. When I heard your voice on the phone the other day I just felt so stupid and mad at myself for treating you the way that I treated you and saying thethings that I said and returning your letters. You better keep your promise and send them back because I want to read each and every one of them and write you back for each and every one. I was so relieved when you picked up the phone and took my call. I thought that you would hate me after the way I treated you and how I acted. MGD and Mookie was laughing at me when I was talking on the phone with your ass, calling me whipped and sprung and shit cause I was apologizing so much. They was like, Youngblood got it bad, youngblood got the jones. But I didn't care. I love you. You're my woman, my lady, my girl, my heart. Nothing else mattered when I was talking to you. My trial is about to start soon, and it's gonna be over quick because everybody gonna see the truth about what happened. And when they see the truth and see I ain't no monster and that I'm a real person with feelings who wouldn't kill his daddy for nothing, they gonna let me go and then we can be together forever. We can be with each other forever. I want to marry you. Natasha, will you marry me?
March 21, 1990 Dear Antonio,
March 26, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Nubian Princess Always got my back Totally real and fresh Antonio's woman for life Smile like sunshine Hair like silk All the Woman I need
Love you forever,
March 30, 1990 Dear Antonio,
Your mother is real excited about us getting married. She told me that I should make you buy me a big diamond ring when you get outin a few weeks, she said. You didn't tell me baby you was getting out in a few weeks, did you? Anyway anyway, it's this place up on 125th and 7th where I know we could get a big diamond real cheap. It might be stolen from somewhere, but it'll still be cheap. I'm sure if you got about a hundred or two dollars we could get one. After the rings we can get a car, then an apartment to call our own, and then a house. Rememberwhen Black had stole that Malibu on 145th, by the library, and we drove up and down FDR all night? You looked so fine behind the steering wheel. I was shocked that you could drive. You never told me you were that good behind the wheel. Then you promised me you would teach me.
When I was smaller and my feet couldn't even reach the pedals, my daddy used to let me sit on his lap and take hold of the wheel while he put his hard hands on top of mine. One time I drove almost all the way down 125th when it was Christmastime. I counted all the lighted Christmas trees hanging above the streetlights. That was one of the only ways I even knew it was the holidays. I counted seven Christmas trees in the sky before my daddy bounced me off his knee real fast. He had spotted this cop pulling up behind us when we passed 5th and he was worried about getting pulled over cause his license was suspended. Daddy slowed down, turned off the radio, and I swore I could hear his heart beating as loud as mine the whole way, and I kept looking back to see if a police car would be behind us with its lights flashing and then the cop would pull us over and throw my daddy on the car and handcuff him while his head was down low and I would have to walk to my uncle's house around the corner on 124th and Lenox and maybe just maybe somebody I went to school with would see me walking and ask me why or see my daddy in the police car and ask me why and I would have to tell them and be laughed at the next day at school. We was quietthe whole way home until we made it to our building, where my mother was looking out of the window on the fourth floor, waiting for us with Drew in her arms because he was still just a baby. She couldn't start dinner until Daddy came home with the groceries, and I remember how happy my daddy looked bringing the groceries up the stairs, staring at my mother like he couldn't wait to make another baby with her. We were a regular happy family back then, before the fire, before Roy, before Drew left to live with Grandma. Me and you gonna have a family like that one day, we gonna start all over again and get it right.
April 5, 1990 Natasha,
Baby, I'm scared. I don't think I want you to come to the trial. My lawyer said that he might call you to testify, to talk about my character and to talk about my relationship with my mother and father. But he said that most likely he won't need you, since you can'twhat was the wordsubstantiate any abuse or anything. He asked me if you knew about it and I told him you didn't know shit about it because I wasn't trying to expose you to anything. Tyler and Trevon definitely gonna have to talk, maybe Black since hemy best friend and he was in our house a lot. I don't think I want anybody I know to come to the trial. It's a lot of things you don't know about me, things that have happened to me in my life that I'm embarrassed to have people know. My lawyer been practicing with me, he been schooling me on what to say and how to act and how to look at the jury and the judge and all that so they can be sympathetic for me. He told me that it was only about five of us on the jury, you know, black people. He said that he tried to get more, but he couldn't. He said that he tried not to pick no old people or no Christians because they was the worst when it came to feeling sorry for somebody, especially me since people think that the worst thing in the world is killing one of your parents. He said if it was my mother, I could have hung it up, but since it was my daddya manthat I have a big chance. He said that I have a real chance. I really ain't never talked about God a lot or went to church, mostly cause my family didn't, but I guess you should pray for me. I think that's gonna help.
April 8, 1990 Dear Antonio,
How can you ask me not to come to your trial? Baby you KNOW I gotta be there for my man! How you gonnaask me to not come down there so I can see you every day? I'm gonna get on the train and come to the courthouse every day. Fuck school, cause I ain't learning shit in that dump anyway. Everybody been looking at me at lunch, in the halls, in the courtyard, talking bout "Ah-hah, yo man locked up." Like you was a nobody or something. These the same motherfuckers used to laugh in your face, used to be your friends. And to think, we actually worry about who like us and who don't, when even the people who act like they like you ain't got your back when you need it. Plus Mommy don't care if I go. All she can think about is Roy, so she won't know no better. I told you that your lawyer and the popos and everybody else been trying to get me to talk, but I told em I don't know shit. But if they want me to say something good, I'll be there. I wouldn't miss that for the world. I'm gonna look real good for you too, baby. Every day I'm gonna have a new outfit, something fierce and sexy, so you can have something to think about at night when you can't sleep cause you thinking about being with me. And don't worry about me hearing anything at the trial that's gonna make me stop loving you. THAT is never going to happen. I ain't never gonna stop loving you as long as I live. So, make sure that you look for my face out in the audience, whenever you thinking about giving up or thinking the judge don't like you, know that you got somebody out there who love you and got your back.
Love, your wife,
April 12, 1990 Hey boo,
Never thought the infamous Antonio Michael Lawrence would be saying this, but God I miss school!!! I miss that punk ass principal Mr. Diggs, I miss them damn security guards chasing my ass around and making me go to class, I even miss those nasty slices of pizza at lunch. Yo those things taste like rubber, but I don't think anything could be worse than McDonald's all the damn time. I miss wilding out in the hallway and joshing with Black in class, casing on people and shit. Talking about each other's moms and each other's dicks. I even miss my teachers, a little bit at least. I miss driving them up the wall. Madame Girard still crazy, still running around with them bright ass colors on talking about she celebrating Mardi Gras? Yo that bitch was crazy. I know she used to be cussing me out in French and knew I hadn't studied that shit so I wouldn't be able to tell. You said Mr. Lombard getting on your nerves? What's new? Mr. Cook still bringing in his whack ass rhymes, trying to get us to listen to that shit? He need to stick to teaching English and leave hip-hop to the pros. But I guess I really liked Mr. Cook cause he came to work looking nice every day in his suits and shit, although I don't know why he was dressing up just for us. But he used to tell me all the time, Antonio, you gotta dress for success. That's what he always used to say when I rode him about them tight pants and his shoes shining like newmoney. I mean, his wife is mad fine, so I don't know why she didn't dress him better. He used to say with that funny ass voice, Black man got hard enough boat to row in this country without being harshly judged for their appearance. You need to pull your pants up and tuck your shirt in young man. Or he used to call me son sometimes, and I imagined he was my daddy. Member all that "Crackdown on Putdowns" shit he tried when he got sick of us making fun of him for that Jamaican accent? That week, I musta got put out about forty or fifty times cause I couldn't stop making fun of that motherfucker when he was up there trying to teach us that Catcher in the Rye shit. Now that I'm locked up, I kind of wish I woulda listened to him a lot more.
I didn't want to tell nobody, but I really did like that book, The Catcher in the Rye. Yeah yeah yeah, I know I told you I didn't read it and I made you write that damn narrative essay or whatever the hell it was for me. But I did read it, matter of fact I read it twice. I was really feeling all that Man vs. Society and Man vs. Self shit that Mr. Cook was telling us Holden was going through. Like I was really identifying with the part when he fell down the steps and slipped on them peanuts or cashews or whatever the hell it was, cause I thought that meant that it was easy for you to kind of walk into stuff in life that could make you fall, that could trip you up just when you thought you couldn't get any lower. That's what I used to think before this shit, but now I'm like Holden Caulfield slipping on peanuts. Shit only got worse for me. I'm gonna tell you alittle secret that you can't tell nobody and you better not show nobody this letter cause then they'll know. But remember that part in the very end of the book, when Holden sister, I think her name was Phoebe, was on that carousel and he couldn't stop looking at her and he started crying because he thought she looked so pretty? And then it started to rain, and he couldn't even move because he was just so happy looking at her? I had started crying on that part, cause I was thinking about this one time that my mother had took me and Trevon all the way to Coney Island to walk on the boardwalk and ride the Ferris wheel. I had stood down at the bottom cause you could only ride two at a time and Trevon wouldn't ride with nobody but Ma. But she looked pretty like that, with her bright red lipstick on and them big doorknocker earrings and her baseball cap. She looked like mad young and I had looked at her in a different way that day, like I could see why my daddy fell in love with her. I had wanted to write about that for my narrative essay or response or whatever that shit was called, but I guess I didn't want to worry about the fellas laughing at me.
Yeah, I miss that place, never thought I'd say that shit but it's true. Most of all, I miss looking at your fine ass every day, passing notes and shit, sneaking feels in the stairway. I can't wait to get back. I'm gonna be a different person. I mean that Natasha. If I get out of this shit, Michael Antonio Lawrence II is gonna be a new man. I made a promise to God that if he let me out then I'm gonna be the person that him and my mother would want me to be.I promise I'm gonna do all my homework, I'm not gonna make the subs cry, I ain't gonna crack on nobody in class, I ain't gonna cheat off my boys work. Matter of fact, I'm gonna make them start studying. Imagine that, me and Black and some of our other cats in the library or at the crib with a book open and the TV off. I can't wait to see that one. But I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna make it happen. I'm gonna change, cause if me and you gonna do this man and wife shit, then I gotta get my shit together. That's on the real. I gotta go to college, get a good job, make sumthin out of myself so I can do right by you and the kids. I ain't gonna fuck up like my daddy did. I ain't gonna have my kids living in no projects, wearing hand-me-down shit and lying to folks over the phone cause I can't pay my bills. I ain't gonna drink myself silly and beat my wife and my kids cause I ain't a man and I can't pay my bills. I ain't gonna fuck no young tricks in my wife bed cause I don't have respect for her. I ain't gonna do none of that. I'm gonna be a good man.
Love, your husband,
April 19, 1990 Dear Antonio,
You looked so good today in the courtroom. I ain't never seen you in a suit before and you sure looked fresh in it.It made me think that maybe if we went to church like my grandmother always trying to get me to do, I would have seen you in a suit before. And maybe if we went to church, God would smile down on us more like my grandmother say and this wouldn't have happened. But, oh well, it did happen so here we are. Anyway, I helped your mother pick out that suit. We went all the way to Macy's to get it. It cost almost 150 dollars, Antonio. Your mother said she had used some of the money she got from people after the funeral to buy it. She had wanted to buy you some of them corny ass loafers to wear with your suit, but I told her Antonio IS NOT gonna wear them shoes. She tried to challenge me, and said, "Little girl, I think I know my son better than you do." So I had to break her heart and let her know she didn't. I told her about them no-name jeans she used to get you from Conway, remember the ones with the pockets all high to your stomach and them thick cuffs at the bottom? I told her you used to take them jeans off in gym and wear sweats hanging down all day. She looked hurt about it, but at least she took my advice and we got the black sneaks. Who braiding your hair up in the joint? It looked all nice and neat and fresh. Let me find out you got a "girl"friend up in there! I'm just kidding. I know you wouldn't never leave me and go that way. I was surprised that things was so short today. I thought we was gonna be there a long time. I thought it was gonna be a lot more screaming and yelling and the judge banging his gavel and stuff like that. But everything was prettychill, which was cool. The less action the better in this case, right? I think your lawyer real good. He did a good job talking to the jury about you, he made you sound real good. Not that you ain't real good anyway, but it seemed like you was going through some shit you wasn't letting me in on. I didn't know you was going through it baby. Why didn't you tell me? If we gonna be husband and wife, I'm gonna need to know these things. I'm gonna need to know about what's going on with you at all times, so no shit like this don't ever happen again.
PS. Madame Girard want me to apply for this special program they got for kids who go to public school in New York City to go to France over the summer. She said that you could spend like a whole month in Paris over the summer, living with a family and taking classes and going to all these art museums and stuff. She told me she would write me a recommendation because I do good in her class. See Antonio, when you come back to school you gotta make sure you do good in her class so she can write you a recommendation and you can go too. Maybe we can get married before we go and this can be our free honeymoon. Think about it, okay boo?
April 23, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Baby, you don't know how good it felt to see you today. Did you notice anything different about me? I been liftingI got muscles now. Three months in here and I ain't no bird chest no more. MGD and Mookie was riding me the other day at lunch, talking bout You done graduated, sonpre-K to kindergarten. When I get out and we finally get some time alone, I'm gonna put it down like I never did before. Baby, you gonna love my new body. I'm hard as a brick. I think that tomorrow if you sit right behind me we could be close enough to hold hands under the railing, behind my chair. I don't think the cops will notice if we be real low-key about it. I think that things is going real good for me with this thing. It seem like all the witnesses they have are doing a good job of really convincing the judge that I'm not a bad kid. I think I can feel real good about my lawyer. He's a cool dude, he's on my side. I guess I had watched too many movies where the court-appointed attorney wasn't shit, but he different with his nerdy ass. He always make sure that I get something real good to eat when I'm not behind bars, cause he know what I'm going through in there. The other day, he brought me some funny-smelling tie food or something like that, some of that Chinese shit. It was good though, a bunch of noodles in some peanut sauce. I never knew you could make sauce with peanuts, but I'm learning a lot of shit I never knew these days.
We got some psychiatrist test back today that they had did on me, and he said some corny shit like, By George Antonio you're a genius. And I told him to quit messing with me and he was like, No, according to these tests, you're in the mid to upper echelon or some shit of human intelligence. I was like get the fuck out of here, and he said he was serious. Then I told him, That's good shit. And he was like, Actually it isn't. He said he wasn't trying to get me down, but his job would be a lot easier if I was retarded. I thought that was some funny shit and we laughed, but I would rather go to jail than for people to think I'm a retard. Now, I never thought of myself as no genius. I wonder what my homeboys would think about that. I know none of my teachers would say that shit. I didn't do homework, ain't never made the honor roll in my life. I guess when I get out of here and change my ways, I'm gonna get on that motherfucker for real. Maybe I should forget about music and balling, and think about being a scientist or some shit like that. But back to the trial, I liked that one dude who got up and testified for me, the coroner or whoever who said that the angles of the entry wounds showed that my daddy was probably coming at me when I stabbed him. That bitch prosecutor tried to stare him down and shake him and keep asking him the same questions over and over again but in different ways. Did you catch that baby? I did. Well, he didn't shake. He stuck to what he said, which was that my daddy had to be coming at me. He wouldn't break for her. And I couldn't believe that Mr. Cook came through, that he showed up for me. With one of them tight suits on again. Ithink that was a big thing for us, cause my lawyer had said when we were eating that tie shit, This was a good day Antonio, a real good day. I think it was too. He told me that between the experts and the character witnesses, I would be straight.
But my family is coming upmy mother and my brother and my partners are getting ready to get up there and start talking about things I don't want to talk about, things I don't want nobody to hear. I gotta get up there too, and every day me and my lawyer be practicing what I'm gonna say. He be cursing me out and shouting and getting real mean, but he just doing what he gotta do so I can be prepared for anything that could come up. I think that's the day I don't want you to come, when my family start talking. I don't think I can take you hearing the truth about me.
April 27, 1990 My dearest Antonio,
It's late at night and I'm sitting out here by myself on the fire escape, looking at 7th Ave, thinking about you and how we used to sit out here and hug and laugh and tickle each other and kiss real hard and long. I miss you so much my whole body hurts. Mommy just went backinside. I can still smell her Avon perfume, it's stuck in the air all around me, like she's still out here with me and holding me tight. Drew spent the night tonight. He said Grandma been acting a little cuckoo lately, making him clean greens and chitlins and turn soil and shit and he can't take it. Mommy tried to tell him that no matter where he went it was gonna be something he didn't like, and that he couldn't run away every time he didn't want to follow rules. So she told him since he made the choice to up and leave and help Grandma and live with her for a while, that he could only stay for the night and then he was gonna have to take his butt back to the Bronx. Roy wasn't even around, so I don't think she was trying to please him when she said it. I think she was really right and trying to teach Drew a lesson. I guess she was right. You can't have it your way all the time.
But he was sleep on the couch snoring and slobbing all over the pillows, and my mother had came out to put a blanket on him cause it's still a little chilly even though it's spring. So after she put the blanket on him, she came out to the fire escape to smoke a cigarette. She asked me if the smoke was bothering me, and I told her no. Then she asked me if I had smoked before, and I couldn't even lie. Hell, me and Laneice was smoking L's last night. I don't know what it is, but I always find it hard to lie to my mother. That shit is, like, almost impossible. I just started laughing and kind of whispered, "Yeah ..." She didn't get mad though, she just told me that she wished she had never started and then told me Ishould stop while I still got a chance. She asked me how I was doing, and I told her I was okay. I started to tell her that I had been skipping school to come to your trial, but I figured I didn't want to hit her with too much at one time. The smoking was enough for one night. The school can't call cause our phone disconnected anyway. But she saw my notebook out and me writing, and she said, "Girl, you and them letters." I thought she was gonna say something smart or crack on me or whatever, but she didn't. She just kind of looked up at the sky, then down at the street cause it was so quiet and empty. I mean, there wasn't one car or one person on the block for a few minutes, and you know that never happens around here. Then she just kind of patted my shoulder and told me not to stay up too late. And here I am, staying up late writing to you. But Antonio, I'm going to have to wrap this letter up soon. I gotta do my science and English homework, plus I think I'm gonna go ahead and apply for that thing that Madame Girard want me to apply to. I think that it would be a good learning experience for me, like she said. I never really been out of New York. I been to Albany and Philly to visit some of my relatives, and I been down to VA and North Carolina. But shit, that's it. Imagine going all the way over the ocean. It's like 100,000 miles and it takes about eight hours on the plane. I never even been on a plane before. I think it would be amazing to look down and see the tops of all the buildings in Harlem, then New York, then the United States, and then all of a sudden the whole world.Laneice flew one time, to Disney World with her church, and she told me that it looks like the sky done reversed itself. Like, it switched places with the ground. She said that's what people mean when they say they're walking on air, because when you look out the window and see the clouds below you, you feel like nothing can touch you. That's how I want to feel right now, like nothing in the world can touch me. (Except you.)
April 30, 1990 Baby Girl,
I never thought I would ever see my mother as sad as I saw her today. I never ever seen my moms cry before, never, not even when Daddy was kicking her ass or when it wasn't no food in the house or when I fucked up in school. I bet she ain't even cry at the funeral, did she? You don't have to tell me, I know she didn't. I never knew before today how much my mother really loves me. I asked her a thousand times since that day, Ma, you still love me? Ma, you mad at me? And she always say that she would never stop loving me cause I was her firstborn and I came out of her body first and showed her what it meant to really be a woman, so she said that she would never stop loving me. But she ain't never answer if she was mad at me, she never answeredthat question straight. She just say stuff like, I'm sorry for what I put you through, or I should have left, or I wish things would have been better. So I guess she is kind of mad at me, at least a little bit. But after today, I know she still love me. I guess I didn't want you to know about the things that went on in my house, about that shit that go on behind closed doors that nobody wanna talk about. And I guess I didn't want you to be mad at me about letting shit go on. I should have been a man. I should have handled shit better.
I could handle it when Black got up there, told them about that night, how we came home and my mother was all beat up and I grabbed a knife out of the sink and me and my daddy got into it and I just tried to get him off my mother but I stabbed him instead, by accident. Maybe. I don't care if somebody reading this letter because I need to stand up and be a man and admit the truth to myself. I know Trevon was lying for me up there. I think he don't think it was a accident, and looking back I don't think it was either. I think I meant to do it. I meant to kill my father, Natasha. It wasn't an accident. I did it. I guess I'm just gonna have to live with that. I wanted to shut my ears and crawl down on the floor and die when Trevon started talking about how my daddy swelled up, how he got heavy, how him and me and my mother pulled him in the bathroom and left him there while me and my mom was trying to figure out what to do. Trevon helped me remember it, helped me remember how I felt, how my head was swimming and how I couldn't breathe or think or eat or dream about nothing but the body the body the bodycoming to get me and swallow me whole. I wanted to get up and go out of the room and cry by myself, like a man, but I know I couldn't get up and go nowhere. I know they would have wrestled me down on the ground and put their knees in my back and on my neck and made my mother cry even more, so fuck it, I just sat there and let tears come down my face. I tried to stop myself, but I just couldn't help saying, "I'm sorry Ma." I know I upset the courtroom, but I couldn't help myself. Ma was really trying to get those people to believe her, to believe that I was a good son. But I know I wasn't. I lied, I got in trouble in school, I stayed out all night and had her worrying and shit. I guess I did all that shit cause I didn't want to be at home. I didn't want to see my daddy hitting her or drinking or running around with other women. I couldn't stand seeing Tyler and Trevon cry all the time. I couldn't stand that shit. I didn't want to see it. But if I would have known my mother was hurting and upset, I would have done better I really would have. I would have been a better son. I got a whole weekend to think about what I'm gonna say when I get up there, how I'm gonna get these people to believe I'm not a monster.
May 1, 1990
Antonio, we can't change the past. We can only focus on the future. That's what Madame Girard and Mr. Cook and Mr. Lombard and my mother and my grandma always say to me when I'm mad about something or feeling like I need to fight. Like when the fire happened and we lost my daddy and all our stuff and we had to go live in that shelter while we waited for an apartment to open up. I was so mad at everybody and all I could think about was killing somebody or setting something on blaze so I could burn up too and go be with my daddy again. That's why we got put out of the shelter, cause they had found me in the bathroom setting towels on fire. Cause I wanted to burn myself. I really did. I wanted to commit suicide, if you can believe that about me. I never told you I did something like that, but it's amazing what you can tell somebody in a letter that you can't tell them face to face. But my mother wasn't even mad at me because she said that was just my way of expressing myself, and that I would have to find a new way of dealing with things. She said that Daddy wasn't coming back and we needed to think about the future now, what we were going to do with the hand God dealt us. That's what I'm telling you and that's what you need to believe.
Antonio, I don't love you any different than I did before you got locked up. And no, I don't think you crazy and I would never think you crazy. You had to do whatyou had to do, right? You didn't mean to do it, and I know that if you could change the past you would. You would have done something different. I know you would have. I have no doubt in my mind that you would have made a better choice. So stop calling yourself a monster, okay? You starting to make me worry about you. If you think that's what you are, then that's how it's gonna sound when you get up there to tell your side of the story. And that's not how you want it to come out. So, you just gotta stay strong and believe in yourself, so you can get up there and do what you gotta do, so you can get out of this situation and we can be together. Just think about that and let that help you whenever you start thinking about what a bad person you are. Stay strong for me, so we can get past this and move on with our lives and go on to do all those things we talked about, okay?
May 1, 1990
Well baby, my lawyer said I did okay, but I know he just trying to make me feel good. I know I blew it today. I didn't mean to get mad, but I just couldn't help it. All that shit that bitch was saying to me, bringing up shit that didn't have nothing to do with what happened that day. Imean, what the fuck do the fact that I got suspended this year for fighting got to do with what happened on that day between me and my daddy? That ain't got shit to do with nothing, but when my lawyer object she wanna say some shit about establishing my aggressive personality and propensity for rage and all that other shit. Using all them big words to get it twisted for everybody. Then she gonna have the nerve to ask me why I didn't call the pigs or why I didn't tell nobody at school or a counselor or my doctor or whoever about what was going on in my crib. What is that bitch thinking? Oh yeah, while doc sticking a big needle in my butt I'm just gonna be like, "Yeah, Daddy beat my mother ass and mine too last night." Come on, what the fuck dream world she living in? If she think the police bout to come up in my crib and do something just cause my daddy beating up on us, she a lot stupider than she should be if she went to law school. Maybe they come in Westchester or Long Island or Queens, but they ain't coming in Harlem. I would have to knock some white lady in the head and then drag her uptown to my crib and let her call the police from there if I wanted them to come and help me. I know I shouldn't have done it Natasha, but I couldn't help it. She made me so fucking mad I didn't know what to do. I wanted to kill her. I really did. I wanted to jump over my seat and grab her by the back of the head and put her in my mother's face and show her the scars that's still there and say, Look at this bitch. How would you like this every day bitch? But I knew I couldn't. I tried to be calm, but I couldn't help getting mad. I felt my face getting hotand sweat coming on my face and pouring down my face and I just couldn't help it. I had to get mad. I had to. I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. I fucked up baby. Please don't be mad at me.
May 2, 1990 Dear Antonio,
Don't be mad at yourself. Things happen. I really didn't think it was that bad. I mean, I could tell you was getting mad and you wanted to bust the bitch in her grill, but you wasn't that mad. I've seen you really mad, like when you all lost that basketball tournament at Riverside Church by like two points, and when your mother told you that you couldn't be in the band no more cause she couldn't afford to rent the drums anymore. Now you was mad then, punching the walls and everything. But I think you kept it together up there today. I guess we'll see. Just between me and you, I don't think that the other side is doing too good. It seem to me that the lawyer lady who's against you is not very nice, and I think the jury see that. Remember when me and you had legal studies together and we learned all about the tactics that lawyers is supposed to use in the courtroom? Remember when we talked about them being sensitive tothe jury, not alienating them and making themselves sympathetic? Dawg, I can't believe I remember all that. I probably should think about being a lawyer. Well anyway, I don't think she doing that right now. Like, when your lawyer gets up and say funny stuff or make little comments some of the jurors might laugh or smile, but they never do that with her. So see, that's a good sign. I don't know what I'm gonna do for the rest of the week, until we find out what they say. They gonna let you off, I know it. I can feel it in my heart. They can't deny the truth. They can't deny everything your mother said, all the good stuff people said about you, what the experts said about you defending yourself. Mommy said that she gonna come to the courthouse with me when the jury come back. Mrs. Lawrence said she gonna call me as soon as your lawyer call her, and we all gonna go down there together.
My grandma even said that she been praying for you Antonio. And my grandmother is a holy woman. I mean she don't smoke, she don't drink, she don't cuss, she don't dance unless she in church. She said Granddaddy the only man she was ever with in her whole life. Just like I'm gonna be with you, you gonna be the only man I'll ever let love me like that. But she said that at her prayer meetings on Wednesdays, they been praying for you Antonio. Her and a bunch of holy women like her. I been to their prayer meetings before. All the times I ran away to live with her, she made me go to church. She made me go to the prayer meetings with her. All thewomen look just like my grandmothertheir skin shiny smooth and dark like the sky at night, gray hairs on their chins, bodies that look like men from behind, but when they turn around you see their breasts and stomachs so big from having so many kids. They don't even talk really at the meetings. Sing and pray. Sing and pray. That's all they do. When you walk through the door everybody singing without music and you just join in and start singing too. Then the oldest ones start praying and shouting and screaming and crying and they don't stop until everybody is sweaty and tired. They doing all that for you Antonio, probably while I'm writing this and while you reading it. So see, you got my grandma and her church, me and my mother, your family, the teachers at school, our friends. You got all these people pulling for you and all of us together can move a mountain. Where there's a will there's a way. We all can't be wrong.
May 3, 1990 Dear Natasha,
My lawyer talked to me today. He asked me if I wanted to make a plea. I asked him why and he said that things wasn't looking too good. The biggest problem, aside from the fact that I blew my testimony, was that they wentthrough my desk at school and found my notebookyou know the one Mr. Cook gave me with Malcolm X on the front. Remember when the prosecution showed them all the drawings I did when I couldn't concentrate in class cause my mind was on what was going on at homepictures of me choking my father, stabbing him, pointing a gun at his head. They even found one part where I was supposed to be taking algebra notes but instead I was writing down how I was gonna shoot my daddy with a gun from Black's cousin. I tried to tell him that all of that was just make-believe, but he said it looked very real under the circumstances. I showed him your letters, and told him that you thought things was going cool and that things might go my way. He said that you wasn't a good judge of what was going on because you was biased. Remember we learned about bias in legal studies? Just in case you forgot, that mean you was on my side naturally cause you knew me. But he said that in his opinion, the way I acted on the stand hurt me. It hurt me real bad. He said that things was going great when I cried in front of them and everything, but he said that I was too hostile on the stand. He said that I came across as too angry, not apologizing for what I did, and like it was natural for me to do something like that again. I didn't think I was that bad, but he told me that I should think about pleading to involuntary manslaughter. He said that's a much lesser charge, and that I won't get as many years as if I was to get convicted of first or second-degree murder. Plus, he said the judge might have some sympathy for me because of my age and what I been through. He couldintervene and not sentence me to a lot. I don't know what I should do. I don't have that much time. I think it would be better to plead guilty and hope the judge would have some mercy on me, right? MGD and Mookie both been in the joint before. They said that their juries weren't shit, even though it was a few black people on there, and then they said the judge threw the book at them. They said they wasn't trying to scare me. Just keeping it real with you, Youngblood, first time around you should know. Maybe with manslaughter he'll let me out when I'm 21. Maybe I won't have to be in there for no 15 or 20 years like if I get second degree. I don't know what to do. My lawyer telling me one thing, my mother saying I shouldn't. She don't believe that people would think I was wrong for what I did, but my mother can be a little cuckoo sometimes. Ma is one of those people who always wanna give others the benefit of the doubt, she always want to try to see the good in people and not believe that they can do evil things. That's why she wouldn't leave my daddy. But see, I know better. I know that some of those people would love nothing better than to send a little no-good nigger like me away for life. They wanna put me under the jail so they won't have to worry about their purses or their big old rings being snatched. One less thug to fuck up the world. I think my lawyer might be right. I think that if the jury don't like me, then it's no hope. Baby don't be mad with me, but I think I'm gonna plead guilty and see what happens.
May 5, 1990 Dear Antonio,
Please, listen to me real good, about pleading guilty. Please Antonio, I'm begging you not to do this to yourself, to us. I think you making a big mistake. I think you should wait and see what the jury gonna say. I think you should just wait and see. I know you worried. I know you scared. I know you think you gonna go away for years and years and years, but I really think that they can let you off. I really think everybody believed you. Remember when you first wrote to me and you asked me what I thought? If I thought you killed your daddy? Well, at first I did. I didn't want to tell you, but at first I thought you was wrong. I thought there was something you coulda done to change it, and I was mad at you for going away and leaving me. Then I said, well dawg, would Antonio do something to me if I make him mad? But maybe after going there and seeing you every day and hearing what everybody had to say about you, I don't blame you. I don't think you did nothing wrong. I promise I don't. I think you did all you could do. I think you are a wonderful, smart, beautiful, and brave person. I think you are a hero. Please, don't plead guilty to anything. Don't do this baby. Don't forget that you a hero. Write me back as soon as you get this.
May 5, 1990 Dear Natasha,
Well baby, that's it. It's done. I told my lawyer that I didn't want to take the chance. That I wanted to cop a plea. I'm scared Natasha. I know that you don't think I get scared, that I put on this front for you and my boys. But I get scared too. I get nervous and everything too sometimes. And I'm telling you, baby, I ain't never been scared about anything in my whole life as I am about this. I'm gonna go ahead and take the plea. Involuntary manslaughter. 10 years. Upstate. It's done.
Yours truly, A
UPSTATE. Copyright © 2005 by Kalisha Buckhanon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Meet the Author
KALISHA BUCKHANON was born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1977. She has been the recipient of awards and fellowships from the NAACP, Andrew Mellon Fund, Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Young Authors Commission, Mary Roberts Rhinehart Fund and the Chicago Black Writer’s Conference. Her work has appeared in such publications as Michigan Quarterly Review and Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New School University and a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She has taught literacy and writing to children on Chicago’s South Side, in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Upstate is her first novel.
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