After a tragic drunk driving accident, the woman who had been my friend, sister, mentor, and overseer was taken from this world. Tonya survives through a tale she began before she passed away what seems like eons ago. As I promised her, the novel she began to write so long ago, I've completed. We combined words to form the story we always wanted to complete together.
You Were There is based on her life story of teenage alcoholism and drug addiction, loss, fallen hope, the steps she was forced to take to clean up, and picking up the pieces to move forward with her life. Fortunately, I was there to witness the transformation, which in fact transformed me. As people, we search for great signs and inspiration; however, it can sometimes be found in the smallest places. She inspired me with her courage, understanding of life, strength and caring. I was there with her through college, and through the initial adult years before her passing.
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YOU WERE THERE
By RAJAH E. SMART
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Rajah E. Smart
All right reserved.
There was once a fascinating woman who walked this Earth. She beat the odds stacked against her and came out on top. Life was still a struggle, but she fought through to make life easier. Towards the end of her days, she simplified life enough to only listen to her favorite musical artists, enjoy the hours in a day, and spend time with her family. Before reaching this point, she had to battle through opposition. Charging through opposition is the part of life that makes one stronger. More specifically, there's maybe one thing that happens which can trigger the opposing force to be stronger than a person is ready for, especially when you're in the teens. For Tonya, her whole life changed early and she was thrust into adulthood. Unfortunately, she didn't respond to the pressure very well, becoming an addict before the age of 20. Her family's strong values were embedded in her; however, this journey she had to take alone. Not many people knew this side of her, but I was lucky to be blessed to see the woman that emerged from this, and win her friendship, which wasn't easy to come by.
This is dedicated to one of the most inspirational people in my life, which should've been written some time ago. She taught me the meaning of life. Tonya Elise Michaels was born in the year of 1974. She became my friend and sister many years later. She would be the person that would teach me to love with an open heart instead of a defensive one. No one really understands what I mean when I say that. It's all in the definition of love. It's not a generic term thrown around as many people do, but something I feel. Family isn't necessarily blood relatives, but the people who invest in you, understand your every quirk, and love you anyway. Never clearly being understood by others or being treated poorly by people, I in turn treated people wrongly as a defense mechanism to keep people away; however, meeting her opened my heart and taught me to accept good people into my heart.
Watching her and talking with her day after day gave me a new lease on life because she was the voice I needed so much, and I was the friend she coveted. Our relationship gave me a level of importance I'd never felt before and always wanted in a friend and sibling. She beat every challenge placed in front of her and lived a life free of excessive stress or drama. She was a great artist, writer, speaker, free to enjoy the small things, and accepting of those who were different than her, where I had none of those genuine qualities. The key is that she was genuine. Her life was my anchor and my life needed her to survive. That is, until the day she was taken from me. In her death, my laughter and smile were taken from me; my patience for people and my zest for life were destroyed. That would be replaced by rage and lashing out at people for no reason. It would be years until I could understand that in her death I could live again, but it still isn't easy. Even today, I shed tears for the sister I love, but now it's clear she isn't too far from me. Several times during this writing process, I broke down in tears, remembering some of those wonderful times we shared. And yes, she really meant that much to me. The voice that helped me so many times can be heard when something reminds me of a conversation we had or a place we have been. It's scary to admit, but there was a co-dependency, and her death left me washed up on the shore.
For all those dreams she had, I've made them my dreams to fulfill for her. Her life is an inspiration to me and will forever be that. Today, I still can't bring myself to see the Godson that bears her resemblance or the parents that made her who she was; yet, they are in my thoughts. They were like my parents and always considered us twin souls as if we should have been "blood" brother and sister. They've made it clear they understand we had and have a special bond, and that bond is still very fresh in my mind. Therefore, they know it hurt me to the core, and basically paralyzed me. Though time has passed, this bond hurts me deeply when a Christmas passes and she's not here, a summer passes and we aren't walking in a park somewhere, a fall season passes and we aren't collecting leaves, a winter season passes and we aren't throwing snowballs at one another or we aren't in a car somewhere getting lost. Over the years, I've come to cope with it as I've set out to fulfill goals she set, like going to the Grand Canyon or writing a book.
As you read through the words of this story, my wish is that the reader see's her greatness, the love she shared, the wisdom she conveyed, and the life she lived. Even today she acts as my guardian because it always seems as if she points me in the right direction. Within this section, I've made reference to her in past tense, but in reality, she's alive in me. However, there are days when I wish I could reach out and touch her, hear her talk to me one more time, meet the woman that she helped me find or laugh at those ridiculous jokes she'd tell. Think about that one person in your life that means everything to you, and imagine waking up to find them pulled from your life without being sure they really understood how much you love them. For a man who finds it hard to love, this was a deafening blow to me as it hurts to communicate my words even now. There is a song that defines my relationship with her. It was composed by Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds and speaks volumes.
'Cause you were there, when no one was, just when I thought nobody cared, you showed me love. 'Cause you were my friend, you always told me yes. And I am still here because you were there.
She truly inspired me and my hope is she does the same for many others who read the combination of her words and mine. She set out to write this book about her life and never had the chance to complete it. As we did many times before, our words become one, trying to revive and relive the many days we spent together. When she passed, my vision was taken from me; however, Jennifer L. Smart has slowly put me back together, and I can't help but think Tonya had a hand in it. I miss her so much, and will one day remove this feeling of emptiness from my chest. This is dedicated to you Tonya. She possessed a writing ability that I don't have, but I hope I do you justice.
Chapter TwoWITH A CHILDS HEART
"The moonlight beams watch over me and will protect me while I sleep. The moonlight beams watch over me and will protect me while I sleep. The moonlight beams watch over me and will protect me while I sleep," the innocent child keeps repeating. The hypnotizing light protects the little girl from thinking about the current fiasco between her mother and father. She sits upon a window seat, atop the baby blue pillow her mother made for her at birth. Steam forms on the glass because of her nose being pressed against the pane to see the bright and heavenly moon. She is the picture of an innocent child with her long red feet pajamas, and straight hair pulled pack into two ponytails. The time is 8:47 p.m. as the darkness fades out the stars and the streets lights shine poorly to provide light for anyone who is out at this time. The child can feel the soft cold on her nose being that this is the tip of the winter season, and the holidays are closing in quickly. But, she's a tad sad; listening to the pressures of being an interracial couple take hold of her parents again. Covering her ears, the banter back and forth grows louder and her fingers dive deeper into the small holes of her ears. On this night, family has finally come between the vows said so many years past. Being only nine, she hasn't grasped the understanding of the intricacies of relationships, like the arguments having nothing to do with her, the pressures of having a relationship that doesn't fit the societies standards or how family can work to destroy the spiritual union of two people because they don't agree with the bond. She's just a child, protected by the innocence of youth.
Glancing over, with her fingers situated in her ears, she sees her sister in the bed sound asleep. She's the older of the two but feels like the youngest sometimes because Kendra is always trying to boss her. The two siblings don't get along at all. She can't think of a time when they have played together and it didn't turn into a fight. Four years apart is what these two siblings share and even at this age, the child feels that if her sister disappeared life would be better. A door slams in the distance, ending the yelling and shouting. Removing her fingers from her ears, she lifts from the pillow and returns to the bed. The sheets float back as she pulls them and lies at the end of the bed. She doesn't enjoy sleeping under covers, besides her dad always comes in and pulls her sheets up, followed by a kiss on the forehead. She plays sleep so he can do the same thing every night. It's become a bit of a custom for her, and an opportunity for her father's love. However, on this night, he doesn't show. She waits and instead of her father showing, her mother enters the room, and removes a piece of loose hair from her forehead. Pulling the blanket and sheet from the end of the bed, she pulls it to the shoulder of her daughter. Kissing her on the cheek, she speaks into her ear, "Tonya ... Tonya ... your dad asked me to come up and make sure you were tucked in." Her mother kisses her once more and she feels a touch of water tickle her neck. Listening to the steps of her mother leave the room, a fear takes hold of her, hoping her dad is okay. The feeling of her mother tucking her in isn't the same as her dad. She knew something was wrong, but understanding the "what" at her age is impossible.
However, even at this age, she can feel the strain in her mother as she left the room. This night would introduce her to the harsh realities that situations can be made through no fault of her own, and can result in poor reactions. A child understands and takes to heart things to a greater degree as Tonya experiences on this night. Turning on her right side to stare out of the window, she sees the moon beaming through the thick panes of glass. She faintly says aloud "The moonlight beams watch over me and will protect me while I sleep," but its meaning is fading just as the voice of her father did before leaving. All is quiet on this night and the quiet two story home that has been her castle of protection from evil monsters, ghosts, goblins and long fanged animals, offers no protection. She begins to dream of a better place where no one fights and all is happy; however, it doesn't help much.
Bouncing from the bed, she walks softly across the floor to speak with her sister Kendra. Her small toes grip the floor carefully to avoid waking her mother. Feeling a creak develop, she steps lighter, finally making it to the small twin bed. Jabbing her sister softly, Tonya tries to wake Kendra to tell her about what just happened.
"K ... K ... wake up," she says quietly.
"Mom and dad just ..." Kendra interrupts her abruptly.
"Leave me alone and go to sleep."
"But you ..." Tonya tries again.
"Leave me alone or I'm telling."
Tonya moves away from her less than welcoming sister with an attitude, and sneaks back to the bed, jumping into the bed and bouncing lightly. She expected some small level of comfort from her sister, but remembers quickly why they don't get along. They are more like strangers than sisters or acquaintances rather than friends. Laying her head on the soft pillow, she tries to think happy thoughts. On this night, she realizes that these happy thoughts would help her fall to sleep and make it through the day. Placing her thumb in her mouth and pulling her sheets tight, she doesn't realize how much things will change in her home, but some things will remain consistent. She hopes her father will return, but on this night he would leave permanently from the home. From this day forward, she would force herself to sleep by always dreaming of a better place and better things.
Now 14 years old, she wakes, having dreamt again of the day her father left. On occasion she dreams about him leaving, not because he never returned or hasn't been in her life. On the contrary, he lives three houses down the street. Lee thought it would be best to live close to his family, especially since he wanted to be close to his daughters, and he's still in love with Pat. However, it still isn't the same. Her father acted as a buffer between her mother, who favored Kendra and Kendra's demeaning behavior. Now he's just an outside spectator. Although her father was no longer in the house, he tries to remain a constant in her life. Tonya's anger revolves around him not being there to help with the drama between Kendra and her mother. It's really no fault of his. Even she understands the selfishness in being angry with Lee, but it still doesn't change the fact that she's angry.
Pulling the crisp yellow sheets back, Tonya feels the fresh breeze from the opened window. She loves to sleep with the window open for the cool feeling and the sounds of the traffic outside. The time is now 6:55 a.m. and she tries to pull herself out of bed to prepare for school. Something about the early morning is so un-motivating. Even the thought of it being 85 plus degrees outside doesn't get her going. Rolling over on her side, she places her head on her arm and looks at the picture sitting on the small nightstand. It's a photo of her and Andre, the two peas in a pod. A smile forms upon her face, laughing at something he said to her before she went to sleep this past night. In her mind, she begins to run through all the things she has to do to prepare for school. It's really hard for her to leave the comfort of her room; especially after all the fighting she had to do with her mother to get the room. The room used to be a storage area for Pat's keepsakes, but for realism, let's call it what it was: Junk. The argument didn't have to be too long though, because it was clear Tonya and Kendra were going to kill each other, so a decision had to be made. Lee even chimed in on it; however, with him not living there, his words went unheard by Pat on a regular basis. It was her way or no way most of the time, at least she thought so until the girls grew older. Their relationship grew worse as they moved closer to the teens. Pat thought keeping them in the same room would help them get along better. Her mind easily changed one evening about three years before. The two girls had a brutal fight that involved Kendra hitting Tonya with a curling iron and Tonya charging her with a knife. It was decided it would be best they no longer have a room together.
Her cavern or what she calls her room is quite the cozy place to be. The mustard colored walls match the comforter and the white furniture accents well. Pictures of places she's never been are plastered on the walls such as, Greece, Egypt or even closer places like the Grand Canyon and Boston. These things help her travel to places without actually going. Living in this house has helped her develop a vivid imagination. The only other time she has any freedom is when she travels down to her dad's house. They do things together, but her dad allows her a drama less time on the weekend because Kendra doesn't want to go to his home. "We see him every night at dinner. It's not like him and mom ain't together no more," Kendra frequently mentions. It's okay really because neither Tonya nor Lee really want to deal with her attitude. Lee often calls her an "asshole."
Lifting up out of the bed, she has to get to the shower before Kendra nags about getting in too late. "God, I can't wait to get away from her," she thinks as she slides her small feet into the slippers by the bed. Lifting mentally out of the bed and rising physically, Tonya pulls the boxer briefs and the t-shirt she wears to bed out of the crevices and cavities of her body, and slides to the door to open it. The wood floors creak slightly as she walks to the bathroom. All bedrooms are on the second floor of this old house, so she tries not to wake anyone. This ritual is repeated every single morning to avoid the drama. She looks forward to getting out of the house, which is when her life really begins. Teenagers feel like they are at the grown up stage and Tonya is no different. Outside this house, there's a life waiting for her and it's her first love.
Excerpted from YOU WERE THERE by RAJAH E. SMART Copyright © 2011 by Rajah E. Smart . Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very good. One of those books that stays with you for a while. I read it in 2 days. I couldn't put it down.