Neglected But Undefeated "The Life of a Boy Who Never Knew a Mother's Love"
by Jonathan Anthony Burkett
I first give thanks to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and my Father God, for being right here by my side, day and night, taking me through all my troubled times and hard struggles to the life I now live. I give thanks for my angel who’s been watching over me, who was sent from heaven by my Lord and Savior. Thanks to my Father God for giving me such loving and kind grandparents, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Jamaica.
I give God thanks for my two brothers. No matter what, we will always love one another, and be there for one another. They were the ones who snuck me inside the house whenever their mother wasn’t around and I needed a shower and food to eat. Whenever they could, they offered me a roof and a bed to sleep on at night. They have given me another reason to stay here and live a life on earth and achieve success in my lifetime.
I give thanks to all of the nurses and doctors who have given me love and support time and time again, particularly Marise, a worker from Memorial Hospital. She cared for me as if I were her son, even when I was discharged from the hospital. They inspired me to do the right thing and set goals in life, and not just sit down feeling sad and mad at life.
I thank God for all who have supported me with food and love, wanting nothing in return, even though they did not know me while I was living on the streets. I give God thanks for all those homeless men who were not living a clean life at that time, but who still encouraged me and taught me about the consequences one can suffer not only from the police but also from our father God. They taught me to be the best man that I could be and to try to take advantage of each opportunity and chance presented to me, a nd to try to live a right and astonishing life.
I thank God for my friends who gave me a place to rest my head at night time and time again. Many have encouraged me to do right in my life and to let go all of that was hurting me so drastically.
I give thanks to all the people who helped me including all the parents of my friends who were there for me, and who chose to help guide me away from certain influences. They told me not to follow the bad examples of others because they did not want me to end up like friends and family members who never had the inspiration and courage to do better.
I give thanks to all the churches for giving and teaching my Father’s words and for helping me to start thinking more positively, which helped to make me into a better man. Thank you to all the pastors and ministers for all their strong words of encouragement. They said that if one has faith in one’s life, no matter the obstacles and struggles, our Father God will shower him or her with blessings in an unbelievable way.
I give God thanks for bringing that special friend, best friend, and sister into my life. I began to love her the most because she not only approached me with words of encouragement, but also insisted I do better. Even though I kept thinking and doing wrong things in my life, I thank her for her trueness toward me and for the feelings that I felt from her that had me thinking about true love.
All I have to say to my mother is that I wish someone could have been there for you and I am sorry for everything. You are my birth mother, and I have love for you and I thank you for giving me life. However, I have not been presented with the chance to say this because of how we have departed from each other’s lives.
There are many to whom I convey my thanks. However there are a few VIPs that I especially thank for coming into my life and for every word of encouragement they have given me:
Lynn Burkett (Grandmother)
Life in the Valley
This is a story about my life as a young man going through many struggles. This account is how I remember the events that took place from losing the one I loved the most in life to having my first mental breakdown in elementary school. Being told, “I wish you would’ve died” by the one I was told loved me more than my grandparents. Finding myself at the early age of fourteen, sleeping on the streets, in cars, and parks, with a broken heart and mind because of the life I was living.
While living with a brain disorder due to stress and anxiety that caused me to have seizures and hallucinations, my continuous questions were “Will I ever be given love? Will I truly ever be loved by another in this lifetime of mine other than my grandmother and grandfather? Was I destined to be?”
There have been so many wrong routes that I’ve taken in my existence because of the confusion and neglect that my mother has shown, because she saw another man when she looked at me. She never allowed herself to see me. Why so much hate, so much unwelcome criticism? I constantly asked myself, “Am I not her son? Am I that ugly that I frighten her making her despise me?” I had so many unbelievable experiences that I feel if I say too much, I would be looked at differently in my lifetime by whoever reads this book. However, I still feel that I need to let it all out to be able to move toward a better life like my psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselors, and the ladies in my anger management classes told me. I now say that this book is an example of how some people hide their problems in life by holding them all in. They may say to themselves that they can handle it all, and never expect problems or changes in their minds. They may keep it all held in until another situation occurs that makes them feel as if they cannot handle any more problems in their lives. These feelings are made worse by loneliness; therefore, they could end up committing suicide.
I was always one inch away from doing that myself, and not caring if I made it to heaven or hell. I had to live a stress-free life, but I did not know how I was going to do so when I believed I had no one to truly love me and be there for me daily? I wondered how I was going to make it when I could not find a job because of my criminal record. What was I going to do? I had depression and anger built up and simmering deep inside of me, and surprisingly, that one love that I felt I would have died for, was out of my life.
With all of these thoughts going through my mind, I started wanting time by myself. I would sit down quietly, looking out at the highway in front of a complex that I was living in for a while after my brain surgery. I wondered why those people out there were not living a life like mine. I had no car, no family at my side in America, no job, no money, no one telling me “I love you,” and if I went back to the hospital, no one would be there at my side waiting for my recovery. Therefore, I started thinking, wr iting, watching television, and reading my roommate’s books, which was something I had never liked to do.
Having gone through illness, troubled times, near death experiences, and feeling unloved; I began writing and became an entrepreneur. I hope to have a great future now that I’ve persevered. I now say to those who ask how I’ve made it through, “Be confident in your approach to success in having a better future. Take risks, try new things, become diligent, and find new techniques because in the end you will develop a compelling emotional element.”
These are still inspiring words for me. I know that I have made it through trials, so now let me see if I can make it through challenges. I now want to have the most that I can have in life. Therefore, I am now doing the best that I can do in everything that I undertake including my first real book.
I give my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and my Father God an apology every night day for the times when I did not believe in his works or existence in my life because of what I was going through. Still to this day, I apologize because of what I have learned about life. Today, I believe that life is an adventure to be enjoyed. Again, the events that are chronicled in my autobiography are being recounted as I remember. Here’s my story!
I say to you today Never believing my childhood years Were about to hit the ground and, Heartbreaking trials and tribulations Were along the way But I stand here today Neglected but undefeated Striving to succeed Into a pathway of victory
November 1995, 7:50 a.m., I woke up smiling in my briefs and T-shirt because I could smell plantains and eggs, my favorite breakfast foods. As I opened my eyes, I realized that I was on the floor—the laundry room floor. I wondered how I had gotten there. Aching, I struggled to my knees and pushed myself to my feet. As my mind began to clear, I realized that I was in pain from last night’s beating. I slowly limped toward the laundry room door and heard my mother talking on the phone in the kitchen. I walked toward her while glancing at my arms and saw belt marks and scratches all over me. I started to recall how badly she had beaten me early last night and then again in the middle of the night as she was calling me by a name that was not mine. I guessed she was mad at that person and decided to take it all out on me.
Glancing at the kitchen clock, I saw it was 8:00 a.m. I then looked at my mom, who had on her blue nightgown and rolls in her hair like how she always slept.
“Good morning, Mom,” I said, which is what I had to say to her every morning—but without the Mom or else she would beat me.
“I told you don’t call me mom, because I’m not your mother. Your mother is dead. Now leave me alone,” is what she screamed at me waving the hot metal spatula in my face.
“Yes, you are my mother, because that’s what my grandmother and grandfather told me before I left Jamaica. They also told me not to listen to you whenever you tell me that you’re not my mother or that you hate me and want me dead,” I replied.
“Well they’re not here right now, so that means you have to listen to me and they lied to you. So call me Ms., not Mom,” she said.
“No, you’re lying to me!” I screamed at her because my grandparents never lied to me.
“Your mother is dead, Jonathan, and is in hell waiting for you to burn in hell with her! Now leave me alone! Don’t think that you’re getting any of this food that I’m cooking, because I already know that’s why you’re standing in front of me trying to suck up to me,” she said, and she was right.
Salivating, I asked, “Why aren’t you cooking breakfast for me, too?”
“I’m not because bad boys don’t deserve to be fed. They deserve to burn in hell! Now get out of my face and go brush your teeth and wash your face before I beat you and put you back in the laundry room and make you stay there until you rot.”
“OK, I’ll go and brush my teeth, Mom,” I told her. I walked into the bathroom upset and confused again, because I remembered I had gotten a beating for calling my mother by her first name and not Mom. After I finished, I walked back into the kitchen and sat at the table, looking at my mother while she cooked. I could tell by her stance and her face that she was still upset.
“Don’t look at me! You’re ugly and couldn’t be my child, anyway,” my mother said to me.
“Why you keep saying that to me?” I asked my mother. She was saying the very words that my grandmother and grandfather told me not to listen to.
However, I still wanted to know why she felt this way about me and why she couldn’t just treat me nice.
“I hate you because I didn’t ask for you to come into my life! I just want you dead, and out my life. That’s all I want!” my mother furiously screamed.
“Then why don’t you just kill me then? Since that’s the only thing that’ll make you happy! Are you scared to kill me because you know that my grandmother and grandfather would beat you to death if they ever found out that you killed me? Or are you scared to go to prison?” I asked my mother just like when other people used to fight in Jamaica and one would end up backing down. One would sometimes ask the other if he’s scared of the police and prison.
“No, I’m not scared! It’ll just make me even happier if you killed yourself. If you want, I’ll give you a knife right now and when the police asks me why you killed yourself, I’ll just tell them that I don’t know the reason why,” my mother said to me as she began preparing her plate.
“I want to go and live with my grandfather!” I whined to my mother.
“Why? He doesn’t love you or want you near him again. Why do you think they sent you here? And I’m sure he wants you to kill yourself like I told you before!” my mother said to me.
“No, he doesn’t! Stop saying that!” I angrily responded.
Who do you think you’re raising your voice at? You had better respect me before I beat the hell out of you,” my mother said to me.
“You’re not my mother, right? So I don’t care,” I screamed back at her.
“I never said I was. Now go in the corner and stand up there until you calm down,” my mother said to me.
“No!” I replied.
“Who are you telling no to?” my mother screamed.
My mother then dropped the egg that she was going to fry on the floor and picked up the hot frying pan and began hitting me with it until I fell down. I started to scream from the pain and the heat.
“I’m going to kill you one of these days before I die. I hate you! You’re stupid! I want you dead!” I screamed at the top of my voice.
“Are you threatening me?” my mother asked.
“I hate your dumb ass!” I screamed again.
My mother turned and quickly walked out of the kitchen and into her bedroom and returned with a high-heel shoe. She already knew how much pain I felt whenever she had beaten me with it in the past. As I saw her coming toward me I wanted to run but couldn’t because of the extreme pain I was already in.
“I hate you! You don’t deserve to be here!” she screamed at me. And she called me the name of a man I did not know.
I wondered who this person was, but I was in too much pain to ask. My mother began beating me with all her might, hitting me as if she didn’t care if I lived to see another day. Bam! She hit me on the arm. And I would never forget when one of the hits went straight to my right knee. I was screaming at her to stop. Then I began begging her to stop because she was torturing me. She finally dropped the high-heel shoe after seeing how much pain I was in. I wanted to pick it up and hit her with it, but I couldn’t because I could hardly move. I looked up at her face as she walked away, and I could tell she couldn’t believe how badly she had beaten me this time.
As I lay there, not knowing if this pain would ever go away, I just wanted to get up and go into the kitchen drawer and get a knife and stab her with it as many times as she had hit me. I’ve seen it happen to so many men in Jamaica—after a man lost a fight, he always went for payback by killing the other man. However, every time I tried to move, more pain just kept coming.
My mother came back from her bedroom after a while to unplug all the phones and turn on the house alarm. Still lying on the floor, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I tried standing, but my legs were weak and the pain was excruciating, especially in my right knee. I stayed on the floor for hours, sobbing and groaning, just honestly wanting to kill that woman my grandparents sent me to live with. The one who they said was my mother. The one who they said cared for me. The one who they said prayed night a nd day for me. The one who they said always called and asked about me. The one who they said loved me the most.
Later on that day, she came and helped me up and took me into my room before my father arrived home. I told her not to touch me and threatened to kill her one day for this, but she just ignored me. She told me to stay in the room and not to come out for the rest of the day or else she’d kill me.
“Kill me then,” I said. But she just walked away and closed the door to my room behind her. I lay down in my bed, crying and just wanting to run away and make my way back to Jamaica—after killing her, of course. “But how?” I asked myself.
Thirty minutes later she came back into my room, telling me take off all my clothes.
“Why?” I asked her.
“Because I said,” she replied.
I stripped myself butt naked only to see her with a hanger in her hand.
“Why the hell is she beating me again?” was all that I could ask myself.
She pushed me up against the wall and told me to put my hands on the wall. Then she told me to stay there and that if I moved she would beat me more.
Whop, whop, whop, whop!
Every hit made me shake. After every hit it felt like I was about to drop down and die. I wanted to anyway, because all of this pain wasn’t worth living for.
“You already know that I hate you! And I just want for you to die and get out of my life,” she began saying as tears came down her face. She continued beating me, but of course I had more tears coming down my face.
“You don’t listen to me whenever I tell you to stop! You don’t have any respect for me! You think that you could touch and talk to me anytime that you want to! Why can’t you ever listen to me? Why can’t you just stop and listen to me? Listen to me!”
“I am listening! I am listening!” I screamed out in pain and agony.
“I hate you, Cleveland!” she then screamed.
“Cleveland? Who the hell is Cleveland?” I asked.
Next thing I knew, she stopped. I turned my head around, looked at her with tear-filled eyes, and said, “You’re crazy.”
“What!” my mother replied. She then took me by my ears and pulled me into the laundry room and locked it.
About five minutes later, she opened it up and looked at me. This made me ask her, “What do you want now?”
Next thing I knew, she raised her hand with a knife in it and then just threw it at me and immediately closed the laundry door.
She missed, but I couldn’t believe it. I picked up the knife, looking at it and just wanting to put it inside me. Just wanting to stab myself or just cut my throat in this darkness, knowing I’d likely wake up again in the dark because of how I suspected hell would be.
I placed the knife tip on my stomach, thinking that if I did this, all this pain that I was feeling would go away. I wanted to do it so bad that I began to slowly push it against my stomach. Tears began to come down my face because I couldn’t believe my mother wanted me dead so bad. I felt a little sting from the knife, which only made me wonder how it would feel if all of it went inside of me.
I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t do it. “What would my grandparents say if they found out that I killed myself? Would I even have a funeral, or would she just throw my dead body in a trash can?” I asked myself.
I ended up just dropping the knife and then dropping down onto the ground, crying while rubbing away the tears with dirty clothes and rubbing the pain that I was feeling on my legs and arms.
When my father came in that night, I immediately felt like running out to him, but I just put my ear to the laundry door to hear what she was going to tell him first. I heard her telling him that I was sick and so she told me to go to bed early. Then I heard them pulling out the chairs around the table to eat dinner without me.
“Liar,” I said softly.
That night the air conditioner was on and it was cold in the laundry room. So I had to dump out all of the dirty clothes from the laundry basket and cover myself with them. It smelled so bad that I would’ve rather put myself in the dryer and turned it on to keep myself warm. But that would’ve been impossible, because how I would sleep going round and round? Plus, how would I even be able to turn on the dryer from inside of it?
The next day my mother didn’t allow me to attend school. She called the school and told them that I was sick. That day she took me everywhere she went because she was scared that I might call the police, or tell someone what she had done, which might have made them call the police on her. Trust me—this wasn’t the first and only time this had happened or would happen.
I was born in Miami, Florida, at Jackson Memorial Hospital on February 1, 1987, and named Jonathan Anthony Burkett. I was not wanted or cared for by my mother because of her memories of “that man.” So she asked my grandparents if I could stay with them in Jamaica because she was struggling in America. However, my mother never told them how she had gotten pregnant, or the identity of the father.
I was sent to Jamaica on a cruise ship to live with my grandparents. I truly felt that they were my mother and father because of the love and care they gave me every day, through all the days and years I spent with them in Jamaica.
Growing up with my grandmother and her mother—my great-grandmother—and my grandfather, who was like a brother, best friend, father, and cousin all in one to me, I felt my life couldn’t get any greater. I instinctively knew that my grandfather would always and forever appreciate my days with him. My skinny, light-skinned, good-haired grandmother was nice. She was always smiling and telling me to be thankful for what I have and for those I have in my life to be there for me every day. Everybody knew her because of the shop that we had in front of our house. We sold a lot of things, including alcohol and beer, which most women would come and buy for their men. I used to wonder why she was always so happy about life, because how could you be so thankful when you hardly have money? But I was young, thin king life was all about getting rich, because that’s all my cousins and uncles ever talked about—making money.
My short, gray-haired, high-sock-wearing, light-skinned great-grandmother was always trying to discipline me, teach me what was bad and what was good. She hardly came down from the hill where we all lived, so I knew that to stay away from her was to stay at the bottom. But whenever she got mad at me, she would always find her way down the hill and take me back up with her and make me sit down next to her in silence while she just looked down the hill at what other people were doing.
My bald-headed, big-stomached, caring and loving grandfather, who I always looked at as my best friend, was always on the go. He stayed on the street, helping family and friends around Westmoreland. I used to go everywhere with him, and all of his friends always became my friends. I used to drive in the front seat with him, so there were always four hands on the steering wheel while the car was going 80 mph. People in the car with us always had a scared look on their faces. I just used to laugh and say, “Don’t worry. We know how to drive, and we’ll get you there soon.”
While living with my grandparents, I was very happy and received the best treatment. I was called Johnny or Jack while in Jamaica, and I still reminisce about the happy times shared with them. Of course, my aunts, uncles, and cousins made me feel truly loved as well, because they were at my side each and every day, feeding me and making me feel wanted and appreciated.
I loved being in Jamaica because of the food, and the long nights of music, dancing, and freedom. On the streets, I kept the nickname Johnny until I started to do bad things; they then called me Bad Boy Johnny. Even though I was a bad boy, I was always walking the streets and climbing hills because I loved to stay active and surrounded by nature.
Many family members, young and old alike, were always around me, but sometimes I was on the streets without my grandfather or cousins at my side. As I grew older, good and bad and crazy and wild started to wind their way into my life.
My cousins did some bad things around me as if I wasn’t really there. Whenever my cousins were with their girlfriends, they would tell me to go and sit on the couch and close my eyes as they took them into their rooms. As soon as they began making out, I would open my eyes and stand just outside their rooms, which had only a sheet covering each doorway. With no actual door, I was fascinated by what I saw and could’ve watched them night and day as they made out.
A rough, Jamaican male attitude surfaced in my personality. Therefore, I went from being quiet to being loud, crazy, and very energetic. I was turning into a different person day by day—I guess from all of the bad people and things I was growing up around. Growing up in Jamaica, I never feared getting a beating, because all that I had to do was scream for my grandfather. Or I would just run into his arms and he would save me from all troubles. That was what really made my grandfather my superman. I always dressed like him with my button-down shirt tucked into my pants. Superman slept with me at night even though I wet the bed. He wanted to make sure no one scared me or kidnapped me, although mostly beautiful young girls were kidnapped in Jamaica at that time. I loved my grandfather so much. We were like brothers, so I never called him Grandfather; instead I called him Doctor because that was his nickname in the neighborhood. My Grandfather loved to care, take people places, and help others as much as he could, which was why he was called Doctor.
At night I had scary dreams about ghosts because of the television programs I watched and killings I would see during the day. This is why I never became extremely interested in TV. I did enjoy watching dance-hall tapes because I learned how to dance with girls, even though I felt as if it would have been better for me to actually be in the dance hall. If I could not sleep, I would hold Doctor’s big stomach during the night and his breathing would soothe me as if I was being held in his arms and rocked. I would always look at his stomach, compare it to mine, and wonder if my stomach would grow as big as his when I became older. My grandmother loved her husband’s stomach, too, rubbing it and making jokes about it, saying,
“Johnny, you’re about to have another uncle.” Grandma had her own room with designs painted on the walls, nice curtains, and a fan above her bed. She grumbled whenever I sat on her bed, especially at nighttime, because she didn’t want me to fall asleep and wet her bed.
I had learned a lot about the importance of doing good and not bad from my grandparents, but I still did not really care until grandma started locking me inside the house. Nevertheless, I still did whatever, whenever, because all I had to do was call on Doctor and he would help me and then talk to me about the things I was doing wrong. Like stealing fruits and vegetables from another person’s yard.
I drove around a lot with my grandfather because he was like a taxi driver and I loved driving his car. Mario Go-Cart, the video game, was not enough for me; I wanted to experience what it was like to drive in real life. So whenever I went out with him, I sat on his lap and grabbed the steering wheel.
While I was the driver, I listened to music, moving and jumping up and down while my grandfather pressed on the gas and brake pedals. I would move around and sometimes stand on my grandfather’s lap while dancing to the music. People looked at us as if we were crazy, because we would drive fast with four hands on the steering wheel.
I loved being with grandfather because he was agreeable to almost anything I did; he was opposed to only one thing: smoking cigarettes. He allowed me to sip beer and rum, which of course would then put me straight to sleep. I could not even remember how I got back into bed on those nights after I partook of my grandfather’s drinks.
However, holding me close one day on his lap, Doctor told me something like this: “I love you and will be with you always, Jack. When one man says I hate you, remember, Jack, I love you. If you ever need me, call me, because I am here for you. Do not run from any man or problems or else many more may come your way. So face them all, one at a time. Speak and do not hold back. When one wants to fight, do not run, because my fists are your fists. Do you see how big they are? Use them, but do not bully with them. And just to let you know, doing wrong or right, I will always be there for you. Never put your hands on a lady in violence, even if she beats your ass up first. As a man you should be able to take the impact of a blow from any woman—remember that, Jack. And in life remember every good woman, like your grandma, deserves a good man.
“Just be a truthful young man with me and your family. It will take you far in life. Sometimes you’ll be thrown down because you’ll end up getting punished. However, still be truthful with me because you will not have to suffer any consequences whenever you explain your mistakes to me. I am here for you, and I love you like no other will ever do; even when I am gone I will love you still, Jack. Just remember me and what I have said. I will never forget you, and I will always love you. So smile because your Doctor loves you, and I will be a part of you for the rest of your life. One more thing, Jack—even if you have to put me aside, just remember to put your Father God first.”
Hurricane season was one of the greatest times on our streets in Jamaica because our community was high on a hill. Before or after a hurricane, the crossroads would be crowded with boys and girls, young and old, because they were all able to have hours of long showers in the rain. I walked around naked with a bar of soap in my hand, cutting through neighbors’ yards while looking for naked girls, making loud noises, and playing hide-and-seek with them. Those times were some of the best times in my life and I feel may always be the happiest times.
When I began my first year of school in Jamaica, I did not want to attend, because I felt no sense of freedom at all. While in my classroom, I felt I was locked up. Sitting down for long periods of time and not being able to get up of my own free will without the teacher’s permission made me want to do something to get in trouble and get kicked out. I constantly threw objects at my teacher, but once she realized that I resorted to mischief so that I could get thrown out of school, she asked me to stop. I was the only student not drawing and coloring pictures, so sometimes the teacher just made me sit in the corner until I was ready to participate in class activities because I felt grown.
The two things I loved to do at school were to play football (soccer) and to play cricket. Fights occasionally broke out, but I did not take the punk’s way out, because I was always taught not to let anyone put his hands on me. In these instances, I would have to serve detention. One day during detention, the teacher asked, “What are you interested in?”
I said, “Playing football.”
She continued talking to me about different things in life until one day, while in detention, the topic of sex somehow came up. The teacher asked me, “What do you know about sex?”
I said in my proud Jamaican accent, “Me uh grown man, so me know already all bout it. Me watch me cousins have sex with the gals dem all the time.”
“Show me then,” the teacher said.
She lay down on the floor behind her desk, lifted up her skirt and pulled down her panties. I had a serious face on me and began feeling like I was a grown man like my cousins and uncles. I immediately pulled down my pants and began trying to put my penis in her. But unlike my cousins’, my penis wouldn’t stand up. So only a little part of it touched her vagina. As I tried I saw that with every rub I gave to it she moved. So that made me just rub on it, which made her seem to want more. After a while she told me stop and told me she liked it. I felt like a man and began wanting to please more women, like my cousins.
From that day on, I always did what I wanted in her class because she didn’t want me to tell anyone about what happened between us. Especially my uncle, who had wanted to be her man for so long. I then began looking for girls to have sex with even though I wasn’t fully developed. I tried and tried to perform the same way that my cousins had with their girls, but I could not understand why I couldn’t.
In Jamaica sex is not hidden from the young. We heard men asking women all the time for sexual favors. Surprisingly, many people encouraged me to get a girl and have sex with her to let her know I was a man. Of course, my family did not encourage me in this pursuit at all.
As a youth in Jamaica, I saw many people get stabbed up, their legs or arms chopped off, even. I saw them lying dead in the streets but never fully understood the meaning of life and death, because just like the many others I would always just laugh and say, “That man dead.”
I began wondering why at the end of a fight one man would stand while most of the time the other would just lie down, unmoving in one spot. I pondered this, asking myself if they were being killed just like the animals we kill to eat. I asked my grandfather to explain this to me. He said, “That person is just sleeping on the ground, Johnny, because they’re tired and have nowhere to rest their eyes.” Of course, I knew that my grandparents wouldn’t tell me the entire truth, to shield me from reality. So I asked an older man on our streets to explain the reason to me. He told me that whenever I saw a man lying dead after a fight on the street it meant that he went to either heaven or hell.
I then understood what happened, because at church I had heard the difference between heaven and hell. I knew that heaven was where good people went and hell was where bad people went.
Even though I had the little understanding of hell and heaven, because of all that I was seeing, I promised myself that I would kill a man before I died, because I wanted a smile on my face just like everyone else I saw who took another’s life.
Yes, I know I was young—only about five years old—and I probably have you wondering how I remember so much about my childhood. Truly, it’s because they were the best times of my life, and I would always have flashbacks to my early years prior to my having a seizure. Of course, I will bring you up to speed on this further along in my story.
After celebrating New Year’s Day of 1993, my sixth birthday was just around the corner. So my grandfather had planned a big birthday party for me to be held the night of February 1 at the crossroad, which was where four roads met up on top of the hill. It turned out that many people found out about Bad Boy Johnny’s first big birthday bash from their children and friends’ children.
Before the party, my grandfather took me out to buy a new outfit so that I could impress the girls. He even bought me new shoes. He also made sure I had a nice, fresh, pretty-boy haircut, even though I was far from being one. I still looked like a young bad boy from the street. When we finally returned home, the crossroads were set up with speakers scattered around and a DJ was hired to play music, which would of course make the girls go wild. Honestly, my grandfather didn’t want the party to be big, because he didn’t have the money for it.
But in Jamaica, once you mention a party, a lot of people get to know about it so more guests are naturally expected than invited. Plus, all of the people who knew my grandfather and me wanted to attend, if only just to show their love.
At 8:00 p.m. sharp, masses of people were dropped off near our house, or walked there, because no cars were allowed on the crossroads that night. As each guest arrived, they walked over and wished me a happy birthday. Everyone wanted me to cut the cake before the music started playing, because once the party started, it definitely would not stop.
There was such a crowd, and many of the partygoers were telling me that I was no longer a baby, but a young man. My most treasured presents were, of course, the women who danced with me, because that was what I loved. There were so many women, men, and young kids trying to compete with my dance moves at my birthday party. Therefore, I danced with the grown Jamaican women with the fast and flexible dance moves to show them how I really moved.
My grandfather, uncles, and their friends were just sitting in a corner, having fun with one another while drinking and playing dominoes. All of my cousins and friends were in the middle of the crossroads dancing with all the women who were there alone, because I couldn’t handle them all, of course. That night, I finally started releasing my feelings of fear. My hands and my kisses were all over the females, which would not have happened previously. I felt that I could finally tell an unfamiliar girl that I liked her and wanted her to be my girlfriend.
Before I knew it, it was two o’clock in the morning and everybody was telling me that my grandmother was looking for me. They suggested that I hide from her, so I started running and hiding because I just knew that she wanted me to go inside the house. She could not catch me, so she called my aunties to help her since she knew everybody else would have been working to get me to stay at the party.
When she finally caught me, she was mad at me because she had only wanted to check on me to ensure that my special night was going well. Since I hid from her, she told me to go inside the house and get to bed. I became very angry because everybody was still outside, dancing and partying for my birthday without me.
I lay down on my bed fully clothed and listened to the music play and the sounds of everyone celebrating. I was mad and couldn’t even sneak out because Grandma was sleeping on the couch in front of my bed. I could not sleep; I tossed and turned because all I could think about was those girls who were outside.
I was awake until eight in the morning. When I got up, I went back outside without asking my grandmother, who was still sleeping on the couch, and watched the DJ and his friends clear away the speakers. Before they left, they saw me watching so they walked over and wished me happy birthday again. I told the DJ that next time I have a party, I would be able to stay there all night with all the women dancing and doing the butterfly dance for me. I confided in the DJ that I did not even get a girlfriend for my birthday, so he said that all those girls who were dancing with me last night were my girlfriends. He jokingly said that he had never gotten as many kisses as I had in one night. The DJ and his crew left, and I sat down, thinking about what probably went on after I left. I still can’t believe that I had just turned six years old and had such a massive birthday party. However, I did not know that there were more surprises in store for me, surprises that I never even dreamed about or even thought of because I was still young.
Out of nowhere, my father showed up in Jamaica to take me home to Miami. When I first saw him and heard him, I knew he couldn’t be family because he was nothing at all like us. Plus, I heard that he spoke Spanish, and even though my grandfather’s father was Cuban, no one in the family spoke Spanish anymore, from what I knew.
My aunts knew that he was coming to get me, but I believe that my grandparents had not known, because they never told me anything. It was their first time meeting my father, and I found out that he and my mother had recently gotten married.
My grandparents called me inside to introduce me to my father, but I did not want to get to know him at all. I was disrespectful to him—I did not want him anywhere near me, or even talking to me, because he did not know me.
Looking at him I could tell that he wasn’t Jamaican, because of the kind of upper-class look he had, especially with the Jheri curls. I knew no Jamaican could keep up with that, because of how much we sweat every day. He looked as if he ate well, unlike most Jamaican men, who were skinny to the bones until they got old. But what surprised me the most was how soft and nice he seemed, because I wasn’t to use that.
Over the next couple of days, my grandmother told me that I was leaving Jamaica, so I had to say good-bye to all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. Lastly, of course, I had to say good-bye to my grandparents. My great-grandmother, who was always quiet and wondering about me, gave me a big hug. She told me that she loved me and never to forget about her, because she never knew when her last day on earth was going to be. My grandmother told me to go to Miami and respect and love my parents in the same way that I loved them.
Nevertheless, my grandfather did not want me to leave, even though I could tell that he needed some freedom in his life now because of how old he was getting. Therefore, I hugged my grandfather and said, “When I come back, you better be here.”
My grandfather replied, “OK, as long you respect your mother and father.” I had almost forgotten to say good-bye to my teacher, so I ended up going to see her thirty minutes before I left that day. My teacher told me to go and be thankful, because I was going where she wished she could go, away from all the aggressive men, diseases, and infections in Jamaica. She knew that I was born in America and that this day was coming soon for me. I figured that was why she wanted me to get her pregnant, even though I’m sure that she knew I wasn’t fully developed yet.
I ended up wetting my pants and throwing up during my first flight home because of the pain in my ears and a funny feeling that I felt inside me while I was eating. “We have landed safely,” I finally heard, and all the passengers, except for me, were applauding and smiling.
After walking off the plane and into the Miami airport, I had to change my clothes after my accident. Plus, my father did not want me sitting in the car smelly and with wet pants.
I was not really expecting everything that I saw as we walked to get the rest of our luggage. I was amazed to see shoes on every man’s feet, and electronics and computers everywhere. Walls were painted in nice colors, and they were extremely clean, with all kinds of pictures and designs. Even the people I saw looked clean and polished. Everywhere I looked was so organized. It reminds me of my grandmother, I thought.
When my father and I went outside, I did not see any trees or bushes anywhere around. I wondered if there was food there, because I did not see any trees growing naturally. I saw nothing but chaos—lots of cars, and people screaming for taxi drivers, while horns were being blown.
I wasn’t paying attention to anyone. All I wanted was to go back to my great-grandmother, grandmother, and grandfather. I was not interested in knowing anyone else, other than girls, of course.
“Wait here. Your mother is coming to get us,” my father said as we stood inside what I felt was a tunnel of some sort.
Then I heard a horn blow and a car pulling up in front of us. Coming out of the car was a beautiful, thick, red-boned lady with a bright smile like my grandma’s, but only for my father. I found out that she was my mother, but she said nothing to me, and my father didn’t introduce me to her. So of course I was guessing that she was a friend of the family, or even my father’s sister.
When my mother picked us up, she said nothing to me and looked at me with a mean face. She stared at me during the entire trip to her friend’s house. Of course, I was wondering why she was looking at me so hard, but I just ignored the looks and concentrated on all the big buildings that I was seeing.
I had been in only two cars that I know of thus far in my six years. This third one was different because everything in it looked new. I had never sat in the backseat of a car before, only in the back of a pickup truck. This was also different for me because I was looking at the back of another driver, without loud music playing or anyone screaming directions for where they wanted my grandfather to drop them.
“Hello, how are you doing?” a woman named Nicole asked me when we arrived at her house. She was a beautiful, well-kept, together lady with a nice body and a facial expression that said to men, “You have to work for this if you want this.” I could tell she took good care of herself.
I thought she was my mother at first because she told me to call her Mom and not Nicole. I was puzzled, wondering how this lady could be my mother when she lived with another man and family and my father lived with another woman. Plus, I knew that my parents had recently gotten married. “America is weird,” is all that I told myself afterward.
It turned out that Nicole, who had helped my mother when she first came to America, had a husband whose name was Mario and who was a businessman, and they had three children—two boys and one girl. Clinton, Gary, and Latoya were their names. Nicole’s boys lived a straight-up street life. Clinton and Gary were in fights all the time, except for Sundays, the Lord’s Day. They always went to church and gave him thanks. Latoya loved school but partied with her friends all night from dusk till dawn. She had a sexy body just like her mother. In my mind I was always thinking she’s lucky she’s my sister, because I would love to rub on her body.
Over time I became really close with Nicole and her family before getting to know my own real mother, who I would see only once in awhile. Whenever she visited she would only stare at me and not say one word to me. So in my mind, Nicole was my mother and her home was my home. Nicole treated me like a son; she would beat me and punish me the same as she did with Clinton and Gary. Sometimes she would tell me to get out of her children’s rooms as she rushed in with belt in hand to beat them. I would hear them get their beatings, but in my mind the beatings did not make any sense, because all it did was make Clinton and Gary madder and want to fight others.
One day I told Nicole that I did not have enough clothes to last for two weeks. We were allowed to do laundry only every two weeks because they did not want their water bill going up. Nicole called my father about my clothing dilemma, and he dropped off some clothing for me.
I continued to be an active young boy, as I was in Jamaica. I sneaked out of the house to hang out with Clinton and Gary all the time. Whenever I was told to stay inside, I would sneak my new young friends into Nicole’s house, because no one was around to watch us.
All of my friends back then were mostly the little brothers or cousins of Clinton and Gary’s friends. All they did was play football and watch as their brothers or their brothers’ friends fought other people in the streets. Then when we got back home, we would all have an aggressive backyard brawl. Of course, I always got beat up because I was always the youngest and the smallest.
One night, Clinton left me alone to go on a date with one of his girls, although he was responsible for watching me. Because I was all alone and had nothing to do, when I heard a conversation going on in Latoya’s room between her and her friends, I went to check it out. Her door was left open, so I began watching Latoya as she was changing with her friends. They were about to go to a party. I wasn’t really paying too much attention to Latoya, because she was my sister, but I kept my eyes on one of her frien ds. I watched her as she changed from just the panties and bra that she had on into a nice, sexy dress that had her ass pushing out and me wanting it. As soon as they saw me, they just shut the door, and before they left, they told me that I was a bad boy.
Whenever my father came by to drop off clothes for me or to have dinner, I would always want to be by his side. He would sometimes disappear, but I would always find him. One day when they must’ve thought that I was nowhere around, I came around the corner into the kitchen and began watching as he and Nicole kissed and made out. After a while they went into her husband’s bedroom and locked the door.
In May of 1993, Nicole caught me watching them and told me that if I opened my mouth about what I had just seen she would kill me. I wondered why she would kill me and puzzled over the fact that they were married to other people but sleeping with each other.
I did not get away with all the bad things I did, and whenever I was caught, Nicole chased me with her belt. But sometimes Clinton and Gary would take me and run whenever they saw Nicole coming after me.
Then, at night, when they knew she would be looking for me to beat me, they had me sleep in their shower or in one of their closets—no one could’ve locked a door in that house, except for Latoya since she always had a friend sleeping over. Of course, Clinton and Gary were not allowed to have any friends sleep over because all of their friends were bad. Neither Clinton’s nor Gary’s friends were allowed in Nicole’s home because of how much trouble they got into and their stealing. However, Clinton and Gary would invite their friends over at night when their mother and father were not around. It always felt like they had a party going on without their parents’ permission, but Nicole and Mario always found out when they realized their favorite liquor bottles were empty or missing.
Nicole always wanted me to snitch on Gary and Clinton whenever she suspected they did something wrong. However, I learned not to do so, because when I had snitched in the past after getting beat with a belt for about an hour straight, they then beat me up more and punished me by locking me in one of the car trunks for a while. They did this to me a couple of times when I first began living with them, so I quickly learned not to open my mouth about what I had seen, no matter how bad the beating was. I grew up learning not to snitch on people or else my life might get taken away. But I wasn’t used to those long beatings.
Nicole’s home reminded me so much of my grandparents’ house in Jamaica because of the liquor bottles. At first when I asked Latoya to sip some of her drink, I was always told no. But after a time, Latoya let me drink whenever she got tired of me bothering her while she was with her friends or boyfriend, or when she had a lot of homework to do.
Clinton and Gary never actually studied like Latoya did. All they would do was lock me in another room whenever their girls came to the house. If I had ever ventured out and bothered them, I would have gotten beaten and bruised up.
I accompanied Gary and Clinton and their friends as they walked the streets day and night. As we walked we talked and made jokes with each other just like I had done in Jamaica with my friends and family. However, in Miami, I had a curfew. I had to be in the house by ten o’clock at the latest, and sometimes by eight, because of the violence on the streets. I never complained. I would just look out the windows, hoping not to miss a fight.
I was never scared in Miami, and I did not want to leave Nicole’s home. I actually felt unwanted by my father, but I didn’t let it bother me. He stopped by only once in a while with a strange woman, my birth mother, and she would just stare at me as if I were her enemy.
One day, that same lady came up to me and said, “Let’s go, Jonathan.”
I asked her, “Where the hell are we were going?”
“Home,” my mother then said.
“But I am home,” I cried.
Then she kept telling me, “No, you are not home. Nicole’s house is not your home.”
Nevertheless, I would not listen. So she asked Nicole to deal with me. When Nicole came, she told me to get up and start getting ready because the time had come for me to move in with my real mother.
“The one that gave birth to you,” Nicole told me. “Plus, it’s time for you to start school, so respect and listen to her before I beat your behind.”
I hurried and got ready, and my mother took me to the house she and my father had recently purchased. I was so sad because I never thought I would live with another family. I felt that I was already living with my real American family.
Their house was not similar to Nicole’s; it had only two rooms and no master bedroom. The house was pink and had a small driveway with a big tree in the middle. As I looked up at the tree, all I thought about was when a big tree like that one fell down in the middle of the road during a hurricane in Jamaica. But this looked as if it would fall right on top of their house. Their neighborhood was kind of quiet but only because there were no children living near us.
I stayed in my room most of the time because that’s where my mother said that she wanted me to be. She did not want me anywhere near her. But when my father would come home, I would run to him and stay at his side. He loved watching baseball, especially his team, the Florida Marlins, and I just sat with him until it was my bedtime.
My father was always working and was never around that much. It seemed as if he would only pay the bills and come home to rest. However, my mother seemed to have many material wants but no love for me and no interest in parenting me. She did not even want to feed me. I had to wait until my father arrived home to eat, because the only time when my mother would willingly give me food was when my father ate.
I still spoke with a deep Jamaican “Patwa” (Patois) accent, and I had a bad-boy Jamaican attitude. Whenever I spoke with adults or even kids my age, I would speak improperly. I was lazy and did not like to do other people’s chores, though not lazy when it came to walking the streets all night and day. Everybody understood that the reason why was because all that I grew up doing was walking streets in Jamaica and climbing hills.
I ignored most of the things my mother told me not to do in the house because I liked to explore and touch things. Whenever my father bought new things for their new home, I would play with them and, most of the time, end up breaking them. I would be sent to my room for the remainder of the day without being able to come out, eat, or use the restroom.
However, I knew I was not bad enough for my mother not to love me. I saw the way my mother looked at me, and I always wanted someone to tell me what and who my mother was seeing whenever she looked at me. She would have a serious face, and whenever I would break something it would turn into a sad face. She hung her head down sometimes, as if I had said something bad to her.
One night, for the first time since we all moved in together, my mother just started crying when I was looking at her from the kitchen table while we were eating the dinner that she had brought home from Nicole’s house. So from then on, I could not sit and eat beside her or across from her, my father told me. I had to eat beside my father, who usually sat at the end of our six-chair table.
My father told Nicole what had happened, and she told my mother to stop fearing me. She told my mother that she needed to start being a real woman and a real mother to me. My mother cried, “I guess,” because of the bad memories.
Nicole also told her that first she needed to spend less time with her friends and raise her firstborn child the right way. Plus, unlike many of my mother’s friends, she had responsibilities, which were to take care of her child and husband. Second, she needed to start cooking every night for her husband—Nicole’s husband was out there working hard for his family and she cooked for him every night.
So my mother tried to control me and my behavioral problems, but she could not handle me, because she was afraid that I would hit her. I used to curse at her, but I did not realize that I was disrespecting her. At that time, I would scream at anyone who tried to boss me around. So, my mother went back to Nicole for more advice about how to raise me.
She told Nicole that she didn’t know what to do anymore because I cursed at her if she ever screamed at me or told me to do something around the house. She also said that, other than my rudeness, the main problem was that I never looked at her as a mother and had never really called her Mother and meant it since I had come to Florida and met her. Truly, I had never regarded her in the same way I regarded my grandmother.
I felt that Nicole was truly more like a mother to me because she would be there, teaching me right from wrong and punishing me whenever she knew I deserved it.
After meeting with my mother, Nicole told her to let me stay at her house for a couple days. Nicole immediately continued to tell me right from wrong again and how to be a good and a respectful child, because I was scaring my mother. When my mother got out a belt to beat me and I made a move, she would jump back and away from me. One time, I grabbed the belt from her hand and she ran into her bedroom and locked the door. My mother was always so frightened of me, but I did not know why. Now I know that she obviously thought of me as the predator person from her past.
As a young, aggressive child, of course I was going to take advantage of every opportunity to avoid getting a beating from anyone but Nicole. My mother was so scared of what she thought I was going to do to her. One day after I had returned from Nicole’s house, she hit me just like Nicole had told her to, and I got very mad. So she left me home alone, and she slept at Nicole’s house in Latoya’s room.
The next day my dad dropped me off again at Nicole’s house, but she and my mother did not realize that I had been dropped off, because they were locked in the room, talking.
In the kitchen, I overheard their conversation, with my name being spoken loudly and repeatedly. So I went to the door and lay on the floor and listened to their conversation. My mother was crying and asking Nicole, the friend who had introduced my father to my mother, for advice.
She said, “I would do whatever you tell me to do because you know a lot more than me about parenting.”
Nicole was a great friend to my mother, but every friend has a secret waiting to be revealed. And because of the things I had witnessed, I wanted badly to reveal all of the secrets that I knew about my father and Nicole. On another occasion, I had caught Nicole and my father locked in Nicole and her husband’s bedroom. Aside from them, I was the only other person in the house. They must’ve thought I was outside playing; however, I had never gone outside because I wanted to play Clinton’s video game. I heard someone jumping up and down on the bed and so much moaning that I began to wonder what they were really doing in there.
The time came when I just had to use the bathroom. Since I had already known that they were in the room talking, I did not pay them the least bit of attention, but it didn’t sound like they were talking when I passed by. So I leaned up against the door to listen, and it sounded like the noises my cousins made when they were making out with their girls. Nevertheless, I thought I was mistaken because I knew they were both married to other people.
I was thinking, “No way. It must be Nicole and Mario.” But when I came out of the restroom, I saw my father coming out of the bedroom and Nicole was walking into the shower, screaming at him to turn his head.
Then another day, Nicole and my father were hugging as I came around the corner. I was only going to ask if he was ready to go, and if he wasn’t, I had intended to go outside and play.
I was shocked by what I saw—Nicole and him kissing as she felt his penis. They screamed at me to get away from them and not to tell anyone or else Nicole would kill me, just like how she had threatened to do before. So, even though I was young, I figured out that Nicole loved my father.