I grew up in the top-floor apartment in a building off Myrtle Avenue. I can tell you I only appreciated this location exactly once a year: July Fourth, when I had front row seats to Macy’s fireworks display. Otherwise I didn’t think about it. I didn’t have any of the adult heaviness I now carry in my shoulders and lower back, the kind that a pleasant view helps alleviate. When I was 12 and out of school, I wanted to be down below in the courtyard, with the kids from my block.
Summertime unfortunately didn’t much ease my grandma’s strict rules. If she didn’t personally know your family you were probably just another fast ass girl or drug dealer; she was an all or nothing kind of woman, and that extended to the types of friends I was allowed to make. If I wasn’t at day camp or if sleep away camp wasn’t in that year’s budget, I found myself alone at home, creating my own worlds from books, journals, comics, and model plastic.
I was getting curious about (real) music around this time, seventh or eighth grade, and I owed much of that of my cousin Tate, five years my senior. Just as troubled kids were sent down south for the summer, the reverse was also common, and his mom had booted him from Newport News directly after school let out that year. He was everything I wasn’t: good-looking, charming, popular. (Perhaps too popular, as I later learned he was sent north to “save him” from a baby he’d fathered at age 15.) He arrived on our doorstep to spend a week with his paternal grandmother, all lanky and southern twang. He never left.