Chapter Two
My Emergence into the Field
When the news of Sam's arrest reached Marcia, she was out of money, running out of food, her rent was overdue, and she was in her third trimester of pregnancy. Lema was still living next to her in the trailer park, but she was experiencing similar difficulties and couldn't help. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Marcia called her mother. Her mother told her that she and her kids could stay with her and George. Bus tickets were sent and they left Corpus Christi for Houston.
    Marcia began having contractions before dawn on September 18, 1979. She was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital where she gave birth to me at approximately 9:50am. Upon my arrival, I frightened my mother and the hospital staff by having a violent asthma attack that nearly ended my life. They had to keep me on a respirator for the first 48 hours of my existence. I suffered from asthma until I was six years old, averaging several major attacks a year.
    We lived with Grandma Kelly for about a year after my birth. While there, my mother divorced my father. She said she was tired of raising children alone while he visited penitentiaries. I suspect that her mother and George influenced her decision.
    According to my brother, we lived in at least 10 places over the first three years of my life. Our mother went through several boyfriends during this period, the first being a man named Tony that she met while visiting her biological father at his apartment complex on the north side of Houston. We lived with Tony for a few months, then we bounced around the east side of town for a couple of years. I have little to no recollection of any of this.
Cogito, Ergo Sum (I Think, Therefore I Exist)
-- Rene Descartes

Many of my earliest memories are blurry and discontinuous: rolling around on a thick carpet in a dimly lit room, Mom rubbing my legs to alleviate excruciating muscle spasms, gasping for air in the midst of an asthma attack, sitting on my mother's lap in a crowded room (probably a hospital waiting room or the welfare office). I remember watching an amazing fireworks display from a balcony, but I'm not exactly sure where that was. Pressing my face against a warm car, lying on a soft couch, staring at a picture on a wall depicting dogs playing pool, my siblings as children - these are the images that flash through my mind when I rewind the hands of time. Trying to recollect and reconstruct some of these early events is like gazing through a windshield on a foggy day. It wasn't until I was between the ages of two and three years that a consistent flow of consciousness began.
    From the beginning, I was extremely hyperactive. When I arose in the mornings, I was in constant motion all day, exerting every ounce of energy at play. Before I could walk, I crawled on the floor and climbed over furniture and, once I found my footing, I zoomed from room to room and jumped on beds and couches. Outside, I ran around at breakneck speeds, climbed trees and inanimate objects, and dug forts and tunnels in the dirt. My high-octane activity alarmed my mother. She had to force me to sit down and rest every few hours, otherwise I would work myself into a frenzy and induce an asthma attack.
    I also exhibited an insatiable inquisitiveness and a penchant for adventure early on. Inside our home, I left no object unexamined, no crevice unexplored. Outside, I battled fire-breathing dragons, hunted for buried treasure, and rescued damsels in distress. Every new toy that I received I played with for a couple of days before taking it apart to see how it worked, yet I had a knack for rebuilding them. The world fascinated me and I questioned everything, much to the annoyance of everyone.
    One time my mother stepped out onto our front porch and told me to come inside. I wasn't ready to go in so I asked, "Why can't I stay outside?"
    "Because little boys need their rest."
    "Why do I need to rest?"
    "If you don't, you'll have an asthma attack."
    "What's asthma?"
    "It's what makes it hard for you to breathe sometimes."
    "Why do I have asthma?"
    "You were born with it, now get inside."
    "Why was I born with it?"
    Obviously tired of my questions, she stomped her foot on the porch and said, "Just get inside, you little shit!" She generally loved my questions, but I went overboard occasionally.

One of the first places that I recall living was a trailer park off Suburban on the north side of Houston. We lived there twice - the first time I was about two years old, then again when I was four. The park was encompassed by tall pines and thick oaks, with lush plant life growing throughout. The shabby trailers and rickety shacks that comprised the park were connected by hedges and trees and covered in fuzzy, green mold, evoking the feeling that you had left civilization for wilderness as you entered. There were an abundance of insects, reptiles, and small animals inhabiting the park and I made pets out of many of them, much to the annoyance of my mother.
    One warm day, I was out playing with a boy my age when we came upon the rusty tractor that the maintenance man used to mow grass and haul things around the park. Always the audacious one, I climbed up into the operator's seat with my friend following right behind. I twisted the steering wheel, pretending to be Speed Racer, while he pushed pedals and pulled levers. Apparently growing bored with that, he crawled onto the gas tank and unscrewed the cap. The pungent fumes caressed my nostrils as I watched him bend over the gas hole and sniff. A few seconds later, he looked back at me. "Wh-whoa! Da-do ya huh-hear that?"
    I was confused. "Uh-uh."
    "Huh-humming," he stuttered. He returned to the gas hole, opened his mouth, then deliberately breathed in and out several times before motioning me over. "It muh-makes ya huh-hum. Try it."
    He was acting strange and I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't want to seem uncool, so I switched positions with him. Hovering over the hole, I lowered my head and imitated my friend, slowly inhaling and exhaling. A tingling sensation began to pulsate through my body, my breathing increased, and I felt dizzy. I leaned against the tractor's frame and heard a "WHAA-WHAA-WHAA" noise, kind of like the sound from the old TV show, "The Six Million Dollar Man." Every sound seemed amplified: children laughing in the distance, birds chirping, motorists passing on a nearby street. No older than five years old, I was high for the first time in my life.
    How much time elapsed before I heard my mother yelling, I can't say. "Bobby Lynn, don't make me come after you, boy!" She must've been really mad because that was the only time she called me Bobby Lynn, which she knew I hated. I looked around and my friend was gone. My intentions were to get off the tractor, but I must've lost my train of thought and started spacing out because the next thing I remember was being pulled off of the tractor and Mom spanking me. "Didn't you hear me calling you?! Stay away from this piece of junk, if I catch you around it again your ass will be grass and I will be the lawn mower!"
    Unfortunately, the lesson wasn't learned. I snuck back on the tractor several times before we moved. My inability to distinctively recall and chronologically order many early events in life, as well as my other mental deficiencies, can be traced to this episode and years of drug abuse.
Born Into Adversity
The emergence of consciousness was soon proceeded by an understanding that life is a struggle and I would have to be strong to survive. Through sweat and tears my mother strove to make ends meet during the early years of my life, doing everything in her power to stave off our hunger pangs, keep clothes on our backs, and pay the bills. Being an uneducated, single parent with limited job skills, this wasn't an easy task. She proved time and again, though, to be resourceful, always finding a way to provide for my siblings and me. Despite the fact that we lived hand-to-mouth, her presence comforted us and gave us a sense of security. With her, we believed we would make it.
    With that said, there were many occasions when we could only afford to eat one meal a day. Once, I opened our refrigerator and found a jar of jelly and a carton of milk (Mom tried to keep milk because it helped my muscle spasms). Of course, I knew that we didn't have anything else in there because I'd already opened the refrigerator door countless times that day, but I believed in magic so I did it anyway. Sick of eating jelly on a spoon, I went to our neighbor's and asked if they had some bread to eat with the jelly. They didn't have bread, but they gave me tortillas. I had jelly tacos for lunch that afternoon!
    The scenery changed more often than the weather back then. From trailer parks to apartments, Mom moved us to places conducive to our survival. That meant moving closer to one of her jobs to shorten the commute, or moving in with, or close to, friends or family. It wasn't easy raising three children alone. Mom frequently depended on the assistance of others.
    One such person was a an affable old man named Robert Sutton; we all called him Grandpa, or Pops. My father was in the Harris County Jail in 1970 when he met Grandpa and his son, Tommy Lynn, both of whom I'm named after. They spent a few months in the jail together, then later did time on the Eastham Unit in Huntsville where they developed lasting friendships. My father and Tommy Lynn were released in 1977 while Grandpa remained inside. After my father was sent to prison in Missouri in 1979, he contacted Grandpa and asked him to find us and help us out. Grandpa promised him that he would do what he could and, from my perspective, he did an admirable job fulfilling that promise.
    Grandpa spent many years living the life of a street bum, sleeping under bridges, and drinking booze. Living this lifestyle, he learned a variety of methods that enabled him to get by and feed his addiction to alcohol. When he entered our lives in the early 1980s, he employed some of these "tricks” to help out our mother.
    "Dumpster hopping" was Grandpa's favorite money making endeavor and he took my sister and me along on many of these escapades. We would hop into his van and ride into middle to upper class neighborhoods and behind department stores to shakedown dumpsters. He would lift me up over the edge of a dumpster and I'd go in rummaging for items he deemed valuable. After I made a find, I would hand my discovery to him and he'd hand it to my sister, who loaded it into the van. We were mainly searching for broken or defective electrical appliances - TVs, VCRs, stereos, etc. - that could be repaired and sold or stripped for parts, but we found numerous items, such as clothes, shoes, and furniture, that were either new or in great condition. Grandpa was fond of saying, "One man's junk is another's treasure."
    We also hit fast food places, particularly chicken joints. After these restaurants close up for the night, they throw away the already cooked food that wasn't sold because health codes prevent them from refrigerating it and selling it later. When an employee would open the backdoor to dispose of the leftover food, we'd be lurking in the shadows, waiting to retrieve the bags from the dumpster after they reentered the building. That's how we ate some nights until these places caught on and began throwing the food away without bagging it up. We were hungry, but we weren't THAT hungry.
    When all else failed, Grandpa resorted to theft. He used to walk into the Sac-N-Save supermarket off Highway 59 and load a basket with groceries, then nonchalantly push it past the cashiers, right out the front door. He did this repeatedly until they busted him and called the police. Thankfully, the two cops that arrived on the scene knew him and my mother from previous encounters, so they just reprimanded him and brought him home to Mom with a warning: "Keep him away from the supermarket or he's going to jail."
    If Grandpa went to jail he would likely go back to prison for the rest of his life since he was a habitual criminal. My mother made sure he didn't shoplift after that.

Another source of income sometimes available was one of my mother's boyfriends. Unfortunately, the few men that I remember her being with were scumbags. One man she was with was named James, sometimes called Bo. He was an angry soul who openly detested my brother and me. No matter how hard we tried, we could do no right in James' eyes. He kicked Steven in the groin once, showing that he had no compunction about using his extremities to "discipline" us. When I was about five years old, I left some toys on the living room floor and he spiked me like a football, then commenced to punch. Exhibiting obstinacy early on, I screamed through tears, "Wait until my dad gets home, he'll kick your ass!"
    He hit me again and pointed at me. "Your daddy's a punk and he's getting ass fucked right now. Don't you know what happens in prison?"
    "I hate you, you lying bitch!"
    My brother and I slept in the same room and we stayed up many nights talking about James and how much we wished our real dad would come home. "Bubba, when dad gets home will he kick that punk's butt?"
    "Yeah, our dad is one tough dude," he assured me.
    "I can't wait until he comes home."
    After a moment of silence I asked, "Who can beat up our dad?"
    "The Incredible Hulk."
    "Who can beat up the Incredible Hulk?"
    "He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe!"
    "Who can beat up He-Man?"
    Deepening his voice he roared, "Almighty God!"
    I was impressed, but I pressed on, "Who can beat up God?"
    He placed me in a headlock and exclaimed, "Only I!"
    We wrestled around until we heard our mother warn us to keep it down. We had our own way of dealing with problems.
    My mother sometimes talked about our father. She spoke of him with reverence, affectionately describing him and telling my siblings and me stories about him. Most of this was for my benefit because they knew him, but they enjoyed our moments together and listened attentively. I grew to love the man my mother talked about and I longed for him to return home. "When will dad be home, Momma?"
    "Pretty soon."
    "When's 'pretty soon?' "
    "It's not too far away."
    My five year old mind conceptualized “pretty soon” as being a time of the year, like after Christmas or before Easter. I wasn't sure when it was, but I knew that all would be righted in the world “pretty soon.” 
Brothers Be Brothers
When I hear words such as unselfish, sacrifice, or altruism, I think of my brother Steven. From preadolescence until he was imprisoned at age 25, Steven worked and contributed almost every penny of his hard earned money towards our welfare. In the early stages of my life, he eased my mother's burden by collecting cans, mowing grass, and doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. Later in life, he worked a variety of manual labor jobs – auto mechanic, roofer, painter, bricklayer, and tree climber. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone with a better work ethic; he was a diamond in the rough for many companies. Without his help, our family wouldn't have survived.
    As illustrated by the above mentioned wrestling match and dialogue, Steven and I have shared an unbreakable bond since we were children. With my father in prison, Steven was my male role model and he taught me many life lessons.
    If you follow the winding, concrete road that splits the trailer park off Suburban, you'll run into an luxuriant expanse of piney woods. My brother and I explored these woods, following already existing trails and chopping our own. We also spent quite a few nights camping out there, roasting marshmallows on a campfire, and listening to Grandpa tell ghost stories.
    About a half mile into the woods lies a body of water covering about three acres; we called this the sandpit. If you were coming from the trailer park, to the left of the sandpit there's a deep gully enveloped by forest separating the sandpit from a freshwater lake, roughly half the size of the sandpit. The woods, sandpit, and lake offered us a respite from the pain of our daily life.
    When I was four years old, Steven told me to put some shorts on because he was about to teach me how to swim. Previously, I played in the shallow water or rode my brother's back as he swam, so the prospect of learning to swim on my own had me stoked. I quickly put some shorts on and we made our way down to the sandpit.
    There was a 20x4 ft. wooden raft afloat and we climbed aboard. Sitting on the edge with my feet kicking in the water, I gleefully watched the shore as my brother paddled us out towards the center of the sandpit. "When you gonna teach me, Bubba?"
    "Let's get the raft out a little further."
    "How you gonna teach me?"
    Silence.
    I turned just in time to see him rushing at me, but too late to do anything except tense up and let out a shriek as I plunged into the water. "Kick your feet, Robert! Kick your feet!"
    Overwhelmed by panic, it took a couple of seconds for his words to sink in. I ferociously kicked my feet and slung my arms until I resurfaced. "Help! I'm drowning!"
    "No you ain't, just keep kicking!"
    "Help me, Bubba! I'm drowning!"
    "Look at yourself, you're swimming! Just keep kicking, you can do it!"
    I kept kicking and moving my arms and soon realized that, indeed, I was swimming. This calmed me some and I stopped yelling. My brother was staring down at me smiling. "See, I told you you were swimming. Continue kicking your feet and paddle your arms towards the raft."
    I followed his instructions and he helped me onto the raft. Splayed out on the raft and breathing hard, I was utterly exhausted. About five minutes later, Steven picked me up and tossed me back into the water. "Practice makes perfect, little brother!" He later showed me a variety of strokes and techniques. I was a fish in the water, it all came naturally to me.
    Another time, we took Steven's brand new bicycle, which was given to him by a camp counselor who later tried to molest him, out on the raft. He had a bright idea. He was going to sit on one end of the raft and submerge the bottom half of the bike into the water while he held on to the handlebars and pedaled. It was supposed to propel us through the water like a motorboat. After a few rotations, he lost his grip and the bike sank to the bottom, lost forever. That was a $500.00 bicycle. He freaked out over his loss; my mother, Grandpa, and I poked fun at him about it.

The freshwater lake opposite the sandpit was replete with perch and we caught dinner in it a time or two. We had to be careful because the lake was on private property and the owners were out there regularly. They caught us fishing once and ran us off with threats of calling the police if they found us on their property again. That wasn't enough to keep us away; we discovered a blind spot where we could fish undetected as long as nobody was out on the water.
    Early one morning, Steven and I walked down to the lake to test his new rod-n-reel, also a gift from the perverted camp counselor. Steven practiced casting his line while I dug in the dirt for earthworms to use for bait. I worked my way behind him and looked up just as he slung his rod-n-reel backwards to cast. The line and hook brushed over my body and abruptly shot up, catching my upper lip. Temporarily immobilized by shock, I could only watch as he pulled on his rod-n-reel a couple of times. He must've thought that the line was caught in a tree limb. Finally, I was able to let out a shout, "Ahhh! Muh luhp!"
    He dropped the rod-n-reel and came to my aid. The hook was stuck in my lip and I was bleeding profusely. There was no way he could remove it without ripping my lip apart. We had to walk back to the trailer park and find the maintenance man, who cut the hook out with a pair of wire cutters.
    For a moment there, I knew how the fish felt.

Our neighbors gave us an old bicycle in disrepair when I was almost five. My brother fixed it up and called me over, "Today you ride like the wind." He balanced the bike by holding one of the handlebars and told me to climb on. "I'm gonna push you slowly and let you get the feel of it, then I'm gonna push you fast and let you go, got that?"
    "Yeah."'
    We moved slowly down the road and every few seconds he would remove his hands and allow me to ride on my own. Then he accelerated and let me go. I coasted for about 20 feet before slamming into a trailer, having the wind knocked out of me and incurring minor cuts and bruises. Reluctantly, I got up and we tried it again with a similar result. This went on most of the day before I was able to navigate the bicycle from one end of the trailer park to the other. Sleeping was painful that night, but I could ride a bike so I was happy.

Our relationship wasn't always so amicable. Horseplay often led to serious blows and me on the losing end of an ass kicking. Steven said he was toughening me up, preparing me for the real world. If that was the case, you'd think that he would’ve let me win once in awhile to build my confidence, right? Wrong! I've come close to defeating him, but he invariably prevailed when we fought.
    Make no mistake about it, I asked for many of those ass whoopings. One fourth of July, Grandpa gave me two packs of Black Cat firecrackers and a lighter with orders to stay outside with them. After growing bored of blowing up cans and ant mounds, I returned to our trailer with mischief on my mind. Steven built model cars and trucks and displayed them all over the trailer. I lined a couple up on his bedroom window, strategically placed firecrackers in each, and connected a fuse to them. Satisfied with my work, I went back outside with a chair and set it outside of his window, stood on top of it, and yelled into the trailer, "Bubba, I accidentally broke a model, come see if you can fix it."
    I knew that would get him off the couch.
    As soon as I heard footsteps, I lit the fuse and took off running. I laughed when I heard the firecrackers exploding and my brother scream in horror! Of course, he chased me down and beat the hell out of me, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. We had our battles, but we stood together through the hard times and never stopped loving each other.
Insufficient Supervision
With our mother usually working multiple jobs and Grandpa lost in a bottle of wine, my siblings and I had to police ourselves. Consequently, we did things that we shouldn't have been doing, created unnecessary problems for our mother, and occasionally found ourselves in dangerous situations.
    One afternoon, when we were still living in the trailer park off Suburban, I was outside playing with some kids and one of them invited me inside his home. He told me his parents were at work and we could watch TV and eat cereal, so I followed him into his place. We made a huge mess in the kitchen before watching TV, then I had to use the bathroom. He showed me to it and said he would meet me outside. After I finished my business, I left the bathroom and walked down the hallway leading to the front entrance. Before I reached the end of the hallway, I noticed a bedroom door ajar. I peeked inside the room and spotted a wooden dresser adorned with shiny whatnots. With my curiosity piqued, I entered the room and went to the dresser. A chrome pistol was laying on the edge and I immediately picked it up for examination. I knew at once that it wasn't like any of my toys, it was too heavy. Extending my arm, I pointed the gun in the air and gently squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Fumbling with it some more, I switched the safety over and again aimed into the ceiling before squeezing the trigger. Still nothing. It must be broken, I thought.
    I left the bedroom and walked out of the house with the gun in my hand, anxious to show it to my friends. A girl I played with was at the end of the driveway and I called her, "Hey, look what I got!"
    She saw me waving the gun in the air and a concerned look formed on her face. I assured her that it was broken and demonstrated by pointing it at her and squeezing the trigger. Nothing happened. She relaxed a little, but kept her distance and stared at me. Switching the safety back over, I raised the gun in her direction and squeezed the trigger. It exploded in my hand and fell to the ground. The girl let out an ear piercing scream and we both ran in opposite directions. I missed her.
    In full stride, I ran up the stairs to my trailer and jerked the door open. My heart was racing a million miles a second as I locked the door and ran into my bedroom, jumped in my bed, and pulled the covers over myself. No one was in the house except me. Still, I laid in bed, fully clothed, for what seemed like an hour before I heard the front door open.
    "Buckshot, where are you?" It was Grandpa. I was three when he started calling me that because I pulled out an old piece of a shotgun when the cops had come to our place to talk to him. "Get in here, I want to have a word with you."
    Slowly, I got out of bed and met Grandpa in the hallway. "Yes, sir?"
    "You been playing with guns?"
    "No, sir."
    He looked disappointed. ''Don’t lie to me, Son. Did you go inside someone's house and take their gun?"
    Placing my hands behind my back, I stared at the floor. "Yes, sir."
    "You scared a little girl and she went crying to her momma. The landlord just cussed me out and threatened to kick us out if you went outside alone again. Got no choice. Buckshot, I gotta tell your momma." 
    Mom came home from work that night and spanked me. She wouldn't allow me outside alone for a long time after that incident.

***   ***   ***

Anna and Pasquala, six and eight years old respectively, were my neighbors when I was five. The three of us were alone in their trailer one day watching cartoons. Anna kept messing my hair up with her hands, distracting me from the show, until I finally had enough. I wrestled her to the floor and, pinning her down with my knees on her arms, I messed her hair up. Pasquala blind-sided me, grabbed me by the waist, and wrestled me off of Anna, then they both tag teamed me. I tried to break free, but with Pasquala sitting on the upper half of my body and Anna on my legs, I wasn't going anywhere. Pasquala giggled and pinched my cheek. "You're so cute, baby! Isn't he cute, Anna?"
    Anna laughed and teased, "Oh yeah, the baby's so cute!"
    My body began to feel warm with the girls on top of me and I stopped resisting. It got quiet. Pasquala eased her face over me and planted kisses all over my face. She then ran her hand down my body and rubbed my pelvic area with Anna watching in silence. Pasquala got off of me, grabbed my hand, and said, "Let's go to the back."
    We all walked into the back bedroom and Pasquala told us to take our clothes off. We all removed our clothes. Sitting on their bed naked, we began touching each other's private parts. This went on for awhile until we heard a car door slam shut, signifying the return of their mother. I hurriedly put my clothes on and bolted out the backdoor and ran into my trailer. No one ever suspected a thing.

***   ***   ***

When I was four years old we lived in a red brick, two story apartment complex in a predominantly black ghetto. One afternoon my sister Tammie and I were home alone while our mother and her boyfriend James were at work. Steven was out with his friends and there was no telling where Grandpa was. I helped Tammie clean the apartment and she made our favorite dish, macaroni and cheese. After we ate, I asked her if we could go to the swimming pool. The public pool, about 10 blocks from our apartment, was one that we frequented whenever possible. Tammie said we could go for an hour, but no longer than that because we had to be home when Mom returned from work.
    We changed into our swimming gear and left the apartment. At the swimming pool, I splashed around in the shallow end (at this point I hadn't learned to swim) and Tammie watched me from close by. She told me it was time to leave an hour later, but I gave her a little trouble, making her pull me out.
    On the walk home we crossed a street and treaded a concrete sidewalk with buildings lined to our left. As we approached an alley, a black guy jumped out and grabbed Tammie, pulling her into it kicking and screaming. I screamed for help as her assailant put his hand over her mouth to stymie her screams and they receded further into the darkness. There wasn't a soul in sight as all of this transpired. Taking a deep breath, I darted into the alley and found the guy pinning Tammie against a wall, ripping her bathing suit off. I lunged at him and wrapped my arms around his leg. He knocked me back and kicked me. Tammie was crying and she begged me to run and tell Mom.
    I pushed myself off the ground and ran home as fast as I could, crying the whole way, hoping beyond hope that my sister would be okay. Once I arrived at the apartment, I banged on our door until it was opened. "Mom! Someone's hurting Sissy!"
    My mother lifted me into her arms and consoled me, "Calm down, baby. Who's hurting Sissy?”
    Weezing heavily, I tried to explain, "A black! We was swimming and a black got her! He tore her clothes and he hit me, you gotta help her now!"
    Grandpa, Steven and James were in the living room. James laughed and said, "It's probably just her boyfriend."
    Mom stared holes through him, then put me down. "Show me where, baby."
    I led the way for my mother, brother and Grandpa. I found the alley, but there weren't any signs of my sister or her assailant and I started crying, "It was here, I remember!" Mom told me to calm down and think. Maybe it was somewhere else? "No, it was here!" We walked around searching for Tammie for a very long time. Finally, she appeared in the distance - naked, crying, and holding her ripped bathing suit over the front of her body.
    A couple of days after my sister was raped, the Children's Protective Services (CPS) took her away from my mother, placing her in a foster home. This was the first of several times that the CPS took custody of her, supposedly for her own safety. Problem was, no matter where she went, or who's care she was in, people abused her. Her first foster father molested her and his other children repeatedly before being sent to jail. Later in life, her family and friends constantly took advantage of her, cheated her out of money, and physically abused her. My cousin's ex-girlfriend, a dope fiend named Julie, introduced her to crack cocaine which she became addicted to and sold herself for. What makes these people additionally reprehensible is the fact that Tammie is mentally challenged. Her IQ is in the lower 60s and she isn't mentally capable of surviving on her own. My sister has always had a heart of gold, though. She'd help anyone in need if she could. Unfortunately, people have exploited this attribute at every turn.
When the Going Gets Tough
Steven and Tammie walked to and from school when we lived off Suburban because their school was just a mile down the road. On the way home one afternoon, a drunk driver swerved off the road and hit my brother, knocking him into a ditch. The man who hit him stopped, then tried to drive away, but Don, the man who ran the car wash on the intersection of Suburban and East Mt. Houston, witnessed the entire accident and ran out in the middle of the road, preventing a hit and run. Don hollered at his wife, Flo, and told her to call an ambulance.
    My brother suffered multiple broken bones, internal bleeding, brain damage, and was in a coma for several days. Initially, the doctors weren't sure if he would survive and that had us worried until he came out of the coma and his condition was upgraded from critical to stable. He had to stay in the hospital for over a month and my mother was by his side the entire time. She was working at a convenience store at the time and the manager fired her for missing work, complicating our lives even more.
    While my mother was with Steven in the hospital, Tammie and I stayed with Grandpa. We went dumpster hopping and collected cans for food money, plus we received help from churches. They donated canned goods and gave Grandpa a little money for gas, all of which helped immensely. It wasn't nearly enough, though. The landlord was threatening eviction if he didn't get some rent.
    Steven had a distant look about him the day he came home from the hospital. Mom said he had amnesia and was slowly coming out of it, but it would take him awhile to remember everything. She also warned me to be careful around him because he just had a body cast removed and was still sore.
    Physically speaking, my brother recovered completely a couple of months later. There was a conspicuous difference in his personality, though, which I later learned is common in people who suffer brain damage. He seemed slightly offbeat and it took longer for some things to sink in. He was also more reserved than before and at school he started failing classes. My father said Steven was sharp-minded and quick-witted as a boy prior to our father's incarceration. Undoubtedly, brain damage from the car accident slowed his cognitive processing abilities, yet he retained his mechanical aptitude and impressively honed those skills over the next few years.

***   ***   ***

Shortly after Steven was released from the hospital, our mother talked with the manager at her old job and was rehired. Our mother's hope that some sense of normalcy would return to our lives was short-lived. On her second night back at work, an armed robber entered the store demanding all of the money as she was lifting the cash register to clean under it. The sight of the gun caused her to drop the machine and it bounced off of the counter and onto her foot, shattering most of the bones in it.
    With Mom being unable to walk, much less work, our quality of life rapidly diminished. Grandpa did what he could do and we received some help from churches and friends, but it just wasn't enough. Food was scarce and the landlord gave my mother an ultimatum - give him money or get out!
    There was a man named Franky that my mother was with when I was a baby who went to prison. She wrote him a letter explaining her dilemma, he wrote back with a solution: pack up and move in with his sister in Cleveland, Texas. He said he had informed her that we were in a bind and she would be expecting us. Grandpa had sold his van, so we had to find a ride to Cleveland.
    Franky's sister wasn't home when we arrived. The people that drove us over asked if we wanted a ride elsewhere, but Mom said that they were probably out eating or shopping, that we'd wait for them to return. Day gave way to night and there still wasn't any sign of Sissy, Franky's sister. It began to get chilly, so we huddled together for warmth on the front porch. Realizing that Sissy wouldn't be home that night, Mom instructed Steven to break a window and let us inside.
    The next morning, Mom opened the mailbox and found a stack of mail, including Franky's letter to Sissy, that indicated Sissy was out of town, probably on vacation. She knew nothing about us moving in with her. We had nowhere else to go and all we could do was wait for Sissy to return. In the interim, we ate their food (they had a deep-freeze full of meat, we knew we would be okay for several months if need be), slept in their beds, and I played with Sissy's son's toys. Two weeks passed before Sissy and her son Clint pulled into the driveway. We all filed out onto the porch to meet them. Sissy stepped out of her vehicle, glared at us and her open front door, then demanded, "Who the fuck are you people and why the hell are ya'll in my goddamn house?!"
    My mother held Franky's letters out. "Franky wrote me and told me to come to you because I had no place to live. When we got here we figured you would be home soon, so we told our ride to leave; we had nowhere else to go and no way to get there if we did."
    As Sissy read the letter her expression of anger morphed into a grin. "You mean to tell me you people been living in my house, eating my groceries up this whole time? How the hell did you get in?" Steven showed her the window that he taped a plastic bag over. Still smiling she said, "You people ain't bashful are you?!"
    Sissy was one of the most benevolent spirits I've ever met. She ribbed us for breaking into her home, but she made it clear that she was teasing. She welcomed us to stay as long as we needed to and we all thanked her for her understanding and hospitality.

Starting school

We lived on the south side of Houston in a run down, two story apartment building when I began school. It was in the fall of 1984 when Mom enrolled me in kindergarten at McGreggor Elementary School. She and Steven walked me to class on my first day and introduced me to my teacher. Ms. Gray, a heavy set black lady with silver streaks in her hair, greeted me with a warm hug, assuaging my nervousness. "Don't worry, Robert. We gone have us some real good fun, you just wait and see." A jovial spirit with an infectious smile, Ms. Gray made going to school enjoyable.
    The classroom was divided in half by a piece of tape; Ms. Gray's class was on one side, a first grade class on the other. It worked out well, though. Both classes competed by seeing which could decorate their side of the room best with colored pictures and origami. My days were spent painting, coloring, playing games like "duck, duck, goose," and we all took a nap. In retrospect, it was like a daycare.
    While I didn't learn much in Ms. Gray's class, I did pick up on a nasty habit after school. Steven walked me to school each morning and I walked the five blocks home with the kids from our block. On the way home, several of us would stop off at a convenience store to watch the big kids play video games. One time this kid about my age opened the freezer that stored the ice cream and hid an ice cream sandwich in his coat, then walked out the door. The store clerk was none the wiser. Desiring an ice cream myself, I waited until the clerk turned his back to me and I quickly opened the freezer and stuffed an ice cream down my pants. As I walked the rest of the way home eating the ice cream, I thought that was too easy. That was the first of innumerable times that I committed theft.

After we left the south side a month later, we moved into a white house on the north side. Grandpa knew the man who owned it and he allowed us to stay there free of rent, we just had to pay the utilities. The house had three bedrooms, a large backyard with a big pecan tree, and there was an enormous pile of dirt that Gene, the jolly old owner, had dumped from his dump truck. Both the tree and the dirt pile kept me preoccupied all day.
    Everything was going smoothly for several months. I started going to school again, although they weren't teaching us very much, and my mother had a good job. Somehow she lost that job, though, and things got ugly in a hurry. The gas, water, and electric companies all discontinued their services within the span of a week. Steven illegally turned everything back on, but the companies soon caught on and put pad locks on the breakers and valves. With no way to pay our utilities, we had to move again.
    My mom contacted Franky again - he was still in prison - and he told her that he would be released soon and paroling to his parents’ house in Baytown, Texas. He gave my mother his mother's phone number and told her to call and ask if we could stay with her until he was released. Mom called and, after the phone call, told us to pack up, that we were going to Baytown.
    Grandpa did not go with us. I'm not exactly sure where he went. We didn't meet up with him again for over five years.

Jack and Viola, Franky's parents, lived on waterfront property in a blue, wood-framed house on the outskirts of Baytown. An affluent couple in their 80s, they cordially welcomed us into their home. Viola had a room prepared for my mother when we arrived while Steven and I were shown to their grandson Buster's room where we would sleep.
    Buster was 13 years old and spoiled rotten. He never wanted for anything in his life and his room, furnished with a large screen TV set, VCR, video games, stereo system, and a pool table, evinced just that. Living with Buster was paradise to my brother and me. We exhausted ourselves playing games and watching movies, while eating Buster's favorite foods - pizza and hamburgers.
    Life was good.
    Baytown Elementary School was an excellent facility, noticeably better than my previous schools, and the teachers emphasized academics rather than playing games; although, there were games played, too. My first day of class we practiced our ABCs and counted money. In between the ages of three and four years, my mother taught me how to count using her spare change jar and whatever cash she had on her. When the teacher at Baytown Elementary broke out the paper coins, I impressed her with my precocity. "Wow, Robert! Who taught you to count like that?"
    I was at once embarrassed and proud. "My mom."
    "Come with me, I want you to show Ms. Jones."
    She led me into the hallway and stuck her head into another classroom. Another woman stepped out into the hallway and my teacher asked me, "Will you count out loud for Ms. Jones, Robert?"
    "Yes, Ma'am." I counted to fifty and she asked me to count in fives. I counted in fives beyond a hundred, tens beyond five hundred, and twenty-fives beyond one thousand. They both smiled at me the entire time.
    My teacher beamed, "How would you like to be in Ms. Jones' class with the fast kids, Robert?"
    "I'd like that."
    "Good. You do me proud in Ms. Jones' class okay?"
    The next day I was transferred to Ms. Jones' class where we practiced writing, addition and subtraction. The positive reinforcement by these teachers inspired me greatly. Over-night mathematics became my favorite subject and I excelled in it throughout school.

***   ***   ***

Franky was released from prison a month later. A short, bald-headed man who mirrored the character on the "Benny Hill Show," the little dude that Benny Hill patted on the head. Franky was soft-spoken and seemed to be a good guy at first. He played pool with us boys and he let me ride Buster's go-cart, something my mother wouldn't let me do before Franky arrived.
    My perceptions of him changed drastically one night. As I prepared for bed, I heard my mother and Franky arguing in the next room. Concerned, I peeked through the door and saw him pointing his finger at Mom, yelling something unintelligible. She pushed his hand away from her face and he drove his hand into her chest. He then leaned over her and put his finger on her face. "Stupid bitch, don't you ever raise your hand to me."
    Witnessing this infuriated me. I was tired of people hurting my family; it filled me with rage and hate. I ran at him and latched on to his leg, then sank my teeth into his flesh, drawing blood. He let out a cry of anguish before smacking me on the head and shaking me off.
    Just as he reached back to hit me again, Viola entered the room. "Franky! Don't you hit that child." She was incensed. "How dare you behave this way in my house! Get out before I call the police and have you arrested!"
    He didn't say a word as he put his clothes on and walked out. That was the last time we saw Franky.
    Viola later told my mother that we could stay with them as long as we liked. We lived with them for another month while my mother saved money from her job at the flea market, then we moved into some apartments in the Baytown city limits. We thanked Jack and Viola for all of their help and they made my mother promise to let them know if she needed anything, which she did. My mother was a proud woman who preferred providing for us herself.
A Father to Call My Own
The apartments in Baytown were certainly the best that we had lived in to that point. White bricked with dark, wood trim, they had central air-conditioning and heating, a laundry mat, and two swimming pools. The parking lots and streets connecting each of the four buildings constituting the complex were made of smooth concrete, perfect for bicycle and skateboard riding. A gully filled with crawfish wrapped around the backside of the apartments and I spent a lot of time in it.
    The day we moved into our apartment, Steven and I put on our swimming trunks and went down to the swimming pool. We did flips and cannonballs off the diving board, then we dove after coins to see who could locate them at the bottom first. I lived in that swimming pool over the next couple of months. Mom had to literally go in after me to get me out a couple of times.
    In June of 1986, our mother called Steven and me inside to chat. "What do you boys think about me and your real father getting back together?"
    I almost couldn't believe my ears. My heartbeat accelerated as Steven replied, "We want our dad, don't we, Robert!"
    "Yes."
    Our mother went on to tell us that she had spoken with him over the phone and that he would be released at the end of the week. She had told our father that she would talk with us and let him know her decision at the airport. The news had me astounded, totally speechless.
    At the airport I stood inbetween Mom and Steven as passengers exited the plane. I hadn't seen a picture of my father, so as I studied each face, I was relying on Mom's description: an older man with a bald head. An elderly man fitting that description appeared walking with a cane. "Is that him?!"
    They both laughed and Mom said, "I sure hope not."
    The guy was in his 70s.
    A moment later a man emerged with a thick ZZ Top beard, bald head, and a cup in his hand. He stopped in his tracks when his eyes rested on us and he stared for a second, savoring something. Tears began to stream down his wrinkled face. He tossed his cup into a trash can and closed the distance separating us in long strides. He and my mother embraced, then she waved Steven and me closer so the four of us could huddle. In the midst of one of the most loving and memorable moments of my life, I cried and thought, I have a father.
 
To be continued.....