I’ll stay and watch you grow, yes I will! I’ll raise you by myself, a one woman show. You make life worth singing a song; with you right here with me, I’ll have the strength to go on. Thanks for my child; you brought me so much joy, this bundle of love. Thanks for my child. I’ll hold you in my arms, I’ll hold you close to me. Rock-a-bye my baby, I’ll rock you to sleep.
I remember our mother singing that to us every single night. Her voice was melodic and soothing, eased many nights when I felt like I and my baby sister were burdens. She’d tell us “I’m going to make sure that we’re always okay. You’ll both always be taken care of. My Paris and my Yasmine.”
Who’d have thought that promise would only last a good two years.
When I was five, my father walked out on us. He finally got fed up with his personal suspicions and had a DNA test done on my two year old sister, found out she wasn’t his. He packed a few bags and walked out. The only contact we got from him was weeks later when my mother was served divorce papers.
Initially she refused to sign them, believing that he’d come back. Tried convincing him that the test had to be wrong, she’d never cheat on him. But anyone could take a look into Yasmine’s eyes… her skin tone, hair texture, and they could see she wasn’t his. She didn’t look like him, and she certainly didn’t look like our mother. She was a beautiful baby, half black and half Puerto Rican. And while my father never treated her badly, he couldn’t bring himself to continue caring for a child that wasn’t his.
Couldn’t bring himself to stay, not even for me.
The next two years found us moving from place to place. Sometimes our mother was able to pay the bills, and other times we had to squat or hide. Sometimes we stayed with her friends as long as they would let us, other times we were moving from shelter to shelter, trying to find decent clothing and food. By the time I turned seven, she couldn’t keep a job for longer than a week. Her hot temper, authority issues, and sometimes refusal to do more than what was required of her got her fired quicker than the time it took her to get a job.
She soon found a way to ease her stress.
For three years, Yasmine and I lived with a junkie… an addict… a crackhead. Her addiction began getting out of hand and she would stand on corners, selling herself and making just enough to pay for her daily habit and MAYBE get something for Yasmine and I to share.
Even though I hated doing it, I took it upon myself to make sure we ate enough throughout the day. I’d gotten good at stealing food without being seen, but sometimes I’d earn a few dollars by standing in front of stores with lots of shoppers, singing or dancing. I’d get enough to feed us and every once in a while I could get something simple, but new, for us to wear. Sometimes I went without just so Yasmine could be okay.
Eventually, our mother wasn’t even good for supporting her own habit. She’d been ran through and used way too much and she needed new ways to get her drugs. Only one dealer was willing to work with her because she was one of his favorites. He wanted us.
“Paris, Baby, Mommy needs you to be a real good girl. There’s something that I need badly, and you and Yasmine are the only way that I can get it. Are you going to be a good girl and get what Mommy needs?” I knew she meant that she wanted to let this grown man lie on top of me and do whatever he pleased, however long he pleased. I was ten and already looking older. But Yasmine was seven, and I couldn’t let it happen to her too.
Every time our mother needed a fix, we’d go over to his house. His friends would get high with our mother and he’d take Yasmine and I into his bedroom. So he wouldn’t touch Yasmine, I made sure to do whatever he asked. Let him do whatever. But he made her watch.
By the time I turned sixteen, the only thing I was good for, according to my mother, was clearing debts. I couldn’t keep every man from going after Yasmine, she and I both grew the same… our bodies making us appear much older than sixteen and thirteen. The only thing that’d changed about my sister is that she sometimes enjoyed it. The attention of older men did something for her self-esteem. Made her feel beautiful. It boosted her ego when they came to her instead of our mother, or even me.
Soon I just stopped going home. I began sneaking into my high school after hours and sleeping there, waking up early enough to shower in the locker room and sneak back out. I had no friends, so I had no reason to explain anything to anybody.
Until a janitor stayed over one night and found me sleeping behind the bleachers. My bruises, from the first time one of my mother’s boyfriends had ever hit me for turning him down, gave me away when I kept insisting that I was fine. He reported it and soon my mother was in jail, Yasmine and I were sent off to an orphanage and then we were separated.
The next two years, instead of bouncing from home to home like my sister, I worked towards being emancipated. Got a job, found a decent apartment for a decent price, and worked on getting my life together… all while finishing school.
At seventeen, I was free, living on my own, and finally happy. By eighteen I was a high school graduate, making decent money as a personal assistant to one of the city’s best known publishers and taking on a new responsibility. Yasmine was now fifteen and I decided to take her in once the state saw that I had everything worked out. Of course, she wasn’t the same little sister I’d grown up and gone through so much with.
She was addicted to the street life. Money, thugs, cars, and sex. And there was little I could do to control her. I found it best to let her do her thing, preaching constantly that she should at least be safe.
She had yet to come home with a baby or any diseases.
Soon there was nothing we didn’t argue about, day after day for seven years. I’d done my best to make sure she was well taken care of. Tried not to be too much of a mother, tried to treat her like an adult, but we still fought.
Majority of our fights stemmed from the fact that she found nothing wrong with sleeping with any boyfriend of mine. She’d even tried to get with the father of my daughter when I was pregnant. She’d done more wrong to me than I could ever do good for her, but that was my sister… and I couldn’t turn my back on her.
Not after all we’d been through.
I’m now a single mother, working hard to make sure my daughter doesn’t have the same life that I had. Yasmine is now a stripper, and proud to be one. Loves bragging about how one switch of her hips and she has a man in the palm of her hand.
Our lives are so different now. I find myself wanting to walk away, cut the drama loose and finally go on about MY life.
But then I think of my sister, all alone, struggling or eventually turning out like our mother. She’s my sister, I can’t let that happen. I’d like to believe that she’d be the exact same way if we’d turn out the opposite of what we are now at twenty-five and twenty-two. And I always wonder…
… Am I my sister’s keeper?