Kalisha Buckhanon Upstate: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780312332693

Upstate: A Novel

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9780312332693: Upstate: A Novel
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"Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?"

So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990's in New York. Antonio and Natasha's world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime. Antonio fights to stay alive on the inside, while on the outside, Natasha faces choices that will change her life. Over the course of a decade, they share a desperate correspondence. Often, they have only each other to turn to as life takes them down separate paths and leaves them wondering if they will ever find their way back together.

Startling, real, and filled with raw emotion, Upstate is an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a message of undeniable hope. Brilliant and profoundly felt, it is destined to speak to a new generation of readers.

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About the Author:

Kalisha Buckhanon was born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1977. She has been the recipient of awards and fellowships from the NAACP, Andrew Mellon Fund, Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Young Authors Commission, Mary Roberts Rhinehart Fund and the Chicago Black Writer's Conference. Her work has appeared in such publications as Michigan Quarterly Review and Warpland: A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New School University and a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. She has taught literacy and writing to children on Chicago's South Side, in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Upstate is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Upstate
PART ONEJanuary 25, 1990 Dear Natasha, 
Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father? I need to know if you believe what everybody saying about me because I need to know if you got my back. Right now I don't know who in my corner and who ain't. I looked in the mirror this morning and I didn't see nothing. That's how I feel, like I'm nothing. Like nobody see me or hear me or care about me or care what I got to say. Ma told me that some of my cuzos say they gonna kill me when I get out, say they gonna put a shank in my throat just like everybody say I did my daddy. They saying I better hope I got to do time cause when I get out it's a wrap. But see, they don't know me like you do. They don't know what I been through like you do. You was the only person who ever listened to me, you mostly, maybe Trevon and Black. Sometimes Ma. But mostly you. Remember all the shit we used to talk about late at night on the phone? About dropping out of school and going to Mexico or down South or somewhere like that? About us opening up some businesses and shit? About my music and me balling and you doing hair and shit? I know you remember. I do. I remember every word you ever said to me.You thinking about me? I hope so because I'm thinkingabout you. I know you hadn't heard from me, but I'm in a large holding cell right now with a bunch of other cats, they trying to decide if I should be transported because I'm a juvenile. But they gonna move me soon, that's for sure. I'll let you know when they move me and where I'm at. I'm not even supposed to be writing this and mailing it to you cause I ain't got those privileges where I'm at. But two cats been looking out for me these past few days said, Tell us what you need son and we can hook you up; they've been here many times before. I told them, I need to write my girl. They know a guard who keep the communication flowing between the outside and in, so that's why you getting this letter. Baby girl I miss your fine ass so much I can't even think about how I'm gonna get out of this shit. I can't believe I'm here. Don't even know how I got here. I don't care. I'm thinking about the last time we saw each other. It seem like just yesterday me and you was bugging out in St. Nick Park, jumping over cars and shit. Member that white man watering his plants on his fire escape, and how he hollered bout calling the pigs and Black threw a bottle up at his ass and told him to get out of our hood? That shit was wild, that shit was funny. It was fun, the best time in my life. Then remember me and you went up them high steps that go to city college, and you let me suck your titties and rub you until you got all creamy and wet? I know you wanted to do something, if Black and Laneice wouldn't have been all up in the business, laughing and shit. Mad because they wasn't getting none. Remember what you said when we was walking back down and you was buttoning up your shirtand patting your baby hair down? Remember when you said you loved me?Write back soon,Antonio 
 
 
January 27, 1990 Dear Antonio, 
What happened? Did you kill him? Did you really do it? It's been on the news, in the papers, everything. Everybody at school and on the block keep asking me, keep wanting to know if I was there and if I seen it and if I helped you keep it a secret. I keep telling them naw, I didn't have nothing to do with that shit, but they don't believe me. Popos been over here three times asking me questions. They keep asking me was you on drugs and did you hit me and stuff like that. I told them no, but they kept on asking and they wouldn't leave and Mommy was getting upset. So, I didn't want to, but I told them you get high. I lied and said you didn't do it that much, just once in a while. They asked me if you did crack and I said "Hell no! Antonio wasn't no hype, he just smoked weed that's all." I think they believe me because they ain't been back since. You know I would never give you up, I would never tell about any of the shit you did. That's how much I love you. I got your back baby, cause I know you would do the same for me. I miss you so much I can't evenbreathe. I can't even get on the train or the bus no more cause I'm so used to taking it with you. I been walking everywhere now, but I don't mind. It give me some time to think, to clear my head, to figure out what the hell is happening with you, with me, with everything.People at school won't stop staring at me and asking me questions. And Mr. Lombard, with his two-faced racist ass, had kept me in class after algebra wanting to know if I was okay and if I needed to talk to somebody. I didn't tell him shit either. I told him I was fine and I just wanted to go home so I could get ready to fix dinner cause Mommy was working late. I still ain't forgot about how he lied on me and said I was talking in class when I wasn't and I got in detention hall for a week. Don't try to be my friend now. But anyway, that's off the subject of what happened. I want you to tell me what happened. I promise to God swear on my daddy's grave that I won't tell nobody, not anybody, not even one living soul, not even Mommy. Just tell me. It won't make no difference. What I said that night was true.Love Always,Natasha 
 
 
February 1, 1990 Baby Girl, 
This the deal yo, I can't talk about nuthin. I don't want to tell you what happened unless we face to face in private. Ican't talk about nuthin. Everybody up in my business, out to get me. I can feel it. I can tell. I can see everybody looking at me, I can hear them talking about me. Them motherfuckers opened your letter. They opened my shit and read it. When I got the envelope, it was ripped in half and the letter looked like it had been wet up. So, I know they reading this. I know they read everything I write. I wanted to tell the cracker who brought it to me that he ain't had no right to read my baby's shit, that it was between a man and his woman and that's always sacred, but I didn't say nothing. I just shook my head, cause I'm not trying to make no trouble. I'm trying to get out of here. They not gonna get me on some dumb shit. They not gonna win. So, to whoever reading this, fuck you and your mama too. Fuck you over and over and over again. I hope you die.I been sent up to another facility right now.--It's on some island right off the Bronx. Natasha, they put chains around my ankles and connected me to a lot of other cats being transported from Manhattan in this big van. The ride was bumpy, but quiet. Nobody said a word, nobody looked at each other. When we got to the new joint, they unchained us in this big room that looked like a warehouse and told us to take off all our clothes. We had to stand there naked. I was shaking it was so cold, and one by one they searched our mouths and other places I don't want to tell you about. I got my own room with a tiny cot, a toilet with a sink on top, and this really long, narrow window that's about three feet tall. The walls is white concrete like in the pj's. I'm writing really fast cause I wanna finish this letter beforedark. There's no light, when the sun goes down, that's it. But I don't care. At least I'm not in a holding cell no more with twenty other funky cats and a stopped-up toilet like I was in Manhattan. People keep coming to talk to me--these court-appointed lawyers from someplace called the People's Advocacy or something like that. So far, it's been three different lawyers--this blond lady, some nerdy black dude, and now this fat white guy. Every time they switch they tell me the other one got busy cause they're overloaded with cases. I just say, Oh well as long as you know I'm not a murderer and what I did was in self-defense. I don't think any of them believed me though, cause they all said, That's what they all say and let me decide your defense. I feel a million miles from Harlem. But I think I can see the Empire State Building from here. I wish I could tell you everything that's happened to me, but it seem like it happened so fast I can't remember nothing.A neighbor in my building called the popo's on the night everything went down. She had heard all the noise coming from my apartment, but when they came my mother answered and told them everything was alright. They came back a few days later after my daddy didn't show up for work for two days and we didn't answer the phone. My mother begged me not to open the door, begged me not to fess to anything, but I pushed her off me and told her that I was a man and I would live up to what I had done. I opened the door myself and took them to where my daddy was. They threw me down on the ground in front of Ma, Trevon, and Tyler. I put my hands behind my head--I didn't resist. But they didn't care.They put their knees in my back and twisted my arms anyway when they put the handcuffs on. They took me to a police station all the way downtown and fingerprinted me and took a mug shot. They left me in a dark room with a slide-back window overnight. They didn't give me nothing to eat or drink. They didn't let me out to go to the bathroom and I had to whizz in the corner cause I was already a little sour under the arms, just from being scared and getting roughed up, and I didn't want to piss on myself and smell like that too. Next thing I knew, I was in this big room all by myself with three cops asking me why I stabbed my father over a dozen times. By then, I was having second thoughts about confessing so I just lied and said I didn't do nothing until they got tired of screaming and yelling at me. They just handcuffed my hands and ankles together, and put me in this long hallway where other guys kept getting called in one by one to this room that I really couldn't see into. I asked the dude sitting next to me what was going on, and he said something about rain. When they finally brought me in there, I realized it was a courtroom and I was standing before a judge. This blond lady I never seen before--that was the first lawyer--said something about entering a plea of guilty by reason of insanity and I yelled, No I'm not crazy! The judge stopped everything and told my lawyer to take me back and calm me down and get our story straight before we show our faces again in his courtroom. They took me back to the first room and I was waiting for the lawyer to show up so I could explain to her that I was just trying to stop my daddy from hitting my mother and it was an accident andI'm not crazy I just stabbed him too hard when I just meant to scare him, but she never showed back up.But Natasha I do want you to know I'm okay. I want you to know that you all I been thinking about and there ain't shit that's gonna tear us apart--not the cops, not these pen walls, not my daddy, nothing. I need you to come see me soon. I need to see your face so bad it hurts. I can't have no phone calls right now but we need to talk to each other in person so I can tell you what happened.Write back soon,Antonio 
 
 
February 4, 1990 To My Baby: 
Okay, so you still didn't go into details about what really happened, but it don't matter to me anyway. When I told you I loved you, I really did mean it. I'm glad I said it then because if I would have waited I would have never got to tell you face to face, just in a letter and that's not the right way to do it. So, I'm not gonna ask you no more what happened. I just know that whatever it was, it wasn't on you. It wasn't your fault. So, all that matter to me is that I know it wasn't your fault and you know I believe you didn't never want to hurt nobody. I walked past your locker today in the C wing. I know that ain't my wing and I wasn't supposed to be over there, but I think in my mindI kind of hoped that you might be standing there waiting for me after lunch the way you used to. Of course you wasn't, but I was glad I walked by anyway. It kind of smelled like you when I walked by. Not no bad smell cause I can see your face right now all twisted up. Naw it was real good. That black licorice oil you wear and Cherry Now n' Laters you like and that coconut hair grease I used to put on your scalp before me or Laneice braid your hair. That's one of the things I love about you, the way you smell. Sweet all the time, like a girl. I bet you wanna know some of the other things I love about you. Well, I like the way you kiss me all deep, the bumpy curls on your head that are soft like cotton balls, the muscles in your arms and your stomach, the way you say my name, the way you put your palms on your cheek sometimes when you talk, that birthmark on your left shoulder, and the way you say other words like son and for real and baby sometimes (when we doing it). What you love about me? You never told me before so might as well tell me now.Love,Natasha 
 
 
February 4, 1990 Dear Natasha, 
They gonna let my mother come see me. I don't know the exact day yet, but my lawyer asked me if there was anythingI needed and I told him I wanted to see my family. He said he could try to get me that privilege since I'm only sixteen and all. So, they gonna let her come. You try to come too. I really need to see you. I can't write much cause the sun is already down and I can hardly see in the moonlight. Just try to come see me.Love,A 
 
 
February 7, 1990 Dear Antonio, 
I talked to you mother and I think we all gonna come up there and visit you this weekend, especially since your birthday coming up. I had planned on buying you some new kicks and a cap and maybe even a chain if I had enough. Wish I could cop you a nickel bag. The lawyer said family only, but Black said we could lie about it. He said that when his cousin was moved upstate from Riker's, the whole school came to see him and his cousin's moms just kept on telling the guards, "My man kept me real busy." I thought that shit was funny. So, we gonna be there on Sunday. I think that only four or five people can go. I know your mother said she going, and she gonna bring Trevon because he 13 and old enough. But she said she didn't want to bring Tyler. She said he was too young, that she didn't want him to see his bigbro like that. I think he would love to see his big bro no matter what, but I guess that's her son so she gotta right to do what she want.I know your problems are bigger than mine right now, but Antonio I just have to say I'm so sick of hearing my mommy's and stepdaddy's mouths I don't know what to do. All they talk about is this shit that happened and how they told me to stay away from you. I wish I could tell them to go to hell, but I can't. I wouldn't have nowhere else to go. I don't want to do like Drew did when Mommy got with Roy, move to Grandma's house in the Bronx. It's too far from school and my friends and you. I'm a Harlem Chick 4 Life!!!!!! That's why I'll be glad when all this shit is over and you get out because I think that we should get our own place. I think that we should just go and apply for one of those nice, new buildings that they fixing up finally around here, and we can stay in one of them. I went past one the other day, on 123rd and 8th. It's going to be called "Frederick Douglass Gardens" when it's finished. Wouldn't that be nice baby, to live in ...

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