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Tough because of Mama’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. Tough because Daddy is away with the army fighting in Iraq. Tough because it looks like there is no way out once you’re living in a homeless shelter in a North Carolina ghetto neighborhood. And tough because Joseph is enrolled at yet another new school where he doesn’t know anyone and has to keep what is going on in his life a secret. Joseph struggles to keep Mama clean and to hold their broken family together while trying to make new friends and join the school tennis team. Can a boy who’s only fifteen years old win his daily battle to survive?
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Poet, author, playwright, and producer Shelia P. Moses is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, some of which have been nominated for various awards and book honors. She was also nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Joseph in 2009 and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I did not want my new homeroom teacher, Ms. Adams, to shake Momma's hand.
The last time I changed schools, my teacher Mr. Colgate tried to shake my momma Betty's hand, but he noticed the burns on the tips of her fingers. Burns from smoking cigarettes down to the filter. Burns from smoking marijuana every night before she goes to bed. I know Mr.ÊColgate saw her burns, because he looked at her and frowned. People are always frowning at Momma, and that makes me sad. Sad that she cannot see herself. Sad that she finds fault in everyone's life except her own.
I wonder how long it will take the people at this school to realize that Momma is a crackhead. I wonder how long it will take them to realize that I feel more like her father than she acts like my momma. When will they realize that we are homeless?
Two days after Mr. Colgate saw Momma's burns, a social worker was standing at the door of our run-down townhouse. The house that stopped being home when Momma ran Daddy away. The social worker said that she had received a call from someone saying that I was living alone and in need of help. That was a lie. They were coming to investigate Momma. Again!
The social worker was coming to see if it was true that I could not let Momma stay alone too long because she cannot take care of herself. Social Services wanted to see if we had food in the house.
I was really sad that they were treating us like two-year-olds. It did not bother Momma at all that the social worker had stopped by again. She yelled at her and said the same old thing when she left: "What they stopping by here for? I got it going on."
I just looked at her and went to bed. I was ashamed to go to school the next day.
I liked going to Lincoln High School, the school I attended last year for two semesters. But I had to transfer, just like I had to transfer from all the other schools. We never stay in one place too long, not since Daddy left and Granddaddy died.
My new school, Dulles High, is bigger than Lincoln. The counselor says that there are only twenty students in each class and they have a zero tolerance policy here. At Lincoln we had at least thirty-five kids in all of my classes and the students pretty much ran the school. So I know I will like it here. It looks like the teachers are in charge for a change.
The main reason I like it here is no one knows me and they don't know Momma. They do not know that we are living in a homeless shelter. We have been living at the shelter for almost two weeks now.
The people here at Dulles High do not know that Daddy moved to Raleigh before he was deployed to Iraq so that he could get away from Momma. He moved because he could not take it anymore. He could not take the verbal and physical abuse. And he was afraid he would go to jail after Momma was stopped for speeding and the cops found drugs in the car. Of course the car was registered in Daddy's name. I was home watching football with Daddy that Sunday when Five-O knocked on the door. Officer Poole has known Daddy for years, so he had put Momma in the police car and driven her home. He told Daddy that he had to impound the car and the next time it happened Momma was going back to jail. I wanted to turn the TV off and yell, "There are more drugs in the cookie jar!"
If I had, Momma would not have been stopped by Five-O again two weeks later for a DUI. That time Momma spent sixty days in jail. I felt so sad and alone when she was away. I do not think going to jail bothers her at all. It gives her a chance to see all her friends who are in and out of the county jail for buying and selling dope just like Momma. Daddy knew he would be the next person to go to jail if he stayed with us.
After that Daddy filed for divorce and started fighting for custody of his only child. Me!
The people at this school do not know that my mother is in rehab more than she is at home. She's been in eight times that I am old enough to remember. If she can stay clean this time we can move out of the homeless shelter into our own apartment one day. Maybe I can stay at Dulles High and play tennis. I saw a notice on the board outside of the principal's office about tryouts next week. I'm not great at tennis, but Daddy is, and he taught me a lot on the courts near his house in Raleigh. I have played since I was little, and I want to be a tennis champion one day just like Arthur Ashe. Daddy went to college with Mr. Ashe. Daddy said if I try hard enough, I will be great like Mr. Ashe one day. Of course I plan to get my college degree and my master's, but Momma does not want to hear anything about tennis. She says I should just forget tennis because she thinks I am a better basketball player and I can get rich and buy her a house when I make it to the pros. Her sister, Shirley, told her to never say that to me again.
Aunt Shirley is a lawyer for the city of Durham, and she told Momma that "grades come first" before any sport, including tennis. Aunt Shirley is happy that I want to be a professional tennis player as long as I go to college, too. She tried to take me from Momma several times, just like Daddy did before he got the call from the army that took him halfway across the world.
But Momma told Aunt Shirley that she would never let me live with her. Momma thinks that Aunt Shirley is too uppity. But she is not; she just wants a better life for Momma and me. Aunt Shirley refuses to live in the ghetto and smoke until her teeth are green.
If Daddy were here he would still be fighting for me, because Momma would never willingly give me to him. I found out the real reason Momma wants me to live with her the last time Momma and Aunt Shirley got into an argument.
"My nephew is nothing but a welfare check to you, Betty. You just keep him so you can get child support from Peter and keep using fake names and addresses to get checks and food stamps."
"Get out of my house, Shirley," Momma screamed.
That's when Aunt Shirley said the words that made Momma stop speaking to her for three months.
"I'll go. But before I go, I am calling the Department of Social Services to report you. I should have reported you years ago. Even if you are my sister, I should have reported you when you hit Joseph in the face with that perfume bottle when he was only four years old because he would not stop crying. I should have reported you the first time you used a fake name to get a welfare check."
I stood behind the bathroom door and listened to Aunt Shirley tell Momma about all the illegal things she has done over the years. I wanted to run out and make her stop talking bad to Momma, but I did not. I knew that it was all true.
I cannot remember all the bad words that Momma said to my aunt after that. I do remember Aunt Shirley crying and saying to Momma, "You are always talking about what Joseph will do for you one day. Why should he buy you a house when you spend your money on drugs and cigarettes?"
Aunt Shirley was saying everything that she ever wanted to say to Momma that day. Things I wanted to say, but wouldn't. Not to my momma.
"And you are going to jail because you lied and told social services that Peter is dead."
How could Momma tell people Daddy is dead? I found out later that she is so desperate that she told several service agencies that Daddy was dead to get on welfare using her maiden name. Momma has no shame. She knows good and well that Daddy is alive and was living in Raleigh until he went overseas. I love Momma, but I do not understand her.
I do not understand how she thinks she has it going on. Why does she think I can take care of us? I am only fifteen years old.
I just want a normal life like my cousin Jasmine. She is Aunt Shirley and Uncle Todd's only child. But nothing is normal about my life with Momma. While she is thinking how she has it going on, we are moving, hiding from bill collectors, and stealing food from the corner grocery store. I do not want to live like this for the rest of my life. I want to finish high school and be what Granddaddy called a productive member of society. His name was Joseph too, Joseph P. Peele, and he was a preacher. Momma, Granddaddy, and I were living together until he died. I miss Granddaddy Joseph. Nothing has been the same since he died and left me at Momma's mercy.
Granddaddy loved sharing his nice house on Simons Street, just two blocks from North Carolina Central University, with us. He said if we lived with him, he could keep an eye on me. Granddaddy said that one day I would go to college at North Carolina Central, just like he did. Just like his brothers did. Just like Aunt Shirley and Jasmine, who is graduating with honors in May.
Momma graduated from North Carolina Central too, but our lives are such that you would think she is a middle-school dropout. She had a job at the IRS for about a year after she graduated, but that did not last long. She was fired from the IRS because they accused her of stealing social security numbers and selling them to her friends, who used them to get credit cards. The IRS could never prove that Momma did this, but they had enough evidence to fire her. Just not enough to send her to prison. Since then she has changed jobs every year. Of course, it is always someone else's fault. Aunt Shirley told her that day when they were arguing why she could not keep a job, "You run your mouth too much, and no one wants to smell your cigarette breath all day when you are in their face."
Momma does not want to work. Work interferes with her ability to go to happy hour. Happy hour was and still is her favorite time of day. She has been leaving me alone since I was six years old to go out with her friends. Granddaddy and Aunt Shirley stayed on Momma about going back to school to maybe get her master's.
Granddaddy Joseph told Momma that a good education would save her one day. But she did not want to hear that or anything he had to say. She did not like living with Granddaddy as much as I did. She thought he was too bossy, and she wanted to be her own woman. But she cannot b...
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Book Description Brilliance Audio, 2011. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1423392248
Book Description Brilliance Audio, 2011. Audio CD. Condition: New. Library. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 1423392248n