It all started on Eighth Avenue, Lower-East side of Manhattan, Hell’s Kitchen, apartment B-11. I was heading home from school. On my way home I would always stop by Pablo’s Hut to pick up my day-to-day paycheck. Two slices of pepperoni pizza. Financial instability would be one of the many words that I would use to describe my childhood.
Money doesn’t grow on trees. Plus there was really no telling if my mother would be home. So I would sweep the floors of Pablo’s Pizza Shop before school hours to help put food on the table.
When I entered the door of the apartment I saw my grandma and mother in the middle of the living room. Usually, when my grandma would visit, we would exchange the biggest kisses and hugs. But this time was different. I knew something was wrong. She didn’t even look at me. She simply pointed to my room door and said: “Chester, baby go to your room,” with her eyes grilling my mother.
I immediately did as she said and went to my room. As soon as I got to my room I threw my books on the mattress and then kissed my ear up against the wall to ease drop on their conversation.
The first thing I hear are the words of my mother. “Mama what do you want me to do. I am all by myself. Not to mention I have other important things to do other than caring for Boonk Moonks twenty-four-seven days of the week. If his low-life father was actually here to pay child support, then maybe I wouldn’t have to struggle like I do.”
Then I heard the words of my grandmother. "If you weren't out running around with that drunk Rodney every day of the week than maybe you could actually be a real mother to Chester! What happened Monique? I know I raised you better than this. When your father up and left me for another woman I didn’t turn to alcohol and drugs. I remained strong. I worked three jobs just to make sure you had running water, clothes on your back, and food in your stomach. Hell, I even put away $800 dollars a year just so that you could go to cheerleading camp over the summer with your little friends. I thought I was doing a pretty a good job at being a single mother, but I guess I thought wrong. Look at how you’ve turned out."
Due to the sirens on the street, the only response I could hear from my mother was "take him and leave." I didn’t really know what that meant until I heard footsteps coming up the hallway. That’s when I jumped over to the mattress on the floor and started reading my comic book to make it look like I was doing something productive.
Next thing you know my grandmother comes into my room and says, "I'll explain later, Chester, just come with me."
She took me by the hand. As we were walking out of apartment B-11, I glanced at my teary-eyed mother and she whispered to me "I'm sorry, Boonk".
As my grandmother and I walked to the subway I had a chance to contemplate on everything that just went down. I came to the conclusion that maybe I was better off with my grandmother. I mean the neighborhood that she stayed in wasn’t any better than my mother’s place, but it was a step up. I was excited to actually have a bed, and food in the fridge for once, and I wouldn’t have to hear the reoccurring gunshots every day. I just knew that, for now, I would just have to play dumb and act as if I didn’t know what was going on, and just let my grandmother explain everything like she said she was going to.
When we found a seat on the subway my grandmother got to talking. Except knowing my grandmother, she was never blunt with kids my age. She always had this mentality that kids should never know about grown folks business. She said to me “Chester, I want you to know that being in a bad predicament doesn’t make you who you are. The best thing to do to get out of a bad predicament is to make light out of it. Do you get what I’m saying?” I nodded my head.
Around eight at night, we finally got off the subway to Harlem. We walked about two blocks to get to the apartment. There it is. Behold apartment 206, a place that I was proud to call my home. It was just like what I imagined it to be. At the end of that night, my grandmother made me her famous Reuben sandwich and sent me off to bed.
I dozed off to sleep with a smile. It felt good to know that I could take this huge weight off my shoulders just by knowing that I actually had a secure support system for once.
Five years later things went downhill for me. My grades were going down the toilet, I got beat into a gang, and I even got arrested for the first time.
On a Friday afternoon at Village Academy, me and my friend Keith decided to skip our 7th period class to get a head start on the sales. I then realized that I left my merchandise at home.
Since my grandmother was at work, I figured that it would be no problem for me to just grab it and go. But to my surprise, she was home earlier than I expected her to. As soon as I walked in the door, there she was, in the kitchen preparing dinner. she looked at me in shock.
She said, "Boy ain't you supposed to be at school?" To keep my cover I told her that it was early release day. As I proceeded to walk to my room to search for my merchandise I knew I had to keep my grandmother occupied by telling her about my "plans of going to arcade with my friends." As soon as I found it I turned into a track star and ran for the door.
Before I could even step a foot out of the door she stopped me and asked: "Aren't you going to eat?"
I said, "I'll eat later, just throw it in the microwave for me."
She asked me again but with a stern face this time, "Aren't you going to eat?"
As everyone knows, it is very offensive when you deny a meal from your grandmother, so just by that second look that she gave me, I knew what my next response should be. I placed my book bag on the terrace before I seated myself at the table. When we got done with grace the first thing I dived my fork into was the smothered pork chops. That dinner was probably the most memorable dinner for me. My grandmother gossiped about the church.
She talked about how Reverend Carter would always mess up the hymnals. She mentioned how Sister Ericka would always show out during the altar call prayers. She even had the nerve to talk about how the motherboard would always try to outdo her every first Sunday by wearing bigger hats than her.
My grandmother was a trip. We had a wonderful conversation at the dinner table that night but then my phone started vibrating. I glanced at my phone from underneath the kitchen table, it was a text message from Keith. It read "Yo son, I don’t know what's taking you so long but I already got done getting profit from half the block. You just need to do the other half so that it can be even. I'll see you later, peace." I didn't realize that the time went by so fast. I grab my backpack off the terrace, planted a kiss on my grandmother and headed out the door.
My curfew was to be home before the street lights came on so I knew that I needed to hurry, but without getting caught. Two hours went by and I just needed one more profit to finish my sales for the day. Luckily, a man in a tinted BMW became my last customer for the day. When I reached to hand him his purchase next thing I knew a handcuff was on strapped on my wrist. It was an undercover NYPD officer. I sat in Bronx County jail cell for three hours, buggin, trying to figure out how on earth was I going to explain this to my grandmother.
As midnight approached my name was called. My grandmother bailed me out. She didn’t even look at me nor say a word to me on the whole subway ride back home. When we got to the apartment she told me to take a seat on the couch, while she went to her room.
Before she came out of the room I heard her say, "I'm gonna do this because I love you way too much to see you end up like your mother! On everything that I love I swear that I will not allow you to go down that road"! She came out with a switch.
As the reader, I'm sure you could infer on what happened next. Let's just say in conclusion who knew what a good butt whooping could do!
My grandmother eventually put me in a private school for my high school years so that way I would no longer have contact with Keith or affiliation with the gang that I was in. She even changed my phone number for any further safety precautions. She would also do random monthly phone checks and teacher-parent conferences just to make sure that I was on the right track.
This may sound strict, but what can I say it worked! By the motivation and support of my grandmother I graduated high school with a 3.5 GPA, without her I don’t think that I could've achieved that all by myself.
Two years after my graduation, I moved out of my grandmother's apartment and started working full time at Lance Mechanics, that is when I got the call. I rushed to the hospital as fast as I could. I walked in on my grandmother hooked up to a bunch of machines. I instantly bawled my eyes out.
She looked at me and said, "No matter where you are just known that I am there with you in spirit, and remember that no matter what predicament that you are in, make light out of it, do you understand"?
"Yes ma'am," I said. I could tell that she wasn’t going to make it. We said our "I love you's" and "goodbyes", and talked about our memories with each other. In the hospital bed that my grandmother laid in, I watched her take her last breath. She died later that evening.
Ten years later after my grandmother's death, I guess I could say that I was doing pretty well. I didn’t go to college but I continued to work full-time at Lance Mechanics. I had a daughter named Bronx.
My daughter was pretty smart for a three-year-old. She had the academic abilities that I didn’t really have, so I lied about her age to get her enrolled in school early. I remember picking her up from school one day and her teacher, Ms.Angie, told me about her academic achievements in the classroom.
She recommended a gifted school for students like Bronx. Before Bronx and I headed home, Ms.Angie gave me some pamphlets about the school and we were then on our way.
As we were walking home I noticed in the pamphlet that the tuition of the school would be $800 dollars a semester. On the other hand, lunch was free and the students would take a variety of field trips each month to help them advance their knowledge even more. I wanted my daughter to attend the school, it was just that the problem was the price. That day was like a blessing in the sky.
As Bronx and I walked home a man in a fancy suit approached me. I couldn’t believe it. He said to me "Are you Chester Morris Nelson, also known as Boonk Moonks"?
"Yes," I replied in a confused manner. He took a document out of his briefcase. It turns out that it was my grandmother's will. She left everything to me including a total of $85,000 dollars.
It's crazy how things turn out. It was like she was looking down on me. With the money I was able to send Bronx to the gifted school, move us to a better neighborhood and I even started my own mechanics company. I guess this unfolds a new chapter in my life, of new beginnings.