Authors: Hannah Weyer
While this book was inspired by the story of a teenage mother from Far Rockaway who starred in a movie, the book is a work of fiction. With the exception of the main character who is loosely based on a real person, all characters, their actions and dialog, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Hannah Weyer
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Nan A. Talese / Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada, Limited, Toronto.
is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc. Nan A. Talese and the colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Map © Aaron Reiss
Jacket design by Emily Mahon
Front jacket photographs: girl © Monashee Frantz/OJO Images/Getty Images;
subway train © Cheryl Zibisky/Getty Images
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
On the come up : a novel, based on a true story / Hannah Weyer. — First edition.
1. African American girls—Fiction. 2. African American actresses—Fiction.
3. Teenage pregnancy—Fiction. I. Title.
and for Rio, Rose, and Chasity
My mother’s name is Blessed. That’s not a traditional West Indies name but I guess her mother chose it ’cause she wasn’t supposed to live. My mother had water on the brain, some kind a brain trouble when she was first born and they thought she was gonna die but she didn’t
When she was a little girl, seven years old, her mother left off and she got raised by her sisters. Then she met a guy and he left her a baby. His name was Jahar. After that my mother met my father and got pregnant with me when Jahar was like a year old … My father was a alcoholic. He killed that baby banging his head on the crib. This happened before I was born. Jahar’s buried in Trinidad, may he rest in peace
Yeah. But my father’s still there. He’s never been to America
My mother came here, running away from him ’cause he was threatening to kill her and she believed it after he banged my brother’s head. In Trinidad, it’s what the man says that goes and the doctors believed my father when he said the baby fell. My mother cried and cried but couldn’t do nothing
That’s what I know about my mother when she was coming to America and first had me. I was born in Brooklyn, not Trinidad. She worked as a health aide until she got sick and had to stop
There’s a bunch a different stories I was told about that little
time period, like how I lived with this lady Pinky for a while, then with one a my aunts, then with some other friend a my mother’s up in the Bronx. One a the stories that went around was that this person who supposed to watch me left me on a bench in Central Park and that’s how I ended up in foster care. I don’t remember that but maybe it’s true. Blessed’s story is that when she was sick, she paid some lady to take care of me but she took the money and ran. Left me in an apartment somewhere. I don’t remember that either. All I know is I ended up in foster care with Grandma Mason. She wasn’t my real grandma. She was one a those people took foster kids into they home. Five years stuck in a box, you try to get out, she there with her belt
, twack twack twack
she get you. Sit still. Don’t move. You say what, you sass me? This a belt she sometimes peed on then let get stiff in the sun
I was nine years old when Child Services placed me back with my mother again. I was eleven when she had her stroke. Those first two years together, those were good years. We had fun together, we’d do things. Go to church. Cook food, do laundry … little things people do. She’d be laughing with her chinky eyes … She’s got these veiled, chinky eyes. I remember the day she got me, she was waiting at the agency with Mr. Clark. He was my caseworker. Blessed stood up and hugged me and Grandma Mason just looked like this California raisin next to my mother—small, black and wrinkled
I don’t know what happened to Grandma Mason. She was old so maybe she’s dead by now, I don’t know. All I know is Blessed got outta the shelter when I was nine and wasn’t homeless no more. I don’t know how she did it but they gave her an apartment. She got it through Section 8. We said good-bye to Grandma Mason, got on the subway and went all the way down, all the way out to Far Rockaway, Queens. Last stop on the A line. Very
last stop. 1430 Gateway Boulevard. Number 4R. That was the apartment
When we went inside I thought it looked so nice and clean. It was three rooms with a window in the kitchen. My mother showed me my room and she had her own room and I was like, oh, is this mine? This mine, for real?
Far Rockaway is a neighborhood located
in Queens County, New York
Class Code: U4
Elevation: 16 feet
Area: 4.3 square miles
Coordinates: 40°36′03″ N 73°45′25″ W
The neighborhood is named after the Rechaweygh Indians,
who once inhabited Long Island and in whose language the name means
“place of our people.”
She took the peanut butter punch out of the freezer. The sticks poked up firm, dead center. They came out good. Sell those for a dollar. Sell ’em all, make twenty-four. Kool-Aid, that’s another twelve at fifty cent. Sweet milk, make it seventy-five.
She did the math in her head while she wrapped the pops in foil and buried them, sticks up, in ice. Peanut butter punch on the left. Kool-Aid on the right. She left the freezer door open, feeling the cool air settle on her skin. It was hot. Not even nine o’clock in the morning and the sweat was beading there between her buds. She hoped Crystal remembered to make extra ice; they gonna need it today.
She closed up the cooler, put it in the cart, picture frames on top, checked the Polaroid. Eight pictures left. That’s forty dollars more right there, they come out nice, people happy. If she hustled, she could get out before her mother woke and Miss Jessica came poking through the door. She slipped on her sandals, remembered the square of black cloth she used for a table, set that on top the camera, then stepped lightly, wheeling the cart to the door. But Blessed must’ve had her good eye open ’cause AnnMarie heard her call out, You ain’t wearing the Cinderella?
It’s too hot.
You make more you wear it.
AnnMarie shifted, her hand on the doorknob. Ma, it’s hot.
What’s that you got on. Come over here.
AnnMarie groaned but backed up and stood in the doorway of the bedroom. She knew the halter fit big but there was no way she was changing out of it. Crystal’s cousin, Teisha, had let her borrow it. Teisha, who was eighteen and beautiful.
Where you think you’re going in that?
You think you grown, AnnMarie, why d’you think.
The intercom buzzed—Miss Jessica, already.
Blessed swung her leg over the side of the bed and sat breathing for a moment in the darkness, her hair pressed flat inside the nylon cap.
Let her in, AnnMarie, and change out of that halter.
You want your wig?
You na hear what me say? Change outta that damn halter.
AnnMarie crossed to her bedroom and yanked open the drawer, sifting through her summertime tees. All of ’em ugly, plain and simple. Fuck that. Teisha’s halter had mad dazzle. She knew how long it took her mother to get off the bed, inch across the floor with the walker, so she made a dash for it, grabbing the cart and slipping out the door.
In the hallway, Miss Jessica was stepping out the elevator, dabbing her neck with a napkin. She in there, AnnMarie said, moving past the home health aide, who stunk of clove and cinnamon. She said to go in.
Miss Jessica’s forehead wrinkled. How about a smile, AnnMarie, a nice hello, then you know you’ll be starting the day off right.
Hello Miss Jessica, how are you Miss Jessica, have a nice day, AnnMarie said, jabbing at the L button until the elevator door closed. She couldn’t stand home health aides. Coming into the apartment, acting like they family. Feeding her mother pills, fluff a pillow or two, then sit down in front of the TV. Making calls
on the telephone. One time she’d come home, found one a them asleep on her bed like Goldilocks, her mother don’t say nothing.