CHAPTER ONE “Amaaaaaazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost,
But now am found,
Was blind, but now I seeeee.”
Miss Novella Edmonds sings as everyone screams and cries at my cousin Jasmine’s funeral.
“Help me, Jesus,” she says, and makes her way back to her seat in the choir stand after singing and shouting all over the place.
“Help me, Lord. Help me,” she says between verses as Miss Fitten fans her with the paper fan that has a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and his family on it. Miss Fitten is crying and shouting too.
I have never seen a dead person look so pretty. My cousin Jasmine looks like an angel lying in her white casket. The pink lace lining matches her pink, green, and white dress. She called that dress her AKA sorority outfit. Jasmine bought the dress on sale at Macy’s in Crabtree Valley Mall over in Raleigh, and she was saving it to wear to the end-of-the-summer dance on North Carolina Central University’s campus, two weeks from now. My cousin was treating herself after making all A’s her senior year in college. She was so excited about starting graduate school at NCCU in the fall. I was excited for her. We all were.
Poor Jasmine had no idea she was buying a dress for her own funeral. She had no idea she wouldn’t
live long enough to go to the dance or attend graduate school in the fall. I had no idea my cousin would die so young.
Jasmine was just doing what she did best. She was planning ahead. Jasmine always wanted to be ready for the next exciting thing that was going to happen in her life. Even the end-of-the-summer school dance was exciting to my cousin. She wasn’t the kind of girl who would run to the mall at the last minute to buy something to wear. I would tease her and tell her that some of the clothes she bought so early would be out of style by the time she wore them. But she didn’t care what I said. She just always had to be prepared.
Everything had to match. The shoes, the bag, everything. Even her sunglasses. That was my cousin, all right! Always ready, down to her outfit and what time she would arrive. Never late for anything.
Jasmine enjoyed life and she enjoyed her family.
She enjoyed her friends and school. And now she’s gone. At twenty-two years old, she is gone.
I loved hanging out with Jasmine’s college friends—the “honeys,” as my friends at school call them. Life at North Carolina Central seemed like so much fun for them. I just wanted to be around the college kids as much as possible. I wanted to be a part of their lives. I spent all summer trying to hang out with them, and I definitely want to go to Central when I graduate from high school in two years. Going to NCCU is a family tradition. My grandpa and grandma were graduates from Central, and so were Aunt Shirley and Momma.
Jasmine made college look easy. She was the reason I was looking forward to college. She was just a happy person. Even when I wanted to cry, Jasmine would say something silly and make me laugh.
It was really hard to laugh when I came to live with Jasmine and my aunt and uncle, because nothing is easy when you’re trying to deal with a drug-addicted momma. Daddy left to go back to Iraq at the end of my sophomore year two months ago. He pretty much ordered me to live with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Todd until he came back from the war. I had every intention of doing just that until my friends started telling me they’d seen Momma hanging out on the street corners again with some really bad people. To make matters worse, she was doing drugs and living with that no-good boyfriend, Bow.
After living in a homeless shelter last year and finally moving in with my cousin, I thought we were going to be safe. Momma had barely escaped going to jail after she fell asleep and burned down the homeless shelter. That’s how we ended up at my aunt’s house. But Momma went back into the hood to live
with Bow, and I moved back too because I thought that was the only way to save her. Daddy was having none of that, and he was back in the States before I knew it. He hauled me back to my aunt Shirley and uncle Todd’s house. I don’t know if that was good or bad, because if I had stayed there with Momma, maybe I could have saved Jasmine from crazy Bow.
It’s hard to believe that Jasmine’s dead. It’s hard to believe that I’ll never be able to talk to her again. We talked all the time about everything. If I went back to Momma’s for a few weeks, Jasmine would find a way to call me, even if my cell phone was turned off, which was usually the case. Most people thought that we were sister and brother, not first cousins. Not two sisters’ children—sisters who have been paralyzed by pain all week.
I can’t imagine how they feel. I just know that I’m hurting so bad. I feel like this is my fault. I wonder
if Momma feels any guilt about how Jasmine died.
My moving back in with Aunt Shirley and Uncle Todd brought all of my troubles with me. I brought all of Momma’s troubles to their house too. Problems I have been dealing with as the son of a drugged-out mother. The problems that I guess other teenagers have too when their daddies are away fighting a senseless war.
I miss my daddy and I’ll be glad when he comes home. When he returns from Iraq this time, he won’t have to go back. I’m counting the days from when he told me that he’d be home for good in six months. Daddy received a new assignment and he’s still not back, but I’m excited knowing he’ll be home forever this time. Maybe he can fix some of the madness in our lives. I wonder where we’ll live. Maybe we’ll move in with his girlfriend, Pauline, or stay here with my folks.
Yes, I brought all of that mess into my aunt and uncle’s home, and now their baby is dead—dead from a bullet to the head.
The bullet came from Bow’s gun. Bow’s no good, and when he’s caught, he’ll go to jail where he belongs. I just don’t believe God will leave things like this.
I know that Bow pulled the trigger, but I feel responsible for Jasmine’s death. I feel like Momma killed her too. Maybe we both killed her with our problems.
I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about how she died. I don’t know how to explain it. There’s a feeling of loneliness without Jasmine. A feeling that I’m the only person left on Earth. My chest hurts. My heart hurts. I just hurt all over.