My father died in 1992. I remember that because I had decided that spring not to go back to Howard University. I had been miserable since the first day I attended, having a grand mal seizure on campus right in front of Terry, my oldest sister. She had escorted me to Washington, DC to help find housing for me, considering that the Department of Resident Life had conveniently lost my application, all the while keeping my application fee. Terry was excellent in the application of volume when arguing, and it became immediately apparent that her skills were necessary when dealing with this particular department. It became even more necessary after I regained consciousness at the horrible hospital named after the university. After more than an hour of waiting, a nurse came in and asked me my name, how I was feeling, how I had gotten there, told me to wait and exited. Another hour passed, during which I observed cockroaches scurrying up the wall or an adjacent chair, when I decided to journey forth in search of either the same nurse or a doctor. I passed a nurses’ station, where I saw a number of uniformed individuals passing the time chatting or reading. I emerged in the waiting room, where Terry had indeed been waiting. She asked me if I had been discharged, to which I replied, “No. I haven’t even been seen by the doctor yet.”
Why, oh why did I say that?
After the explosion, I was immediately examined by a doctor who gave me two Tylenol, and then I was released to my sister Terry. Naturally, Terry wanted me to return home with her and forget about Howard, but I was determined to overcome whatever struggles would come my way. Almost two years later, having experienced a most wretched and horrid treatment from the school and from urban Washington, DC, I was back again to determine if I really wanted to give up. I stayed in a room for a weekend near campus in a townhouse off of Florida Avenue. It was my luck that I happened to find nice places to live when I was kicked out of the dorms because Mom didn’t meet the payment deadline. I bounced around quite a bit, actually, finding housing difficult at best to find (and maintain), and often dealing with unscrupulous renters; one such renter collected our rents for two months and disappeared when the owner of the house came around to tell us that everyone in the household was being evicted for non-payment. After much talk about staying put because of the unrighteousness of the whole situation, I was the only holdover when the owner came to evacuate the house a month and two weeks later; the water and electricity were shut off for two weeks before I was forced to leave. I took what few possessions I could carry and wandered over to my friend’s apartment in the brand-new Howard Towers dormitory. For days I slept on his floor, washed and looked for a place to live, all the while not telling anyone, including my family, what had happened.
How could I tell them? I wanted to prove that I could be an adult; that I could take care of myself. The seizures made Mom very protective, and she was not happy about my decision to attend Howard. But seeing that my choices were limited by finances that were not available (Syracuse, Princeton, NYU, Cornell and Yale had all accepted me, but I was only offered extremely crippling loans in regards to financial aid), plus my desire to escape the passive-aggressive racism of Mid-Hudson New York led me to consider what was regarded as the finest of black colleges. But then, Mom warned me “your own people can be your worst enemy.” Never was she so right about something as she was of that, at least in my opinion. But to be fair, I still consider Dee Cee my second home.
Somehow, I managed to find a room in a townhouse, nearby the campus off of Florida Avenue. The room was octagonal in shape and had three large sets of windows overlooking the street that ran into Florida Avenue. I piled my things into the room, saved up some money to buy some used furniture; one of those hide-a-bed couches, an end table with a lamp and a ratty lounge chair, as far as I can remember.
I also remember that at some point afterwards, Mom made a trip down to Dee Cee to spend time with me and to see the sites. I arranged for her and Terry (who despite her first go-around with the school had otherwise liked the rest of the city) to stay at the Embassy Suites Hotel on a nice part of 16th Street. I guessed on this hotel, knowing nothing about it except that the price was right and it was in a nice neighborhood. As it turned out, I was again quite lucky, as Mom noted how royally they were treated there, and at such a great price. Eventually, they made their way over to my place and Mom stayed behind while Terry and I ran errands on campus. We had no complaints this time around, and when we returned, Mom had swept up my room and completely rearranged it into a living space. I was shocked, but why should I be, considering that the place was so messy before that I was ashamed to even bring her there and tried to bar her from coming in. Mom couldn’t help herself, I guessed, but I was very thankful.
Years later, Mom revealed why she did it: “ When I saw your room, I felt very ashamed. I had no idea you were living like this, and I felt it was my fault for not knowing. I started crying after you left, then I just started cleaning up. “ She had bought curtains to give everything a nice touch, then went out with me to buy an armchair, a TV set and a radio, as well as fresh linens and clothes. I can never forget that, because there were only a very few occasions that I had even seen Mom cry, and just to imagine her crying was itself very painful...
(Continued with Mom & Pop Story (Part II) tomorrow...)