The Preacher's Daughter
I walked through my front door at 11:15 p.m. and headed straight to my bedroom because I was exhausted and damn near drained from tonight's performance, but I knew that I wasn't going to reach my destination before checking in with my parents, who were still up waiting for me to come home. Week after week, it was the same fucking routine: I would come home late, they would be in the living room waiting for me to give them an explanation, and I would tell them the same bullshit!
"Melissa, why didn't you make curfew tonight? You are supposed to be in the house by ten p.m. sharp, and even that's too late. I'm getting sick and tired of you strolling through these doors after hours like your name is written on the deed. You know people look up to us, and you're not setting a good example for the kids in the neighborhood."
Growing up in a strict Christian household can do some serious damage to a girl's social life. I never got the chance to go to any parties or social gatherings with other kids my age. As far as my parents were concerned, Bible study, choir rehearsal, and the children's ministry group were all the social gatherings that a sixteen-year-old needed. You see, my father is Pastor Earl T. Booker James, and trust me, he always said his entire name wherever he went because it rang bells in our community. He loved the attention and praise that everyone gave him, but my mother, Sister Patricia James, loved it even more. Because my father's pastor of one of the biggest churches in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he and my mother always seemed to focus their attention on impressing others, and I for one was becoming very tired of it all.
"Melissa, you live in a Christian household, and you are going to walk in the right path, young lady. How do you think it looks when someone drives past the house and sees the pastor's daughter living like she doesn't have any rules to follow? What kind of example are you setting?"
First of all, no one should be driving past here minding my fucking business in the first place, so if they see me doing anything that hurts their precious feelings, then it serves them right. But of course I wasn't stupid enough to say that shit. "Ma, you knew that I had a game today in Wilmington, Delaware. It's not my fault that the bus came back to the school late. The game ran into overtime, and I couldn't just pick up and leave."
"When you asked us to join the volleyball team I didn't know that it was going to cause such a problem. You come home from practice late in the afternoons, and you've missed dinner almost every night since we allowed you to join that team. You know how important it is to your father for us to sit and eat dinner together. That's our special time for ourselves without anyone intervening. You even missed Bible study tonight, and last week you missed choir rehearsal. Now, this can't continue much longer because the church depends on you to do certain things."
My mother was making my head hurt to the point that it felt like I had a migraine giving birth to another migraine. Every time the subject of church came up, I could actually feel the tension running through my body. "You can't serve two masters, you know."
"I hate it when you say things like that. It's bad enough that you won't let me join the school choir but you also stopped me from joining one of the hottest R&B groups out in Pennsylvania. Tiffany and Jasmine have been trying to get me to join their group Pretty in Pink for over a year now but you and Daddy keep shutting down the idea without even listening. I joined the volleyball team and now that's starting to be a problem as well. I never get to do anything I want to do."
"Don't tell me about those fast girls. I can't tell you the last time Tiffany's mother was able to get her to come to church, and I won't even talk about Jasmine's mother. She wants to live her life through her daughter, and she's not raising her with morals, might I add. She allows Jasmine to have boyfriends, and I can almost bet my right eye that your friend is far from a virgin, just like her mother, if you know what I mean."
My mother had some nerve talking about Jasmine's mother like she's better than her or something. At least Mrs. Tarsha has enough faith in her daughter to manage her singing career. Jasmine and her mother have an excellent relationship. It's like they were more sisters than mother and daughter. Shit, sometimes I wish she was my mother; if she was, I would probably be signed to a major label by now.
"You say you want to sing; well, we've put you in the choir at church. You have solos every single Sunday. What's the difference between you singing in that group and you singing for the Lord? Either way, you're singing, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm singing, but not the kind of music I love. Ma, I eat, sleep, and breathe R&B. I want to be the next Mary J. Blige, and you're trying to turn me into the next Mary Mary. I'm not saying anything is wrong with them but it's just not right for me. I'm sixteen years old. I should be allowed to make my own decisions."
"I told you before that you have to be an example to others. I will not allow you to bring shame to this family. We worked long and hard to build up our sterling reputation, and no one will ever get the satisfaction of talking bad about the James family-at least not while I'm alive."
"But Ma, can't you at least talk to Mrs. Tarsha and ask her questions about the group? They're not singing about sex, drugs, or murder. They're singing good music."
My mother laughed as if I'd said something funny. "And what is good music?" Before I got a chance, she answered her own question. "Good music is music that uplifts God's holy name. Good music is not music that leads to sinful engagement. If you sing about being in love, then sooner or later you'll be singing about making love, and one day you're going to be tempted to do it. R&B and hip-hop music ain't nothing more than the devil's way of getting God's children to commit sin. They have hidden messages behind the lyrics, and you are not allowed to sing those songs while living under this roof, and if I ever find out that you are, then you will be out of here!"
"But, Ma . . ."
"Goodnight, Melissa. This discussion is over, and I suggest you stop while you're ahead."
And there you have it folks: a typical one-on-one with my mother. It was like someone picked up a remote control and pressed the mute button every time I talked about pursuing my dreams. Music is my sole purpose in life. Not one day goes by without me writing a song or performing in front of the mirror behind closed doors. I know that one day I am going to be a superstar, so I will do anything, and I mean anything I need to do to make sure that happens.
After realizing that this conversation wasn't going where I wanted it to, I walked into my bedroom, slammed the door, and called Jasmine to make sure she'd made it home safely. "What's up, girl?" she answered. "Were your parents tripping about you coming home late again? I know they were," she said, giggling.
"Yeah but I told her that our game went into overtime and blah, blah, blah. I told her what she needed to hear."
"So when are you going to tell her that you joined the group, Melissa? Sooner or later you're going to graduate from high school and then you can't use the volleyball team as an alibi."
I walked over, slightly opened the door, and peeked out because my mother was known to stick her ear in a couple of cracks around the house. "Girl, I tried to talk to her about the group tonight but she started to talk fucking crazy. Basically, she said if I sing R&B then I'm going to be tempted to fuck." Jasmine burst out laughing so loud that I had to move the receiver from my ear to avoid a busted eardrum.
"Little does she know, huh," she replied while still laughing. "She still thinks that her precious Melissa is a virgin. She would really like to know the business."
Since I was an only child on top of being a preacher's kid, I was sheltered and overprotected. And on top of that, it didn't help that my body started developing early. I had a figure that was any parent's nightmare-especially a pastor. People always ranted and raved over my beauty, which assured me that I was born to be a star. I'm 5'7", with a smooth, light-skinned complexion and hazel eyes. My curves could put Pam Grier to shame. I have more hips, ass, and tits than the average bitch. My cinnamon-colored hair flowed like I was in a Revlon perm commercial. I was stunning-I knew it, my parents knew it, and everyone else did too.
As I said earlier, I'm no saint and I don't want to be anyone's savior. My parents were so worried about preventing me from fucking that they couldn't see that I have been giving it up for over a year now. As a matter of fact, I lost my virginity in the church's parking lot to Charles Manley, the boy who played drums in our youth choir. Come to think of it, I was giving Charles head for about three months before we actually had sex, and every single sexual episode took place somewhere on the church grounds. And just in case you're wondering, I don't feel bad about it because the majority of the kids at church were fucking each other. For me, having sex in my father's sanctuary was a way of balancing the stress that my parents threw in my lap from day to day. It was my way of rebelling against them for being my shadow's shadow.
"I can't wait to turn eighteen years old. Then they won't have any say- so in my life. I tell you, when that day comes, we're moving to Atlanta, Georgia, and striking it big, girl."
"Atlanta," Jasmine repeated. "What's in Atlanta?"
"Everything is there, Jasmine. Haven't you noticed that all the latest R&B singers are coming out of Atlanta? Usher, Monica, and 112 are all from Atlanta, and that's where we need to be to get exposed."
"Well, as soon as you turn eighteen, we're moving to the A," Jasmine said, giggling again.
"Mark that date on your calendar," I advised her, knowing good and well that I was going to do it. Jasmine might think it was a joke, but I'm dead-ass serious about moving to Atlanta. I know there are plenty of opportunities out there waiting for me.
Jasmine and I then talked for a few minutes about concepts for a track that I had to write for the group. A couple of times I could have sworn I saw someone's shadow outside my door, so I decided to end the call before I got caught. "Well, let me get off this phone before my mother comes in here and asks me who I'm talking to this late. I'll see you in school tomorrow. Bye-bye."
"Okay, girl, and don't forget that we have practice tomorrow after school, so tell your mother something believable, okay? We need you in this group, and we've come too far for you to get caught now. Just make up a good lie."
"I always do," I reassured her before hanging up. And I damn sure always do!
For months I continued to juggle my two very separate worlds like a pro without my parents catching on. I came close to getting caught once or twice but, overall I held my own. At times, I felt like I was suffering from multiple personality disorder. In the presence of my parents, I was the churchgoing teenager who sang her heart out each and every Sunday and moved the congregation like any adult who stood at the pulpit. Everyone would praise me and tell me how talented I was. "Your voice is a gift from God," they would say. I made sure to hit very powerful notes from my diaphragm and put on an Oscar-worthy performance when singing, just to get the crowd moving. In my eyes, singing at church each Sunday was no different from the shows that I did throughout the week with the group. My main goal was to give the people what they wanted.
On the other hand, when my parents weren't around, I transformed into a sassy member of the group Pretty in Pink. Every moment I could spare to sneak into the studio with the group, I was there. And whenever we had a show to do, I always managed to trick my parents into believing that I was doing something productive after school. Likewise, I found time to sneak around with my new boyfriend, Shawn, who I might add was two years older than I.
I had the game down pat, and no one played it quite like me. Jasmine's mother, Mrs. Tarsha, was very cool and down-to-earth. Shit, she was young herself. She had Jasmine when she was only fourteen years old, so she was more in tune with our generation than the average parent. She understood how it felt to be young, in love, and in need. She didn't mind when Jasmine, Tiffany, and I had company over to her house. She even allowed Jasmine's boyfriend to sleep over. She said she knew we were fucking already, so it made no sense to try to stop us. Her way of dealing with the situation was to give us condoms and say, "Wrap it up and don't make any babies like I did, because it will interrupt the flow of the group." I thought she was the perfect mother, and I can't stress enough how much I loved and admired her.
Mrs. Tarsha was the manager of Pretty in Pink and her husband, Mr. George, was our entertainment lawyer. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with. Mr. George spoiled Mrs. Tarsha rotten like she was his own child, which is understandable, considering that he was nearly sixty-five years old. She'd had about five plastic surgeries so far, drove three sports cars, and lived in a phat-ass crib. Jasmine was one lucky girl, I tell you.
Excerpted from A Woman's Work: Street Chronicles by Nikki Turner presents. Copyright © 2011 by Nikki Turner. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.