by D. Allison Smith

You wake up everyday, trying to do the best for your family. You take shit from the people uptown all day long, knowing that it isn't going to get any better. You work so hard to make a better life for everybody around you. And what happens? Nothing, that's what!

Let's say you're 18, graduated with your whole life ahead of you. Yeah, your kid brother and sister piss you off every single day of your life and yeah you're going to City College. But you have a chance to go to college and get away from all of it. Live somewhere else in the city. Live your damn' life!

You have all of this. Everything has place and you have a plan. Then…

Let's say you're 20 and you get a call at two in the morning. Your sister tells you, "Mom shot Dad." and it all falls apart. You spend four months in and out of the visiting room at Pine Hills Women's Prison, in and out of the district attorney's office, in and out of the life you want so much, only to have your mom sentenced to twenty-five years to life and your life turns to shit.

You have to quit college, you have to get a job quickly, you don't have a say if you like it or not because you have to bill the bills, you have to buy the food, you have to make sure what's left of your family doesn't fall apart. And you do all of this, giving up your dreams so that your brother and sister have a good life. And what happens?

Let's say you're twenty-two and you give up your dreams because of your mother's stupidity. You have two jobs to make ends meet without a thank you, a hug, a "hey, you're doing a good job." You do what you can because you want the best for your sister. You tell her to stop chasing boys and concentrate on school. You tell her she's too young to be in "love" with someone seven years older than her. You tell her she needs to go to college and get away from all of it. You say all this and what happens? You get a call at two in the morning from your sister all the way in the North Carolina. She tells you that she's grown, staying with her boyfriend and having his child. You listen and think how much you've sacrificed just so that she can ruin her life before she even had a chance. You think about how you're going to tell your mom the family's falling apart.

How many times had you told your brother to stop messing around and go to school? How many lectures did you give telling that damn' boy the police will just as soon shoot him as look at him if he acts up? How many times did you have to physically drag him from the crack houses down the street, away from the gangs and the women turning tricks? You tell him these things time and time again. You work yourself dry to give him a place to live and food to eat. You walk home four hours from work every other day, just to make your subway passes last a little longer to give him a little extra to make it in life. And what happens?

Let's say you're twenty-four and your get a call at two in the morning from some detective. You listen as she tells you your brother's been involved in a gang shooting in South Brooklyn. You listen as the detective says that she's sorry about your loss and that your baby brother's body is in the city morgue. You think why would your brother be all the way in Brooklyn? You wonder how you're going to tell your mom. You cry as you realize you don't have the money to bury him.

So here you are. The life you strived for, gone, the plans you had, dashed. You wake up everyday cleaning rich people's houses, taking their shit, knowing it'll never get any better. You work to pay rent and take a cab home every now and then. And why not? What else have you got to spend your money on?

Let's say you're twenty-four and the family you once had is gone, the dream you once had is lost and you have no way to go either up or down. You pray for the strength to live to see another day. You cry for a hand to pull you out of all of it. You plead for God to save you from yourself. You beg Jesus to keep you away from your tub. You cry out for the Lord to take the cool blade from your hands. You call upon Christ to stop your bleeding. You weep for a call at two in the morning. You wish for any excuse to stop it. You ask the Lord to show you a way out of all of it. And you know what happens?