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Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Who do you become after witnessing your children suffer in pain; and there is absolutely nothing you could do to help them? Who do you become when you bury the only man you’ve ever loved? Who do you become when you have to find a way to be the sole provider to five young boys and three beautiful little girls?

Jessica had no answers either. After Justin Sr. died, we continued to live with her sister for a few months. The living quarters around there were like those favorite pair of jeans you had from three years ago, now you are ten pounds heavier and everyone can see the imprint of what is in your back pocket (I know I am dramatic, but you get the point) that tight. My aunt Angela had three teenage sons of her own in this two-bedroom apartment adding my mother and her children made this a burdensome state of affairs for all of us. The living room was where we slept. I remember my mother giving each of us a break from sleeping on the floor. She would grab her blankets and pillow and tell one or two of us to get on the couch.

I cannot remember a time when this woman had not given something up for us. Some nights were not as crowded as others were, for my older siblings who were able to travel back and forth to our old neighborhood would visit close friends as often as possible, unfortunately for me that was not an option. Look it wasn’t all bad staying at aunt Angela’s, I could not wait until it was just me and my siblings in the house I would go into her closet, which had shoe boxes from the floor to the ceiling just to try on her shoes. My love for shoes obviously came from the time when my mom slayed the black patent leather pair to church. I would go into aunty’s closet to find one good pair put them on and immediately I was smoking hot, man oh man I was obsessed. One hot summer morning the adults decided to leave us home once again so I got straight to it, ran to the closet grabbed a pair of aunty’s shoes, my older sister Lauren actually joined me this time I think she was bored because this really wasn’t her thing.

Loosing track of time I tried on shoe after shoe after shoe. while I was in the living room showing Lauren a pair of olive green ankle boots; five inch stiletto heel with gold clamps at the tip of the shoe strings. I could hear the front door unlock and aunt Angela and mom stepped in. Busted! My aunt came around that corner so quickly I could not get out of those boots quick enough. She asked, “What are you two up to?” My eyes and my mouth were competing…it was who can open wider challenge. She walked off returning like lighting, “The two of you are in here playing in my shoes,” she said. Let me pause here, because I do remember mentioning the fierce and fiery women my mother is, well it runs in the family. I was frightened, believe me when I tell you you do not want no smoke with a member of the Jones family male or female PERIOD. they are the set of individuals who will give anyone a run for their money in either a verbal or physical altercation, I promise you they will return as many times as needed until they have the victory. I never did get to answer her question and before I could get anything out, she said, “Since you insist on exploring your femininity let me show you how you do it”

I was born THAT day.

Aunty spent the next few hours enjoying her Bacardi in hand with all the soul music you can think of playing in the background.

“You are tired and you want to be free, my love is growing stronger as you become a habit to me, ooohh loving you too long I don’t want to stop now”

If you never slow danced with an imaginary partner to Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving you too long you have not been in your feelings deep enough.

She taught us how to walk step-by-step, hip sway by hip sway. How to elevate the heel of our feet allowing the toes to be in full control of our movement. On that day, I learned more about how to walk in high heels correctly. Aunt Angela taught us about embracing being a woman. As a young dark-skinned girl, growing up in a predominantly Latin neighborhood. It made it a little difficult to embrace the essence of being a black girl. I learned very early in life that I looked different than most. My skin was much darker, my hair was not of the same texture and my physical features were developing differently than the majority of girls around me. As an alternative for cherishing the richness of my melanin skin, made for a special type of glow, the shape of my beautiful brown eyes that would lure others in and the fullness of my lips in its natural state looked as if I wore lipstick. Aunty planted a seed in me that day. It confirmed that being a woman was much more than any physical attribute. The greatest energy you will possess will glow in the inside first then manifest itself in the way you speak, walk (or glide in my case), how you choose to project your feelings. On that night, I saw how aunt Angela chose to use hers. Most importantly, for a few hours, we all put our sadness and pain aside and just enjoyed life. When life throws you, someone should be there to help you pull out something special. If the people you surround yourself with cannot do just that then you should reconsider who you choose to do life with.

Our time at aunty Angela’s was short lived due to the circumstances surrounding my dads’ death; we received an emergency placement with the New York City Public Housing administration. It took a couple of months for them to process her case and within the first thirty days of approval, Jessica’s caseworker found an available apartment in Mermaid houses in Coney Island. On her very first visit to view, the apartment gunshots were blazing as soon as she stepped in front of the building and as you know by now she is the ABSOLUTE last woman on earth who wants to hear gunshots. She took off and explained to her caseworker that there was no possibility of her accepting that apartment.

Eventually she had to choose between three apartments not completely satisfied with any of them nonetheless at that moment she felt that getting her children off her sister’s living room floor was her number one priority. Then it happened Marlboro Houses in Brooklyn was the winner, four-bedroom, two-bathrooms, large living room, separate dining area and a small kitchen is where we would end up. Jessica called her brothers to help with the move they had access to a moving van to help her load the items she wanted from our old apartment, make a stop at aunt Angela’s to pick up the rest of our belongings then head to the new apartment. It took some time but nevertheless, slowly but surely, Jessica made that apartment into a home. The three girls would occupy one bedroom, three youngest boys occupied another, and the two oldest boys shared the third bedroom. In no time, the entire apartment came together, for a millisecond I felt as if the storm was finally passing.

There will never be a day that I do not appreciate my brothers they have stood in the line of fire plenty of times for the family. They also set a few fires but they were able to put them out. In our old neighborhood Justin Jr. and Jamal had already proven what lengths they would go to ensure that we all could roam about freely where we lived. What they did not expect was that the opportunity would present itself once again. Let me take a moment to emphasize the importance of understanding the neighborhood we came from. First for those who were born when we moved to Borinquen Houses, we were all under the age of ten; therefore, we absorbed the culture, some mannerism and their language.

So picture nine children of color in a new predominately African American neighborhood that spoke Spanish (some more than others) and not one parent was of the Hispanic descent, our environment flipped. Although the color of our skin now matched the majority because of the way, we carried ourselves. We still were considered the minority. Some people would even say we had an accent. All of this was a recipe for drama leaving my brothers with the responsibility of reestablishing who we were, what we were not going to tolerate and how we would live. Justin Jr. had the opportunity to lead the combat the first time; however, Jamal would take the driver’s seat in this conflict. Jamal’s physical appearance was not as intimidating as Justin Sr. or Justin Jr. he stood nearly six feet, average teenage built you know thin but not lacking nutrition the thing about Jamal was no one could ever suspect how strong he was because of his thin frame. I've witnessed this guy lift boys twice his size over his head, flip them, and guide them to the now we have been living in the neighborhood long enough for people to know our faces.

One Tuesday afternoon I decided to go straight home because I had not seen my mother since the Friday before and I really hoped she would be home. As I approached the front of our building, I would see an enormous crowd of people standing around. As I made my way through the crowd immediately, I see Jamal standing at the very top of the steps with no shirt on. He was yelling at some kid “you are going to do what to me?” his opposer slowly creeping backwards found his opportunity to run. Thirty seconds was how fast I believe it took him to find his exit. I never saw anyone take off that fast. Of course, Jamal took off behind him just as fast and he chased him one building over. The kid punched in the codes to the front door even faster than he ran and slammed the door behind him. Jamal just missing his opportunity to get in the building, he decided to take his anger out on the Plexiglas between them. One hit was all it took and that glass shattered like a crystal chandelier landing twelve feet in the air that fell and hit the ground into pieces. He did not catch him that day but his rage was noticeable amongst the crowd.

Jamal yelled into the crowed “That motherfucker said he would shoot me (pointing at the scar that began right in the center of his chest and led all the way down to his groin area) I’ve been shot already”. That horrible year my mother had suffered pain when her son Jamal was shot amongst a group of teenagers, one night which left him with a six-bullet colostomy bag and several surgeries. The most traumatic event of his life which I am almost certain left him with some level of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Although he did not get into a physical altercation that day the scars he displayed and the rage that followed sent a message to all who were there myself included. I ran even faster to get upstairs in hopes of seeing my mother I truly missed her. I dropped my backpack at the in front of the living room door and ran to her bedroom the door was slightly open so I just pushed it and walked right in. I stared out the bedroom window crying until the sun went down.

How do you take a family of nine that are at their strongest when they are together and make them frail?

You separate them.

Again, the universe took yet another swing at us.

Lucky Colter is a Featured Writer for Now PR Magazine

Follow her on Instagram @ladyluck_40

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