The summer before D Foster’s real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet. He’d been shot five times—two in the head, two down by his leg and thing and one shot that went in his hand and came out the other side and went through a vein or something. All the doctors were saying he should have died and were bringing other doctors up to his room to show everybody what a medical miracle he was. That’s what they called him. A Medical Miracle. Like he wasn’t even a real person. Like he was just something to be looked at and turned this way and that way and poked at. Like he wasn’t Tupac.
D Foster showed up a few months before Tupac got shot that first time and left us the summer before he died. By the time her mama came and got her and she took one last walk on out of our lives, I felt like we’d grown up and grown old and lived a hundred lives in those few years that we knew her. But we hadn’t really. We’d just gone from being eleven to being thirteen. Three girls. Three the Hard Way. In the end, it was just me and Neeka again.
The first time Tupac got shot, it was November 1994. Cold as anything everywhere in the city and me, Neeka, D and everybody else was shivering our behinds through the winter with nobody thinking Pac was gonna make it. Then, right after he had some surgery, he checked himself out of the hospital even though the doctors was trying to tell him he wasn’t well enough to be doing that. That’s when everybody around here started talking about what a true gangsta he was. At least that’s what all the kids were thinking. The churchgoing people just kept saying he had God with him. Some of the parents were saying what they’d always been saying about him—that he was heading right to what he got because he was a bad example for kids, especially black kids like us. Crazy stuff about Tupac being a disgrace to the race and blah, blah, blah. The wannabe gangsta kids just kept saying Tupac was gonna get revenge on whoever did that to him.
But when I saw Tupac like that—coming out of the hospital, all skinny and small-looking in that wheelchair, big guards around him—I remember thinking, He ain’t gonna try to get revenge on nobody and he ain’t trying to be a disgrace to anybody either. Just trying to keep on. Even though he wasn’t smiling, I knew he was just happy and confused about still being alive.
Went on like that all winter long, then February came and they sent Tupac to jail for some dumb stuff and people started talking about that—the negative peeps talking about that’s where he needed to be and all the rest of us saying how messed up the law was when you didn’t look and act like people thought you should.
Spring came and Pac dropped his album from prison and this one song on it was real tight, so we all just listened to it and talked about how bad-ass Pac was—that he wasn’t even gonna let being in jail stop him from making his music. Me and Neeka and D had all turned twelve by then, but we still believed stuff—like that we’d grow up and marry beautiful rapper guys who’d buy us huge houses out in the country. We talked about how they’d be all crazy over us and if some other girl walked by who was fine or something, they wouldn’t even turn their heads to look because they’d be so in love with us and all. Stupid stuff like that.
In jail, Pac started getting clear about thug life, saying it wasn’t the right thing. He got all righteous about it and whatnot, and with all the rappers shooting on each other and stuff, it wasn’t hard to agree with him.
Time kept passing on that way. Things and people changing. First, D turned thirteen, then me and Neeka were right there behind her—us all turning into teenagers, getting body, getting tall, boys acting stupid over us.
Seems soon as we started settling into all that changing, D’s mama came—took her away from us.
And time kept on creeping.
Then Tupac went and died and it got me thinking about D. About the short time she was with us and about how you could know somebody real good but not know them at the same time. And it made me want to remember. Yeah, I guess that’s it. I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now. . .
ALSO BY JACQUELINE WOODSON
After Tupac and D Foster
Beneath a Meth Moon
Between Madison and Palmetto
Brown Girl Dreaming
From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun
The House You Pass on the Way
I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This
If You Come Softly
Last Summer with Maizon
Maizon at Blue Hill
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First published in the United States of America by Delacorte Press, 1991
Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2003
Published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2004
This edition published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010
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For my readers at MS 51 and
New Voices Middle School
Table of Contents
An unwelcome guest . . .
Also by Jacqueline Woodson
In Her Own Words
Jacqueline Woodson Shares Some Thoughts and Insights About The Dear One
An Excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming
An Excerpt from After Tupac and D Foster
ONE THING I LEARNED FROM REBECCA IS THAT WHEN people talk about fifteen-year-olds who are pregnant, they never mention anything about the lost look in the girls’ eyes. Rebecca said those people talking and writing books and articles don’t know what’s really going on. They don’t know that a lot of times, the girls don’t even take all their clothes off. They don’t know that romance is out the window like time flying, and sometimes the kids are so into listening out, making sure nobody’s coming up the stairs, that they miss all the action right there in the bedroom or the corner of the kitchen, or the closet—wherever they are. Rebecca told me that. In the same breath she explained how she couldn’t wait to get with Danny, how she loved the closeness, loved being loved by him. She said there’s something you can’t explain about that feeling, least to a twelve-year-old. How could anyone who’s never met Rebecca know anything about what it’s like to be fifteen with your back pressed against a cold wall, listening . . . listening, hoping nobody catches you in such an embarrassing position? Rebecca said sometimes you’re so scared. But she could never come up with a word to describe just how scary it is.
My grandmother once told me that all it takes is for one tiny thing to happen and then, Boom! your life is changed forever. That’s what I’m trying to remember now—the one tiny thing. The thing that might have happened to Rebecca before she came, the thing that happened to me after she was here. Because by the time she left, we were different people, all of us—her, me, Ma—even Marion.
Grandma said if I ever want to remember stuff about anything in the past, then I have to go back as far as I can, reach down as deep as I can, even if all that reaching and remembering hurts sometimes. She said only after I’ve gathered it all up can I make sense out of it. Grandma told me that if I hold on to stuff, I can tell it to my children and they can grow up stronger.
THE SKY WAS THE PALEST PINK THE DAY I TURNED twelve. Sitting on the ledge of my window, I watched blue jays and cardinals flutter by, their wings black against the little bit of light in the sky, black against the bare trees forming skeletons up and down the block, black against the pale patches of February snow.
“Why’d you have to be born in the winter?” my friend Caesar had asked me at lunch the previous week. “Winters are too cold, too still, for anybody to be born in.”
I had looked at Caesar for a long time and thought of the word we had learned in English class just the day before. Profound.
“That’s a profound question, Caesar,” I’d said, liking the way the sentence rolled off my tongue. Feeling proud and profound. Caesar had giggled. Giggles come easily to her. “You’re right, though,” I’d said. “Winter’s such a dead season.”
And sitting on the windowsill, I thought of the question and counted back. If I was a February baby, then Ma and Dad would have had to have done it in April or May. Maybe Ma found out that she was pregnant in one of those months. Maybe she and Dad hadn’t started fighting a whole lot yet. If it was a weekend when the doctor gave her the news, maybe she set out the good silverware and china, lit two candles on the dining-room table, and made Dad fettuccine with broccoli in a red sauce. Maybe the two of them held hands across the table when she told him, and maybe he came around to her side of the table and hugged her long and hard when he realized he was going to be a daddy. Maybe he laughed so hard, tears came into his eyes.
Clair phoned at six in the morning. At first I thought it was Caesar calling to tell me she wouldn’t be at school because of the snow. But then I heard Ma say softly, out of breath, “Oh, Clair, it’s you. It’s been so long.” After a pause she added, “Too long.”
Outside, the snow had left a thin white sheet over the trees, and I knew the day would be cold and bright. I tiptoed to the top of the stairs, hid behind the banister, and listened.
“But what about the father?” I heard Ma say. There was silence. “Well,” Ma said after a long time, “I really want to do this. It would be wonderful having Rebecca here. But what about Feni?”
“What about me?” I wanted to scream.
“We’ll have to see how it works out,” Ma said. “When is she due?”
More silence. I was crouched low in the darkness and the backs of my knees were beginning to hurt.
“Well, I’m touched that you’re asking me to do this. And you’re right, I think it would be good for Feni. Look, I should be home around five. I’ll talk to her then,” Ma said. She sounded tired. “Right now, I have to make a meeting before work.” Ma laughed nervously. “I’ve stopped drinking, you know. Yes, it is hard but I’m doing it. One day at a time,” she said. “It’s so good to hear your voice too. . . .”
Ma and Clair talked for a few more minutes. When she hung up, I leaned back against the wall and pulled my knees to my chin. Somebody was coming to stay with us. Sitting against the wall, I wondered who that somebody was.
I heard Ma dialing and leaned against the banister again.
“Marion,” she said, “I guess Clair’s called you too.” She sighed. “Well, I’m going to talk to her about it tonight. Are you coming for dinner? . . . Good! We can all talk. Eight o’clock is fine. See you then.”
When I heard Ma heading toward the kitchen, I tiptoed back to my room and climbed underneath the comforter. It is blue with pink roses. My father had it sent to me from Colorado, where he lives now with his new wife and baby daughter. He left three years ago when I was nine. I used to think about him every day. Sometimes I would come home thinking he’d be sitting in his favorite chair, the brown leather one in the living room next to the fireplace. I’d see him there reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe. I’d think that as soon as I opened the door, the cherry-sweet smell of his tobacco would fill up my nose and mouth and Dad would say, “Let me take a look at what schoolwork Roper Academy is sending home these days.” I’d see myself coming over to him with my coat still on, handing him last night’s homework or that day’s test, and he’d pat me on the arm or hug me real quick and say, “Smartest girl in the school, aren’t you? That must come from my side of the family.” Then maybe he’d laugh, scratch a five-o’clock-shadow kiss against my cheek, set up the chessboard, and show me how to play a fool’s game, capturing my opponent’s king in six moves or less.
But now when I come home at the end of the day, the house doesn’t smell like anything but maybe a little bit of something we had for dinner last night or one of Marion’s cigarettes.
Last August I went to visit him and his new wife, Joanne. Joanne is about a foot shorter than my dad and as round as a Thanksgiving turkey. She was constantly nibbling on something or sitting down to a three-course meal, claiming the baby she was three months pregnant with kept her eating. She had stopped working after she married Dad.
“I always wanted to be barefoot and pregnant.” She would laugh, winking at me like we were in on some secret together.