Written in 2004.
This is a true story of my life.
You are about to receive an insight into the
man I am.
I wrote it, not for pity or
sorrow, but in the hope that others will read My Story and know that they are
not the only ones in the world who suffer.
You are not alone, even though at times it may seem that way.
There is hope.
You can survive.
the name of the game: survival.
It is a
game I was forced to play very young and a game I learned to play well.
The fourth largest city in the United States
is where I called home.
Unlike New York or L.A., Houston does not really have
“Projects,” but the area is still poor.
The houses were not always run down and falling apart at the seams but
the neighborhood was still poor.
look around and you knew you were in the ghetto.
My father was a school teacher, which naturally meant he
did not get paid much, and my mother was a stay at home mom.
To earn extra money mom use to baby-sit for
In the early 80’s a dollar
stretched farther than it does today.
My journey bounces between Stockton, California, my birth
town, and Houston, Texas, the place my father thought would give his family a
better chance at life.
Total, my parents
had six children.
I came out number
I had one older brother, two older
sisters, and way too many cousins to count.
Clothes were never an issue in our family, hand-me-downs
As far as shoes were
concerned Payless was our best friend.
Mart knew us well.
Layaway was a way of
As I grew out of infancy my baby fat decided to stick
Hand-me-downs were hard to find
for me, but my mother refused to have me looking like a jungle boy so Husky
became the brand of choice.
Kong gorilla became my logo.
I do not remember much about my parents before we moved to
Houston, but I do remember my first job.
California is the state for produce.
Everyone grew something different in their
yards and come harvest time we would trade and share.
Our house had a cherry tree in the back yard.
One neighbor grew bananas and the other
At one end of our block
was an abandoned lot where the house burnt down in the late 60’s.
In that lot was a fig tree, a plum tree, and
a lime tree.
Across the street from our house was an open field owned by
the Santa Fe Rail Road.
Sugar canes grew
in that field directly in front of our house.
A quarter-mile away at the edge of the field was two peach trees.
Two miles north of our house was a huge strawberry
When I was four I went twice a
week with my neighbors to pick strawberries, my first job.
See, at that time child labor laws did not
Hard work for little money, but
thanks to “Progress” none of these places exist anymore.
Kindergarten was the next step for me.
Four of my cousins were going to the same
school I was, so I would not be alone at school.
At the bus stop, however, I was on my
Simpler and safer times back then
allowed my parents to send me to school on my own.
Unlike today, where a route may have many
“little” stops, the route was one stop per neighborhood.
Our stop was on a busy main street.
No kids running out into traffic back then.
I had three long blocks to walk to catch the bus.
For a five year old it might as well have
been a mile.
I had to travel west to get
to the bus stop.
We lived in the far
back corner edge of the neighborhood and the bus stop was at the main
Walking to the stop I had
three challenges to overcome each way.
At the end of our block, Mary, the owner of the house had a
huge tree stump in her yard and no fence.
Tied to this stump was her Saint Bernard we called Cujo.
My idiot brother and sisters told me if Cujo
caught me he would eat me.
Being a fat
kid I would have fed that dog for a week.
So I ran.
Once I pasted Cujo I had to cross the haunted train
The tracks were no longer in use
and when it got real hot outside the bridge under the tracks would catch on
It actually happened so often that
the fire department never came to put the fire out.
The bridge would burn but NEVER fell
No ghost was going to catch me so I kept running.
On the next block was another dog.
This one was not on a chain, like Cujo
I never stopped running until I got
to the bus stop.
After school was the
My little fat legs were
pumping for dear life.
After I graduated Kindergarten we moved to Houston.
Dad packed us all into a huge blue moving van
and hauled us from a three bedroom, one bath house to a two bedroom, one bath
The type of neighborhood was the
But Houston was suppose to
give us all a better life.
Eight people and
a small dog under one roof.
My older brother and oldest sister had dropped out of
They did not want to go
My sister was not going to come
without her boyfriend David, so he came too.
Not long after we settled in we were introduced to things
Roaches were tiny in
California but in Texas they are HUGE!
OFF bug spray was a must when we found out about mosquitoes.
Then there was a Hurricane, Alicia.
We had never been through anything like that before.
We were all angry with my father.
It took weeks before things went back to
The Red Cross Wagon Wheel was a
Soon summer was over and it was back to school for me and
one of my sisters.
The school was two
blocks behind our house.
I was in Mrs.
This was going to be her
last year teaching.
I was about to learn
a few more things that were done different in Texas.
Unlike in California, corporal punishment was aloud in
To Mrs. Walker we were already
thugs and hoodlums.
She had a thick wooden
paddle full of holes.
It whistled when
she swung it.
Like the horror stories of
nuns and rulers, Mrs. Walker was not afraid to use her paddle.
My first meeting with “The Whistler” was when I had to
In California if you had to go to
the bathroom you were allowed to just get up and go.
I had to go so I got up and walked out of the
room to the restroom.
Mrs. Walker’s hand
grabbed me and pulled me back so hard I got scared and pissed my pants.
I was whipped and learned that no matter how
bad I had to go I had to wait till break time.
Also, in Kindergarten we got out at noon so I never ate
lunch at school.
On paper, my father
made too much money for free lunch and not enough for me to pay full price, so
I received reduce lunch.
Of course that
was on paper.
You have to eat to survive and we did not always have money
for reduce lunch.
On those days I
brought a sack lunch that was often eaten by Moses, the class bully.
I worked hard once before, now I was about to
do it again.
Mr. White, the school janitor, saw what was going on and
He would pay the breakfast
and lunch fees if I agreed to help him.
So I did.
For four years I worked
for Mr. White.
He was a true friend to
me, sneaking me extra food whenever he could.
In the morning I would help roll out the tables and put
During breakfast I was
stationed at the trash line.
bring their trays up to the line and I dumped the different sections into the
proper trash can.
If there was a program happening during the day I came to
the cafeteria to set out the folding chairs.
After school I went back to put everything away, tables and chairs.
Now we fast forward to 1988.
My little brother, two years younger than me,
was left behind in elementary while I moved on to Middle School.
My baby fat had only gotten fatter, and was a
cause for teasing.
My belly made me a
I was on my own again.
My parents were expecting child number six which now put us into a
different tax bracket.
We now qualified
for food stamps, government cheese and butter.
We also qualified for free lunch.
My older siblings were now out of the house and I was the
oldest one in the house.
changing for me again.
Sports were now available to me but my father wanted me to
be a “Brain” not a jock.
another thing that made me a target.
have to give my family credit though, I was never without books.
My parents always made sure I got the books I
During the summer the only place
I was allowed to go alone was the public library.
My Grandma Margaret and my Uncle Herman were always giving
me books, believing at that young age I was smart enough to understand Robin
Cook, Michael Crichton, and Tom Clancy.
If not for all of them pushing me I would not be here writing to you today.
Well, in 5th
Ward, where I grew up, when you
went to middle school you only had one choice, McReynolds.
Since my parents did not allow me to play football, and the coaches
wanted me to play because I had a good arm, I joined the band.
Music was in my blood.
My family could not afford to buy or rent an instrument so
I received another hand-me-down, my older brother’s broken coronet.
Its bell, the end where the sound comes out,
was crushed inward.
I was the joke of
There were now more bullies than when I was in elementary
school and I was their favorite target.
They would corner me in the locker room and beat on me for no reason
another than I was fat, hitting my body so no one would know.
They threatened to kill me if I ever told; if
I only knew it was a lie.
These bullies would break the lock off of my locker,
leaving it open.
Taking my books and
flushing them in the toilet happened often.
Soon I had to start carrying all of my books home with me.
In addition to that I had to carry the
coronet case too.
I looked like a soldier carrying a fifty pound rucksack on
my back and a radio in my hands.
fuel to the fire, I was forced to walk home because McReynolds did not have any
I lived a mile away and most of
the time I ran it home.
At the end of the school year my mom told us we were going
to California for the summer; my little brother, my new little sister, and
My grandma, my mother’s mom, was now
living in our old house so I was back in the same neighborhood I was born in.
By this time Cujo had died and the strawberry patch was now
a highway but all the fruit trees were still there.
I did not mind picking the fruit now, I was
an active kid, fat but active.
those trees I looked like the Donkey Kong gorilla that was on my pants.
The summer flew by quickly and school was about to
My parents were having trouble
and separated for the year.
I was about
to go to school in Stockton again for the third time.
Kindergarten, fourth grade, and now the seventh
grade, but the only question was where.
The district had redrawn the lines a week before school
I was already enrolled in
Hamilton Middle School, the Hawks, the same school my older siblings had gone
I could either go to the new school or take the public bus
The district provided a bus
but only after it had finished its first route.
That meant late to school and late getting home.
I could have walked and it would have been
I took the city bus to school and walked home.
This time the distance was two and a half
The lockers had locks built in so
I did not have to lug my books around everywhere.
I was in band again and my Uncle Gerald let
me use his trumpet.
A real trumpet.
Since my mom did not work we were on welfare.
I was back on reduced lunch.
Money again was not always there in the
The school let me work my
lunch debt off.
Ten minutes before lunch
started I went to the cafeteria and got ready.
Paper hat on my head and plastic gloves on my hands, I was
ready to serve lunch to my fellow students and teachers.
My job was to make sure there was plenty of
milk stacked and pass the trays down on the hot plate.
I was laughed at and teased but it was survival.
The gangs in Stockton were a lot tougher than
the ones in Houston.
there were three drive-by shootings at the school and two more before the
school year ended.
Gym class looked like the “Yard” at San Quentin State
If you were in trouble you did
P.T. (Physical Training).
sit ups, and pushups.
The girls were
watching boys as they walked around and flirted.
The boys were either playing basketball,
volleyball, or lifting weights.
For us nerds, we either prayed we were invisible and
ignored by the bullies or we were their toys.
I was too big to be invisible, so I hid and ran.
I did not have to run often due to band
practice after school.
Most of the
bullies were gone by then.
One day I was caught in the hallway by a “Muscle Head,” the
weight lifting bullies.
He grabbed me by
my throat and my balls, threatening to rip them off, as he slammed me into a
That day I decided if I was going
to survive bullies I needed to fight.
Out of rage I had beat up one bully back at McReynolds so I
figured I could do it again.
Kid was my inspiration.
I could relate
Martial Arts were the way to
I watched Marshal Arts movies over
and over, copying their moves, go Ninja Turtles.
I had boards in our back yard that I used to
I learned about pressure
points, spin kicks, roundhouses, sweeps, and punches.
I would not be picked on again.
With band practice over after Thanksgiving I was now at the
mercy of the bullies.
I had to strike
A week before Christmas vacation, as I was walking to the
front of school, I saw the “Muscle Head” who had grabbed me.
Butterflies filled my stomach as I attacked
him, punching him in the back of the neck.
The fight lasted only a minute and I had won.
A sweep to his hip and three hard kicks to
the groin was enough to bring him down.
Muscle did not matter and I was never picked on again.
From that day forward I was not going to take
shit from nobody.
My parents made up three weeks before school ended and we
were on our way back to Houston.
returned to Houston totally different than I had left it.
All the running and playing I did helped to
slim me down.
I had to be twice as
active than most to stay in shape.
still over weight but only by ten pounds.
School started and I was now in all Honor classes.
There was only one set of Honor classes so
all the students were the same in every class.
No one recognized me.
I thought I
could start over fresh.
I was known only as the transfer student from
Girls that laughed and
teased me for being fat were now talking to me.
At the end of the week I was discovered.
My good arm and broken coronet gave me away.
Fat or not, the bullies wanted their easy target back.
They wanted the girls laughing at me, not
talking to me.
One day I walked out of
History class and went to my locker.
Band was my next class.
at the front of the school and the rest of my classes were at the back of the
school, so I had to run.
As I closed my locker and turned to leave, I was tripped
and fell hard.
Laughter rang out through
Quickly I got back on my feet
to face my attacker.
Two guys pulled me
back and slammed me into the lockers.
They did not know I had learned how to fight.
The boy in front of me found my foot in his groin.
My elbow flew into one boy’s nose and my fist
into the other boy’s face.
The fight was
I had three more fights that year
and never lost once.
I was glad to leave that hell hole when summer came.
My father insisted I go to Barbara Jordan
High School for Careers, a magnet school.
I studied hard and was accepted.
There was no way I would have gone to my home school, Wheatly.
If I had I would have been killed sooner or
I would rather have dropped
To my father, dropping out was no longer an option.
I was going to be the first in my family to
graduate high school.
My father took on
a second job to help keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.
I hardly ever saw him.
The ninth grade brought a fresh start.
Mostly the brightest of the bunch from 5th
Ward went to Barbara Jordan.
I did not
have to worry about bullies anymore.
With this new school I was suppose to learn a trade.
Without trying I learned many trades and life
My first kiss, my first girlfriend, my first breakup.
Making friends for life that I would never
see again after graduation.
failed grade, allowing my brother to catch up to me.
We may have come from the same place but we
grew up opposites.
I fought, I loved, I
cried, I made my own way.
When I turned sixteen my older brother paid for my driver’s
With my license in hand, I
received my first paying job.
was angry and cut me off with money.
had to buy my own clothes, school supplies, and pitch in for food.
If I wanted to go out I had to pay for it
If I wanted to work then I had
to be responsible.
I was not afraid to
work; I had been working all my life.
The only difference was now I was getting paid for it.
After graduation came the REAL world.
Nothing in my fourteen years (K-12th
in school prepared me for real life.
got my own car, fought my parents over it but I got it.
Less than a year after graduation I was
living in my own apartment, leaving because my mother did not approve of my girlfriend,
who is now my wife.
Money was tight and life was hard but I was out of the
I swore to myself I would never
go back again to live.
The circle of life is funny.
Every child wants to do better than their
parents and every parent wants a better life for their children.
I find myself taking on traits of my father,
something I never wanted to do as a child.
But I also try not to make some of the same mistakes.
I have worked two jobs at once just to keep my head above
I try to give my daughter what
she wants without spoiling her.
likes books, writing, aviation, and music, just like me.
My wife thinks I’m trying to make her grow up too fast when
in fact I’m scared to death of it.
daughter is very outgoing and not shy.
She loves to sing and dance.
is so big and yet so small.
We do what we can to keep her safe.
She is the light of our lives, she is our
She will help me keep my promise
of never returning to the ghetto.
escaped and have not looked back.
From a pile of manure can grow a beautiful rose.
Granted, I am no rose but my family is.
There you have it.
That’s my story.
So what’s yours?
- Max M. Power