Hammond, Indiana – August 8, 1985
It was exactly 35 years ago today and I remember it vividly. I stood with my family at the bus station, waiting for the Greyhound Bus to arrive and take me away for my first year of college. My brother considered it his birthday gift, it being the same day. I was headed out and he would be rid of me. The bedroom would be his and his alone.
We all joked about the people and things I would encounter during my 27-hour ride to Tallahassee, Florida (man, I could start a new series just about the crazy things I saw and did over the years on those bus rides). I was headed to Florida A&M University, home of The “Mighty Rattlers” and more important, the World Famous “Marching 100”, the most televised band on the planet. I was super-excited because I knew I would be competing with the best of the best to be “in that number” as they often put it.
There I was, this kid, “full of ambition and overflowing with dreams” (lol). And though I wasn’t quite sure how my life would pan out, one thing was for damn sure…
I was leaving for good.
I didn’t say this to my father or mother, but I had made up my mind during my sophomore year of high school. Thanks, and unknown to, my father.
You see, when he left home for school, he had no intentions of returning to East Chicago either. At least not to live in the home of his birth. He graduated from Butler University, then was off on a series of adventures, culminating in a new level of self-awareness which led to him joining the church in Dodge City, Kansas. For years, he talked about meeting Pastor Lucky and how she helped him turn his life around. When I finally met a much older version of her in person, I could see how and why he turned his life around (yet another story for another day).
I thought to myself, yeah, that’s the way.
Like him, I wasn’t sure what the future had in store, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen in East Chicago, as much as I loved home. I had to prove to him that I could succeed. That I WOULD succeed. That failure was not an option. Not even a thought.
I didn’t have it all figured out, but this was the plan:
- Age 18 – Make the FAMU band.
- Age 20 – Start my own music group.
- Age 21 – Win a Grammy for Best New R&B Group
- Age 22 – Graduate with honors.
- Age 25 – Write that Great American Novel.
- Age 26 – Obtain my Master’s degree after a one-year break (still recording and performing).
- Age 27 – Be on the career path… doing, uhhhhhh, SOMETHING.
- Age 29 – Get baptized after a “hellacious” life.
- Age 30 – Buy a home. Not someone else’s. Build my own. Like he did.
- Age 35 – Get married and start having kids.
Man, I ain’t do NONE o’ dat!
Well, I did “find myself” and got baptized way ahead of schedule. Age 19, in fact. I did make the band and start my own R&B group. I actually played with a few groups, but it never materialized into anything miraculous (but we had some serious fun along the way). I got married 10 years ahead of schedule, at 25; had my first son that same year. I did manage to get on my career path at exactly 27, but the rest came along as best it could. I just didn’t get that M.D. and I haven’t written that novel – yet. And thankfully, after gutting my 401K, I built that house, from the ground up.
The real success? In my opinion, it was the fact that no matter how bad it got, I never went home. Even when I was between jobs… …when I was flat busted… …when I found myself without a place to sleep for 48 hours in 1990 (I slept by the fountain outside a business complex)… …when my father told me that it wasn’t working and that I needed to come home…
I fought hard. I struggled. I scrambled. I hustled. I made it work.
Not to say that moving back into your family home is a bad thing. In many cases, it’s necessary in order to recharge, regroup and reorder. But this was personal. An unwritten war between myself and my father’s shadow (and eventually, his memory).
And no, I may not have everything I sought after, but I got what I needed most. A family. A home. I had a good career and although I’m now up there in years, self-employed, with health problems, I have no regrets. My boys aren’t Plant Managers, Grammy Winners or Superbowl Champions, but they’ve lived drug- and alcohol-free lives and have never been in any legal trouble.
For me, that’s an even greater victory.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know one thing: As long as I live, I will never stop pursuing what I want and love…
…and I will never second-guess my decisions.
Life is about moving forward. Life is about moving on.
And oh yes. Happy Birthday, Terry. No, I don’t want the room back and neither should you.
…Consider me gone.