Exclusive Excerpt of Ms. Pat's New Autobiography
We’d been living in our new place in Indianapolis for only a couple of days when I heard a knock at my front door. I opened it to find a white lady with a big smile standing on my porch, holding a huge chocolate cake wrapped in plastic. “I want to welcome you to the neighborhood,” she said. “So I baked you a little something.”
What the hell? Where I’m from, if somebody shows up at your door with something nice in their hands, it’s probably stolen.
As soon as she left, I went right to my kitchen and called my girlfriend, Ms. Jeanne, back home in Atlanta.
“You ain’t gonna believe this,” I said. “A white lady just made me a cake. You think I should eat it?”
“Yeah, girl,” said Ms. Jeanne. “White folks always bake you shit when you move in so you don’t break in to their house.”
It turns out, there was a whole lot I had to get used to moving from the hood to the suburbs. Strangers bringing me chocolate cake was only the beginning.
I grew up in the 1980s in the inner city of Atlanta. My mama was an alcoholic single mother with five kids. She could barely read and only knew enough math to play the numbers and count out the exact change to buy herself a couple of bottles of Schlitz Malt Liquor and a nickel bag of weed. Almost none of my relatives, going back three generations, ever graduated high school. Instead, you could say I came from a family of self-employed entrepreneurs. My granddaddy ran a bootleg house, selling moonshine out of his living room; my uncle Skeet robbed folks; and my aunt Vanessa sold her food stamps. With role models like that, what could possibly go wrong?
Even though I came up in the hood, I dreamed of a different life. My fantasy came straight off TV, from my favorite show, Leave It to Beaver. You probably thought I was going to say Good Times, but I didn’t need to watch TV to see black folks struggling. The Struggle was all around me. Compared to how we were living, life on Leave It to Beaver looked like heaven. I was mesmerized by the way the house was so clean and everybody was always smiling and jolly. What I liked most was how Mrs. Cleaver would walk around grinning at her kids like she couldn’t believe her good luck. In my house, my mother would get drunk off her gin, whoop me with an extension cord, call me ugly, and tell me to take my ass to bed. I’d be thinking, How you gonna tell me to go to sleep when it’s ten o’clock in the morning and I just woke up?
I know a lot of people think they know what it’s like to grow up in the hood. Like maybe they watched a couple of seasons of The Wire and think they got the shit all figured out. But TV doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t show what it’s like for girls like me; how one thing can lead to another so that one minute you’re a 12-year-old looking for attention, then suddenly you end up pregnant at 13, with nobody to turn to for help. Folks don’t know about that kind of life because, for a lot of people, girls who grew up like me are invisible. Unless you come to the hood, you won’t see us. It’s easy to pretend we don’t exist.
By the time I was 15, I was a single teen mom with a seventh-grade education, no job skills, no money, and two babies under the age of two. My dream was to give my kids a better life, but most days I didn’t even have enough money to buy Pampers. All I wanted was to find a way to get myself and my babies out of the ghetto; I was willing to do whatever it took.
Let me tell you something, moving up in this world is not easy. I worked at factories, gas stations, and fast food restaurants. I’ve hustled and schemed, been shot twice, beaten with a roller skate, locked behind bars with a bunch of junkies and hookers, and nearly got my head blown off for talking shit. Somehow, I survived. Hell, I did more than survive. I got myself and my kids a whole new life.
These days I live with my family in Indianapolis, in a six-bedroom house overlooking a man-made pond with a bunch of ducks swimming around in it. During the day, I do regular suburban-mom-type shit. I go to Walmart, get some lunch at Chick-fil-A, and head over to the gym for Zumba class. Okay, I don’t really do Zumba. I went once, but the teacher was plus size, like me. I kept thinking, Does this shit even work?
At night, I hit the clubs. I’m a comic and I tour the country telling stories about my messed-up childhood and getting out of the hood. When I started comedy, back in 2004, all I wanted was to make folks laugh. Then I noticed something strange. After almost every show, somebody would come up to me and ask the same question, “How did you turn your life around?” It felt like they wanted me to give them some kind of secret tip.
I wish I had a simple answer. But the truth is, it’s a long story. I went from living in an illegal liquor house to running from the cops to living in the suburbs with a flock of ducks outside my window. The only way I can explain how it happened is to tell you exactly what went down. So I’m laying it all out in black and white, sharing stories I’ve never told a soul, not even my husband. Which reminds me, I should probably warn him about Chapter 5.
I used to get embarrassed about the shit I did to survive. I wanted to push it all away and pretend it never happened. But I’ve learned that laughing at my pain helps me heal. I hope my story will inspire you to laugh through your hard times or try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Maybe you want to get out of a bad relationship, or go back to school, or change your career. Hell, maybe you want to be an overweight Zumba instructor. I don’t know what the hell you lie in bed thinking about at night. That’s your business. All I know is when you finish reading, I hope you’ll take away the same message that I’ve been carrying in my heart since I was eight years old. It’s a lesson an angel taught me. That angel happened to be my third-grade teacher, who wore badass leather boots and had really good hair. The words she spoke to me all those years ago helped me change my life, and maybe they’ll do some good for you, too. “Patricia,” she said, “I want you to always remember, you can do anything and be anything. All you have to do is dream.”
To read more, pick up a copy of Rabbit at your local bookstore or online.