“I thought you was older. So mature for your age.”
— General Adults

As a shorty, I was always hit with the notion that I was “growing up too fast.” This could be my walk, becoming a “switch.” Or pop, lock, and dropping my Laffy Taffy at family functions, asking for attention. Here I am thinking that MFs love me.

I was old enough to understand that I was growing titties and all the women in my family thick, so of course an ass is coming. My mother loves to dance. My aunt was a fashion designer. And my other aunt taught me how to walk with the weight of school and books on my back. And America’s Next Top Model had a black woman. All these things were my favorite things about being a girl. ’Cause all the other things I wanted to be—things that made me a girl—didn’t fit.

I fucked with the boys. They didn’t worry about how old I was, and they knew that touching my ass was instant-dead. They wanted to know how fast I could run or how much money I had saved. Women wanted to know if I was kissing yet, if I had a boyfriend.

In puberty, I didn’t know a body was a timeline of experience. I didn’t even know what a body could do, other than get a scarred knee or push out glass. I was getting blamed for doing shit that my body didn’t even know existed.

My body spoke for me before my mouth could.

You know that scene in Forrest Gump, when three white boys throw rocks at Forrest’s head as he and Jenny are taking a walk? Forrest still has braces on his legs, but Jenny tells him to run. So Forrest takes off like 12s was on his ass and then watches his braces fall off. Well, that’s what my body did with the term “growing up too fast.”

I was taking on responsibilities I didn’t know were mine. I took the alcoholism in my family, the calls from the Department of Children and Family Services, the religion, the deaths, and the bullying—and I put all that in my walk. My hips became haughty. My neck rolled when I stomped the streets. I had attitude in my spine. I moved as the world made me: fast. My body spoke for me before my mouth could. I wanted to move with grace and not stumble or trip. I knew I was being watched, and people were waiting for me to fall.

So I’m done with school, and all that other teenage shit that ABC Family or Lifetime eventually makes a movie about. But damn being a black Chicago girl with a black single mother means “you need to get a job” or “you need to find a place to stay.”

I’m 16 or 17, still watching my braces fall. I start running like Jenny now. I’m running toward men, countries, taxes, and revenge. I felt like so much was taken away from me. I wanted my wings already.

I know that my mother did the absolute best she could by me. I am also aware of the hurt I am overcoming from what she couldn’t do. This isn’t an episode of blame or who’s the bigger villain. This is just the reality of my current healing. Attempting to put everything on my mother is a mediocre game of chicken versus egg; there will always be multiple lenses. You can see it from the “government versus single black mothers.” The “alcohol versus mom versus daughter.” Or even the “world versus black women.”

In bell hooks’ Salvation: Black People and Love, she states: “Selfless maternal giving is a sign of neither self-love nor strength.” My interpretation of this is that hugs didn’t pay the bills, and new school uniforms aren’t I love yous.

Now, adulthood is here: first apartments, firsts of the month and 15ths, unexpected pregnancies, and the discovery of PayPal. Eventually I had to realize that childhood was over. Like, done with. For real, for real this time. Anything I wanted or wanted to do, I had to pay for it. Landlords and the IRS don’t wanna hear about your rough childhood. They want money.

My credentials are my credit score.

When I first got published, I knew that was it. I had finally got my wings and things was gon’ be cool. Nevertheless, the hustle don’t stop. My uncle broke down the business to me, in terms that I was familiar with: Publisher is the main plug; corporations are the distributors. I buy at half-price from the main plug and sell my product at my price. When I’m out, re-up. When I’m low, place another order. I learned about this metaphoric world from being a teenager, tryna come up on some quick cash. Funny how synonymous it is with my current career.

Once upon a time, I heard a Chicago legend say one of the greatest lines of my existence. He said, “And I don’t wanna grow up. I’m a grown-ass kid.” Oh, how valid this character is to so many black youths who are adults now. Here we are, in our twenties and twerking and thriving. Our hustle is to come up on our childhood. We missed out on a lot of shit being the young adults we weren’t suppose to be at that time. And as the great Kush Thompson said, “It’s not quite reparations, but…”

So gimme my $40 and an ice cream cone.

I often think about my timeline of success in comparison to others. Am I moving too fast? Did I move too soon? Can I slow down or is it too late to chill the fuck out? Regardless of the answers, the hustle won’t stop. We can’t stop. Yes, I’m overcoming a lot of trauma and many attempts at tarnishing my spirit, but success is on no one’s timeline but my own.

Thinking back on the “switch in my walk” or the “sass in my talk,” I’m grateful. I’m an author of poetry about my body and language. I grew up to be the kid who teaches other kids.

Yves Saint Laurent said, “Fashions fade, but style is eternal.” I use this in a lot of situations. Childhoods fade, but happiness is eternal. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but hustle can. My credentials are my credit score. No tooth fairy necessary.