From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Life After Death

I used to hurt so badly that I’d ask God “Why, what have I done to deserve any of this?” I feel now He was preparing me for this, for the future.

That’s the way I see it.

Janet Jackson

Pregnant and sixteen seemed to be the norm in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio. After all, everybody was doing it— getting pregnant, that is. Why should I be any different? Because I was a straight-A student with anticipations of traveling the world! My head was always stuck in a book, dreaming of the day that I would cross over into the life that was so eloquently described on the pages of Dick and Jane. How was I to know that other individuals had the capability to shatter dreams? Coming from a family of ten children, six boys and four girls, my parental time was limited. So the majority of my counseling and advice came from those who had already surrendered, unbeknownst to me, to mediocrity.

“Girl, you ain’t going to ever get to Alaska to see the ice-blue glaciers so quit your dreaming, not to mention that there aren’t any black folks in Alaska.”

“The Great Wall of China, you’re joking, right?”

“Girl, you had better get your head out of them books.”

“But why?” I would always ask, only to hear the same response.

“Girls like you get pregnant, drop out of school, get on welfare and die. That’s the extent of the life and times of an inner-city ghetto girl like you. So put your hopes and dreams away and take a sip of this Wild Irish Rose. It will help you to forget all about your dreams.” And that it did.

Pregnant, out of school and following the path most traveled, I found myself living without a dream. Gloria Pointer came kicking and screaming into the world on February 28, 1970. Yellow as a rose with three different shades of hair: blonde, red and brown.

“Girl, where in the world did you come from?”

Inquisitive from birth, she seemed to have eyes of great expectations even from behind the glass that temporarily separated us in the maternity wing of University Hospital.

Gloria and I were more than mother and daughter. Because we were assigned the task of growing up together, we were more like friends. She seemed to think much more highly of me than I did of myself. I struggled constantly with dreams forsaken, early motherhood and walking through the dark path of the dreams of another. It was Gloria’s love and belief in me, even as a child, that always seemed to be the glue that held it all together. Maybe it was her eyes of expectancy that always seemed to pierce my soul, eyes that encouraged me to strive, if not for me, then for her.

Before long, though, I was swinging from the chandelier of destruction. Drugs, violence and a life of crime seemed to grip my conscience like a hangman’s noose around my neck. Life was sucking me under, and it was pulling Gloria along with me. How could I save her when I couldn’t seem to save myself? In the midst of everything else, I was pregnant again with my second child, Raymon. He narrowly escaped death at birth because of my lifestyle consumed with street life and neglect. Twenty years old with two kids, and one with those wide eyes of expectancy that continued to pierce my soul even when it was filled with mind-altering chemicals. How is this possible? How had such big dreams dissolved in the twinkling of an eye? Is there anyone out there who could possibly hear my pleas—“Save me”—before total destruction consumes not only my dreams but also the dreams of those who look at me with eyes of expectancy?

One day, my father—who had watched through eyes of devastation the rise and fall of his fourth child—assigned a friend to me whose task was to hold me and not let go, to snatch me back from the gates of hell. He found this task to be tedious because, even though I wanted help, I was not coming along willingly. After all, “they” said this was my destiny, right? One day, after I had hit bottom, he told me about someone who could help me to get free and walk on a path full of light. His name was Jesus.

Reluctant at first, I resisted with the mini-might I had left within my dying soul. But one day I said, “Yes.” The brightness that followed my conversion was blinding; a world once full of darkness, despair and hopelessness looked new. Yes, life was good again. I began to grow as a Christian, the first to walk through the doors of the church when they swung open to welcome weary travelers such as myself. My questions were finally beginning to be answered. God was the answer that I was looking for, and he was the missing link. He was the one who could show me the way out.

We were on our way to the land of milk and honey, a land where dreams do come true. Yes, life was good. My endless tears seemed to dry up, and Gloria, who was always there for me, filled my ears with her dreams. But her dreams did not include the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China. Her dream was simple: a better life for her mother, a life that wasn’t filled with tears or worry over bills.

Her plan was to marry a rich basketball player and have enough money to make my life better. She was going to repair our home, fill it with new carpeting, new furniture and everything that would make my life happy. “Don’t worry, Momma, I’m going to make it alright.”

How could one child love someone like me so much?

Yes, everything was going to be okay. I had followed all of the rules and was next in line for a miracle. Then came a knock at the door of my heart: an early morning telephone call informing me that Gloria was missing.

“Missing.” The word seemed to echo throughout the room. “What do you mean, missing?”

“Well, Ms. Pointer, Gloria was to receive a perfect attendance award this morning in a special assembly and she has not arrived at school,” I was told.

“What? Well, I suggest that you get off the phone and go find her!” was my shocked response.

Moments later the phone rang again. It was the principal of the high school informing me to call the police.

Call the police for what? I was thinking. When I see Gloria later she is going to have hell to pay for giving us all such a scare! Nevertheless, I dialed 911.

After a short while, police officers were knocking at the door advising me to sit down.

“We found a body,” is the last thing I remember hearing. In a fetal position, curled on the floor, I seemed to be floating between consciousness and false reality.

Chastising myself for lying there helplessly when they hadn’t said that the dead body was Gloria Pointer, the girl with eyes of expectancy, I forced myself up from the floor. But the punch came again, fiercer this time, because with it came the news that indeed it was Gloria. Raped, murdered and discarded like an animal beneath rickety stairs of steel, surrounded by piles of filth.

A child isn’t supposed to be left lying in such filth, not a child with eyes of expectancy. A child is not supposed to be murdered at the age of fourteen—not an innocent child, minding her own business, walking to school to receive an award. Didn’t those eyes expect me to protect her as the final blow was laid to her head rendering her lifeless? Once again, as a mother I had failed.

Plunged into an unexpected reality, catapulted into an arena for which there was no script, life became a fight for existence. All of my reasons for living were gone.

Okay, whoever you are, I believe you now, ain’t no ice-blue glaciers nor snow-capped mountains in my future. I agree that I am destined to be just what they said, “An inner-city single parent on welfare without a dream.

However, I had forgotten something—something that seemed to shine even through the darkness of despair. That something, that someone, was Jesus. When Gloria’s body was finally ready for viewing, I went alone to the funeral home. I wanted to ask for her forgiveness in private. I wanted to let her know that her murder would not, by the grace of God, be in vain. How could someone just kill a child and walk away? Once again, I was back to asking questions. Once again an injustice occupied my entire view. No longer did I see her lying neatly dressed surrounded by the satin of a mahogany coffin. The only thing I could see was the injustice of it all. That injustice forced me to ask the question, why? From that point, grief took a backseat and a new dream slid behind the wheel— the dream of a better world, a safer world for children.

Could this dream become a reality? It could, according to Philippians 4:13, which states, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

So, I began a letter-writing campaign under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in search of a well-known celebrity who would grace our inner-city ghetto with his or her presence and cry aloud for an end to the violence against innocent children. Each letter described in detail exactly what they should do upon arrival. They should use the status that God had given them to persuade folks to leave our children alone. Time passed without positive response, but the delay of the arrival of such a celebrity only fueled me to occupy their role until they showed up. I wanted them to visit schools, do television shows, radio shows, anything and everything that would get the message across. So, off I went to all of their appointments, proclaiming that I was just the voice “crying in the wilderness,” the real person would come after a while. In the meantime, hear me. I know that I am nobody but a mother with a murdered child, but listen as I describe firsthand the agony of it all. Listen as I proclaim the devastation of dreams delayed. Look as I describe Gloria’s eyes of expectancy that no longer look to me as her mother. Can anyone please tell me how to wake up from such a horrendous nightmare? No you can’t, so until the answer to that question arrives I must continue walking toward the light, which is the only thing that can offer me hope.

As time passed, don’t you know, I became the person that I was looking for! Honors and awards began to follow my desire to make the world a safer place for kids. Former President Bush appointed me the 908th Point of Light in the nation’s 1,000 Points of Light; I was inducted by former Governor George Voinvoich into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame. Suddenly I became, as some might consider, a celebrity, a voice to be heard.

My voice cannot save Gloria, but the feelings of failure have diminished through the work that God has given me to do toward saving others. It is as if Gloria is smiling down upon me from heaven, and I can hear her saying to God, “See, I told you my mother could do it.”

Today, I am a much-sought-after spokesperson regarding violence prevention and safer communities. As the recipient of national awards, including the 2001 Essence Award, and recently appearing in Ebony magazine, I find that my life is filled with national speaking engagements, consolation of families that have been victimized by crime, interviews and tons of traveling. And yes, I finally did go to Anchorage, Alaska, to behold the beauty that was written in the books.

I was invited recently to speak at a prison in Mansfield, Ohio. At the end of my presentation the inmates were permitted to ask me questions. The crowd numbered around three hundred, so you can imagine my surprise when a hand from the rear was raised high.

“Ms. Pointer,” he said, “You may not remember me but you made me some Rice Krispie treats when I was in the fifth grade. I was wondering if I could give you a hug?”

Making a difference to each other, that is what it is all about. Perhaps it was God’s plan all along for Gloria to be the reason I would be pushed to meet His eyes of expectancy and fulfill my real destiny. Isn’t it funny that dreams still do come true—often with an expense, but always to the glory of God?

Yvonne Pointer

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