© St. Petersburg Times, published April 26, 2002
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lisa Marie.
Your arrival, which should be celebrated, has caused me to brood.
You're the fifth and final child of my longtime friend. This week, doctors closed the door for good, after 14 hours of labor.
"God, if you get me through this, there won't be no more," your Mama promised.
You have thick hair. They say that's why your Mama had heartburn.
Now you wake up from sleep, crying, and feel the pacifier poke at your lips. Welcome to April 23, the first day of your life.
I'm sorry, but there's no turning back. No more so than there was for me 22 years ago, when I stopped my car on Pearl Avenue, south of Gandy, knocked on a door and met the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl who needed a Big Sister.
YOU LIVE in South Tampa. A short drive from your house, mansions lord over Bayshore Beautiful and golf carts dash over tidy greens.
But a few weeks before you were born, someone shot a man in the face in your front yard. Did you hear that loud noise, muffled through your Mama's belly? The police came. They had come before, to break up fights.
"Never a dull moment," says your Mama, resigned.
When your Mama was little, someone put LSD in her Halloween candy, right here in South Tampa.
Years later, your aunt's ex-husband went to prison for rape. Your other aunt, a cashier, faked her abduction from a convenience store to justify stealing money for crack cocaine. Your uncle is in prison for pawning stolen merchandise.
One aunt's friend trades sex for drugs. That was how the guy with the gun wound up in your yard.
YOU MAY NEVER meet your teenage sister or brother. About 10 years ago, the state took them. Not long ago, the girl tried to kill herself. Your Mama read it in a newspaper and it broke her heart. She had two new kids by then.
Your Mama is 33. Before you interrupted, she was getting her GED.
She tries harder than ever to be a good parent.
"I don't lose my cool," she says now. "If I feel myself getting stressed, I walk the other way. I take time out for myself, which I didn't do back then."
LISA MARIE, you no longer have a quiet place of your own.
You share a four-bedroom, one-bath house with eight other people; the eldest, in his 80s. They live off a social security check, food stamps and your Mama's $198-a-month public assistance check.
"Every day, there's some new drama," she says. "We're fighting 'cause there ain't no money. We're fighting cause there ain't no toilet paper. They're fighting this week 'cause there ain't no food."
Babies fall from the sky. When your aunt got pregnant, your Grandma raised the baby girl; the baby girl got pregnant, and now there's a 9-month-old to keep you company.
YOUR DADDY, who drinks too much and drives gas tankers, fights with your Mama, so he's almost never around. Your Grandma steps in to help, never mind her diabetes or the cancer she can't afford to treat.
Your Mama says this about you: "I want her to have a better life than I had."
I'll give you the same words I gave years ago, not that they're strong enough to overcome the family stubbornness: Stay in school. Don't get pregnant. Don't rush into life. It comes fast enough.
You certainly took your time getting here. Maybe that's something. You were nine days late, and people took note.
"That baby don't want to come into this crazy world," your Mama said.
BUT you're here now.
Be on guard.
Make no missteps.
At home, a sister and brother wait for you. They are 4 and 5.
Your Mama is most proud of this singular act of parenting:
"That they've made it as far as they have in life without getting hurt."
She nearly named you Destiny, child.
I think Lisa Marie is just fine.
- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or email@example.com.