(by Ebony Dodson)
My momma always told me not to do drugs. "Everyone is going to move on but you,” she said. “They'll get clean and move on to better things. You'll be out in the trenches, high and dry. That's just how life works."
There was something about my mom's matter-of-fact disciplinarian analogies. They'll stick in my head for eternity. "Tell your friends that if they commit a crime around you and you don't want no part of it, you’ll walk away. Stay away from their asses. If they apply pressure for you to stick around, tell them to their faces you'll rat them out for involving you. Tell them that!"
I remember my mom telling me the story about how my male cousin robbed a bank and showed up on my grandmother’s porch with the bank money while the police were on his tail. Grandma (his auntie) did not let him in the house. She told him to get off her porch or she would call the police—“my damn-self" is how she would say it. My mom always told that story.
Despite my momma’s warnings, I’d been a weed and tobacco smoker since age 14. Senior ditch day—the one day allotted by the school for seniors to skip classes—my homegirl and I had been smoking weed and then ran into some guys who gave us alcohol. We kicked it with them and drank in an apartment where one of them lived. My homegirl got too drunk, and I literally had to drag her sloppy ass out of the apartment, but they dragged her back in when a neighbor walked by. I could hear my mom's voice: "Rolling around with the homies. Now look at you. Look at you now!" Those dudes didn’t have good intentions, and I knew that. I made it out. But the homegirl’s mom wasn't there when I went across the street to tell her to get her daughter out of there.
I remember walking for a very long time, trying to go home, before everything was black. I woke up on the curb in front of a Mexican restaurant. A man pulled up and told me to get in the car, that he would take me home. I knew I was taking a risk by getting in the car, but I just wanted to get home. He spoke on the phone in an African language during the entire ride, and dropped me off in front of my house, still talking, and didn’t say anything to me when I got out. Somehow, my mom didn’t recognize that I was drunk when I got home. My homegirl didn’t talk to me when I saw her at school the next day.
I kinda turned out okay, becoming an associate manager in high-end retail at age 23. I always had this insecurity about success, maybe because I’m a fighter of bipolar disorder and ADHD. It’s hard to appreciate something going good when you think you’re going to mess it all up. Feeling anxiety and fear and people-pleasing messes with you. I got into a car accident, lost my job, ended up in jail, and had my car impounded all in the same day. I chose to become a stripper for two years. I used my skills from retail to sell a sex image to the audience in the club to survive.
Fast forward: I was in jail for a non-drug related hit-and-run accident on a jaywalking pedestrian. I was on the payphone trying to get hold of my mom. My bunkie in the cell asked me a preposterous favor: "Can you tell your folks to call this number for me?
I was like, "What?!"
She tried to repeat herself.
"Girl!” I responded. “My momma mean as hell! She don't respect people in jail. We a bunch of heathens to her, and she ain't about to do nothing for no bum in jail."
Overhearing me on the phone, my mom started cracking up laughing. It was her scold and discernment that saved my ass in jail. I didn't get punked for my phone bill, didn't share nothing, didn't take nothing from nobody, made no friends or comments. I was solid in county jail.
My mom didn't raise no fool. I'm just glad I made it to my 29th birthday while writing this story. Celebrating my birthday gives me anxiety. The memories aren’t all good. There was my tenth birthday when my mom got into an argument with her ex-husband. I just said, "You know what? Forget the birthday, let's just go home." There was my 15th birthday when I cried, feeling like I would grow up to be a loser in life because I didn't know what "to be" as an adult. Oh, and the other time when my friend and her homegirl set me up and stole my money. Happy birthday to me. For my birthday this year, I wanted to cook something for the family like I’d done since I was 12. My favorite thing to cook is gumbo and chicken soup. It has smoked sausages, shrimp, and crab legs. (Don’t forget the bay leaves that make that Southern taste.) But I wasn’t feeling well enough. Bipolar is not curable, and I still deal with anxiety, but at least I have less fear in my life.
I'm trying to practice self-care now. I thought I was going to be able to do it just based on my intention. It’s harder than I thought. But I’ve been an actress for over two years. I like acting. I have projects, current callbacks, and new releases brewing at the moment
Thanks, Mom, for trying. I'll be happy someday. I promise.
Ebony Dodson is an actress who lives in Los Angeles County, California. She can be found on Instagram.
In my family culture, we know no measurements. Everything is just "what we know" from Mom or Grandma saying, "That's enough, child" and "A little bit more, baby." This is not recommended for people who never cook gumbo. Quantities below are approximate.
1 lb. king crab legs, cut into pieces
1 lb. shrimp, shelled and deveined 1 lb. chicken wings 1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced salt and pepper
1 1/2 t. Lawry's Seasoned Salt
2 t. minced garlic plus 1 whole garlic clove, peeled
1/4 lb. butter
2/3 c. vegetable or canola oil, divided
1 heaping c. all-purpose flour 1 large onion, chopped
2 large bell peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped 1 t. powdered cumin 1 t. dried thyme
1 1/2 t. Cajun seasoning 3 or 4 bay leaves
Season crab legs with 1/2 t. salt and 1 T. pepper.
Season shrimp with 1/2 t. salt and 1 1/2 t. pepper.
Season chicken wings with Lawry’s and chopped garlic.
In a large pot, melt butter, toss with crab legs, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove with tongs and set aside.
In the same pot, heat 1 - 2 T. vegetable or canola oil.
Cook shrimp, turning, just until they turn pink, 1 - 2 minutes per side. Remove with tongs and set aside.
Add more oil to the pot if needed, and cook chicken wings, turning, until lightly colored. Remove with tongs and set aside.
Add more oil to the pot if needed, and sauté sausage until browned. Set aside.
Add meat juices and remaining oil to the pot.
Sprinkle in flour, and cook, stirring to prevent lumps, until smooth and a rich brown color, about 30 minutes. Add onions, bell pepper, and 1 garlic clove, and sauté until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cumin, thyme, Cajun seasoning, and bay leaves. Add chicken, sausage, crab legs, and approximately 6 – 8 c. water, making sure all ingredients are covered and there is a nice soupy consistency. Cover and simmer for approximately 30 minutes.
Add shrimp and cook 5 minutes more.
Serve in bowls with rice.