Book Excerpt: 'Coming Home to Myself'

The Yanceys lived in Berea, which Mom thought had the best school in the area, so we enrolled there. She drove Ashley and me into town each morning to the Yancey house so that we could catch a ride to school with Minnie's sons, Toddie and Garrett. We had to get up very early to be in the car by five a.m. I remember once, when I woke up to use the bathroom at about two a.m., I went ahead and got dressed for school.

After school I'd walk to the Berea College Student Center to hustle pool. I became a pretty sharp pool player, so I ended up winning money most days. Then I'd take my winnings to Mama Mia's and play pinball for hours, just killing time before Mom got out of nursing school and came to pick us up at the Yancey house. I wore the same sort of clothes every day: blue jean overalls, flannel shirts and hiking boots. All I cared about was music, pool and pinball.

I could have lived at Chanticleer forever. But Mom, being the gypsy she is, decided to move us back to California and continue nursing school at the College of Marin, north of San Francisco. She packed us up in a U-Haul and off we went. Uncle Mark came along to help. I was terribly sad to be leaving a life that had meant so much to me, to leave a place that had nurtured me and inspired me to begin taking the first steps on my journey as an artist. Living on that mountaintop gave me a sense of self and purpose that I don't think I'd had before. We had little financially, but a wealth of joy and a connection to the earth, to one another.

Since we didn't have much money for the trip back to California, we took along a mattress for Uncle Mark to sleep on when we stopped at motels for the night. Ashley and I rode in the back of the U-Haul with the furniture. Mom rigged the sliding door so it would stay open just a little and we'd have fresh air. Deeply unhappy and left to my own devices, I acted out. Ashley was lying down on the mattress when I jumped off of the chest of drawers and on top of her. I held her down and pinned her so she couldn't get up. Then I licked her face until she peed her pants.

When Ashley finally got away from me, she jerked off her T-shirt and frantically waved it out the back, hoping somebody would see it and save her. Suddenly I heard a siren. We pulled off to the side of the road. The back of the U-Haul was rolled open and there stood a highway patrolman next to Mom and Uncle Mark. The cop chewed out Mom for putting us in the back of the U-Haul. Mom chewed me out for taking out my frustration on my sister, and Uncle Mark spanked me in the bathroom of a truck stop. I'll never forget that feeling of humiliation. I worshipped my Uncle Mark.

When we got to Marin County, we moved into a small one-bedroom apartment. Mom put the mattress on the floor in the corner of the living room, and she and Ashley slept there. I got the one bedroom. Mom worked as a waitress while attending school, and also as a private nurse for an older man named Skipper, who lived next door. He adopted us as his only family, and helped Mom out financially to pay some of our bills. What a change in environment! From Chanticleer to that small apartment next door to a bar.

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