July 26, 2003 -- She was the youngest artist to have a No. 1 record. She was a teenage Grammy winner basking in glamor, beauty and newfound fame. Just as pop star Monica stood at the brink of superstardom, a tragedy took her away from the spotlight.
"I could go through gory details that would spin heads for days. That's not my goal. My goal is to show me after the storm," Monica said.
As a child, Monica joyfully embraced music, but when she was 6 years old, her world was shattered by her parents' divorce. She found herself pulled between two dramatically different worlds: that of her churchgoing mother and her street-smart father.
"It's kind of like when I say, I'm a mixture of two worlds, that's just what I became. When my parents split, I became two separate people," she said.
But those two people would eventually collide … Just 12 years old when she was discovered in a talent show, Monica's almost instant fame put her on a fast and slippery track. The more success she tasted, the more she turned back to the life she knew with her father, a gritty and often dark world. "I chose to hang in places where I had to witness a lot of things that most people my age wouldn't dream about seeing, and probably couldn't sleep if they did," she said.
Monica, now 22, said she's learned some hard lessons in her struggle to balance these competing worlds, "Some of the things that I've chosen have had repercussions. I've suffered 'em, I've learned from 'em and then I keep moving. I'm just thankful to still be here."
"Some of her memories of the streets remain vivid, "As I walk out the door, I hear these blows. Who would have ever thought it was a human, being beat repeatedly by two people with steel bats, over $10. That's the kind of stuff that you just can see every day. And I went on and I got on the plane and went back to the other side of my other life," Monica said. The other side was the glittery, polished world of a singing star.
But it was in the darker part of her life that Monica would meet two troubled men, who would forever alter her life. They were men she thought she could save.
Her first real love was Corey Miller, a rapper whose stage name was C-Murder, a name which would resonate with irony when he was arrested for the murder of a 16-year-old boy. Corey is in jail in Louisiana, but Monica says she is certain he's innocent. "That's just not the person I know, and I know for a fact that he's innocent," she said.
Monica's choice in men would prove even more lethal the next time. She would meet and fall for Jarvis Weems, a 25-year-old drug dealer.
Monica said Weems' life was difficult. "He was brought up, you know, in an area where people do whatever they have to, to survive," she said. Survival in that world, Monica said, drove Weems to make choices that were illegal.
"He kept me very sheltered from a lot of stuff that was going on, even though, I would never pretend that I was not aware. Don't get me wrong. I would never pretend that I was not aware," she said.
But then, Weems would bring Monica face to face with unspeakable horror. It was July 18, 2000. Weems called Monica from the phone in his car. He told her he was on his way to the cemetery where his brother was buried and that he wanted to "be with him."
"He was very somber. And that's when I knew that his mind was made up," Monica said.
Weems had decided to take his own life. Monica arrived at the cemetery and stood pleading, but he had locked his car doors. Monica saw that he had a gun in his car.
She recalled, "He said a lot of things, which I feel like are definitely only for me. Most important thing that he said was that the loved me, and that nobody ever tried the way I tried."
After more than an hour of talking, Jarvis abruptly rolled up the car window, turned away from Monica, reached down and in one swift move, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.
Monica ran to the car with her own gun, blew out the window of car, unlocked the door. She was determined to save him.
"I continued talking to him. I continued telling him that I loved him, God loved him, and it was gonna be OK. When I asked him, did it hurt, you know, he tried to say something back. But, I touched him. And I could still feel life in him. And that allowed me not to give up," she said.
It took 20 minutes for the paramedics to arrive.
Monica says she knows the reason why Weems committed suicide, but says she won't reveal it. She said, "I'll never tell anybody why. Because he didn't tell it. He didn't leave a note. He didn't call home. … He told me. And it'll stay with me, until we see each other again."
Weems' violent and mysterious death paralyzed Monica for months, but in the end, she says it was her remarkable and loving extended family — and their spiritual faith — that finally pulled her through. She has learned to channel her pain into her music and has found peace in her life.
Still, in a sense, Monica says, she remains living in two separate worlds "I'm very comfortable with the person that I've become through all of those experiences. I don't make stupid mistakes anymore. You know I don't subject myself to unnecessary pain," she said.
And for fans it may be difficult as well to unite the image of the glamorous woman with a beautiful voice, with the stories about one ex-boyfriend in jail facing murder charges and another who committed suicide.
"Don't try," Monica said, "Accept me for who I am. Learn from my experiences. Don't use me as an excuse to further mess up your life or do things wrong because you say I did it. Use it as a reason to change it."