Rabbit: A Memoir by Patricia Williams
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK (Ebury Press)
Source: Digital Review Copy
That’s how things go in the ‘hood: It’s a never ending cycle of trouble, and once it grabs you, it won’t let go.
Patricia started life on the lowest rung of society: poor, black, and female. With an alcoholic for a mother and four siblings, she was raised on a steady diet of welfare, food stamps and cigarette smoke. By the age of 15 she had two children, and by the age of 16 she was dealing drugs to support her young family. Growing up in a family that had been stuck in the ghetto for generations, it seemed impossible Patricia would ever escape.
But when she was shot be a rival drug dealer in front her own children, Patricia made the life-changing decision to turn it all around. With a combination of grit, stubbornness, anger and love – and the kindness of others – she fought to break the cycle of poverty for the next generation. Now a stand-up comedian performing as Ms. Pat, she lives the maxim that the best healing comes through humour.
This brutally honest memoir begins with the five-year-old Rabbit living at her grandfather's home from which he runs an illegal liquor house. Rabbit regularly has to navigate her way through a living room floor full of drunken bodies, but life with her grandfather, as Ms Pat reminisces, 'were the best times'. Then 'Miss Betty' demands a drink during grandfather's favourite television show and he shoots her for the interruption. Life changes 'for the worse' after he is jailed for the shooting.
Mildred, an alcoholic with a frightening, explosive temper, is incapable of looking after Rabbit and her four siblings. Rabbit's childhood is filled with hunger, alcohol, drugs, abuse on every level, and instead of protecting her, or showing any affection her mother would, as Rabbit tells us “...get drunk off her gin, whoop me with an extension cord, call me ugly, and tell me to take my ass to bed.”
By the time Rabbit is 15 years old, she's already a mother of two. At 17 she's is a damned good hustler (drug dealer) providing extremely well for her family and her children's father Derrick, and been shot twice. Life is good again, but since the latest shooting Rabbit realises that she wants a safer life for her kids.
As much as I don't condone Ms Pat's early career choices her memoir demonstrates the struggles of everyday life in 'the hood', and of the attraction to make a choice which results in either being able to eat and keep a roof over your head, or not. With what seems no alternative Rabbit takes the only solution, to her problems, handed to her at the time.
Ms Pat's ability to turn the most awful moments in her life into a comedy sketch show is mind blowing and I can't remember the times I laughed out loud.
One particular scene I found uncomfortably funny was when a naive Rabbit (yep, Rabbit the 17 year old mother of two, crack dealing entrepreneur, still is unbelievably naive in so many ways) purchases an outfit for her mother to be buried in. It's only when Dre whispers to her and says "why Mama wearing these ho clothes? She look like she on her way to sell pussy in hell.”, does she realise her faux pas.
As difficult as it was reading about a young child living in poverty, suffering cruelty, hunger, neglect and abuse, Ms Pat's retrospective humour pulled me through resulting in a captivating read that I couldn't leave for any length of time. So candidly written with dignity, and spades of humour, that not one moment did I feel sorry for Ms Pat, however I was horrified and appalled at the awful treatment and cruelty Rabbit and her siblings endured.
Rabbit isn't a 'pity party' memoir, with a handful of caring adults, from Ms.Troup an 'Angel In Leather Boots' who made Rabbit promise to dream, to numerous others who appear like Guardian Angels just at the right moment to help show her the way, it's a surprisingly uplifting read that sparkles with wit and optimism and is an inspiration for others wanting to turn their lives around and to those Guardian Angels feeling their help is completely unheeded.
A few memorable quotes:
I snorted with laughter on the bus at this one;
"Mama didn’t trust a doctor, so whenever something was wrong..., she liked to do the diagnosing herself ... Over the years she’d told me I had infantigo, trench mouth, chicken pox, sour stomach, a case of the nerves, and fleas. No matter what the ailment, the remedy was always “rub some Vicks on it.”
A 'bitter sweet' or rather 'sweet bitter' quote about being able to depend on someone when all else is failing is this one, "At least we have Bill Cosby.”
And, this poignant statement;
"I don’t know what made Mama act so crazy, or how love and anger got so mixed up in her head. All I know is by the time I met Derrick, when I was twelve years old, everything I knew about relationships was what I’d learned from her."