Ms. Pat's autobiography, Rabbit, is one of our Best Books of August and a personal favorite. In many ways Patricia Williams’ has led an extraordinary life. Raised in a family of alcoholics and hustlers, she was at ground zero when the crack epidemic of the 1980s hit the impoverished neighborhoods of inner city Atlanta. The rules of the street and the drug dealers that were her primary role models led Williams, a.k.a Rabbit, to emulate their success for a number of years.
As you read Williams’ memoir it’s impossible not to be shocked and bewildered. But you will also feel compassion. And Williams not only allows you to laugh, she makes it damn near impossible not to. Laughter is the only drug Williams is dealing these days, and she is no longer Rabbit, but a comedian called Ms. Pat. In the exclusive piece below she talks about her life before and her life now.
I didn’t step inside a library until I was 30 years old and my own memoir, written by Jeannine Amber, is one of the first books I’ve actually read cover to cover. Don’t judge. I did the best with what I had, which wasn’t a lot. I grew up in the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia. My mama was an alcoholic single mother with five kids who thought it was a good idea to raise her children in a bootleg liquor house. My earliest memories are of hot days and noisy nights surrounded by drunks, addicts and petty criminals. And that was just my family.
By the time I hit middle school, the crack epidemic was in full swing. You probably think you know all about that life from watching The Wire. My husband loves that show too. But let me tell you something, what you see on TV is not the whole story. And it definitely doesn’t tell you what it was like for a girl. At 12 years old, I had a grown man whispering in my ear, telling me he loved me. Of course I liked the attention — no one had ever said they loved me before— and I fell for him hard. By the time I was 13 I was pregnant, by the time I was 15 I was raising two babies on my own.
It’s not easy being a mother when you’re still a child yourself. Just like every kid, I had hopes and dreams. I wanted a good life, like what I saw on TV, with the kind of family that had curtains in the kitchen window and a mama who didn’t drink herself to sleep. The problem was there weren’t a whole lot of options for me to pull myself out of my situation. By the time I was 16, I was broke as hell, barely surviving on food stamps, with two kids to feed and nobody to help me. Some girls I knew sold sex to make a dollar. Instead, I hustled and schemed and did all kinds of things I’m not proud of. And I paid the price for the choices I made. I’ve been shot at, locked up, and beaten with a roller skate. But I made it out.
These days I live in a beautiful house in the suburbs, with a man-made lake outside my front door, and a loving husband who has all his teeth. I have four children, three grandkids and a bunch of ducks quacking outside. Now, instead of running from the police, I run to the clearance rack at Burlington Coat Factory. It’s a journey not a lot of people have made, but I’ve found it’s a story a lot of people can relate to. Because at the end of the day, no matter where we came from, we all have a story to tell.
And I got here my way. During my years of selling drugs in the inner city of Atlanta I was known as “Rabbit” and I acquired certain survival skills. As Ms. Pat I had to learn to tweak those skills to survive being a Mother.
Rabbit: ran from the police,
Ms. Pat: runs to the clearance rack at Burlington Coat Factory.
Rabbit: hid crack in her underwear,
Ms. Pat: hides snack from her kids
Rabbit: whipped up crack on her kitchen stove,
Ms. Pat: whips over to the frozen food aisle buy a frozen lasagna, pops it in the over on broil, burns it and tells the family she made it from scratch.
Rabbit: spent time in the "big house,"
Ms. Pat: owns a big house.
Rabbit: use to shoot craps,
Ms.Pat: finds herself taking crap from her teenagers.
Rabbit: found herself in the occasional drive by,
Ms. Pat: often finds herself at a fast food drive thru.
Rabbit: drove a Cadillac with gold fleck paint,
Ms. Pat: drives a Buick.
Rabbit: dated a man who cheated on her,
Ms.Pat: married an honest man with back teeth.
Rabbit: wore Jordan’s,
Ms. Pat: wears flats.
Rabbit: hung out at the club,
Ms. Pat: spends her time looking for deals at Sam’s Club.
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