Chapter 1: The Day We Met 

“I always said I would be with your mother forever,” my dad said anecdotally. 

“In a weird way, I have. You remind me so much of her. You look like her, you talk like her, you act like her. I got my forever with her, just not in the way I expected,” he said, smiling at me. 

“I wouldn’t take it back. I wouldn’t change it. Even now, knowing all of it. I’d do it again. You are the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten. Having you was worth all of it.”


 

I’ve heard this story many times. So many, in fact, that I can recite it just as my dad tells it, and he does, every time he gets the chance. 

This isn’t his version of the story though. This is mine.

My parents met as ambitious young adults at work. My mom was a manager and my dad was a U.S. Marine who recently returned home from service. He took a job at the phone company, and was adjusting back to civilian life. 

My parents hit it off right away.  

From what I’ve heard, my mom was the aggressor. I like to picture her at 5’ tall, clear blue eyes, chestnut brown hair, walking around the office looking cute, telling people to do stuff, posted up just close enough for him to see her, but not too close. I appreciate that she was the one who pursued him. What can I say? I like a woman who knows what she wants.

Before too long, they became a family of three: my mom, dad, and my older brother, Michael, whom my mom had from a previous relationship.

Coming into the relationship, my dad embraced my older brother as his own and was eager to have more children. My mom, on the other hand, felt pretty damn sure that she couldn’t have another child. It wasn’t that she didn’t want another child, but rather that her body likely wouldn’t physically carry another child.

My dad felt determined he could and would impregnate her. My mom thought it would be fun to let him try, though she doubted it would be successful.

I don’t need to tell you how that turned out, as I am here telling this story to you today. 

There is disagreement among my parents on how the pregnancy went. My dad remembers it as an exciting time, yet also high stress with quite a few false alarms that landed them in the hospital. My mom simply remembers loving every second of being pregnant and being thankful that my delivery was only four hours.

Through the entire pregnancy, dad was right there, photographing mom every step of the way.

How sweet is that? Photographing his pregnant wife. I am sure at times this was annoying for my mom, but it really is sweet if you ask me. It is one of my favorite stories of my parents, to hear how much they loved each other when I was conceived.

My dad wanted what I believe most men want, a son. A little boy to name Aaron Boyd Duke II, to teach all the boy things that men eventually know. Well, I turned out to be a girl, though that didn’t stop him from trying to name me Erin Boyd Duke II. My mom, however, knew better than to agree with that, and so the compromising on my name began. 

Mom had always wanted a little girl named Jazz and she started in on her push for my name to be Jazi Pearl. Dad liked the name, but felt that it needed to be something more professional for my future career. That’s right folks - while I was still in the womb, my dad was already planning for my successful professional career.

They agreed on Jazmine Pearl Duke.

By the day of my birth, everyone was excited to meet me. I came a few days earlier than predicted so I assume I was excited to meet them as well.

My mom was likely the most eager for me to come since during the pregnancy she had exceeded the shape and size of Humpty Dumpty. Her 5’ self was all belly. From behind, she looked petite. From the front, she looked like she had swallowed a globe that now sat in her extended mid-section.

Before my birth, my mom had decided she wanted a natural birth, like the one she had with my brother. My birth proved to be a bit more challenging than that of my brother.

While my mom was in labor I flipped myself around, landing on my umbilical cord, cutting off my oxygen supply. Just like that the machines surrounding her set off their alarms. And, here is my poor mother, with no pain medicine and a baby doing flips inside her belly. The doctor instructed my mom to get up on her hands and knees to help me get it together for my exit. She was, reasonably so, in shock, and struggling to comply with the doctors request.

My dad swiftly stepped in and flipped my mom onto her hands and knees holding her steady while the doctor went to work fixing my positioning.

My mom, still on all fours, grabs my dad by the shirt collar and quite forcefully says, “Get me drugs! I don’t care if you have to roll them yourself, you get me drugs!”

I imagine that in this moment, the nurses were laughing silently, my dad was standing there slightly terrified of my mother. My mother was, of course, absolutely serious about her demands.

No drugs were provided (rolled or otherwise) and I arrived into the world healthy, but with a considerable amount of bruising.

As I was presented to my father, the first thing he noticed was that my entire head was swollen and dark with bruises while my body was shriveled and pale. The first thing he uttered at the sight of me was, “Now that’s an interracial child.”

The nurses died laughing.

As they do with all babies, they wrapped me up and started to take me out of the room. My dad wasn’t having any of that. He had this fear that they might lose me or swap me with another baby, so he insisted on going with me.

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Hustling out of the delivery room with me and the nurses, my dad turned to my mother, saying in all seriousness, “Don’t go anywhere. I will be right back.” Mind you, my mother had just given birth and is laying on the table while they sewed her up. Not a whole lot of opportunity to go anywhere.

The nurses are still laughing.

Later that day, after mom and I are cleaned up and ready for company, my brother comes in to meet me for the first time.

“Is she always going to look like that?” he asked, as we took our first picture as a family.

It’s a Sweet Story, Isn’t It?

This scene could go on a marketing flier somewhere - the blended, interracial, American dream. Though this is my true to life birth story, our little family didn’t last long.

At the time of my birth, no one knew the extent of my mother’s depression or the impact of spending her pregnancy without anti-depressant medication. In the years to come, we would all find out first-hand that her depression didn’t mean being sad sometimes. Clinical Depression meant that my mother’s brain didn’t produce the right balance of chemicals to keep her functioning on a daily basis.  

The depression was a piece of my mother that she always had. I believe the stress of the pregnancy brought the disease out in a way that she hadn’t seen before. She didn’t bounce back quite as strong after the pregnancy, as she was before.

Enter my mother’s father.

We were living the typical American birth experience, mom stayed home with the baby, dad went back to work to support the family financials. During this time, my mother’s father entered our lives and was living rent free in our family home. Instead of using this closeness to help my family build, to help my mom get back on track, he decided to use it to further his own agenda. For a long time, I would describe him as not fond of Black people or from a different generation with different beliefs. Today, I call him what he is: a racist.

My mother’s father believed that my mom had reduced herself by marrying a Black man. That by having, not one, but two Black children, she had sealed her own fate and God was now punishing her with depression for her actions.

He took my mother at her most vulnerable and convinced her to leave my dad and our home. Interestingly enough, he seemed supportive of her keeping us kids.  

By 1989, four short years after my birth, my parents were divorced. By 1993, my dad I were making our move to suburbia and the home that he had built us. My mom and brother stayed in the Twin Cities. We wouldn’t ever live together as a family again. Looking back, I don’t really know what kept us a broken family.

I never forgave my grandfather for his contribution to my broken family. He died last year, I hadn’t spoken a single word to him in over 10 years.