Transcript

142:

Barbara
Transcript

Originally aired 10.15.1999

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/142

Prologue.

Ira Glass

People really were different back in the '60s. Here is something that it is impossible to imagine any politician saying today-- any successful, mainstream, big-time politician anyway. Listen to the President of the United States, June 4, 1965.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Perhaps most important is the breakdown of the Negro family structure. For this, most of all white America must accept responsibility. It flows from centuries years of oppression and persecution of the Negro man.

Ira Glass

In 1965, black single mothers became a national political issue, a national symbol, for the very first time. And it was the Democrats who put the issue on the table. A young Assistant Secretary of Labor named Daniel Patrick Moynihan submitted a report to President Lyndon Johnson calling for national action, to do something about the large number of black single mothers.

When large numbers of men grow up in homes without strong male authority, the report said, it leads to chaos, crime, violence, and unrest. Black single mothers, the report declared, were at the center of quote "a tangle of pathology in the black community." Black leaders, including the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior, did not take too kindly to all this. They said that all this talk of black pathology had unfortunate racist overtones, and the issue dropped from the national scene for years.

Then the Republicans picked it up. Ronald Reagan talked about welfare queens. Dan Quayle said the LA riots happened mainly because of a breakdown in traditional family structure. For two decades, the entire national debate over welfare reform has often seemed like it's really just a referendum on inner city single mothers, which brings us to Barbara Clinkscales.

We gave Barbara Clinkscales a cassette recorder. And for seven months, she taped her family's life. And the story we bring you today, her life in her own words, it isn't that it completely contradicts everything in the national debate over single mothers, though sometimes it does contradict that debate. It's more that when you hear her talk, the national policy discussion somehow seems irrelevant and off the point. It's as if the policymakers have no real picture of what a life like hers is really like.

Today, we devote our entire program to her story. From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Act One.

Ira Glass

Like most African-American single mothers, like 77% of them, Barbara Clinkscales works for a living. She has a job in the new information economy as a data entry operator. And she's so committed to seeing that her kids graduate high school that when her son, Gerald, cut some classes, she started escorting him to class herself, telling his classmates, "My name is Barbara. I think we'll be seeing a lot of each other from now on."

Before we start her story, some quick statistics to put all this in perspective. Barbara's family is not unusual at all. There has been a radical shift in American family structure. The number of children born to black single mothers has risen from 17% in 1950 to 70%, seven zero, in 1994. The number of white children born to single mothers has risen even faster, from 1.7% in 1950 to 25% in 1994. Here, then, is the story of one single mother told in her own words.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK. Hi, I know we late. I'm sorry. Yeah, it's my fault this time.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Barbara.

Woman At High School

Good morning, Miss Clinkscales.

Barbara Clinkscales

Hi baby, good morning.

I'm a single mom. I have three kids, Angie, Tess, and Gerald.

Man At High School

Good morning.

Barbara Clinkscales

Good morning.

Angie's 25. Tess and Gerald are 17. They are twins. They're in high school, in the 11th grade.

Barbara Clinkscales

Hi, my name is Barbara Clinkscales. Everybody knows me.

Mr. Maybaum

Yeah, I know that name from somewhere, Clinkscales.

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah, I always bring him to school. And I stand here while he goes up to his locker, and he comes back.

Every morning, I take Gerald to school. If I don't take him to school, he'd get up, get dressed, and he'd just sit there. He won't go. In order to take him to school, I have to go a half hour out of my way in the opposite direction of my workplace. Then after I leave his school, it takes me another 50 minutes to an hour back past my house before I get to work. Altogether, it takes me an hour and a half to two hours to get to work in the morning.

Barbara Clinkscales

But I'm sorry, Mr. Maybaum.

Mr. Maybaum

That's OK, everyone's right out here. Last week, almost every afternoon-- I'm going to go get my book-- he did not come to my afternoon classes. Let me go get my book.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK. Where were you? Where were you?

Gerald Clinkscales

I was at school.

Barbara Clinkscales

You stayed in school, but you just didn't go to his class?

Mr. Maybaum

That doesn't sound like it makes any sense, does it, Gerald? Where did you go if you stayed in school?

Barbara Clinkscales

The twins don't go to school in the neighborhood we live in. I had to borrow my coworker's address to get them into Bogan High School because I feel Bogan High School is a real good school. They really care about the kids, and they work with you. Like Gerald's teacher, Mr. Maybaum. He cares about Gerald as if Gerald was his own child.

Mr. Maybaum

Where have you been going? Come on. You might as well tell us. No big, dark secret, is it? Where you been going?

Barbara Clinkscales

Where did you go last week? Gerald, are those hickies on your neck?

Gerald Clinkscales

No.

Barbara Clinkscales

Yes, they are. What a-- Turn around. You see that, Mr. Maybaum?

Mr. Maybaum

What's that?

Barbara Clinkscales

That's what he's probably doing. Those are the love passion marks, hickies.

Mr. Maybaum

Could be. Could be.

Barbara Clinkscales

If I hit you upside your head, you'll know what they are.

Right now, all I can focus on is the twins and getting them through high school. Get them through high school.

Barbara Clinkscales

Now we're walking him down to the other end of the school to the counselor's office, Mr. Ware, where he'll have to reinstate Gerald because of those two cuts.

When I talk to them about graduating, I always tell them, when they walk across that stage, I'm going to do a cartwheel. And my best girlfriend, she says, she's going to do a split. And the twins look at us and laugh. And they say, they want to see this. And I say, well, I better start practicing because I know you guys are going to walk across that stage.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK, what I was doing, that moment of silence, I was writing my name and the time, signing in, on the sign-in sheet in Room 102. I'm sitting here next to Gerald waiting.

I always dreamed about going on a prom, all the senior activities that the seniors do when they graduate from high school. I didn't get a chance to go on a prom because when I was graduating from high school, I had my own apartment. I had been out on my own ever since I was 16 years old. So I had to play grown-up. But I can live some of my dreams through them. That's why I feel the way that I feel, that nothing is going to get in my way, nothing.

Barbara Clinkscales

You really think you're smart, Gerald, don't you? You really think you're getting away with something, don't you? Do you think I'm going to give up? Huh? Do you think I'm going to give up? Gerald, I'm talking to you.

I'm going to kill you, Gerald, and sit up in jail before I let you be out there on them streets, no education, a dymie, trying to deal drugs to have some money. I will take your life and sit up in jail gladly. Because I'm not going to live day to day, knowing my only son is a failure. All right?

[SOUND OF A BASS LINE AND GLASSES CLINKING]

My landlord is playing his music. I'm standing here just holding the mic. I have a portable bar because I like to collect pretty glasses. And that's just how the music is vibrating through the floor. Really, noise don't bother me. When you grow up in the projects, noise just don't bother you. You can live with it.

And my apartment is real big. I have three bedrooms, living room, dining room, a nice long hallway. And I'm walking into Gerald's room now. And you get-- why? I can't come in here?

Gerald Clinkscales

What you putting on the radio?

Barbara Clinkscales

Well, they can't see you.

Gerald Clinkscales

But it's going to be on the radio, though.

Barbara Clinkscales

Well, you should keep it clean if you don't want nobody to know your room is dirty.

Gerald Clinkscales

People will be hearing it?

Barbara Clinkscales

Yes. Everything we talk about from now on, your whole life, is going to be on the radio. People are going to know how you don't want to go to school, how your momma have to take you to school every day, watch you go in your classroom.

So I'm in my living room now. And I'm having company tomorrow, so we going to clean up tonight. And I can't wait for Tess to come home because I worry about her being out at night. But I can't stop her from doing the things that she want to do. But I really don't have no peace until she walk through that door. And then I feel better.

OK. I guess I'll start cooking them tacos. I promised that I'd cook tacos for dinner.

[SOUND OF THREE GUNSHOTS]

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh god, did you just hear that? They're shooting. Oh god, don't let that be Tess. Oh god, I hope Tess is not outside. Gerald, get away from the windows.

[SOUND OF TWO GUNSHOTS]

Gerald, just come in the hall. Come in the hallway, Gerald.

[SOUND OF THREE GUNSHOTS]

Gerald?

Gerald Clinkscales

What?

Barbara Clinkscales

Where are you at?

Oh god, I hope Tess is not out there. Oh god. Crime and drugs is everywhere, but I know my block is the crack block. Just wait, Gerald. Wait 'til the shooting stops.

I always lived in the area. But I moved right on the worst block. I just moved smack dab in the middle of hell, pick-up hell. And he put me right in the middle. That's my block.

Barbara Clinkscales

Gerald, is that the police or ambulance? Do you see anything?

Gerald Clinkscales

No.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh god. It sounded like somebody coming up the steps.

Gerald Clinkscales

That's probably Tess.

[SOUND OF THREE KNOCKS]

Barbara Clinkscales

Who is it?

Tess Clinkscales

It's me.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh god, it's Tess. And they just got through shooting, so that means she had to be getting off the bus on 79th Street. Tess, did you hear the shooting?

Tess Clinkscales

When?

Barbara Clinkscales

They was just finished shooting.

Tess Clinkscales

For what?

Barbara Clinkscales

They was outside just shooting.

Tess Clinkscales

I didn't hear it.

Barbara Clinkscales

Father, thank you again.

Tess Clinkscales

She was praying for me?

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah, I was praying. They was just shooting. You could have got caught up in that. Where are you just coming from?

Tess Clinkscales

The library.

Barbara Clinkscales

Come up close. I can't hear you.

Tess Clinkscales

Doing research on Thurgood Marshall for me English class.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh, OK.

Tess and Gerald are twins, but they are totally opposite, like night and day, sweet and sour. Tess is the dominant twin. She knows what she want, and what she have to do to get it. Tess was on the cheerleaders. She was on the swim team. She worked at Seaway Bank. I never, never had to take Tess to school.

Barbara Clinkscales

What time you got to go to work?

Tess Clinkscales

I got to be at work at 9 o'clock.

Barbara Clinkscales

I don't have to wake you up.

Tess Clinkscales

No.

Barbara Clinkscales

So you get up on your own?

Tess Clinkscales

Give me a Tasmanian alarm clock. That's what I want.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK, her name is Tess. And they call her Taz. So she loves Tasmania, anything with Tasmania. If you come over and you see her room, she have Tasmania posters, Tasmania blankets, pillows, clothes.

Tess Clinkscales

Underwear, socks, pictures.

Barbara Clinkscales

Tess have so many of my ways. She eat like me. She think like me. She dress like me. And these are things that just come natural, not things that I teach her. It just come natural.

Gerald Clinkscales

Is this for me?

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah, no, wait 'til you eat. Now what about your diet?

Tess Clinkscales

Forget my diet. Everybody like me the way I am.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh Lord. First, she was all depressed. She said her arms was too fat.

Tess Clinkscales

They still is. Look, I still want to get my arms sucked.

Barbara Clinkscales

Some boy done told her that she looked good, so she don't care about-- she want liposuc-- what you call that?

Tess Clinkscales

My arms sucked. I don't know what it's called. I think it's called liposuction. But I just want to get my arms sucked.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh, OK. Go turn that skillet off. I'll go and cook the tacos.

People always ask me, do I have picks with my kids, who I like the most. And people always tell me, I know you're proud of Tess. I know that's your pick. But you know, Tess is not my pick. I don't have a pick.

Angie's not my pick. Gerald is not my pick. I love my kids the same. They all special in they own way.

Angie, I had Angie at 15. And I was a baby having a baby. I was 15. I didn't know nothing about raising kids. I knew nothing about life. But I was determined to stay in school and to graduate and to raise Angie.

And it was just me and her against the world. And I did it. Even though she dropped out of school and had babies and everything, but she's still a good person. She's my first born.

And Gerald is mommy's man. That's my son. All my life, I never had a father. I never had a brother. And so only time I ever loved a man was in a relationship.

And when my son was born, that's a man who loves me unconditionally. His love is just because I'm his momma. It's not because he wants something from me. It's not because he wants sex or something. A man finally loved me for me.

And Tess, she's a carbon copy of me. In other words, she's a young me. And you would think she's my pick, but she's not.

Hen 1

Come on, let's make a toast.

Hen 2

To the Hens.

Hen 1

To the Hens.

Hen 2

Everlasting, never-ending sisters.

Barbara Clinkscales

The Hens are a group of ladies that's been friends since high school. We do all kind of stuff together. We laugh, we talk, we watch movies, we get in trouble.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK, wait a minute. It spells out something. What do it spell?

Hen 3

Never-ending, everlasting sisters.

Barbara Clinkscales

H-E-N-S. H-- hens.

Some of the most fun we have is when we go away. We leave the kids, the husbands, the job. We leave everybody. Rent a room, and eat, laugh, and talk, and just don't do nothing. And our next big trip is to Jamaica.

And we have been planning and paying for this trip since October of last year. And whenever the Hens are sitting around, talking about our trip to Jamaica, we end up talking about our fantasies, and what we're going to do when we get there. Every Hen has a different fantasy about Jamaica and what they want to do.

Hen 4

My fantasy is on the beach, a big, black piano, with this man in a white jacket, and I name him Sam, playing the piano, playing love songs. Y'all know this? And me leaning over it with a exotic drink. And me constantly saying, "Play it again, Sam."

Barbara Clinkscales

When I go out with my girlfriends, and I meet men, and we go out, especially on one of those hoochie mama nights-- hoochie mama can mean a lot of things. Sometimes we'll call ourselves, yeah, we're going to be hoochie mamas tonight. That mean we going to dress sexy. We don't overdo it, just show a little cleavage, a little legs, something with a split. And I go out, and I meet men, they just love me. They just all over me. But they don't know that that's the evil twin, my evil twin.

Everybody know about my evil twin. One of my coworkers found out about my evil twin, and he laughed because they know Barbara the hard worker, the mom, the grandmother. But every now and then, the evil twin will slip out at work. But when I go out, the men meet the evil twin.

Barbara Clinkscales

The night we get to Jamaica, I'm going to get out on the balcony. And then I'm going to let all them Jamaican men know that I'm there. And I'm going to do the Xena yell.

Hen 5

You do that Xena yell, and they're running away.

Barbara Clinkscales

No, baby, not that Xena yell. Barbara standing out on that balcony in that gown, and my hair flowing in the wind, no, baby, nuh-uh.

But when they get to know me, when they see that evil twin was just that personality for the moment, that night, out partying, dancing, living. And then they get to know the serious me, the mom, the hard worker, the grandmother, they get kind of turned off. And they constantly refer back to the night we met, that personality.

Barbara Clinkscales

What's yours, Tiny?

Tiny

Mine's is dirty.

Barbara Clinkscales

It ain't clean, huh?

Tiny

It ain't clean.

Barbara Clinkscales

I know when I talk to them on the phone after we have met. And they call me up, and I try to have decent conversations with them. And they want to know, "How do you make love? What's your favorite position? How often do you like to make love?" I'm like, "That's none of your business." I'm like, "Do you have kids? Where you work at? Are you religious?" I want to talk about these things, and they get turned off. They don't want to talk anymore.

Barbara Clinkscales

Leah, what's your fantasy?

Leah

When we go to Jamaica? Oh, just to make wild, passionate love.

Barbara Clinkscales

My girlfriend, Peaches, she's going through the same thing I'm going through. And we said, we have PhDs in heartbreak. We can write a book on "No, that's not it." And we just sit up and we laugh and we talk. And we always tell each other, "Well, one day, we going to be at each other's wedding. We going to be standing up there, looking at each other walk down the aisle in love and happy."

And so why are we here? We sit up and talk about our PhDs. And we add a new chapter to our book. It just doesn't seem to fail. I don't know.

Barbara Clinkscales

Come on, Rosetta.

Rosetta

Oh no, mine's is too, too, too outrageous.

Barbara Clinkscales

Well, tell one of the nice things.

Rosetta

I don't have nice things like that. I have great fantasies, great fantasies.

Hen 6

Just a walk on the beach.

Rosetta

They cannot be told.

Barbara Clinkscales

It's Monday morning. Tess has gone to school. We're running late, so I called a cab. I called the livery. It's like a person owning his own car, and he drive it as a cab. These cab companies only work throughout the black neighborhood.

Barbara Clinkscales

Gerald, did you get you a bus pass? Your school ID? Did you ever find your school ID? OK. Did you lock those bars? You turn off the iron? So I'm going to go downstairs and wait on the cab. They said, four minutes. A grate leaking. Come on, Gerald.

I'm in the living room with Gerald. I'm just getting home from work. He was watching TV, so I thought I'd talk with him.

Barbara Clinkscales

Have you been cutting any more classes?

Gerald Clinkscales

No.

Barbara Clinkscales

Do you still hate that school?

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah.

Barbara Clinkscales

Why?

Gerald Clinkscales

People start so much stuff.

Barbara Clinkscales

What kind of stuff do they start?

Gerald Clinkscales

They be talking stuff. If I do talk back, they act like they about to jump on me.

Barbara Clinkscales

Would they be thinking about jumping you outside?

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah. They kill people.

Barbara Clinkscales

I know.

Gerald Clinkscales

That's what they talking about doing.

Barbara Clinkscales

Killing you?

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah.

Barbara Clinkscales

Just for talking back?

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah.

Barbara Clinkscales

What do they say to you?

Gerald Clinkscales

They just be starting stuff.

Barbara Clinkscales

Like what? Just out of the--

Gerald Clinkscales

Like they call you names. And I call them back. And they be like-- they jump hard, and I jump hard back. Five more guys come up on me, telling me, what y'all want to do then?

Barbara Clinkscales

Jump hard? What you mean jump hard?

Gerald Clinkscales

This means they-- you know--

Barbara Clinkscales

They ready to fight?

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah.

Barbara Clinkscales

Jump hard mean they jump up to you with their fists up in--

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah, they want to pull it. That mean they want to fight you.

Barbara Clinkscales

They want to pull it.

Gerald Clinkscales

Yeah, that's slang for they want to fight you. That's why I was cutting a few classes. Because if I did when I went to school, I probably would have been beat up by now.

[SOUND OF SOMEONE MAKING A TELEPHONE CALL]

Marvin Craig

Hello?

Barbara Clinkscales

May I speak to Marvin? How you doing?

Marvin. I met Marvin through my Auntie Susie's boyfriend, Grantey. Grantey is from Jamaica And he's been telling me about his nephew, Marvin, and Jamaica for a long, long time. He always told me that Marvin would be the perfect, perfect man for me. But I never paid him any attention. And one Sunday morning, Grantey called me around 7 o'clock in the morning, saying, he just got back from Jamaica, and he had pictures and a phone number, and his nephew wanted me to call him. And I laid in bed, and I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. I couldn't go back to sleep.

Barbara Clinkscales

That's your favorite picture of me? You have it with you? OK.

So I called him. And when I heard his voice, I went into a trance. It was like I knew him all my life. This was the man for me.

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah, I love that song. Ooh, I used to cry over that song. You do? Well, I got to play it. I want to see you cry.

After talking to Marvin for about a week, he asked me to come to Jamaica. And I got real scared because talking to him on the phone is a security blanket because we're on the phone. We're not in person. And I'm older than him. Marvin, he's 28. I'm 41. And being an older woman, being full-figured, and what if I get there, and he don't like me because I'm older, because I'm a full-figured woman?

Barbara Clinkscales

Those songs make you cry just like they make me cry.

When I tell him these things, he know how I feel. But he says, it don't matter. He fell in love with my personality, the way I think, and the things that I believe in. He said, it really don't matter. So it's time. I'm going to Jamaica. It's June 6.

Barbara Clinkscales

I love you too, baby. Yeah. Bye. Here, Gerald, get the keys. I forgot the flowers. What's that, Gerald? Where the flowers? The bag is on the microwave that-- Gerald.

Young Boy

What you gonna do?

Barbara Clinkscales

We getting ready to go see Gerald go on his girlfriend's prom.

Young Boy

With Keisha?

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah.

I never want to prom because I couldn't afford it really. I really couldn't afford it.

Baby

Mamma.

Barbara Clinkscales

What?

Baby

That's the dog that bite me.

Barbara Clinkscales

Yeah, that dog gonna bite you. Now get in the car.

I always wanted it. I said, my kids is going to do the things that I didn't do. And when Angie didn't graduate from high school, it hurt me so bad. I was like, oh God, my kid's going to follow in my footstep. And then with Tess and Gerald, and I made a pact with them, and I made a pact with God that they going to do this. They going to do it for me, and they going to do it for them.

Angie

What's wrong, Gerald? You nervous? Huh, Gerald? Look how he holding the flowers like they're a little, bitty baby. You nervous, Gerald?

Gerald

Nuh-uh.

Angie

You're not nervous?

Barbara Clinkscales

Because I told Tess, I said, your prom dress is going to be rent. Your shoes gonna probably be the phone and light bill. We're not going to have any food that month, and we might have to live in a shelter. Because I'm not paying no bills when it come time for her to go to prom.

Barbara Clinkscales

Lock the doors. Put the locks on.

Angie and her friends are talking about crashing the prom, take pictures of Gerald sitting at the table, take pictures of Gerald dancing on the floor, take pictures of Gerald taking pictures. We're so excited. It's not even his prom. But we're going to live our dreams through the twins.

OK. We're standing outside of Keisha's house. Gerald's ringing the doorbell.

Barbara Clinkscales

Do you have your socks, Gerald?

Gerald's going to get dressed at her house. He don't have his tux on. I fantasize about Gerald being a man all the time, being a father, working. I have these pictures in my mind, what he's going to look like when he's 30. I don't do this with Angie. I never did this with Tess. But I wonder all the time about Gerald, what he's going to be like when he's a man.

Barbara Clinkscales

Give her your tux and stuff, Gerald. Don't smash your flower. Give her your tux. Uh-oh. Pick your jacket up, Gerald. Come on now. Don't let it hit the ground.

Gerald don't have a will like Tess do. Sometime I think Tess took it all from him. But I know somewhere down the line, Gerald's gonna fool me. I know it.

Barbara Clinkscales

She's coming down.

Gerald Clinkscales

One more, hurry up.

Barbara Clinkscales

OK. Now she can come down. Oh my goodness. Oh God, she's so pretty.

OK, hold it, Gerald. OK, how you gonna pose? Come on. Come on, Gerald. Put your-- yeah, like that. OK, open your-- yeah, yeah, go-- Oh, look at my baby.

Oh, look at him. Oh, look at my baby. Hold it again. Hold it again, Gerald. Quickly, hold it like that. Open your-- relax, Gerald. Your hands, relax, there you go.

Wait, fix his jacket, fix his jacket. Close your jacket in. OK, there you go. OK, now you go. Relax. There you go, Gerald, relax. OK.

One day I'm going to look up, and Gerald's going to outdo Tess. And I'm going to go, "Hey, mommy's man, look at you, boy. You go, boy. That's mommy's man, hey."

Barbara Clinkscales

This is not happening to me. This is a movie. I'm dreaming. Somebody pinch me. Wake me up. This don't happen to me, no. I don't supposed to be at this moment. I shouldn't be this happy and this here proud.

I know it. One day, he's going to really fool me. I claim it in your name, God. In your name, Lord, I claim it.

[SOUNDS OF BARBARA LAUGHING AND CRYING AT KEISHA'S HOUSE]

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh, look at that.

I'm home. My girls came and picked me up from the airport. And I haven't woke up from this dream yet. So maybe it's not a dream.

It's late. Let me look at the time. It's like 2:00 AM. So I've been laying here for about an hour and a half, thinking about the last 11 days of my life in Jamaica with Marvin. Marvin Malcolm Craig.

Marvin. He's 29 years old. Yes, and I'm 41. When I saw the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back, I made my daughter Angie promise she wouldn't date over a certain age, and I wouldn't date under a certain age because we would never bump heads dating. And who breaks the promise? Me.

I can't believe it. My daughter will be 26 in November. And March-- let's see, November, December, January, February, March. So he's a year and four months older than my daughter. No, two years, four months. Oh boy. Well, I don't care.

On my way there, I was so nervous. I was so nervous. I was so scared. But soon I walked out of the airport, I went over there to him, and he just grabbed and hugged me. And that was the beginning of my new life. Oh my God, Barbara, what have you done?

He proposed to me, and I said, yes. He had one of his rings melted down, and made into an engagement ring, and asked me to marry him. And he inscribed "Love MC" and the date that he proposed. Oh God.

I am so lucky. God, thank you. I know. I used to write letters to God. And I would put them in a Bible, praying for a man because I was tired of the dating.

And every time I write a letter, God will give me what I wanted. And I said, oh Lord, I should have been more specific. I left out something. I got to think about this.

I got to think about this letter. OK, I don't want him to do drugs. OK, drink to be sociable. And my coworker, Doris Kelly, she said, "God will give you what you want. So if you want him to look a certain way, write it down there." I'm like, "Oh, I can do that?" She's like, "Yeah, it's OK."

OK, I wrote down there what I want him to look like. And I always would leave something out. And you know what I left out this time? I forget to put down, "God, please let him be in the same country. And God, can you let him be kind of close to my age?"

So ladies, when you write a letter to God, you can't leave anything out. And I always leave something out. But that's OK, Father. I'm up for this challenge.

There's so much. There's so much. Oh God. And the hardest thing was Marvin and I was laying in the bed. And I usually take my shower first. But Marvin took his shower first.

And he said, "Come, Barbara. Come get in the shower." I did not want to do that. Because I would not let him see me without my clothes on because I feel my body was so ugly, stretch marks from having kids, being a full-figured woman. I know, look at your beautiful body, breasts sit up all perfect. And I sat there, holding my stomach, holding my breath.

And he called me, "Are you coming, Barbara? What's wrong, honey? Honey, what's wrong?" I took a deep breath, and I undressed and got in the shower.

And he just took the towel, and he just soaped it up, and washed me. And I stared at him. I kept trying to see his face, see his eyes. And all my fears and insecurities went away. He took those fears away.

And I just keep asking myself, why me? And everyone like, Barbara, why not? Why not?

Ira Glass

Coming up, things take a turn for the worst in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today, we are devoting our entire program to one story. Barbara Clinkscales is a single mother living in Chicago. Over the course of seven months, she recorded her family's life. In this half of the show, her story continues.

Barbara Clinkscales

Oh boy. I'm sitting in my bedroom on the end of my bed. I stayed at work 'til about 7:00, 7:30. I didn't want to come home. I just didn't want to deal with this problem, deal with this-- I was praying I didn't have to go through this.

So I'm just sitting here. Thought I'd just pick the mic up and talk about it. I'd call Gerald in, and we can talk about it. Tess called me, and she had Keisha on the phone, Gerald's girlfriend. And did Tess tell me she was pregnant, or did Keisha tell me she is pregnant? I think it was Tess said that Keisha was pregnant.

I can't remember. I went into shock. I didn't say anything for about 10 minutes 'til Tess got scared. And she kept saying, "Momma, momma, momma are you there? Momma, momma?" I went into shock. I went into total shock.

I felt sick and dizzy. And then I just started praying. And that's when I heard Tess say, "Momma."

How do this feel? I'm trying to sum it up in words. How do this feel? I want to cry. I want to scream. Oh God.

Last night, I went and picked Angie up from work. And on my way out the door, Gerald stopped me. And he was on the phone. And he said, "Momma, I have a friend, and he's named after his dad. If he have a son, would his son be the second or the third?"

So I used Gerald as an example. I said, "Well, Gerald, you're a junior. Your dad is senior. He's Gerald Louis Clinkscales, number one. You're number two. And if you had a child, your son would be Gerald Louis Clinkscales the third."

And I just walked my happy-go-lucky butt on down the steps, went out the door, got in the car. And I started up the car, and something said, I hope that fool haven't got some girl pregnant, and he was talking about himself. Then I look at the time, I'm like, oh Lord, it's 9:50, I better get out of here. And it left me. I haven't thought anything else about it until the phone call.

Oh my heart hurts so bad. My stomach hurts so bad. Oh Father, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, I don't want to go through this. I just want to get them through one more year of high school, get them across that stage, Father, please.

So now I have to call him in here, and talk to him, and deal with this, talk about this. What am I going to say? What am I going to say? Oh God, forgive me for this, but I don't want to deal with it. I want to act like it's not happening. Because I am so tired. I'm so tired of dealing with things.

OK, Barbara, take a deep breath. Blow it out. Call Gerald, and just say what the first thing on your mind. OK, I'm going to do this.

Barbara Clinkscales

Gerald. Get off that phone, and come here. I'm ready to talk about it now. Tell him to call you back tomorrow. Or you may not receive any phone calls 'til you grown. 21, and I'm not talking about 18. Have a seat. So why your eyes red? You been crying?

Gerald Clinkscales

No.

Barbara Clinkscales

Why they red?

Gerald Clinkscales

Sinuses.

Barbara Clinkscales

Your sinuses. So I went over to Keisha's house. She says she don't want this baby. She don't want to keep it. So how you feel about that?

Gerald Clinkscales

I feel kind of bad because I don't believe in killing babies like that. I should take care of my responsibility. And that's it.

Barbara Clinkscales

No, that ain't it. How you gonna take care of your responsibility with a McDonald's job? You got to go to summer school. You gonna probably have to go to night school next year to get you out on time. Oh God, help me here. Lord, give me strength. I can do this. If you don't understand how important school is, what do you know about being a father?

Gerald Clinkscales

I can read the book. I can get a book about it.

Barbara Clinkscales

I have to take you to high school, Gerald.

Gerald Clinkscales

I'm going every day. That's what I'm doing it for this time.

Barbara Clinkscales

Well, why did I have to take you?

Gerald Clinkscales

I was lazy back then. You want Keisha to get an abortion?

Barbara Clinkscales

I'm not going to make that decision. I don't know. All I know is I'm not ready for you to have a baby. I wish this was a dream. I wish it'd never happen. I wish y'all was playing a joke on me.

I'm not going to say that. But no, I don't want y'all to have a baby. You're not ready. She's not ready. Do you think you're going to be with her the rest of your life?

Didn't I ask you to be a better man? Do not bring a child into this world that you was not able to love, raise, and marry the mother. And y'all raise this child together as a family. Didn't I ask you that? Don't make the same mistakes your dad made. Be a better man.

Gerald Clinkscales

That's what I'm trying to do.

[MUSIC - "IF I COULD" BY CELINE DION]

Barbara Clinkscales

I really love this song. Sometimes I put the CD player on repeat, and I play it over and over again.

I was at work. And I called Gerald. And I asked Gerald, "Have you talked to Keisha? What's going on? Is she going to have an abortion?" And he told me, "No, she's going to keep the baby."

And I just laid back in my chair at work. And I think I did it for at least 40 minutes. I just laid there. My son, Gerald, he's going to be a father. Not someone else's son. My son, Gerald. OK, I failed.

My son is not ready. I can fight with him, getting him through school, getting Gerald to realize how important a career and education is. But now I got to fight with him being a father. And I know he knows nothing, nothing about being a father.

Angie told me that they was out in J. C. Penney, and Gerald saw this little jacket. And Gerald went, "Oh man, Angie, look, won't my little shorty look good in this jacket?" And Angie said, "Mom, I couldn't do nothing but cry." She said, "My brother's going to have a baby." And I didn't think it was cute, "my shorty." He's all proud.

I just don't want to go through this again. I just can't do it. I don't have the money. I don't have the strength. I don't have time. I'm tired. I am so tired. Because all my life, it's been struggling to do this and do that. And I can give up. But I don't want to give up on my kids. I don't want them to be like they had a life like me.

Gerald Clinkscales

Hello? Yeah, my mom told me to record something. So I'm kind of shy. So I might not say a lot of stuff. I'll just talk about me and Keisha.

I had got her pregnant, I think before prom. Everybody was just mad. My mom was just mad. Her parents, they got mad. So they don't want me to call the house no more. So like that.

So my mom's staying home. We talked about it. She told me, what did I think. I was like, I wanted to have it, but her know already I ain't be going to school.

Hey, block that out. Shh. Don't tell my momma. Block that out. I don't want the world to know I'm not going to school. But I'll change now, seeing as I got a kid on the way.

I just need a job. That's what I need. But it's hard. They be thinking I'm not trying. Ma, don't think I'm not trying this hard because my girl, Keisha, she type me up some resumes.

Shoot. So I went out there, I gave them the resumes. And they acting like they bored. So I'm like, man. I'm calling back like, "You checked over my application or whatever?"

He's like, "Yeah, I'll call you. I'll call you. I'll call you back next week." And hear you, I'll be two weeks later, calling back. So that's it. It's messed up for me right now.

People are acting like they don't want to help nobody and stuff, acting all shisty. It's hot in here. It's 90, almost 100 degrees. Hot, sweaty, talking on microphones, stomach hurt, feel like I'm about to throw up. Talking to you about my personal life. I'm really messed up. But I messed up. Now I got to pay the price. But I just messed up. It'd be different if I didn't have no kid on the way. It's just messed up for me.

Female Friend

The bar is open.

Barbara Clinkscales

Today is my bridal shower. All the Hens are coming. My family, my mom is coming. My aunt, her sister, their friends.

Barbara Clinkscales

Hey Caroline, hey girl.

My nieces, my daughter's friends are coming to my bridal shower, and Rambo.

Barbara Clinkscales

Y'all got your dollars ready? Your 5's and 10's?

Rambo is the stripper. He's coming all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. And he comes out in this expensive Armani suit, walking around, eyeballing the women, and talking business to them. So everybody, we've been practicing, "Rambo, Rambo, Rambo." Then we going to do the Xena yell, "La-la-la-la."

Barbara's Sister

So this is Jeri Bello. And I invited Jeri today to pray over this, to pray for my sister to be happy with her new husband. So that's why I invited Jeri here today. Now I'm going to turn it over to Jeri Bello.

Jeri Bello

God bless everybody here. Well, I give honor to God today and to the future bride, the future groom in his absence. I just want to share a word, and it's on marriage. A sacrament is an act instituted by God for us to observe, so that we, the people, can receive divine strength.

[SOUND OF THE XENA YELL]

Barbara Clinkscales

Come on, y'all. Rambo. Rambo. Rambo. Rambo. Rambo.

[SOUND OF WOMEN YELLING AND CHEERING]

Tell me what you think about your baby and the pictures.

I have ultrasound pictures of Gerald's baby. It's a girl. Gerald's going to have a little girl.

Barbara Clinkscales

Who's she look like to you?

Gerald Clinkscales

People saying that she look like me by the nose and the lips.

Barbara Clinkscales

She sure do.

She's big. You can see her head, her nose, and her lip. And she look like she got fat cheeks.

Barbara Clinkscales

How you feel about having a baby girl on the way?

Gerald Clinkscales

It feel OK.

Barbara Clinkscales

I have to say, I'm kind of excited. I'm not so depressed like I used to be when I thought about Gerald being a father. I guess with babies, when you see the babies, it makes it all right.

Barbara Clinkscales

So what are you going to do? How you going to be a father? What type of father are you going to be?

Gerald Clinkscales

A good father.

Barbara Clinkscales

What is your definition of a good father?

Gerald Clinkscales

To be there for my baby like a father should do.

Barbara Clinkscales

What should a father do? You tell me. What should a father do?

Gerald Clinkscales

I don't know. Like the fathers on TV, I guess. I don't know yet.

Barbara Clinkscales

I told Gerald when I get some extra money, I'm going to take him shopping and get things, so he can feel good about himself. Because he kind of lost it the other day. Kind of scared me too, the way he was crying. Because he is no longer in the STEP program.

He's in regular classes because his test scores were so high. And he says, "The classes are too hard. They're too hard. I can't do it. I got a baby on the way. I don't know. I don't think I'm a dummy." And he was just going on and on and just scaring the hell out of me.

Barbara Clinkscales

Are you scared?

Gerald Clinkscales

I don't know. I still like that. I'm kind of ready though.

Barbara Clinkscales

But I let him know that everybody goes through that. And he's going to make it. All he had to do was study harder and don't give up. And I know he's going to turn out to be a good father.

Barbara Clinkscales

When you look at those pictures, what do you think?

Gerald Clinkscales

I can't wait. That's what I think. I can't wait 'til the baby comes.

Barbara Clinkscales

And I told him, "I got your back. I'm gonna do what I can. Don't worry. Momma got your back."

Credits.

Ira Glass

That story was recorded by Barbara Clinkscales and was produced by Elise Spiegel with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Gerald is currently speaking with Keisha's family again. They're sitting here in the studio with me as I say these words. She looks great. Her baby is due the first week of the new millennium.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

If you'd like to buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380, or listen for free at our website, www.thislife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who makes this sound at the end of every show:

[SOUND OF THE XENA YELL]

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.