From ‘The Come Up’:
Once Jamal was gone, Devin seemed to grow a new cooperative spirit, and everything was running smoothly all of a sudden. He let the stylists experiment with different looks, even the ones he clearly hated. Knowing she should be grateful that her little come-to-Jesus talk had worked, Makayla instead wanted to punch him in the head. Why was it he only acted a fool long enough to make it seem to Jamal like she didn’t have things under control? If she didn’t know better, she would think he was deliberately trying to sabotage her gig. Or her new relationship.
But actually, that wasn’t too farfetched.
When she was three and he was four-years old, Devin was one of several kids from the neighborhood her grandmother looked after. Quiet and withdrawn; that was how Makayla remembered him. While all the other kids were playing or watching cartoons, he liked to sit with Nana in the kitchen, or follow her around the apartment. He had a head full of wild, curly, nappy hair, and those blue-green eyes of his were wide and large on his too-thin face. Sometimes when his mother dropped him off, his clothes were filthy; so dirty that Nana stripped him down to almost nothing and put them in the laundry in their building’s basement at her own expense.
Once in a while, he would have to wear one of Makayla’s girlie shorts or t-shirts while his clothes were being washed. The other kids made fun of him, and his eyes would fill with tears, but they never fell; he just kept blinking over and over, willing them away. Around six o’clock each evening, parents would start showing up to retrieve their kids. But Devin’s mother only sometimes did. And when she showed, it was usually well into the evening; and by then Devin would have already been fed dinner, and made to share Makayla’s bed.
Soon, his mother made no pretense of the fact that she left him there so he could eat, and be bathed and properly looked after. And Makayla grew accustomed to having him around. She woke up with Devin in her bed almost half the nights in each week. And Nana made him breakfast and dinner just about as often as she made it just for Makayla and herself. He became part of their little family.
And as for Devin’s own family? Well, it was complicated. His mother wasn’t getting high or drunk, her vice was men. The no-good variety. They beat her, they beat her kid, they stole her money; and though she did not, many of them got high and drunk. There was one man, who showed up around the time Devin was eight-years old who had had a particularly profound negative impact. His name was Cyrus, and for about four years, Cyrus was the Boogie Man—the subject of all Devin’s nightmares. Devin had survived Cyrus, but Makayla believed he had never quite recovered from him.
During all those years, being at Makayla’s and sharing her Nana, Devin became possessive. Every other friend Makayla had, he viewed as a threat, often waging all-out war against them until they grew weary of the fight and gave up. By the time she was thirteen, Makayla had come to think of Devin as part of her, inextricable and inevitable. She couldn’t give him up, no matter how it stung to have girlfriend after girlfriend (and later, boyfriends too) scared away. He was hers, and she was his.
Sometimes, now that they were adults, the word ‘co-dependent’ came to mind when Makayla thought about how she and Devin were together. But she didn’t think that word often, because it came with certain negative connotations that she was unwilling to ascribe to the deep love and unbreakable bond they had with each other.
So maybe Devin was trying to scare Jamal away.
But that didn’t matter. She had no intention of losing either of them.
To read ‘The Come Up’