Excerpts from: ANTWANA
By Lateef Salahuddin
Editor’s note: ANTWANA is a semi-bioautographical love story written by the late Washington DC author Mr. Lateef Salahuddin. The excerpts provided give insight into the life of one segment of the underclass in the Washington DC area. Mr. Salahuddin lived during the time that Dr. Cobb was collecting individuals for the Cobb Collection. By the time of his demise in early 2015, Mr. Salahuddin had overcome drug and alcohol addiction and was moving forward with his literary career.
I will tell you about my life leading up to that point. I have a friend that has been a part of my life for about 35 years and she has always over the years encouraged me to write a book about my life.
I was born on September 10, 1957 (Antwana passed on the 10th of the month) to Arlene Brown (she was born on the 10th of the month.) and also Jack Brown. They were light- skinned blacks and there is a legend in Washington, D.C. that said they were the most beautiful couple--that when they walked down 9th Street N.W. (“the strip”), everyone would just stop and look at them with amazement. My father and mother were “boosters” and shop lifted to support their habit by being petty thieves. Some 25 years later he would be named the largest importer of heroin and cocaine during his time period. . My father would be sent to prison where he would establish the “Colombian Connection”. My mother was heavily using all kinds of drugs including the nine-month I was in her stomach. As a result I was disposed to drug use before I ever saw the light of day. There had already been two prior miscarriages due to her drug use. I survived. I would always say “why me?”-- I would have rather been one of the two that did not survived. I was born with birth defects that would cause me to live a miserable life--one of frustration, low self-esteem, and rejection. I would be labeled slow, crazy, retarded, as I wore these labels I became these labels in my mind.
I can remember going to the doctor and hearing the doctors say things like he won’t make it past 7, he won’t make it past 12 years old, he will never get out of his teens. Once again I survived. And I would continue to survive--never just living life.
Back in the 60s and 70s wasn’t much known about ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], so I was not treated for it. Rather I was mistreated for having it by everyone’s’ lack of knowledge about what was going on with me. I was always being put out of school for things like not paying attention, not sitting still--I had too much energy. In 2002 I would ask my sister why didn’t the family get me some help and she said “we tried, we knew something was wrong we just could not find out what it was. We did not know anything about ADHD.” And my brother-in-law, who loves me to death, has a big problem with anyone placing any kind of label on me. He thinks I am the smartest person in the world. He always says “there’s nothing wrong with that boy, he can do anything, there is nothing he can’t take apart and put back together, he’s a wiz with computers, he’s the smartest dummy MF I’ve ever seen.
As I have done all my life. My ADHD has some good qualities but the bad ones will drive you crazy in you care anything about me. I do some real stupid things sometimes. I say something out of my mouth that makes me look like a ass. And the thing about it is everybody thinks I am so intelligent and can’t understand why I do some of the things I do. Some of the time the only way I know what I am thinking is by looking at what I just done.
People will say one of two thing’s “He’s smart and he knows what’s he is doing he has to anybody who can take a computer apart and put it together, and sit down at the computer for 8 hours and write the things he write has to know what he’s doing” and “His ass is just out-right crazy”. I can just here some of the people telling Antwana you better leave that fool alone something has to be wrong with him caring this much for you and he just met me. I asked Antwana one day “how do you put up with me I know I can be a embarrassment at times” and she said “all the things that people are bothersome to other people are just some of the elements that are included in you being a man that is willing to stand by me at a time like this. I still can’t believe a man like you can exist in this world, especially for me. I ask’ her if she was able to see the A.D.H.D. symptoms in me and she said yes “because my sister has it to”. Lateef you introduced me to a lot of people at the convention and everyone said you are so intelligent sometimes too intelligent to stay clean” but I know you will that’s the only way we can be together.
His protective feelings about me would cause us to argue for years to come-- inside my heart, all I want is his acceptance of what’s going on with me. “I have a miserable illness that hides behind my intelligence and my ability to get things done and all the other good qualities I have. It’s not my fault, untreated ADHD and untreated drug addiction is real and neither can be treated until they are both treated at the same time. One of the worst challenges to my self-esteem was my constant failure to change my addictive behavior.
My father would send me to very expensive private school which was nothing more than a baby sitter to keep me out of trouble. One time he paid $6,000.00 a year for me to attend a private school in Katona, NY, about 70 miles outside of the city. One day he dropped me at the school and I was back in NYC before he got back. He would take me to the Ali fights.
This is when I started to want to be my father. He represented power, intelligence. He was the man everyone wanted to talk to. On one flight to Dallas, TX, we were sitting in first-class, he was talking to this white man and I realized why he would read the New York Times every day from front to back. He was always able to match wits with the best of them. I started to read the paper every day for years.
My father only knew how to express love through giving money and things and this is how I learned to love--but it is not the way I want to love. This may be the very reason I tried to buy love all the time, until I meet Antwana. My idea of experiencing love is spending time together, walking hand-in-hand in the park, looking into each other’s eyes.
Another Paragraph from ANTWANA
My niece Kim is having a birthday party for her husband and she picked me up to go to the store with her to get the food. As we were pulling up and the radio was playing, she asked me why I was crying. What is going on is that I have a very close family and they do things together. And I want you here with my family and me. Everyone would love you and you would love everyone else here. You would be a part of this family and you would truly be happy that is all I ever wanted for you.
My sister Jackie married Michael Monroe. The son of Elaine Monroe. And from Ms. Elaine Monroe there is about 50 offspring all the way down to a great, great, great grandchild. Everyone lives within a three-mile radius of each other. So there is a very strong bond in my sister’s husband’s family. Not like my drug-dealing father I told you about. He was a King-pin in N.Y. City who sold millions of dollars in drugs. Sure he gave me everything money could buy, but what I needed most could not be brought--love and attention. This is how as a child I experienced love from my father giving things and this may very well explain two things: 1) Why I am always giving things to people and 2.) Why I am always attaching myself to families. This may be the reason I call your mom’s mom, your step dad my dad, and Venus my big sister. But yet I view life through backward lenses. It’s said that people with ADHD see the world differently than other people. In fact see too much and they see too deeply and all they see is chaos in the world. That’s why we have a greater degree of insight, sensitivity, compassion and empathy. The only thing I can say about my father from the heart is that the world is a better place without him. He destroyed everything he touched--including my sister’s husband. God saved my sister’s husband.***
© W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory