In 1984, the legendary global R&B Icon Whitney Houston recorded a track called ‘The Greatest Love of All” which was released in 1986. It was a major hit and propelled Whitney further upward on her star-studded path, topping the music charts in the U.S.A, Australia & Canada while achieving top 20 status in most countries across the world.
At 10 years old in 1986, I knew who I was, and understood there were parts of me that could not, would not survive if I stayed in my island home of Jamaica, but until I could get out, I had to be 2 people surviving in 1 body in order to wisely protect myself and my family.
Do you know what that does to a child’s developing mind and any dreams that child may or may not have? It erodes part of it and puts that child at a huge disadvantage. But we are talking about survival, as I had seen what happens to those that didn’t do as I did.
One guy was beaten within an inch of his life, his eyes so battered he let his soul leave his body before the ignorant mob baying for his blood through car tires over him, then poured gasoline all over him and set him alight to burn to death.
Another guy was found with his throat slit, his stomach cut open and his privates cut from his lower area and stuff into his mouth tied to a tree near the town center where he was from.
None of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes were ever brought to justice, and none of the families of these victims were ever to find peace and come to terms with what had happened to their loved ones as LGBTQ+ individuals in Jamaica have no rights and still don’t to the very day.
My two personas were mine and my family’s safety net; and so I lived the charade that made others happy and left me tortured, depressed and borderline suicidal for more than 10 years. I fled to the United Kingdom and sought Asylum to remain there free from ‘persecution and more than likely death’.
“I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier, let the children’s laughter remind us how we use to be” the radio played Whitney singing on the stereo systems in my family Living Room in our little two-bedroom concrete constructed house in a small new housing development called Cumberland located in a newly developed part of the parish of St. Catherine in Jamaica.
Singing my little heart out for my Mom Vera, who looked on at me with such pride I never felt more loved and more valued before in my entire life. Vera L. Wright was my very first example of a ‘mentor’ if there ever was one. She was the single mother of 4 girls and 5 boys and remains one of the strongest women I have ever known. And she needed to be to raise the kind of uniquely talented son I am.
She was my biggest fan, my most loyal ally, my closest confidant and one of the few people I know would happily die for me without question.
I was not an easy child to raise if I am being perfectly honest, but Vera instilled discipline and strength of character while wiping my tears and protecting me from so many, many perilous situations until she couldn’t.
Vera was there to help me clean up my many, many mistakes, scold me for not thinking things through before acting, and most importantly love me as I am when the rest of the world around sought to end my life or ruin what little reputation I had built for myself.
The last time I saw my mother alive was the morning of August 1st, 1999; I was 21 years old and was about to leave for the United Kingdom forever, and I guess even though many others thought this was going to be just another holiday abroad, Vera and I knew this wasn’t going to be the case by a long shot.
“I know you have to do this, and I know why, but everything in Me wishes You would stay Andrew,” she said, holding me close to her while trying not to cry as that would make me start crying too. “I’ll be back before you know it Mommy man cho” I replied, trying my hardest not to let her see my face by burying it into her chest for comfort and to hide the fact that I was lying.
She lifted my head up and looked me in the eyes then gently said “I gave birth to you, 18 hours of labor and it almost cost me my life, don’t tell mi what you think I need to hear”. We stayed hugging while my Dad loaded my luggage into the car, and as I drove away from my home of nearly 10 years, I put on my bravest face so as to not break down.
When we got to the airport; my Dad Desmond Little tried to give me a hug and be as emotionally connected to me as my Mommy was, but we didn’t share that bond. As the child he once hit so hard across the face that I pissed myself all over the chair I was sitting in and could see for two weeks, or when he used his heavy-duty steel-toe capped boots to boot me in the head knocking it against a hard concrete wall that was behind me and leaving with damage that was to see needing glasses for the rest of my life, no we did not share that bond.
I shook his hand and expressed my love and care as a dutiful son and made peace with his part in my traumatic past but comforted my soul in my Mom’s love and belief in Me to make myself ready for the future.
As the plane left the shores of the Norman Manley International airport in Kingston Jamaica, bound for Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom, I breathed the very 1st breath of a free man since my birth, it was a feeling I would never ever forget.
“And if by chance, that special place, that you’ve been dreaming of. Leads you to a lonely place, to find your strength in…love” was what I had blaring into my ears from my Sony Walkman headphones, as I walked to the shop from my friend Kenneth’s house.
I was staying with Kenneth Blakely, a black social worker that lived just outside of London in the urban jungle that was redeveloped and called Milton Keynes just on the outskirts of London.
I had arrived in the United Kingdom safely and would stay in Milton Keynes at Kenneth’s for a week until my cousin Andre’ Moore arrived, as he traveled a week behind me from Jamaica.
We would seek to find our own accommodation closer to Lansdowne College in the center of London where we would both start studying a Bachelors in Law (LLB) at the University of London.
Hopes mixed with fears, dreams challenged by reality, freedom, fighting its imprisonment, and trust soon to be crushed by the treachery of human nature lay ahead of my naïve and innocent person, with the question remaining will I survive? To be honest I answered these emotions with an inner show of strength. I had survived being shot at and almost killed, I had survived being brutally raped while a gun was held to my face, this chance and challenge at a normal life without the protection of family should be nothing really.
I sat in Kenneth’s cozy and warm living room that night watching the 1985 film ‘The Colour Purple’ which starred a blazing cast of Hollywood’s best black actors Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover & Laurence Fishbourne.
The movie was directed by legendary director Steven Spielberg and based around Celie, a young woman born in segregated times, who was raped and impregnated by her father repeatedly and forced to navigate through some of the most soul-destroying sufferings I had ever seen depicted in a film.
I was so emotionally distraught at the end, I picked up the phone and called my mother on instinct as whenever I felt these kinds of complex emotions, she always knew what to say to not only make me feel better but lift me up to a clearer understanding of the human soul filled with purposeful positivity ad hope.
“Andrew is that you, how come you’re calling so late, you alright?” she asked her voice shakily indicating I’d woken her up from her sleep.
“I’m ok Mommy, I just needed to hear your voice, and know you are ok. Are you ok?” I asked her. “As ok as any mother can be after letting her baby go so far away from where she can’t just come to see you or be there when you need her I guess” was her reply.
“Oh Mom, Mom I love you so much and I am sorry I shouted at you,” I said and burst out crying in the process; “now don’t do that Andrew, please I am begging you” she replied, with a deep and very concerned worry in her voice.
“You know if you cry I will too as I can feel you are scared and worried; what’s happened, talk to Me? She replied, and the sound of her frantic tears started tearing at my dying soul and what little hope I had left in me that fleeing when I did was the right choice to make.
Something in me in that moment felt it was accepting a lifetime of pain, regret, suffering, and loss all at the same time. Like a voice was whispering in my head telling me I would never see my mother alive again.
“ I just wish I didn’t have to leave you, all of me just wishes I didn't have to” I sobbed out uncontrollably to her while hearing the same pain and fear I was feeling in her reply. “ Now stop this, please Andrew, life as I have taught you since you were small only gives us so many chances to make the best of ourselves and this is one of those chances".
"I’ve done everything I can to make sure you are prepared son, and I need you to know that whatever happens You have Me, and you have your home and family here. There is nothing that can keep me from loving you and being there for you not even 4000 miles and a plane ride, ok” she said.
I pushed my tears back and mustered all the strength in me to be the boy she loved and the man she raised and replied, “no matter what Mommy, I love you more than anyone will for being the most amazing mother there is, and I’ll take that to my grave with me”.
‘Don’t be stupid, why are you talking like we will never see each other again, you know that won’t happen” she replied with clever confidence. At that moment, I believed it, treasured it, and used it to bolster all of me.
Vera Lovena Wright-Little was to pass away in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in July of the summer of 2010. She was a mother, sister, great grandmother, matriarch, and beloved community member who battled Cancer for the greater part of 4 years until she couldn’t anymore.
It is believed she died holding out as long as her physical body would allow her to, waiting to see her last born son Andrew Robert. Z Little one last time.
I believed at the time she was in recovery, and that our reunion would be so powerful a miracle, that she would be revived by it and live many more years after; sadly, as the cruel hand of fate would have it, this was not meant to be. The loss of my 1st Mentor has lived with me, haunted me, challenged me, and broke me even till now.
I remember this life-defining conversation I had with her one sunny Saturday afternoon while she sat at our back door in Jamaica, scaling freshwater fishes for our Sunday dinner.
My mother and I always shared these moments, mostly because I loved her company and she liked me being around her to get things when she needed them. I had done something so trivial in my mind even now, but worthy of her imparting the advice she did which led her to say “ your generation takes so much for granted all the time, you feel that doing as you please is the best way. But I a warn you, Andrew just so you learn and don’t make those unnecessary mistakes I and so many others made”.
“Hog did goh to him Mumma Sow and ask; Mumma wah mek yuh mouth soh long? Sow replied to Hog; "you a grow a come; yuh wi know soon enough” she said with so much purpose that I felt that it was lost on me at the time. “Mommy why when you have something to say, you always choose to use them old words fi try an confuse me. Tell me weh yuh mean straight nuh man” I replied while laughing. Vera’s words that day still ring through about life even now.
A mother’s love is priceless, as it can never be valued by numbers or money. Even in the darkest hour of one’s life, a mother will stand by you, shoulder your burden and generously offer unconditionally everything you need to find your way when you are lost, become stable when everything around shaky and most importantly help you see you when no one else can.
In my 4 plus decades of life, I have survived child abuse, rape, 2 attempts on my life, 25 years of separation from my family, a horrific marriage, being cheated on, being imprisoned, 3 attempts at suicide, being wrongfully accused of a crime/s, racial and homophobic abuse, sexual harassment & 2 sexual assaults.
I have been used, robbed, lied to, had my heart broken more times than I can count. Lost close friends to HIV/AIDS, murder, my Mother, Brother, and Uncle to Cancer. Vera’s words were right, and I continue to honor her with every breath I breathe. No other soul has or will have that kind of impact on my life.
Whitney Houston has also played such a major role in influencing my life, there is a song of Whitney’s that relates to either my success or growth, my pain and my loss, my battles with anxiety & depression, and my personal development.
She went through so many challenges; which involved hiding her sexuality, battling with her raging drug addiction, a turbulent and violent relationship then marriage. Whitney battled with depression and anxiety, so much so that she was found dead in a hot tub on the 11th of February 2012.
It broke my heart so much that, that I cried and mourned her for two years straight and still to this day felt a part of me died with her that day. “I found the greatest love of all inside of Me, the greatest love of all is easy to achieve; learning to love yourself…It is the greatest love of all” she sang, and it’s true. Sadly towards her last days, it painfully seemed obvious Whitney had lost that truly life-saving feeling inside.
I had to lose myself, to find myself and discover that the truest strength to my survival and success is Me. I can’t thank these two strong women in my life, for guiding me through the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of my journey. One I never physically met but was guided by her music, her life, and how she made such a colossal impact on planet earth. The other carried me in her womb, gave birth to me, and loved me until there was no breath left in her.
“And if by chance, that special place, that you’ve been dreaming of, leads you to a lonely place, to find your strength in love” is how the track ends. Whitney is right, the village I now live in is a special place, and it gets lonely here, but it has strengthened my very soul to find who I am and what I would like the rest of my life to be.
Both My Mom & Whitney would be proud of me for overcoming my challenges and standing strong to face my demons with fierce determination, self-acceptance, and self-love.
Love for you both always,
About the Creator
Karl A. Armistad is the pseudonym for Andrew R. Little. I prefer writing under this as it allows me to look at any body of work I complete separate to my personal day-to-existence, and safe-guards my relationships and family.