Don't Let the Lipstick Fool You
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2008 Lisa Leslie
All right reserved.ISBN: 978-0-7582-2735-5
Foreword by Earvin "Magic" Johnson..............................ixPrologue........................................................1Chapter 1 Mothertrucker!.......................................5Chapter 2 How's the Weather Up There?..........................20Chapter 3 Making a Name for Myself.............................42Chapter 4 Decisions, Decisions.................................63Chapter 5 Trojan Wars..........................................77Chapter 6 Women of Troy........................................95Chapter 7 Grande Liza!.........................................107Chapter 8 Bombs Bursting in Air................................127Chapter 9 Model Citizen........................................138Chapter 10 We Got Next!.........................................160Chapter 11 Bridging Adversity with Maturity.....................183Chapter 12 To the Victor Go the Spoils..........................203Chapter 13 Third Time's a Charm.................................219Chapter 14 Michael, Maui, and Marriage..........................234Chapter 15 Retirement or Russia?................................253Chapter 16 Special Delivery.....................................270Epilogue........................................................284Acknowledgments.................................................287
Chapter One Mothertrucker!
"You were born to play basketball."
People tell me that all the time, but I can tell you for a fact that Lisa Deshaun Leslie was not born with a basketball in her hands or with any desire to play the game. In fact, my road to roundball was more of an obstacle course than an expressway. Whatever basketball genes I did get probably came from my father. I am told that he was a good athlete who played in local leagues in Southern California and some semiprofessional basketball in Alaska. I am told that my legs are built like his, knock-kneed and bowlegged. I am six foot five. They tell me he was six foot four. I do not know. I never knew him.
I do know that my father was always a man on the go. "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" should have been his theme song, especially the part that goes, "Wherever he laid his hat was his home." His legal name was Walter Lee Leslie, and he was married and had four kids before he moved from Maryland to California. That was when he took an alias, met my mom, and started a whole new family. Mom had no clue. He married her using the name Bernard Leslie and left her when she was four months pregnant with me.
Did he leave because of me? I am not sure, and I did not want Mom to think I was unhappy, so I never asked. We rarely talked about my dad, though I did meet him briefly once, when I was twelve years old. Other than that visit, the man was like a ghost to me. When he died in 1984 of cancer, I cannot say that I felt much of a loss. It is true what people say: you can never miss what you never had.
So there was no dad there to greet me when I was born on July 7, 1972, at Gardena Memorial Hospital. Technically, I was born in Gardena, but that is not where I am from. I am also not from Hawthorne or Inglewood or most of the other places you might have heard about. My hometown is Compton, California. In the beginning, it was just my mom, Christine, and my sister Dionne. I was very close to my mom from day one. Dionne was five years older than me. People referred to her as the "dark one" because of her flawless chocolate skin. They described me as "the one with the pretty eyes." Even though Mom tried not to pick favorites, I sometimes heard her tell my aunts, "You know Lisa. She is my shadow, my little helper." I longed to please her.
When I was six years old, we lived in a three-bedroom house on North Castlegate Street, off of Atlantic and Rosecrans boulevards. Mom, Dionne, and I each had our own rooms. Mom's bedroom had a fireplace, which she liked to use on rainy days. Her room also had a sliding back door, which led to a large patio and a decent-sized backyard. Mom had poured cement and put up a tetherball pole out back because she knew that I loved to play.
There was a large tree in our front yard. I do not know what type of tree it was, but it was constantly shedding leaves, and it had a really large root that stuck up out of the ground. Mom and I would always trim that tree or mow the lawn. I remember thinking that those were the types of things a dad would do. Mom always told me that it did not matter if we had a man around or not. We could do anything we wanted. And if we did not know how, we could learn.
The earliest job I remember Mom having was at the post office. She drove a mail truck and did a lot of walking in her job delivering mail in the Wilshire-Beverly Hills district of Los Angeles. Every morning I would hear her get up at 5:00 AM. When I heard her moving about, I would get out of bed to make sure her shoes were by her door so that she would not have to search for them. Her work clothes were neatly ironed and ready to wear. Depending on the California weather, Mom would wear pants or shorts to work. She would get dressed and put on her socks and shoes, and then I would walk her to the door. Every morning I would watch her leave for work, and every morning, when she had gone, I would sit at the door and cry. Dionne would say, "You're just crazy! Something is wrong with you. Crying every day, every time Mom leaves."
Once Mom was out of sight, I would get our family photo album and take it into her room. I'd lie on her bed and look at the pictures until I fell asleep. Dionne would get up and get dressed. Then she would wake me up around seven-thirty and tell me that she was leaving for school. Once my sister was gone, I would turn on the television and let it blare in the background while I got dressed. The Hogan's Heroes theme song was my cue to check the back door, lock the sliding door in Mom's room, make sure all the lights were off, close the back door in the kitchen, lock the gate, and, like all the other latchkey kids in the neighborhood, make sure I put my key down my shirt. I was six years old and in kindergarten.
After locking up, I would cross the street, ring the doorbell at Miss Pearl's house (God rest her soul), and tell her I was walking to school, which was just a few blocks down from her house. She would come outside and watch me to make sure I made it safely down the street. I would go to school from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Dionne got out of school around the same time as me, and we would walk home together. We did that every day for a year. That was our routine.
I looked up to Dionne. She was my big sister, and I wanted her to like me. But Dionne was almost a teenager and did not want her overly sensitive kid sister following her around, asking her questions, or cramping her style. The thing was, it was so important to me to win Dionne's approval, and in trying to impress her or seem cool and fun, I usually just copied whatever she was doing. This only annoyed her more.
In general, if I did anything to irritate Dionne, there was a physical price to pay. She would punch me, kick me, slap me, push me down, and yell at me. This was not playful wrestling. This felt like some sort of combat, and Dionne could be as secretive and creative about it as any CIA operative. But I was never afraid of my sister. I was just confused.
There was the time she reached into the cupboard, with her back to me, and said, "Here! You want some?" then turned to blow salt in my eyes. Another time she smashed a jelly sandwich right in my face.
Dionne could be so mean, and yet I still loved and idolized her. I used to love it when she would put my hair in two pretty French braids, with a part down the middle. Dionne was an excellent braider, and the style looked cute on me. Sometimes the hairstyle would turn out great, and I would be really thankful to her. Then, other times, she would purposely part my hair crooked or way off center so that the hairstyle looked crazy.
When she would rough me up, I would run and hide in the bathroom. She would chase me and then use a butter knife to try to unlock the door. When that did not work, she would go outside, peek in the bathroom window, and scream, "I SEE YOU IN THERE!" She loved to scare me to death.
I would stay locked in the bathroom until Mom came home around five o'clock. When I would hear her car pull up, I would open the bathroom door and see Dionne standing there. But she no longer seemed threatening. Now she was pleading and negotiating with me. "Okay, Lisa! If you don't tell Mom, I'll give you some candy." Like a sucker, I would keep quiet, get the candy, and relive the whole ordeal the next day. Mom never had a clue.
The thing is, I was such a timid child. Very timid. I was afraid of lots of things, but by the time I was eight, Dionne's act had gotten old. I was tired of her beating up on me, so one day, when she had pushed me too far, I reached back and socked her in the stomach as hard as I could. She made a "wuh whew" sound and bent over to catch her breath. I ran off to my usual hiding place, locked the door behind me, and tried to keep my heart from pounding out of my chest. I was so scared, but I was so happy, too. I had hit Dionne! I had hurt her. That was the last day that I remember running away from my big sister or getting abused by her. I had finally fought back. I thought our troubles would be over, our battles ended, but that turned out to be the furthest thing from the truth.
Dionne and I were so different. I was very, very neat. She was very messy. I would fold my clothes, organize my socks, sweep my wooden floors, and mop them, too. I was like a soldier's daughter. I would move my bed, rearrange my room, and clean out my closet. Then I would call, "Mom, come and look at my room!" As far back as I can remember, I always wanted things to be clean and organized. I loved having my own room, and I was thrilled that Mom had painted it my favorite color, yellow, to match my curtains and my canopy bed. When the sun would shine in, my room would turn bright, and that would make me happy. It was my private, special place.
When Mom would come to check out my room, Dionne would stand across the hall, with her hands on her hips. She would roll her eyes to show her annoyance. I never realized she worried that Mom would want to inspect her room next. I just wanted to show off my clean room to my mother and have her appreciate the work I had done. But in the process, it was very obvious that little sister was really getting on big sister's nerves.
It went both ways, though. Dionne had a big problem telling the truth, and if she got in trouble, she pulled me down with her. If Dionne got into Mom's make-up and Mom found out, we would eventually hear, "Lisa! Dionne! Come in here! Who's been in my make-up?"
I had not played a lick of basketball yet, but I already knew how to put up a good defense when I was in a jam. I would begin to protest immediately. "Make-up? I don't even wear make-up. I'm not even old enough to wear make-up."
Dionne would pipe in, lying through her teeth. "Make-up? No, Mom. I have not been in your make-up."
Mom would give us that look that only mothers can give. "There are only three of us in this house. I know I didn't do it. Now, who was in my make-up?"
I would walk up to her, pleading my case. "Mom, look at me. I was not in your make-up. I promise! I swear to God!" I would invoke God's name to try to convince her that I was the innocent daughter.
Dionne always got in the last word, though. "I don't care what anybody says. It was not me!"
This would get Mom really upset. "Go to your rooms. If nobody will tell me the truth, then both of you are getting whuppin's!"
This would send me into a panic. I was a pretty obedient kid and did everything I could to avoid getting hit by my mother. My mind-set was always, I am not going to do anything to give this lady a reason to whup me. But on those rare occasions when it did happen, it might as well have been a previously choreographed dance.
Mom would walk into my room and close the door behind her. I was quick and would dive under my bed. Mom would move the bed. I would jump in my closet. She would pull me out. Then she would pick up my sixty-five-pound body, lay me across the bed, and lean on my head so she could spank my bottom. This happened every time I ever got a whuppin'. Running away probably made things worse than they had to be, but I could not fathom sitting still to get a whuppin', especially when I was innocent (not that I always was).
Somewhere in between raising two daughters and working for the post office, Mom found time to date a chef named Max Sanoguet. He was Puerto Rican and had grown up in New York City. Max drove a little yellow Dodge Colt, and he wore his hair in a ponytail. I thought he was really nice. One night I sat on his lap and said, "You're cute. Are you going to stay over?"
He said, "I hope so."
Mom looked at both of us and raised her eyebrows. "I don't THINK so!"
Max was really the first man that I remember being around our house, ever. He eventually moved in with us, and on February 7, 1980, my sister Tiffany was born. I was almost eight years old, and I thought she was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. We had a real baby in the house! I remember going to school and then rushing home every day to see my new sister. She slept in Dionne's room, across the hall from me. I would spend most of my free time standing by her crib, staring and rubbing her back. I changed her diapers and volunteered to take a lot of responsibility in caring for her. For some reason, this made Max jealous. "Tell her to get out of there!" he would say to my mother. "She is always around the baby, always around that crib."
I really liked Max, but he and Mom did not always see eye to eye, especially when it came to me; they definitely had their differences. Not long after, in 1981, Tiffany was a year and a half, Max was out of the house, and Mom was ready to stop delivering mail and start a new career.
Mom is an amazingly optimistic person. To this day, she is always filling my head with positive affirmations. When I was growing up, she would always tell me things like:
"Treat people the way you want to be treated."
"You cannot receive anything with a closed fist."
"It is important to be giving."
"Whatever you say in the universe will come back, so speak positively."
And my favorite, the 7 P's: Proper, Prior, Preparation, Prevents, Piss, Poor, Performance.
Her positive outlook always seems to come out strongest when my family goes through difficult times or when one of us needs an emotional or spiritual lift. Mom has always wanted the best for her kids, and that included sending us to college. She realized that her post office salary was not enough to send all three of her girls to universities. So she started considering other job possibilities. She wanted to do something she would enjoy, that would pay well, and that would allow her to build a better life for our family.
So when a friend introduced Mom to a truck-driving acquaintance, her new career path started to take shape. She knew that she liked to talk and loved to travel. And she was willing to try something different. Call her spontaneous, adventurous, or a risk taker, but my mother wound up riding with this truck driver on his trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and she helped him unload furniture when they got there. It was hard, hot, and dirty work, but Mom liked it. She saw that driving a truck might be her ticket to see the country and provide the finances necessary to put Dionne, Tiffany, and me through college. The fact that she had never driven a truck, of any kind, did not seem to bother her.
Mom did some research and found out that North American Van Lines was holding a free seminar in Long Beach, not far from where we lived. Their deal was that if you wanted a new career as a truck driver, you could buy a truck from them, and they would teach you how to drive it and teach you how to run your own business. After that, you could venture out on your own. Mom liked the idea, so she signed up for the training classes. Let me tell you what a giant leap of faith this was. My mom did not even know how to drive a stick shift. She had no clue. On top of that, North American Van Lines was headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That was also where the driving classes were held, and that meant Mom was going to have to leave us for a little while.
In order to save money, she took a bus from Los Angeles to Fort Wayne. North American provided her with a truck for the training sessions. The classes lasted two weeks, and by the end of that time, my mother was driving a big tractor-trailer just like a pro. She was going to be a truck driver, and she was not going to do it halfway. Mom took out a loan on our home and paid fifty-four thousand dollars to buy her own big rig. It was an eighteen-wheeler, an International Harvester 9670 that had twenty-seven miles on its odometer.
Mom was extremely excited, but on the same day that she found out about getting her truck, she also got some news about my big sister. Dionne was eight months pregnant and would have to take a break from high school. On April 18, 1983, my fifteen-year-old sister gave birth to my nephew, Marquis.
It was a crazy time for all of us. There was so much drama and concern. When Dionne brought Marquis home, we had two babies in our house, and I became solely responsible for Tiffany. Mom was in way too deep to even think about giving up her new trucking career. Besides, she was determined to improve our family's quality of life, no matter what. Her plan was still a good one, and she was going to do everything she could to make it successful.