Authors: Annette Witheridge,Debbie Nelson
Tags: #Abuse, #music celebrity, #rap, #Eminem
Marshall had long gotten over his fear of anyone resembling DeAngelo Bailey. Now most of his friends were African Americans from the Detroit rap scene. DeShaun Holton—known to everyone as Proof—was his best friend. Brian “Champtown” Harmon was another close friend. Marshall embraced everything about black culture. Unfortunately, not everyone understood why. He was forever getting into fights.
The call I had always dreaded came in the early hours of the morning. Marshall was in a police holding cell. He’d been driving Proof and two other pals from a recording studio when one of them leaned out of the rear window and sprayed a paint gun at some vagrants at a gas station as they were hanging onto the car and asking for change. The police pulled them over. According to Marshall, he was hauled off in handcuffs, shoved into a cell, and beaten by a black officer.
Apparently, the officer had called him a poof for wearing earrings. Then he’d put one foot on Marshall’s back and said, “I’m talking to you, boy. What color are all your friends? What color are you?” Marshall said the cop had shoved a handful of dirt into his mouth, then kicked him in the face.
I was furious when I discovered that Marshall was the only white kid in a police lineup. Marshall and his friends were taken to another precinct for a line-up for carjacking. The police had also impounded his car. I hired a lawyer, proved the gun was only a plastic paint-gun—and not, as charged, a deadly weapon—showed also that the Lincoln belonged to Marshall, and got the charges dropped. The case was thrown out of court. There was no mug shot to prove his bruises and because the charges against him were dismissed, he did not have a criminal record. All records were destroyed per the judge’s orders.
The arrest scared Marshall. He’d never been in trouble with the police before. Now he told me he never wanted to see the inside of a police car or jail again. I felt nothing but relief that this was over, though I was still angry about the officer’s treatment of Marshall and his friends.
In March 1990 I was driving with Nathan and a friend called Gary through Kalamazoo, Michigan, when we were rear-ended by a drunk driver. My throat struck the steering wheel and took the brunt of the impact.
After a brief visit to the hospital, I returned home thinking the strange lump in the back of my throat would go away. But it got worse. Eating was impossible. My voice went. I thought the shock of the crash had caused laryngitis. The best I could manage was a low growl. Somehow I’d damaged nerve endings in my vocal cords.
At the time, doctors thought they were only swollen. I couldn’t even take a sip of water without choking.
My weight plummeted to just seventy-nine pounds. I didn’t want to worry my kids, so when we ate dinner I chewed tiny pieces of meat, then spat them out into a napkin when no one was looking. I just couldn’t swallow. Even baby food refused to slide down my throat.
Nathan, who was four, cried constantly, “I don’t want a mommy that doesn’t talk.”
I communicated using a notebook and pen until gradually my voice came back. I spent countless hours with a speech therapist relearning the simplest of things, such as how to pronounce Ks and Ss. I also had to practice forming a bolus when I ate and relearn how to swallow. The doctors called it dysphagia, and I’m told it’s comparable to being a patient after a stroke, having to learn how to put food on the end of your tongue and then curl it back before swallowing twice. With no feeling at the back of my mouth, it was impossible to tell if food had gone down. I had to rely on soft and pureed foods until my dysphagia passed from acute to mild through lots of hard work. I had to use a long thin dental instrument, cooled down by being put on ice, and rub the back of my throat with it three times a day. To this day, however, I still have permanent nerve damage in my throat.
Years later, Marshall claimed I had made him quit school to care for me. That isn’t true. He’d already left and was working odd jobs on building sites. But while my physical injuries slowly healed, the psychological ones did not. I started to have panic attacks. Something as easy as walking into a restaurant became impossible. I’d see people’s faces—big, oversized faces—and their voices were amplified. I felt everyone was staring at me.
My chest tightened, I couldn’t breathe—I had to run away. I was finally prescribed medication to help relieve my panic attacks.
To me drugs are illegal substances like cocaine and heroin, not something the doctor prescribes. Even so, Marshall’s comments and lyrics really hurt. On the song “Marshall Mathers” he wrote that I hid pills under my mattress, and in “Cleanin’ Out My Closet (I’m Sorry Mama)” he totally let rip. He blames my mood swings for our woes, claiming I was forever bitching about things going missing. Well, I blame Kim for that. She was always winding me up. A saint would have snapped trying to deal with her.
She called the police once to complain that she had found a curio cabinet that she thought wasn’t mine. I had no idea what she was talking about. Nathan and I had been away on vacation and early in the morning of our first day back I was awoken by the police department asking if they could come in and look. Of course, I had nothing to hide, so I welcomed that. Previously there had been a mistaken delivery to my home, which I thought had been resolved.
The police searched my bedroom. They looked in Nathan’s closet and, sure enough, there was that damn curio cabinet. Kim laughed and said, “Ha, ha. Busted.”
I was taken to the police station and fingerprinted. I told the officers to dust the curio cabinet for fingerprints. I knew they wouldn’t find mine there. Always drama with Kim.
Not long after I started driving again, Marshall called me from Ohio, where they’d gone for a weekend to an amusement park. His friend’s car had blown up. I took one of my company limos, drove with Nathan through the night and arrived at 4 a.m. Kim refused to leave. We all ended up at the amusement park for the day, agreeing to meet up at 10 p.m. so we could drive back to Michigan. I knew Kim would defy me. Sure enough, she showed up at the car at midnight.
On the four-hour drive back I glanced in the rear mirror. Marshall and his friends had fallen asleep, but she gave me the finger. Then she started pouring Pepsi onto the floor of my limo. I took a deep breath, then asked her to stop it.
“I’m not doing anything,” she whined. “See, Marshall, your mom hates me,” she said as she woke up my son.
I drove into a gas station, stopped, opened the rear door, and grabbed some paper towels to absorb the liquid on the carpet. Kim just sat there smirking, giving me the finger when my son wasn’t looking. When we finally got home Kim came running at me from behind with a footstool. She crashed it over my head, then shouted, “Come on, Marshall, let’s go.” If I hadn’t been so relaxed, she could’ve broken my neck.
That was my thanks for twice driving through the night to rescue them when their car had broken down. It wasn’t Marshall’s fault. But this time I’d really had enough. I banned Kim from our house.
Kim was Marshall’s first girlfriend. Before her he was more interested in creating music in the basement than chasing the opposite sex. I assumed they’d split up eventually, but it seemed that the worse she treated him, the more he doted on her. She even mocked his writing.
Marshall carried a notebook everywhere so he could scribble down lyrics. There were piles of them in his bedroom. One evening he stormed into the house, gathered up his books, then threw them into the trash.
“Kim says I’m nothing. I’m a nobody, I’ll never make it,” he said.
I pulled the books from the bin and told him not to be stupid. I believed in him, his friends believed in him, he was talented.... I told him I never doubted for one minute he would make it.
This scenario was repeated several times over the next few months. Kim knew how to wind him up. It got to the point where I had to use reverse psychology on him.
“Okay,” I said after he’d yet again thrown out his notebooks. “Kim’s right. Her family always said it too. You won’t do it. Nobody believes you will. You are useless.”
“No, I’m not,” he said indignantly.
Moments later his notebooks were out of the bin and back in his bedroom.
I knew Marshall had talent. I’d always told him he could achieve anything and, from the moment he announced he was going to be a rapper, I supported him 100 percent. His lyrics were good. He worked hard at his craft.
No one was prouder than I when he made his stage debut in a talent show at Centerline High School with his pals Mike, Matt, and James. Marshall was the front man. He wore white pants and a jacket he’d hand-painted with the initials M&M and lots of M&M chocolate sweets. He looked so at home up there on the stage, with his jacket unbuttoned to show off his chest.
James was a pupil at Centerline, and their act was good clean family stuff. They performed for thirty minutes, and the raps were positive. There was nothing about sex, drugs, or killing people. I had a Polaroid camera and darted around the stage taking photos. Marshall played to me, making sure I was getting all the right shots.
I never went to any of the Detroit dive clubs where he did his battle MC stuff. He had a hard enough time trying to prove himself without his mom tagging along. He started to work on
, his first album. The lyrics I saw—and they were scattered around everywhere on napkins and bits of paper—were all about loving his family and battling with music rivals. There were a few four-letter words but nothing like the crude stuff that came later.
Marshall rarely swore in conversation. He had had a falling-out with Proof once, and I had said he had to sort it out.
“I’m fucking trying, Mom,” he snapped.
He said words like that only when he was upset or frustrated. Marshall wasn’t brought up around bad language—and although I tried to catch myself many times when Kim provoked me, I was starting to sound like them.
Back in Missouri in the winter of 1991, death descended on my family. Todd shot dead Mike Harris, the crazy guy who’d tried to attack me with a knife when I was pregnant with Nathan. Harris had been stalking Todd, and he threatened to rape and kill his sons. Todd, who’d never had more than a traffic ticket in his life, was now in jail charged with manslaughter. I was preparing to go home to Saint Joseph to help sort out his defense when my mother called.
She was hysterical, screaming that my youngest brother, nineteen-year-old Ronnie, was dead. I could barely take in what she was saying. All I heard was something about a gun. The police seemed to think it was suicide. I was shaking like a leaf when I put the phone down.
“Ronnie’s dead,” I told Marshall. He shook his head, covered his ears, and yelled, “No, no!” over and over. Then he broke down and cried as I tried to console him.
Ronnie and Marshall were born just two months apart. Technically, they were uncle and nephew, but in reality they were more like brothers. They’d grown up together, made a pact to be blood brothers forever. Ronnie bought Marshall his first album,
when they were nine and introduced him to the music of Ice T. They made their first rap demo tapes together.
Ronnie had had an unpleasant upbringing. Mom divorced and remarried Ronnie’s dad, Ronald Polkingharn, at least twice before marrying her next husband, Carl Coffey, before Ronald Senior died. Ronnie was always a gentle soul, and we were all surprised when he joined the army. It was probably a way of starting fresh, away from the family. But he was discharged almost immediately because he couldn’t handle guns. They terrified him. Knowing that made me instantly question the suicide theory.
Marshall felt the same way. He wanted to know who had killed Ronnie. I had my suspicions. I was told by several people that Ronnie had been killed in revenge for Todd’s shooting Mike Harris in self-defense.
The next few days were a blur. Marshall refused to come with me to the funeral. He was too upset. I could understand that, so I went alone.
I liaised with the police. As I’d worked at a hospital, it was assumed I could cope better than anyone else. I had to go through the photos of Ronnie’s body and the scene. The first thing that struck me was that Ronnie was lying prone, with his finger still on the trigger of the gun.
I tried to get answers about his death. The police said Ronnie and his girlfriend had had a fight. Ronnie broke into a neighbor’s house, took a shotgun and fired it. His death was ruled a suicide. It didn’t make any sense to me. How could his body be lying in perfect alignment with the gun? I wanted an autopsy, but the rest of the family didn’t.
Ronnie had an open-casket service. He had a white bandage over one eye and a baseball cap pulled over the side of his head. I was devastated, trying to let everything sink in.
Afterwards, once back at the motel where I was staying, Marshall phoned. He was distraught, burbling. I tried to tell him about the service, but he didn’t want to know.
“Shut the fuck up! Listen to me!” he snapped. “Remember your living-room set? It’s gone, been taken back.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I could hear Kim laughing in the background, goading him to tell me what had happened. Marshall didn’t know, and refused to believe that Kim had had my furniture picked up. I had almost finished paying for a beautiful leather sofa and love seat, but Kim had phoned the store saying it needed to be picked up because I wouldn’t be able to continue to pay for it.
“They came and took it away,” Marshall said. “Why?” I asked. “Why did you do this?” “Fuck you, bitch!” he shouted.
My legs gave way. He swore occasionally, but he had never addressed me like that before. I was crying. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“I hate to say this but I’m sick of you,” I screamed. “I wish this was you instead of Ronnie.”
That comment came out of nowhere. I didn’t mean it, but I was just so rattled. I’d had to look at pictures of Ronnie dead, kiss his face in the coffin, try to keep Mom in line while she was out of it with grief, and visit Todd in jail. Now Marshall had become abusive. I was under so much pressure because I never knew what Kim was going to do next. I phoned Marshall straight back.