I had a calling inside of me. I had a sense that when I was going through experiences like living on the streets, losing my parents to AIDS, just having my whole world turned upside-down, there was this feeling inside of me like I was meant for something greater.
Like my mother, I was always saying, 'I'll fix my life one day.' It became clear when I saw her die without fulfilling her dreams that my time was now or maybe never.
I have just one black and white photograph left of my mother when she was younger. She was 17 when it was taken and beautiful with wispy curls and eyes that shone like dark marbles.
If I had a magic wand, I would live in a building in New York, big enough so my friends, my family could all have apartments in it. We'd raise our kids in the same space and have backyard barbecues and get old and fat together.
The lesson that people can't give me what they don't have, and if there's anything I took from it, it was: okay, I don't really expect anyone to hand me anything. There's going to be me and the world.
If I want to be a loving, generous, giving person, I'm not going to test the waters. I'm simply going to be a loving, generous, giving person.
Shortly after I turned 13, Child Welfare took me into care. I was sent to a residential centre where girls with behavioural problems were 'evaluated'. My time there comes back to me now only in flashes of smells, images and sounds.
As well as being blind, Ma turned out to have the same mental illness that her mother had had. Between 1986 and 1990, she suffered six schizophrenic bouts, each requiring her to be institutionalised for up to three months.
Ma was legally blind due to a degenerative eye disease she'd had since birth. This meant she was entitled to welfare, and our lives revolved around the first day of every month when her payment was due.
When I grew up in the Bronx, we always had everyone telling us, 'Watch out for the system, watch out for child welfare, watch out, they'll get you,' and I grew up with this feeling of, 'Society is over there and they're dangerous and not safe.'