‘Walking in My Shoes’

Chatham native Jennifer Reaves shares her story in memoir

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GOLDSTON — Jennifer Reaves walked into Goldston’s Public Library last Thursday evening, carrying copies of her short memoir, “Walking in My Shoes,” ready to talk about her first book with friends and supporters at a meet-and-greet event.

Reaves, a Chatham County native, wrote about the trials and tribulations she faced while growing up in Goldston and Bear Creek. From being raised in a single-parent household to various medical scares, Reaves says she wanted to share her story with others.

But she also used writing as a cathartic experience.

“I started writing and it was just like a coping mechanism,” Reaves, 46, said. “But while I was coping, I was reliving my whole life.”

Reaves was born at UNC Hospitals to her 15-year-old mother, Colleen. Within minutes of her birth, Reaves’s lung collapsed and she needed emergency surgery. She survived, but it would be a portend to a difficult life.

Reaves and her mother moved to Bear Creek to live with her foster grandmother — to whom she dedicated the book — when she was 3 years old. Her “Granny,” as Reaves called her, became an important part of her support system.

“I wanted to highlight the love my Granny and my mom had, being shown love throughout your time and when I say they took care of us, they took care of us,” Reaves said.

Reaves idolized her Granny; she helped Reaves overcome a speech impediment, cooked Reaves’s favorite meals, and was one of the reasons she got involved in her local church.

“Prayer has held an important part in my life,” Reaves said. “Granny was a Christian, a Sunday school teacher and she helped me to overcome a lot of things in her life.”

“Walking in My Shoes” details those joyous moments in Reaves’s childhood and teenage years, but also her hardships. When she was a freshman at Chatham Central High School, Reaves became involved in extracurricular activities. But she had more medical problems, including an emergency surgery.

“I also had shallow hip sockets, so I have screws and pins in my hips that had to be done,” Reaves said.

Despite what felt like endless health scares, Reaves said she stayed involved in her high school and studied at ECPI University in Raleigh, where she was awarded a diploma in Business, Finance, Records and Registration. (She ended up working in ECPI’s administrative offices for 18 years.)

But shortly after her graduation, in 2000, her Granny died. And soon after that, Reaves’s mother got sick and had to have surgery. While in surgery, Colleen went into cardiac arrest and spent 30 days in a coma.

“I went to visit her every day during those 30 days, except on Wednesdays,” Reaves said. “It was so hard to see her like that on a ventilator.”

Reaves’s mother recovered and was sent home. When she turned 25, Reaves was hit with another surprise: she became pregnant with her son, Kolby Alonzo Reaves. The pregnancy was considered high-risk due to Reaves’s diabetes and medical history, so she had to attend weekly appointments with her doctor.

“I never had morning sickness, but my mom told me during the pregnancy to please not have any more kids,” Reaves joked.

After Kolby was born, Reaves would face even more hardship. When Kolby was 7, Reaves lost her home, leaving her and Kolby homeless in the middle of an economic recession.

“We stayed with a co-worker and friend of mine, Juansatta Way, during that time,” Reaves said.

The young mother was able to save money to get her own place, but by that time, Kolby was starting to show signs of what would later be diagnosed as ADHD — an attention deficit disorder characterized by hyperactivity, mood swings, aggression and lack of restraint.

“I was living in a house where every day, I was told ‘I hate you,’ by my own son,” Reaves said. “In the African American community, mental health is something that isn’t really talked about, almost like it doesn’t exist, but it’s something that’s really there and it’s important to talk about.”

So why share those struggles? She wanted to let others who’ve also been in vulnerable situations know they aren’t alone.

“I’ve always been determined, and I’ve always been able to get through a lot of things,” Reaves said. “This book is shared with people so that it can help somebody else because a lot of people go through things, but you don’t know it because they don’t say anything about it. So I felt like it was time that I needed to get this out.”

At the end of the book, Reaves addresses her readers directly in the form of an author’s letter titled “Be Encouraged.” She tells readers that while life may be difficult, there is always a way through it all.

“Your shoes may be alcohol, anger, blood pressure, cancer, child abuse, drugs, depression, domestic violence, gunshot wounds, HIV, homelessness, insecurities, loss of a parent or child, obesity, molestation, poverty, rage and the list goes on,” Reaves writes. “Keep the faith, seek professional help if you need it, but most of all, remember God is always with you.”

Reaves’s book is available on Amazon, where she self-published “Walking in My Shoes.” The current version, also known as the New Spiel, is the first of several books Reaves plans to write. She said she wants to dabble in fiction writing, and she wants to write a sequel to her memoir sometime in the future.

Reporter Taylor Heeden can be reached at theeden@chathamnr.com and on Twitter a @HeedenTaylor.

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