When Sister 2 Sister‘s publisher, Jamie Foster Brown, interviewed Keyshia Cole for our October 2007 issue (on newsstands September 11), she also spent some time with Keyshia’s sister Neffeteria. It was the second day of filming for season two of BET’s reality show "The Way It Is," but Jamie found out what exactly Neffe was going through during season one, including her breakdown, her trip to the mental institution, and how she realized she had a drinking problem.
Jamie: What’s it like being with your sister? Is it wonderful?
Neffe: Not only is it wonderful, it’s a challenge. She’s a challenge. I love it though.
Jamie: But she’s so kind.
Neffe: She’s beyond that!
Jamie: Did [Keyshia] call you up and invite you to come over? How did it happen?
Neffe: No, actually my mom had came to visit and I had just left my husband because I had recently found out that he had been sleeping with my first cousin for a year.
Neffe: I was a little resentful about moving because I’ve been in California for so long and I didn’t want to come and be that dependent person on my sister. That’s just not me. But I needed to make that move because I was on the verge of having a breakdown.
Jamie: So tell me: When she brought you out here, what was that like? You said you liked being independent.
Neffe: Yeah, I liked the independence, so honestly, my resentfulness kept me from being here. But my sister did a major thing for me. Coming out of that situation with my soon-to-be-ex-husband—I’m nothing but 27. I had been married eight years and for me to find out that he had been sleeping with my mama’s sister’s daughter, which is my first cousin, for almost a year, getting her pregnant—I don’t even know if she had the baby or whatever. But I almost lost my kids; I went into a mental institution, I had a breakdown, I lost weight, I lost my apartment, I lost my car …
Jamie: What? Was this after the reality show?
Neffe: This was during the show. So all that emotion and defensiveness and anger that you guys were seeing on that reality show—all of that was reflecting what happened.
Jamie: From what was happening to you in reality?
Neffe: In reality, right. But everyone was thinking, oh she’s drunk, oh she’s an alcoholic. Not knowing that behind the scenes I was actually going through something.
Keyshia: I’m sure they knew you were going through something.
Neffe: I don’t think they did. Like when I’m out in the public and they go, "There’s Keyshia Cole’s sister," or "You’re the crazy one. You have a shot of Patron today?" Who wants to hear that?
Jamie: Are you serious?
Neffe: I want people to see me for me. I’m not that person that everybody thinks. Like, I used to drink heavily. Now I’m drinking wine. I cut all the way back. All the way down. [When I would drink heavily] my sister would look at me and be like, "B*!ch, are you serious? It’s 10 in the morning. What the f&%k are you doing?" I honestly cut all the way down, and I needed her to do that. So when she came, I laid on the floor. I can remember myself—after I had went to the mental institution for 72 hours and they took my children from me; my two youngest ones. And they put them in foster care. They put them in two different places. They put my 4-year-old—she was 3 at the time—they put my baby; she wasn’t even 1—Cierra. I was going crazy because I didn’t know where my kids was, and it broke me down so bad.
Jamie: Wait a minute, how did they come and put you in a mental institution?
Neffe: My cousin and my husband called the police on me and they came and got me.
Jamie: Why’d they call the police on you?
Neffe: Because I was so out of it and I had threatened to endanger myself. Everybody thought I was a threat to me and my children.
Jamie: How are you holding up now? Are they still together, your husband and the cousin?
Neffe: Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s in the past and I’m looking towards the future. I’ve grown from it, and I have to because I have three girls, and if nobody teaches them what needs to be done—
Jamie: —It’s just so heartbreaking, all the things that happen to Black women. It is so much pain in our community and it gets passed on. It’s all we can do not to pass it on to our children because it becomes a cycle!
Neffe: And it’s crazy because I wasn’t realizing that. Think about it: My grandmother was an alcoholic, my mama was on drugs, and then, you know what I’m saying? It was just going boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and it was this continuous cycle. So I’m not thinking that all this time I’m sitting here intoxicating myself, my daughters are looking at me like that’s cool.
Jamie: They’re looking! Right, right!
Neffe: And I had to take them out of that! I didn’t realize that until I got out of the cycle myself!
Jamie: But let me just say this: For you to be able to step out of that cycle is amazing. Now, you went to the mental institution, but you were only there 72 hours?
Neffe: I was evaluated during those 72 hours and they, in so many words, tried to label me a danger to myself and to society. But then after CPS gave me my children back, once I got released I moved on. And I had to cut everything out of my life to keep my children on a solid foundation; I packed up everything and came to where I knew that I would get the help that I need.
Jamie: Is it just the fact that your sister came and got you? Is that what you needed?
Neffe: You know what? I believe that me laying on the floor in my house, crying, I hadn’t ate for days, I was losing weight, I was just in total darkness. I was in this hole that I didn’t think that I could get out of. So I went to my Heavenly Father, and when my mama came and she was clean and sober? Baby!
Jamie: That was your awakening?
Neffe: My horse blinders. You know how they put the blinders over the horse? It was lifted and I said oh well, this is the light at the end of the tunnel! So I believe that I had to go through that to get to where I am now. A lot of people come to me and they want to know if I still drink heavily; if I still drink Patron.
Jamie: What is it with this Patron? Gerald Levert used to drink Patron. It’s like drinking kerosene to me! I mean, it was just so strong!
Neffe: Patron is a creeper. You will drink that and it’s so smooth and you’ll take shot after shot after shot and not realize that after that fifth shot? Baby!
Jamie: I’m not a drinker. That doesn’t make me happy.
Neffe: I’m sure a lot of people out in the world saw what it did to me. I was, like, the highlight of the show because of that. Now I want the world to see that’s not me! I’m a beautiful person! My mama named me Neffeteria for a reason, and it ain’t just ’cause that’s what she thought I would turn out to be. That’s because she knew that this is what I was going to be in life. I’m a special individual and I have to let that shine, and it took me to have to go through that to grow to know that!
Jamie: Were you working then? Were you a housewife or what?
Neffe: I wasn’t a housewife. I have my C.N.A. license, Certified Nursing Assistant. We worked with Alzheimer’s/dementia patients. I did commercial driving—driving buses. I have my class B license with passenger endorsements.
Jamie: Are you here all day now?
Neffe: Now I’m home all day. When I first got here, my mom took on that pressure of watching my kids because I worked two jobs. I worked day and night. I worked when I first got here because I’m so independent and didn’t want to rely on my sister. I take care of my own kids. I’ve been doing that, so I continue to do that. So I was working at a movie theater from 8 to 2. Then I would go to my C.N.A. job from 2 to 10 p.m. So my mama had my kids all day long. And I commend her!
Jamie: And she’s doing good?
Neffe: Oh, awesome! I can’t wait for the world to see!
Jamie: How long was she in jail?
Neffe: I believe it was two-and-a-half or three years.
Jamie: Do you all sit and she talks about what lessons she’s learned?
Neffe: Oh, most definitely, because some of the things that we go through, she sees some of that. She’ll come to us and she’ll say, "Look, I’m trying to tell you this is what’s getting ready to happen." And nine times out of 10 she’s absolutely most definitely correct.
Jamie: I always talk about consequences. Consequences are very, very important because that’s what the elders teach young people, is consequences. For instance, Lil’ Kim, years ago when I interviewed her at her home and she had all these guys staying at her house. And I questioned her: Why do you have these guys staying at your house and they’re grown men and you’re taking care of them? And she said this is Biggie’s family and I have to take care of them and everything. But you have to think of the character of the person. Why would grown men want to sit up on a young woman?
Neffe: Because nobody taught them differently.
Jamie: Right, but the consequences of that—she wound up in jail!
Neffe: That saying, you reap what you sow? I will say this to you, Jamie, and I’m going to make an honest statement: I was not a saint throughout my whole marriage. And some of the choices and decisions that I made within my marriage caused a lot of what has happened to me, as far as him ending up sleeping with my cousin for so long with me not knowing it. And then I had to learn that when you are in a marriage, the outside of that does not matter because you guys are a team. But there was so much of the outside coming inside.
Jamie: But a lot of people don’t understand that it’s a team and that you’ve got to cut out what else is coming in.
Neffe: And it’s hard because you have these people—they’re vultures. They’re buzzards, they’re skanks and they’re hoes, and I’m talking about men too! And the closest people to you that you think don’t want your man, boo-boo, are the ones that do. The ones that’s telling you he ain’t no good, and the ones that take you on a rendezvous to get you away from your man is the ones that’s trying to get in there!
Jamie: There were girls taking you on rendezvous?
Neffe: I’m talking about that one person in particular.
Jamie: So she wanted him the whole time?
Neffe: As far as I’m concerned.
Jamie: Well, I think that a lot depends on him too.
Neffe: I’m not just blaming her. I’m blaming him, but I’m putting that personally on her because you’re blood. You’re my mother’s niece. You’re my first cousin. So if nobody don’t know better, boo-boo, you do. ‘Cause a man can only go as far as you let him.
Jamie: But when you say you weren’t a saint?
Neffe: I wasn’t a saint, meaning I didn’t never cross the boundary as to being with anyone in his family!
Neffe: But I did cheat on him.
Jamie: Did he know that?
Neffe: Yeah, because I was a woman and I told him! Look, I was unhappy at home. Because I didn’t know the value of the marriage, the value of the vows that we took, the value of family, the value of these children, and it took for me to grow to understand that. But it took for God to take me through what I went through for me to know that now. So the next person that God puts in my life that is going to be my husband, baby, it will be till death do we part!
Jamie: I’m happy for you.
Neffe: I believe in family. I love this! Like, my sister did a major thing for me.
Jamie: She reached down and got you and brought you up out of hell.
Neffe: I needed that! If I didn’t come up out of that, I don’t know. Not just for my sake, for my children.
Jamie: Does he try to see the kids? Does he miss them?
Neffe: He wants to come home. It’s too late though.
Jamie: What was it like growing up? You’re the oldest and you and Keyshia have the same fathers?
Neffe: We have the same mother.
Jamie: How did you meet your husband?
Neffe: At work. I was homeless with Brianna. I had just had her and I was living with my best friend, and I met this guy. And he called himself wanting to be with me, so I ended up moving in the house with him. Okay, after so many months I was giving his mom money, giving her food stamps, you know, to make sure that me and my kid were straight. And then I got this job at Media Copy and we were on this assembly line packing VHS tapes, sending them to different companies for wholesale. He was working on the same assembly line with me. So one day I came in to work and I didn’t have the right shoes on; I had on flip-flops and they were getting ready to send me home. He said, "No, don’t send her home." And we had been talking prior to that. "Take my keys and you go get your shoes and you come back. You can drive my car." And that was that. And then the [other] guy, his mom put me out because I didn’t have no money to give her for bingo that night. And she put me out with my daughter. And he [my soon-to-be husband] put my clothes and my daughter’s clothes in his trunk and took me to Sacramento. And we ended up being together and we got married.
Jamie: And you were happy?
Neffe: Oh, child. I loved that man. But things happen.
– Jamie Foster Brown