Last night, I saw two people die in a car accident. Their car hit a pole, splitting the hood in two. I opened the driver’s side door to see if I could help, but the interior was so mangled, I knew he was gone. I went around to the passenger side and saw a guy I had known in passing, that I hadn’t seen in years, and he too was gone. This morning, I logged onto Facebook, and the passenger’s sister and also my Facebook friend was mourning the loss of her brother. My heart is shattered.
Being a father, an author and MFA student, I sometimes live my life fast and full of anxiety. If there isn’t one thing to do, there is another. I hardly have time to breathe, let alone decompress. What I witnessed last night reminded me of my own mortality. Someone can be here one moment and gone the next.
I write because I will not live forever, but my thoughts, words and ideas can. Even from beyond the grave I can put a smile on one child’s face, give one person the courage to go on or touch someone in some profound way. If there are no other rewards to penning novels and drinking 8 cups of coffee a day, the things I previously named are enough.
I saw two people die last night, and it hurt me to see people in such a way, their lives snuffed out so instantly and permanently. I hope they find peace beyond the stars and enjoy the afterlife even more than they did here on Earth among us mortals. I hope to find a similar peace when the time comes.
Drugs. Violence. Police brutality. Hate. Love. Love. Love.
In 1995, if you would have read about the Robert Taylor projects, the news report would probably have headlined something like this:
“17 Men Arrested in Drug Sting at Robert Taylor Homes.”
But inside those forsaken buildings where no one but those who lived there would have gone, children lived there. And those children, like all children, found a way to make the best of their situation. We did so in part by playing “It” in abandoned apartment buildings with holes in the walls.
Looking back on those days so many years later, I know my mother would have had a fit had she known what I was doing. As a father of three, I know I would not ever knowingly allow my daughters to play in abandoned buildings. Yet I also know that those dangerous moments where we had fun chipped away some of our surrounding circumstances and gave us a hideaway.
Maybe my children will not ever experience what it is like to grow up impoverished in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, but they will hear many a stories from me about those moments.
This is a true story.
When I was little, my favorite place to explore was my uncle’s bedroom. Although he was a die-hard crack addict who kept bottles of piss in his room, he had a plethora of things: magnifying glasses, telescopes, knives, swords and a host of other things.
One day, my cousin, sister and me were playing in my uncle’s room. We had with us our infant niece. We came across a bunch of large bullets and a hammer. In our young minds, it was a great idea to bang a bullet with a hammer.
After dozens of hits, the bullet was damaged but was sturdy. My cousin slammed the hammer so many times and my sister couldn’t get the job done. That’s where I came in.
“It’s my turn,” I said, handing my niece to my sister and taking the hammer.
I beat the bullet senseless but nothing happened. When I took my final swing, the bullet exploded. The heavy gun powder choked all of us. The explosion deafened me. I thought I had been shot.
“What the fuck are y’all doing?” my mother said, rushing into the room. She smelled the gun powder, saw the shell casing and the hammer. She saw my baby niece.
Needless to say, we all tried to shift the blame and minimize our involvement. My mother was the judge, jury and ass whipper. Who knew years later, a bullet would change my life forever.
Since I could remember, I’ve had an affinity for cats. My love for them lies in their mysteriousness. They are quiet, gentle and affectionate. If a person rubs them the wrong way, cats can be pure buttholes. It seems they have a sense for who they should and should not trust.
As I’ve said, I grew up in the Robert Taylor projects on the Southside of Chicago. These buildings were huge high rises, able to hold up to 160 families. The pissy hallways were always dank and disgusting. For reasons unknown, my sister Precious and my cousin Shaday loved to play in them.
One day, I caught them in the act of dangling a cat from the 8th floor hallway window. My heart dropped with an anchor of fear. Before I could stop them, they dropped the cat. I was equal parts dumbfounded and enraged.
“Why did y’all do that?” I said, my voice ricocheting off the hallway walls.
“Because cats always land on their feet,” they said in unison.
I have always been in disbelief of how the myth of cats always landing on their feet leads to so much animal cruelty against them. Just because cats can land on their feet, it doesn’t mean they’ll survive a toss from a window.
So, I punched my sister and cousin both in their arms. Of course, they cried to my mother. And yes, I got my ass whipped. Should a boy ever hit a girl? No. Not unless he’s avenging a cat.
There is an image seared into my brain of my sister running through the house screaming as she clutches her three-month-old dead baby. This image is so clear, I can pull it up and see everything exactly as it happened.
The death of three-month-old Jennifer had a huge impact on my family. Since then, my family has been plagued with drug-addiction, alcoholism and huge feuds. When she passed away, I was only eight years old. Yet I understood my own mortality. It was at this very age that I understood that I could die and no one could prevent it.
Jennifer did not get to live a percentage of her life. Everyday, I think of her, wonder how she would have laughed or cried, wonder what her favorite color would have been, what career she would have pursued. I wonder who I would have been if I would have been able to be the uncle she needed.