I can’t stop picturing his eyes. How his mother blocked his seat on the bus like a linebacker and announced to us that she didn’t give a fuck. That she would discipline her child however the fuck she saw fit. End quote. How she told him to shut up. That she was going to start popping off kids one by one. That once they got home he was going to his room for the rest of the night.
It was 4pm. He was a little boy.
When I called 911 and they asked what she was wearing, what color she was, how old she was, how old he was, where they were headed, my answers were muddled. Maybe she was 36. Maybe she was 26. She was mostly white. He was younger than 10, not a toddler. They were headed down the hill toward the projects. No, they were not alone. It was fast becoming an exercise in profiling the literal, physical going-downhill of my neighborhood.
The man who asked my name and number said he’d try to stop the bus and I kept trying to remember if her hand made contact with his arm or his chest or his face before they got on the bus with us. The sound of skin meeting skin, like spit slapping a plastic sheet. I kept thinking about my friend Rachel from 4th grade who lived in the projects with her family. How they had me over for video games and dinner. How their white, red-eyed bunny had the run of the house.
Do you capitalize projects when you think it? How about when you write it? Public housing. Affordable housing. Do you remember tenement blocks? Section 8. Terrace. Annex. Slum. Home.
I keep picturing his eyes because they’re all I can see of it now. He was empty-eyed in my direction.
I’m white and I live a whitewashed life. And I called 911 because I don’t know how to bridge the gap between my world and his.
I’ve been thinking about the non-serrated knife fight in my kitchen when I was a kid. The cops and the FBI—they didn’t show up until years later when they wanted my dad for financial crimes. No one ever called the cops to make the yelling stop. We think cops are busy, cops are pigs, or cops are other people’s dads so what’s the use. How many kids are afraid of the only help they have?
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.