Wednesday, February 04, 2009

the other story


the whole story takes place in the span of four years. from when i moved into the apartment on oak street to when i left the apartment on oak street. i was between the ages of eight and twelve, and growing up too fast and too hard for my own good.

it was probably the best time i had with my mother. she was of somewhat sound mind then, not yet unhinged, at least for the first couple years. it was, most importantly, the time in which i got to know her best. she was herself, she had her own thoughts, her own, level-headed ideas. for a while she even worked, as a social worker at a homeless shelter. so there we were, living in a normal apartment, under reasonable circumstances, and she would leave every day to go to work and i would leave every day to go to school and we were typical and functional and all was right in the world.

it was right smack dab in the center of the 80s. we were all surrounded by drug wars and cola wars and star wars and hip hop and breakdancing and music videos and the threat of disease. in the bay area the night stalker prowled the streets and all us kids had to be in the house before dark.

our house was godless, my mother had no religion. she choose instead to explore various philosophies on spirituality. she choose instead to read the stars. she choose instead to read the cards. she would drop coins in front of me and tell me what they meant in the grand scheme of my fate. id get i-ching readings and tarot readings and astrology readings but there were never any rules to follow and never any god to beg for mercy. i was fine with all this. at a very early age i had given up on god and religion. it seemed less like a path to enlightenment than a long, tedious road towards death. the ritual of it bored me. the fear that fueled it annoyed me. it was just a series of punishments, and never any real reward. my mother, i guess, felt the same way. she was unsatisfied with the idea of god, and she had passed that feeling down to me.

i had two sets of friends. one were the friends from my neighborhood, particularly my best friend Dion, who lived downstairs from me in the apartment building. the other were a set of friends i had from school.

there was an innocence in me and dions criminal mischief. we used the city as our jungle gym, prowling the downtown streets, the desperate areas where we would go unnoticed. we surrounded ourselves with bums and drug dealers and addicts and whores and porno stores and liquor stores and all that which was too unsavory to judge us. we hid among the thieves and watched them take their victims. we rarely interacted but were always watching and observing as the city worked in front of us. we were silently involved, fascinated by the corrupt and moribund in front of us. we spent hours down there, meandering along with our petty crimes. our pure adolescent curiosity meaning no harm. we just wanted to see what was out there.

as i got older and my home began to break apart, i spent more time with my school friends, as they were much further away and provided that much more escape. dion was too close to the doom of things and they distracted me from the shame. i started tagging and our lawlessness got more serious. gangster rap had gripped us all. we wanted to be convicts and felons. our small tagging crew became a gang. we patrolled the streets searching for trouble. we let violence into our lives and we bled and spilled blood. i wasnt even in my teens yet and i was watching as we became a grotesque group of men lonely for our mothers and advice and some structure to make things bearable.

as life at home broke down and i grew more independent and frustrated and her mind crumbled and dismantled, i began to realize i had to do something to change it all. so i called social services and put myself in a foster home. she didnt try to stop me, even through the haze of her dementia, she understood it was best. i grabbed a bag of clothes and one morning a ride came and picked me up. it was probably the most important decision i ever made in my life. ive never wondered what would have happened had i not left. there was no other thing for me to do.

it was in the suburbs where i was living in a group home a few months later, that she called and told me. the apartment on oak street burned down. we lost everything. everything from my childhood. all the pictures and all the documents and everything. it was gone and i had to start over. of course, i already had, but the fact i could no longer revisit the apartment. that i could no longer look back and be reminded of maybe the times that were good, is what has haunted me since.

the story will ultimately be about my mother. about the person she was and how she raised me and maybe it will lend insight to the reasons i did the things i did and do the things i do. im not sure. but i really need to start writing it. ive got deadlines looming over head.

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Creative Commons License
:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.