By K. Hecht, A. Hosack, & P. Berman
I had to do it. My family had to come first.
Martin had turned Larry into the gang without hesitation; he had too, he was likely being watched, everyone watched everyone else in the gang. Standing at the window, seeing all the tubes coming out of Larry, watching him in silence; Martin had literally begun shaking. It had been three days without Martin seeing Larry make a single move, no matter how small. Larry remained unconscious and unnaturally still.
Could it be all the drugs they are pumping into him? Larry looks like he’s already dead.
Martin felt guilt was flowing through his body rather than blood. He was sure it would have been less painful to have seen Larry die in that accident. Immediate death didn’t involve the type of suffering Larry might be experiencing while no one around him could notice.
He looks like a corpse on the outside, but could he feel the pain of all his broken limbs?
Martin had been sleeping in the car and following the gang’s instructions to check on Larry every day. They didn’t want him waking up. Martin had tried to overhear as much of what the doctors and nurses had been saying about Larry as he could. They were concerned but hadn’t given up hope Larry would wake up; his vitals had been improving – whatever that meant. He had to report back to the gang every night.
The more time Martin spent alone watching Larry, the more memories of their time together punished him from within. Prison had been so boring except for the times they had swapped stories. They had shared some many stories – some were probably truer than others. Some of Larry’s sex stories had to be made up; Martin was almost positive about that. They were certainly making up some of the stories they told each other about the guards’ love lives. Hanging out in the laundry room- safe from surveillance for a little while, they had laughed their heads off. Talking to Larry was more fun than talking to other gang members. Their stories were all about seeking revenge, once they got out.
Martin was so intent on staring through the window, that he didn’t realize he had a little girl standing next to him who was staring up at him. “Mr., what’s wrong with you? Why are you shaking?”
Martin looked down into the green eyes of a little girl, around the same age as his youngest. She was staring at him with that wide-eyed look, young kids often had. No sound was coming out of his mouth as he just looked carefully at her. Ted rolled up in his wheel chair and took her hand, “Amelia, you know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers.: Martin looked down at him in sudden anger, maybe this guy didn’t want his White kid talking to a Black man. Ted saw the anger in Martin’s eyes, “I meant no offense mister; I’m just trying to teach her to behave in public places.”
Martin was surprised by this respectful form of address. The guy was in a wheelchair and wearing hospital robes. No threat here at all. “I don’t mind her,” Martin said with a small smile. Ted smiled back and said, “we are here visiting my friend Larry. We were in a car accident together a few days ago; he wasn’t as lucky as me. Martin’s smile was wiped off his face. Here he was standing next to that sweet little girl and he might have caused her dad’s death. “Mister, you are looking strange again are you okay?” Amelia said shaking his hand back and forth. “I’m fine sweetheart. I guess I’m tired and should go take a nap.” “That’s silly mister, only little kids take naps.”
Martin leaned down to Amelia’s eye level, “You are a very nice girl to be worried about me.” “I am learning how to be kind at school from my mommy,” Amelia said, twirling around in circles. Martin looked up at Ted in surprise. “My wife teaches at the Boys and Girls Club in town. Amelia sits with her while she teaches; she is learning a lot, just from hearing what the older kids are talking about,” Ted said smiling.
“Kids go to a club to talk about being kind?” Martin said. “It’s a club with lots of after school programs. Our neighborhood has lost most of its jobs. Many of the kids in our neighborhood were getting into a lot of trouble after school because their folks are working in there alone. The club opened last summer. It has been a safe place for kids to come after school; there are sports programs, they can work on their homework and get help, and my wife helps with programs that talk about building relationships that don’t hurt people.”
I wish my kids could go to a club like that. My oldest is already getting into fights at school. I don’t want him to turn out like me.
Amelia has been watching Martin closely. She’s had always been a very curious child. She’s was the youngest child in Ted’s family, and she was always on the outside a little, with her brothers preferring to exclude her from their games. This gave her a lot of time to watch people and notice their faces. She had noticed that Martin’s face often looked like he was sad or worried. His face had gone white again. She walked over to him and hugged him around the knees, “it’s going to be okay Mr. this is a good hospital.”
Martin looked down at her and smiled. She’d shown more concern for his welfare in the last few minutes than others had shown in the last year. He spent so much time doing gang work that his kids often treated him more like some stranger who came in and out of the apartment for visits than like someone to pay attention to.
I want my sweet Destiny to be kind like Amelia. Why isn’t there a club like hers in our neighborhood?
Ted was getting uneasy that Amelia was getting into a stranger’s business. He called over to her and said, “Amelia it is time for us to go back to my room, your mom went down to the cafeteria to bring up lunch for us.” She smiled up at her dad, “I’m hungry daddy.” “I know you are sweetheart,” Ted said smiling.
“I hope whoever you are visiting recovers soon,” Ted said as he wheeled his chair with one hand and held Amelia’s with the other. As they disappeared down the corridor, Martin’s thoughts were filled with self-hate. Ted was in a wheelchair because of him. Larry might die and if he didn’t… The gang would expect them to do something about it – and it wouldn’t be a kind something.
Martin has caused serious harm to Ted and Larry. Was he born to be bad?
Martin grew up with all the men in his family, spending most of their time in prison. He barely knew his dad who had been sent away for life. His older brothers were in the gang long before he started kindergarten. To others they might have been drug dealers, but to his family they provided the money to pay the rent, get food, and get clothing. When his two older brothers were both sent away in prison, Martin was faced with the choice of following them into the gang or letting his mom and younger brothers become homeless.
Growing up in poverty, had limited Martin’s ideas of what choices were available in life. While he had never wanted to end up in prison like his brothers, dad and uncles, wherever he looked he saw brick walls. Some poor children have been luckier than Martin because the door of a Boys and Girls Club of America was wide open for them. These clubs provide many different services to kids, all designed to provide them with a safe place to be, safe mentors to work with, and the ability to succeed in life.
There aren’t enough of these clubs for all the poor children who could benefit from them. Consider being a personal advocacy and donating money or time to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America at: https://www.bgca.org