There comes a time in the life of the young black man when he realizes that nothing stands in between himself and the fate of the many thousands of black men that have failed in order for him to be here. This is the moment where everyone who loves him begins to share in the hopelessness that he has always had for himself. The teacher who used to give him several warnings about his behavior before losing his cool now quickly kicks him out of class shortly after the bell rings, he whispers in his ear as he gives him the referral; “Maybe you shouldn’t come back.” It was the only class that he actually went to—now he goes to none.
The young man’s mother no longer screams at him over his poor grades nor does she ask to see his report card. When he doesn’t come home for two days she does not call around to find out his whereabouts. She does not mention his name to his younger brothers and sisters and neither will she allow them to speak of him. If he wants to be a thug then let him be a thug, she says, for there is nothing else she can do. He comes home and smiles at his little sisters then finally at his younger brothers who smile back before looking at their mother; then they promptly stare down at the carpet. The oldest boy who is standing in the open doorway looks down at the carpet as well but then something in his mind starts to change. He looks up and stares his mother full in the eyes. She has no more tears to cry and no more questions to ask. All she has left is one final demand. “Get your black ass out my house and don’t come back.” The oldest boy says nothing. He looks down at his youngest brother who he catches looking up at him, but he still says nothing. He walks back out of the open door, up the street and back to his place on the curb. The other boys on the curb see him and they see the fully realized look on his face. They need not ask him any questions for they know that he’s all in.
This moment comes after DARE when the young man held the profoundly naïve idea that it was cool to not do drugs and it was alright to talk to cops. This moment comes after boy’s camp, after juvenile hall, and after youth authority. It occurs sometime in county jail when he dials the number to the only home he has ever known and no one accepts his calls. He sits in his cell and languishes month after month without any visitors and not one letter. He comes to understand that his mother was really serious this time. There will be no double shifts worked, the house will not be put up, and there will be no money borrowed to raise his bail—he’s all in.
He consorts with people who have done far worse things than he has; they break bread together, they work out together, and they sit down on the bench in the yard together and share stories. There are four of them and one spins a story about a carjacking, the other about a home invasion robbery during which he kicked in the front door like the police, the second to last guy tells a story about a shooting he committed during a turf dice game. The young man listens when appropriate and laughs when necessary but now all eyes are on him, the stage is his.
He begins talking about a time in elementary school when he got straight E’s on his report card. His mother kissed him five times on the cheek and gave him a long hug. She squeezed him so tight, the young man told the other inmates, that she cracked his back. Then she took him and his younger brothers and sisters out to eat. As he recalled this moment it occurred to him that his mother was trying her hardest to hold onto something that she knew would disappear. He concludes by saying this was the last time he had ever made his mother happy.
It was a terrible story to tell and when he finished there was silence on the bench and no one would look in his direction. He went quietly back to his cell to think about it more but the more he thought about it the more it bothered him. He honestly could not understand how he had arrived at this point in his life. After he got that report card it was as if something unseen and unknown began pulling hard at him like a B.A.R.T train being sucked through a pitch black tunnel. He got under his cover and cried onto his pillow. For it is at this moment that he realized his failures were as inexorable as fate, and his life felt like something used. Like some old filthy thing that had been lived a thousand times before it was given to him by a pair of pale hands, with an almost unbearable repugnance.
This is an excerpt from The Souls of Hood Folk available right now at Lulu.com.