The line trudged down the long, glossy corridor that snaked through central booking. After being finger printed, photographed, and strip searched, the handcuffed detainees marched away in lockstep while retaining a rabble appearance. I can only describe my forward motion as zombie-like.
Just another link in a chain of detainees, I entered into the bullpen, the third and least cramped holding area since last night’s arrest. I chose the far corner to park my weary feet. After scanning the incoming detaining, I restricted my gaze to the space dead ahead while massaging the pain from my wrist.
As a nervous reflex and as a distraction from my total exhaustion, I retrieved a pack of smokes from my pocket and lit up. I took a deep gratifying pull and exhaled a puff of white smoke. The move quickly drew attention. Trying to avoid the stares of my cellmates, I shifted my gaze downward. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted trouble hulking toward me. I turned to face him head on. A wide patronizing grin stretched across his pockmarked face.
“I want to thank you, ma nigga, for keeping my squares for me,” he said, no longer grinning. “Get that stupid look off your face, son. What you some kinda social worker, school teacher or some shit like dat?”
He had me by a few inches and about twenty pounds, but he was young, and he had already forgotten the first law of the jungle. This wantabe predator was underestimating his prey. One look at my work attire, and he took me for soft.
“Give up the squares, hommie, and I might let you keep dem busted-ass kicks,” his eyes scanning my coffee-brown loafers.
The weight of a DWI charge, a three day drinking binge and less than three hours sleep caused my temper to boil over, spewing forth a primal rage. I let fly a wedge-hand strike, my hand in the shape of a V, to his Adam’s apple. After discharging the spit from the back of his craw, he clutched his throat with both hands trying desperately to draw his next breath. With him momentarily incapacitated and gasping for air, I drove home the hard part of my lower palm, breaking his nose. What sounded like a stick being snapped in two echoed through the pen.
` As he stood there trying to stem the flow of blood, I launched a swift kick to the side of his knee, collapsing him into a shell on the floor. The 30 or so spectators roared out, calling for more blood. Satisfying the blood lust of the crowd, as well as my own, I launched a salvo of hard kicks to the side of his head.
Then the room went black. I woke hours later on the floor of an empty cell, kaleidoscopic visions of last night’s car chase flashing across my mental screen. The last thing that I remember was a sharp pain racing up my back.
Three days later at my bail hearing I was informed that I was being charged with driving while under the influence, reckless endangerment, and a bevy of smaller charges. Then, shuffling some papers and whispering to his associate, the state’s prosecutor levied the charge of murder in the first-degree. With the mention of the word “homicide”, the earth beneath my feet fell away. Everything that was said after that qualified as trivial sounds orbiting my outer awareness.
Bail was revoked and I remained the guest of the 100 Centre Street House of Detention; better known as The Tombs. My girlfriend told friends and family that I was out of town, but word quickly spread. I was already enough of an embarrassment, and now this. The school, where I taught, had already been informed of my arrest by the central office.
Weeks passed and I remained a guest of the state. Several stabbings, toilet bombs and mattress fires prompted a shakeup in the jail, resulting in hundreds of detainees being relocated. I ended up in the east wing. My cellmate hadn’t arrived yet, and I was enjoying some badly needed privacy.
The harrowing clang of a cell door being slammed shut rippled through the section like a wave across a pond. Jailhouse clamor, cries, and ill-ranting snatched me back from my thoughts.
The bars restrained more than my body, my detainment was but an outward manifestation of the prison that quartered my soul. My clothes reeked of the vile stench of society’s human wasteland, where first timers railed the loudest against their captivity.
With little else to occupy my mind, I sat stewing in juices of regret, stirring in liberal amounts of self-pity, and adding a pinch of shame. Being caged like an animal only confirmed my fears that the sun was setting on my aspirations and on my life.
How did I get to this wretched place maligned by the shadows of iniquity and the clamminess of self-deprecation? A murder of crows had descended down upon my field of dreams. My inner self, stands idly by while my spiritual harvest is ravished by thousands of tiny, ravenous beaks.
I could tell from the desperate pleas of nearby voices and the faint jiggling of keys that the CO (correction officer) was nearby. Scanning the tier using only my ears was one of the first things I learned. I got up and pressed the side of my face to the bars.
“Officer, I didn’t get my attorney visit last week.” I knew somebody messed up my paper work. “Officer, could you please check to see if I’m on today’s list!” His answer struck me with the force of a punch.
“Negative, looks like the jail’s on lockdown indefinitely,” the officer proclaimed, his tone indifferent.
My hope of speaking with my lawyer was smashed like a small vessel against a crop of jagged rocks. Having received my answer, I threw back on my cheat plastic mattress and shut my eyes.
I started to backpedal across the dense forest of my mind, back over a landscape filled with troubling memories. I’d been a drug dealer, pickpocket, mugger, burglar and a pimp. I’ve kept close company with killers, con artist, kingpins.
I have unleashed my share of wrongdoing into the world. For that I have paid and continue to pay a karmic retribution. From me the devil has deducted his pound of flesh. My life has been a staircase spiraling downward into a great cavern. Seeking escape from my dark cave of dreadful despair, I chose lust over love to be my torchlight.
The primrose path that I chose has cost me my pension after nearly twenty years as a teacher. I have next to nothing to live off of after I’ve cross the finish line to retirement. Foolishly, I’ve squandered a modest salary with no thought to the golden years.
I married badly, perhaps wretchedly would be more like it. It ended the only way that it could with hefty portions of pain and suffering served all around. Any woman crazy enough to stick by me has received only the promise of a good life.
Years ago, I walked out on my three adorable children in search of the effigy of happiness. I had made a silent vow to each of them, while they slumbered, blissfully, in their cribs that the stars would desert the heavens before I left them to face a cold, unforgiving world alone. So much for promises: because that’s precisely what I did.
Lying on my cot, I was seized by a powerful urge to know where things when wrong. I was moved to know myself. The person that I knew (as myself) loved life. However, I was not that person any longer, and I hadn’t been for some time. I had gradually and imperceptibly become a stranger to myself.
But, if I was no longer myself, than whom had I become? I had become a mystery to myself, a conundrum in need of solving, and a riddle for my mind to unravel.
Was it my selfish nature that was to be my undoing? Did a mind beclouded by years of drug abuse and drinking give rise to my downfall? Was my fierce temper a result of my violence filled upbringing?
Was it my whorish lust and my prodigious thirst for approval that led me to interpret life in a sexual language? Was my need to feel in control a side effect of my being twice sexually molested as a child? Did I inherit my deep-seated abandonment issues from my mother’s early exit from my life?
Or maybe shit just happens.
In a moment of crystal clarity, the solution came to me. There was only one way to surmount the lies and uncover the truth of the tragedy that had become my life. For only the truth mattered now, or as much of it that remains unsullied by the gauzy veil of my faulty perception. Sometimes an embellished portrait of truth is all we have to go on. One’s personal truths told to self and others become the pretentious ground on which our world rest.
Over the next year, I wrote, forsaking all else. Here, are the thoughts that poured, splattered and sometimes dripped on to the pages that bore my life story. Reflections and remembrances twisted into a cadre of fibrous strands bounded into a self-assessment. I can only remember the moments as I lived them. This assures that my stories are fact and fiction, real and imagined, lies and gospel.
From the very start, my heart shuttered at the thought of journeying back to the furthest region of my childhood. A past that until now I’d only visited by way of dark dreams and macabre images rising from inside, like forgotten wreckage rising out of a murky and turbulent surf.
The thought of holding the actions of my loving parents, who are both deceased, up to the light of scrutiny terrified me. But, the thought of examining my own deleterious thoughts and misdeeds frightened me even more. So much so, that I thought of scrapping the project more than once.
However, in the end, I knew that I have no other choice but to plunge headlong into the icy, but often healing, waters of self-examination. I prayed that absolution and spiritual redemption lay in wait on the distant shore, waiting to caress me, suckle me and restore me.
In addition to the therapeutic reasons and the compelling urge to tell my story, I reveled in the thought of revisiting my childhood and all its tragedian twist. I longed to again set eyes on the salubrious faces of my childhood, I missed them so. I truly missed them so.
Chapter One: Transfer of Ownership
The wind was bitter cold and the moon full. The sky was festoon with tiny twinkling jewels set against an ebony quilt. On such a night, I was delivered into the world, January 11, 1956 at 11:05 pm just for the record.
Harlem hospital was motionless except for the triage unit at the rear of the building. On the maternity ward, nurses, garbed in nightingale white smocks, began their shift. Their rubber sole shoes acted as tiny suctions threatening to fasten them to the floor. The only other sound was the whooshing of silky nylons rubbing. Mabel Sims, my mother, was resting up from the miracle of childbirth. A young nurse returns to her station having completed her rounds.
“Mark it in the book that at 12 midnight the patient in 409 is resting soundly.”
“Duly noted,” responded the head nurse, her pasty jowl jiggling in the lamplight. “You know she’s not taking the baby home.”
“Another one?” asked the young nurse. “It never ceases to amaze me how these people can make babies and then cast them aside like yesterday’s newspaper.”
The head nurse managed a dry laugh. “The woman taking the little tike home just left here,” continued the head nurse. “With all the questions she asked, you would thinkshe just gave birth.”
The head nurse rose from her seat and reminded her subordinate to look in on the cesarean section in room 420.
“Looks like it’s going to be a quiet night. I have some hospital matters to see to. I should be back in about 20 minutes.”
Not a day old and I already had two mothers and was the subject of hospital gossip.
“I’ll have to see some identification, Mrs. Hall,” insisted the hospital administrator.
“Here you are, Mrs. Hall,” said the paper pusher, handing Mrs. Hall’s ID back to her.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hall, it looks like all your paper work is in order. I’ll have one of the nurses bring down your son. Congratulation and I wish your new family all the best.”
“Thank you, Miss,” said Mrs. Hall appreciatively. And, that’s the way it all began. My life’s course immutably altered with the simple signing of a piece of paper, a transfer of ownership.
My new mother arrived wanting to make a good impression. From her second hand mink stole to her French bonnet, complete with veil, she exuded an air of black bourgeois. No one would have guessed that she had been a chambermaid since arriving in New York City from Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Mrs. Hall did most of the talking, while Mr. Hall stood idle, his listless expression hiding none of his reservations. If it was not for her husband’s plain trousers, slightly worn and over starched white dress shirt, fraying around the cuffs, they might have passed for a prosperous negro couple. But, not even her husband’s long face could spoil the moment. She finally had what she so long desired, a baby of her own.
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