16 candles and two years of night.

I struggled through the small ground-level window that opened to the alley that was behind the casket company; scrapping knuckles, scratching my face – then crawling on hands and knees until I was able to gain my footing, then bolting into a full-flight run hoping I could make it to the street and get away before the police got there. Why would she call the cops on me – her own son, when he was the one beating the crap out of her; Hell! I tried to stop it! I didn’t understand it. I didn’t get it!

Run, fool, run!

I stayed away from home that night roaming the streets, coming back the next afternoon to find her packing a couple of suitcases.  “Your Aunt Josie (not her real name) will make sure you get something to eat,” she said. By this time, the cab had rolled up (you could see the wheels in the windows), and it started honking its horn.  There was no goodbye or hug; not even a peck on the cheek – the worst hurt, though, was no “I love you, son.”  She just walked out the door.  I heard the squeal of the tires. then quiet – and the dead hollowness of nothing overcame me while the silent flow of tears scalded my cheeks. Deep down sobs racked my body as I slumped to the floor.

And so it began: my sixteenth birthday was barely two months old.

This is a story that’s not unique. It happens every day. It’s been going on forever: young folk,  kids really – abandon, pushed out of their homes, forced to fend for themselves. The streets of small towns, big cities – every place in between are littered with those too weak to survive. They write books; make movies about the destruction that comes from tossing children into the streets, away from the care and love of a family.  Even those of us who survive are damaged in ways large and small; but as different as night and day.

Meet my heart of stone.

My Aunt Josie did indeed feed my body, but hatred fueled by rage fed my mind and soul.  The streets of Chicago became my teacher; seeing things low-down and dirty bent me ugly, uncaring and hard-to-the bone, mean.  When you don’t see love, feel love – know for a fact you are not worth love; you become a danger. You grow a wall from within that’s studded with knives, minefields, hatchets ready to strike at the tiniest inkling of rejection. Stopping the hurt before it gets out of the cage. No way in hell could you find love in your broken heart.  Your face to the world said, “Don’t even bring it to me! I’m doomed.”   When deep, and I mean really, really deep inside my existence; I would have killed myself to be loved by a family, friend, a sweet young lover who would love me “true blue,” (I read those words somewhere back then; they stayed with me) who could understand the love in my heart; knew I could be made better.  Though, probably never be fully dipped and cleansed in the holy water of purity, but the parts that were good, though buried in the back, in the dark could be rescued; salvages, scraped of muck and mire; made presentable to her loving eyes. She would know I was in there somewhere.

As it happened, the friend came first.

This has always struck me as weird: I did not drop out of school; didn’t miss a cotton-picking day. I will never be able to tell you why I didn’t.  I was mad as a pistol because the Chicago School District would not accept my transcript noting my status as a High School Junior (set to become a senior that June. They gave me the run-around that because I was an out-of-state transfer student, I would have to repeat my sophomore and junior school years. Plus, I was too young to be graduating from high school at 16.)  I stayed pissed off the rest of my time in high school. Bored out of my brain. I shut down and settled in and didn’t pick up steam again until the semester before graduation.  Looking back at that time in history, just two years after school desegregation, Black kids and their education was still second-rate, even the best and brightest were discouraged in all ways possible.

I met my that friend, in September after a brutal hard, dismal summer.  Our friendship lasted nearly 30 years – I moved to several different states and he passed on during my traveling years.  Good guy.  Together we blended in; cliqued with others like ourselves.  My Aunt Josie got me a job at Woolworth’s, I found a better one – more money; moved into an apartment, found a make-shift family made up of two families.  I worked nights; went to school during the day.  It was a two year labor of love in the “key of me.”  My one room home bore the brunt of my anguish; contained my screams of cleansing tears, while nourishing my phoenix of strength and resolve.  I began to slowly change.  A settling of the war within me revealed a way out of my madness.  And one summer night, with friends from my blended families, I discovered music. What a wonderful world it could be.

I began to sing for my soul.

I took pen to paper to write songs, but my heart wrote of torment and storm; of sorrow and wrong.  As fate would decree, my writings would one day lead me to college and a ground-breaking job as an advertising agency Copywriter; a Michigan Avenue “Mad Man.”  The music would send me to the woman destined to love me “true blue” – to make me better, and give me an heir and double-spare.  Years later, we would discover that we never lived more than a mile from one another during the five years before we met.

Those long two years of night inched to a close at Christmas time; it was also graduation time ( I was in the last class to ever graduate in January.)  It was my “mother in my life” again time, too.  It would end the same as last time.  No goodbye, no kiss on the cheek – not even “I love you.”

Only this time, I would be the one to leave.

Copyright (c) Roads, Paths & Trails – “Glimpses of a Memoir #3 – “Songs I could not sing For My Sons.” 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

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