To be on the verge of something good, to be on the very cusp of it is like standing
on the edge of a diving board that hangs out over a pool of the clearest blue water that spreads out beneath you, boundless and without a single ripple, every muscle in your body coiled as you get ready to spring forth and take the plunge into all kinds of wonderful possibilities.
To be on the verge of something bad is like dangling off the side of a cliff, your fingers weak and raw from having to maintain an ever loosening grip while every second promises to be the moment you fall into despair. Guess which one I was on when school let out and spit me back into my sad reality during my least favorite season of the year:summer with no break in the battle.
To be fair, everything is a pet peeve with me, a grouping of nuisances caused by people places and things that gets divided into subsets of even more people, places and things that piss me off to no end. The seasons were no different. Summer, spring, winter,and fall,vit seems like there's no fucking end to it all. It wasn't the change in weather that bothered me, or having to dress differently for each season, it was-as with all things-people. Throw people into any possible scenario, and you're adding the key ingredient used in any recipe for disaster, with every lousy bastard adding their own personal twist to each season,warping each one until it's more of a sin or a crime than a season.
With different seasons came different means for coping, and coping is always open interpretation. One man's method is often the same man's madness that drives everyone else crazy. This always made summer my least favorite season, the crazy methods that people use to endure the heat, or to enjoy it. And with crack set to explode upon the streets of east Harlem, followed by AIDS, both epidemics pouring through the lives of innocent people as if the flood gates had opened, the summer of 81 became the summer I despised the most, despite having my first good year in school.
Of course the other seasons had their own little forms of treachery with Spring time in a bad neighborhood feeling like a cancer that keeps coming out of remission, as the number of low lives increases with parole giving past offenders the prison equivalent of Spring break, setting them loose at the first sign of warm weather where they take root again in their old stomping grounds like weeds, planting themselves on street corners and in front of stores where they become a nuisance,selling drugs.
Then there's Fall with its growing darkness becoming more and more sudden, the days light ending sooner, and the night sky encroaching over everything like it was taking larger bites out of the day, leaving less and less of it for us to enjoy, followed by winter that comes with a bitter cold that sinks itself deep into your bones, sending all the low lives in search of warmth. Like roaches they scurry into the halls and stairwells of nearby buildings where the early darkness of fall has now become a shroud of blackness that never seems to lift, giving all those scumbags camped in the halls and in the stairwells the shadows they need to go lurking around in, or lunging out of at some unsuspecting victim. But summer in a bad neighborhood is a madness that crosses over into hell.
Believe me when I tell you this:you don't have to die to go to hell, although all these religious types would have you believing otherwise. The truth is all you need is to have a wretched life, a life that constantly has you teetering between injustice and tragedy and you'll find yourself traveling the depths of hell.
And when things feel like it might not ever let up, It'll feel like an eternity.
Unlike most kids who loved summer recess, I hated it for all the right reasons, every reason sharpened to a fine point by my own personal set of circumstances. Sure we were off from school for a few months, but I enjoyed learning. Granted I didn't enjoy most of my teachers at any of the schools I attended, so many of them coming across as dispirited baby sitters, but in general I loved learning, every bit of knowledge feeling like an arrow that guided me farther and farther from the possibility of me spending the rest of my life in East Harlem.
Summer recess meant spending most of my time at home with the family. Under different circumstances that might have been a well deserved break from all of the bullshit I had to endure at St. Lucy's. No Ricky Guzman, No Perry Blackmon, No Father Fiorello, No St Lucy's for two whole months. But I didn't have a better set of circumstances and that made the home front something I had to contend with. However, by the time I was fourteen my four oldest sisters had seceded into lives of their own,with only the third oldest drifting back into our lives like refuse when the crack epidemic got underway. Eventually she would go M.I.A when crack sunk its hooks deep into her, showing up like most junkies when she wanted a meal or shower before heading back out to the South Bronx where she preferred to score, scurrying around in the streets like rats in search of food.
Then there was my father, years of alcohol and drug abuse only doubled the uselessness he had forged by being lazy and irresponsible. After a hard day of running numbers, and being a general nuisance, he would lock himself in his bedroom and fall into a deep stupor, drooling onto his feet while my mother did anything and everything to keep our family going. His stupors, both alcohol induced and drug induced, combined with his smoking in bed, and overall nastiness, was enough to get my mother to sleep on the couch where she stayed even after he died.
After that there was only my kid sister to deal with,who at 10 was still a few years away from being the full blown bitch that she is now. Back then her annoying behavior was more like a housefly buzzing around your ear while you were trying to take a nap. However there was my mother's overprotective nature. Long before any of us were ever born, she knew she had defied circumstance by having children while being poor, and that defiance meant circumstance would come at her with teeth, throwing all kinds of hardships at her whole family, except my father. He was one of those hardships. The way she had become a martyr through her unfortunate choice of a husband, her children, through an unfortunate set of circumstance, and bad locale, would always be in danger, the threat of harm always nearby, always present, and always cunning, ready to claim any one of us who couldn't resist it's lure, the way a baby bird becomes easy prey when it falls out of the nest.
Along with her role as martyr, my mother added the role of shepherd to her always growing list of duties, always steering us away from trouble even though my second and third oldest sister would get scooped up by harm with all the trouble they managed to get into. My second oldest sister managed to escape most of the repercussions of her actions by getting married young and moving away before circumstance could come back at her. On the other hand, My third oldest sister, who was never lucky, smart or wise,would get chewed up and shit out by all her mistakes.
So with just me and my kid sister, along with our father who was growing closer and closer to death as wasted as he was, my mother's days of tending to the flock were few since my kid sister and I were the youngest and not to interested in what the street had to offer. The both of us were already ashamed of our father, and wanted no part of the legacy he brought to our lives, with my kid sister choosing to grow up and be a snob, elevating herself from the life she might have led by looking down on those who did. Me, I chose to live in shame.
In 81 East 100th street was a bad neighborhood though, but not the worst. There was the threat of crack however circling over every block of every bad neighborhood like a vulture. That summer, I was thirteen going on fourteen,and with a deadbeat dad that meant I was closer to thirty with all the slack I had to take up, being a boy, and being the only one who was expected to make up for the man my father never was. I didn't have chores, I had duties, like taking my sister to school and looking out for her, which meant putting my life on the line whenever I took her somewhere, places I wish had left her. Throw in grocery shopping, laundry, household repairs and any other responsibility my father never fulfilled, and that was my boyhood.
I was also starting to navigate my way around 100th street, figuring out which corners not to turn and whose path I shouldn't cross, without any of my older sisters chaperoning me. Being fearful at an early age allowed me to figure things out quickly, every danger becoming clear to me. But being so fearful at an early age resonated deeply inside me, lasting until now,band probably until I die. You learn not to trust anybody or anything, even the people you know. Smiles become lies, and silence is a sure sign that someone is plotting against you, formulating an ambush of some kind. And with all the assholes I was dealt with at St Lucy's, I learned that lesson all the time.
The person who bullied you during the school year grew another couple of inches, or put on another couple of pounds, while you were still waiting to fill out. The only thing that never developed during all those summer recesses was the idea that maybe, as these abortion cases got older, they should quit bullying people. The following school year always seemed to bring a whole new approach to torture, reinvigorated and twice as determined to ruin your existence, a thought that hadn't occurred to me after having such a good year at St Ann's. Whatever good fortune I had gotten by being transferred into St Ann's was gone that summer of 81 when we moved to the projects and I learned that the phrase “Hell on earth” actually meant here (point to the ground beneath your feet) on earth.