Michael Brown: A Life for A Box of Cigars

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Brown skin, still warm from the Missouri heat
lying, lifeless, on the asphalt
only the swarms of unwanted flies
show any concern for this young boy’s body.

“Get the fuck on the sidewalk”
These all too familiar words
spat thoughtlessly out at the boys
from behind the badge of authority.

Such a fateful moment when one
decided to treat another as less than.
One moment where disobedience
snatched the breath from a young boys lungs.

One shot rang out above the buzz of midday summer
a warning, an assertion
of power, of disgust.
A shot that changed protector into aggressor.

Hands raised in surrender
like he learned to do since boyhood.
screams of “I don’t have a gun”
filled the thick, questioning air.

For his body before it lay, lifeless on
the cracked, burning asphalt
was enough of a weapon, enough of a threat
to warrant suspicion, assumption, death.

For the police officer was not what killed him
this boy lay crushed under years of hate
years of injustice, years of suspicion.
This boy was born with this crushing fate.

Brown skin, still warm from the Missouri heat.
A boy, dead, abandoned, hunted over a box of cigars.
Fifty dollars is the price of this boy’s life.
And for this price this black body was sold to the Missouri asphalt.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Advertisements

The Way of Freedom

There once was a small, unassuming gazelle that never knew her parents. She remembered something of them… a scent, a vision… but knew nothing of who they were. At a young age she had been kept caged as a spectacle. Her beauty and grace alone brought her these many strange admirers that she would glance at through her metal bars. Other animals didn’t seem to understand. Other animals knew no other reality but the bars, the people, the prison of this place. But the gazelle had dreams, or maybe they were memories, of a different place. A free place where she would one day live.


The other animals would talk about the safety they found behind these bars, the protection and provision that this place gave them.  Whispers could be heard about the dangers and risks outside the zoo.  “One cannot trust another when one is completely free.  At least here we are safe and comfortable,” a peacock announced as he strutted for the crowd.  But the gazelle wasn’t satisfied.  She wanted more.  She wanted freedom even if it came with risk and pain.


A few years passed and the gazelle grew older, but no less hungry for that familiar yet distant idea of freedom.   Every waking and sleeping moment found her dreaming of wide open fields and unending waters.  Her desire grew stronger as rumors spread of the zoo closing its doors.  Maybe I’ll be sent where I belong, she thought. She didn’t really know where that was, but she knew she needed to be there.  She started seeing other animals shoved into crates and cages and carted off into large moving trucks.  Maybe those bring the way to freedom.


It was finally the gazelle’s turn to be packed away and for some time her prison became even smaller as she leapt into the open cage meant for her.  Freedom was close.  She could feel it.   After a long journey, the cage was flung open and the gazelle slowly, hesitantly inched her way out.  Everything shone with an intensity that she had never experienced before.  She closed her gentle eyes for relief from the radiance and commotion around her.  When she was finally able to open them again, though, the land that lay before her was her freedom.  And she leapt and ran for joy in this new, exciting world.


The gazelle learned many things about this new world in just a short time.  She learned that food was no longer scheduled and provided for her, but that she was suppose to find it herself.  She learned that water came out of lakes, rivers, and puddles instead of plastic.  She learned that sometimes there was no relief from her thirst, hunger or fatigue.  And she learned that freedom is often lonely. 


She was busy and excited for a month or so.  Finding new birds to watch or new places to eat or ponds to lay by.  Life was exactly how she knew it was meant to be.  She had the feeling this is how her parents lived.  But soon the young gazelle grew tired of this new place.  Every day there was so much responsibility, so much work, so many choices.  And every day she was alone.  Until that fateful day.


It seemed like a normal day.  The gazelle did her usual routine, by herself.  But as she was grazing in a new field, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.  She had learned that the rumors about danger in freedom were true so this new presence made her uneasy.  She tried to casually walk away from it but something about its movement drew her gaze.  She had yet to see the full figure but she knew it was another animal.  An animal she had never seen before.  She was fascinated and excited by the prospect of a companion.


She knew enough not to approach this strange creature but still found herself moving closer and closer to it until its full figure was in her view.  Never before had she seen such a beautiful, sleek and majestic thing.  Even though something inside of seemed to hold her back.. warn her, she moved even closer.  Finally she could no longer be ignored, but instead of a normal welcome the stranger began coming toward her with increased speed.  Such a moment of intensity left the gazelle frozen, unable to move, though her own danger now seemed apparent.  After what seemed like hours, but was only a few seconds, the gazelle started running away.  Heart-pounding.  Not knowing if what she felt was fear or attraction.  But, after being in a cage for years, she was no match for this stranger.


Once this cat-like creature caught the gazelle, there was a single moment, a choice, a connection between the two animals.  The gazelle helpless in the grips of this immense creature but the creature loosened its grip, let the gazelle step back and chose something different.  The gazelle could barely breathe, knowing her innocence got her in this danger.  For she had never known that cheetahs and gazelles were not meant to live in the closeness, the intimacy that she so desired. But, why, why did the cheetah stop?


The cheetah, as shocked by his decision as the shaking gazelle, paused for another second feeling a sort of pity for this new animal.  Pity is not a feeling he was use to feeling at the top of the food chain and he didn’t like it.   So to break the silence and confusion he told the gazelle who he was, he told her his story.  The gazelle didn’t know what to say, she felt powerless in front of this predator but loved the way he spoke, with passion, commitment, determination.  She felt like she could trust him, despite his teeth, which were a constant reminder of the risk to choose to be close to him.


That day was the day that changed everything.  The gazelle and the cheetah were inseparable.  The danger, the excitement, the attraction between these two unlikely partners was intoxicating drawing each of them closer and closer.  Now the gazelle had someone to protect her, to play with her, to be with her.  Now the cheetah had a partner that forced him to slow down, to feel, to remember.  The gazelle just kept thinking, I knew freedom was worth the risk.


But after a while, the cheetah started hearing his friends talk about his new friend.  He knew that they were disappointed, confused, upset.  Why would a cheetah need or want a gazelle? He must be weak, they would taunt.  The cheetah sulked.  No one calls me weak, he thought. And the next day he would show them, he would show himself that he was strong. That he didn’t need anyone else.


So the gazelle and the cheetah met at their normal spot.  The gazelle excited to tell the cheetah all about the beautiful things she dreamt of last night, but the moment the connection between them was made, the gazelle knew something was wrong.  This was the first time since their meeting she saw a fear, yet an anger in his eyes.  She moved away but not quick enough.  The cheetah in one motion clawed his friend.  The gazelle let out a yell of pain loud enough for the cheetah’s friends to hear, but the cheetah showed no remorse.


The gazelle stayed away from the cheetah, healing her wounds both from his claws and from his detachment.  What had happened? I thought we were friends?  Did I do something wrong?, the gazelle obsessed.  She replayed every conversation, every touch, every look they had shared hoping to find an answer to this burst of hurt, of anger, of pain.  But she couldn’t find any so she started blaming herself… I knew I wouldn’t be good enough for him.  He is bored of me.  I don’t excite him anymore.  And suddenly the gazelle’s freedom became another prison.


Meanwhile, the cheetah came home proud to his friends.  He had proved them wrong.  He was strong.  He was a true predator.  But when his friends were gone.  He was left alone.  And in that space of self-reflection, the truth lay exposed.  What have I done? he thought.  She was my friend and I hurt her for no reason but to feel better about myself?  I am worthless.  She should get as far away from me as possible.  But how do I go on without her?


The next day the gazelle, hoping to make things right with her friend, wandered over to their meeting place, head down, cautiously waiting.  The cheetah saw her and ran to her, but in that moment the gazelle thought he came to finish what he had started and began to run away.  Before she got far, though, the cheetah gasped, “I’m sorry, you’re perfect, what would my life be without you?” And the gazelle was stopped in her tracks. Without turning around she said, “How can you say that? Do you know how bad you hurt me?”  The cheetah fell to the ground in remorse begging for the gazelle to forgive him.  He needed her, in that moment, and she liked that.


Things went back to normal after that.  In fact, their intimacy increased after sharing such an intense experience and they grew closer and more entangle in each others lives, but every few days that cheetah would claw at her once more opening afresh old wounds and scars.  And every few days the cheetah would apologize and the gazelle would build him back up again.  The cheetah would say, “Only with you can I learn to be better, to think before I act, to see things differently.” And the gazelle would be drawn even further into her need for him. 


 

But she started hurting all the time.  Wounds wouldn’t heal and more would appear.  She knew she could no longer love this cheetah.  For his very survival depended on her destruction.  For she noticed that every day with him her glittering world of freedom became a little more like the cage she use to know.  Slowly the cheetah began convincing her that he was all she needed.  That the birds and the sun and the ponds and the grass were all meaningless without him for he could save her.  But even his intimate touch felt like a sharp pain to her badly scarred body.


One day the cheetah showed up at their normal meeting place ready to play this day’s game of chase, but the gazelle was no where to be found.  He searched, frantically, but there was no sign of her presence around him.  The gazelle had left.  She had remembered.  She had recaptured freedom, the freedom she once knew.  For she learned that even without bars, even without cages, freedom is elusive.  Freedom is not something to be obtained, owned or held on to.  The gazelle now saw freedom as knowing, in the deepest parts of yourself, that you deserve to be whole, to be alive, to be healed.  And the gazelle chose that freedom.

 

And They Said Laugh With Me

Uproarious laughter
but not the kind that comes
when the punch line drops
more like when the punch drops
drops, falls, lands
right in that pit of a full stomach

Laughter, louder than the rush
of trains and musicians
ringing in my distant ear.
For the longest time I thought
I thought they were laughing with me

We’d pound the streets
looking for that next good time
Minutes feel like seconds as we move
from one smoke-filled bar to the next

The laughing never stopped
Oh, what a grand time it was
But then the laughter changed
as the shot washed down my
desperate unhappiness
I couldn’t laugh anymore

It took all of me not to order another
another round to appease these laughs
of not foes but not friends
but, alas, my wallet ran drier than my glass

So the laughs surrounded
overwhelmed my good time.
I tried to laugh with them
but then the punch landed.

The obscene mixture of PBR,
tequila and insecurity
settled with a gentle shock
enough to sober my ego
as the laughs turned to accusations.

The same accusations that
only hours before
had been silenced
by the same deafening mania of laughter
which had faked as friend.
For in the amnesia of memory
the laughter always appears.

The laughter beckons me to let go
like a siren
the deceitful laughter numbs me
until the splinters pierce skin
and all that’s left is my misery
my only true friend.

I Know You Didn’t Mean to Kill Him

Video

This spoken word poetry by Jasmine Mans of Strivers Row hits me hard every time I listen to it.

I will let its truth speak for itself but I wanted to share this amazing work with my followers in preparation for my anniversary post for Omar’s death.

https://mackenseycarter.com/2013/09/04/omar/

The Crisis of Quiet

Chicago does not lend itself to quiet moments.  Most of the time horns are honking, people are shouting across a crowded street and an airplane is flying overhead to land at one of the airports in the near vicinity.  Quiet never comes.

This morning I was walking to my usual bus stop in the heart of the city’s Little Italy neighborhood that is more little than Italy these days.  As I was about to cross the street, a siren became audible from a few blocks away.  Another delightful symphony produced by city life.  At first, the cars and pedestrians around me were hesitant but continued to their destinations knowing that they still had moments before they would have to stop to let this ambulance pass.

As the flashing emergency vehicle approached the intersection that I was standing at, a rare thing happened. Everything, everyone stopped.  I had always seen this happen, obviously, since the law requires you to stop at the sound or sight of such a vehicle, but I never noticed the quiet that results.  Now I’m not talking about actual quiet, since the blaring siren was loud enough to urge the woman next to me to hide her ears beneath her hands trying to produce a type of faux-earplug.

The quiet that surrounded us at that intersection was the quiet of a crisis.

I have only experienced a few crises in my life, but they all produce that same still yet acute quiet that I saw on the corner this morning.  Cars came to a halt, people walking on the streets instinctively stopped their movement and looked at the approaching vehicle, the world for a second became completely centered around this ambulance.  Centered around this symbol of unrest, of emergency.

Such a quiet is not peaceful for it stirs within you a worry for the outcome, a desperation for resolution, and an anticipation of its passing.  Crisis in life can come as an unexpected death, the recurrence of an illness, the dissolution of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the questioning of your own purpose.  Crisis can look different, but crisis always results in the same.  A chaotic quiet.

A quiet that is self-centered, survival focused.  One of my crises was my own acceptance of my on-going battle with anxiety and depression.  For months, my life was like that scene at the intersection.  Nothing else moved or mattered except my sickness. No one existed except myself in relation to this crisis.  Everyone and everything revolved around navigating around my own crisis.  But see, unlike the ambulance that speeds quickly past freeing the surrounding world to return to its noise and routine, crisis feels like a slow motion switch has been hit and you are waiting, watching, hoping that the ambulance passes next week, next month, next year.

Crisis is an unbearable quiet that demands not only your attention but your entire world. As I was waiting this morning, thinking about this idea, though, I became encouraged in a way that only a person not experiencing such a crisis at the moment can.  I was encouraged by the passing of such quiet and the world resuming to its own rhythm and pace.  For it always does.

Yet during a crisis you can’t see that.  You spend most of your energy reorganizing your life around this crisis that you get to the point where you can’t even imagine losing that quiet in your life. You begin to love the self-focused quiet. But that quiet fades. And you return to a more aware world where things happen that are good and bad but that are, in the end, bigger than yourself.  And you find equilibrium within the noise once more.

We must remember that equilibrium when crisis is far away.  We must learn to live in this noise without the fear of yet another pause of crisis.  We must learn that crisis is not a permanent state, but it is, just like the ambulance, just a passing moment of stillness, of navigation, and of quiet.

Such an idea reminded me of one of my favorite songs, Comes and Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell.  As you listen to this song and read the lyrics, remember that life changes, it is fleeting, it is filled with both noise and quiet.  But what this song reminds us of most importantly is that you are not alone in this silence. All around are other people preparing for crisis, in their own crisis, or emerging from a crisis.  We must take heart.


Comes and Goes (In Waves) by Greg Laswell posted on youtube by GregLaswellMusic.

Confessions of a Goodbye Phobic

As a self-proclaimed introvert and longtime social anxiety sufferer, I have a serious problem with goodbyes.  No, not in the sentimental way that I’ll miss being around a person or even a fearful way that I hate being alone.  Honestly, no offense to all you good people out there, but most days I’d much rather be by myself.  Other people really freak me out.

Let’s get this straight, I may often be awkward in new, overwhelming social settings, but hellos are much more manageable for me.  Hellos are straightforward.  If I haven’t met you before, then obviously a handshake and an introduction satisfy even the most extroverted person’s need for a greeting.   After that, I can fade to the background or make multiple unnecessary trips to the bathroom in order to give my mind a minute to relax from its incessant flittering.

What should I say next? What if he asks what my job is, how am I gonna explain that? Man that silence lasted a couple seconds too long, now we are all doomed. Am I talking to loud? Am I talking too quietly? Am I not talking enough? How much longer are we going to talk about the newest season of Orange is the New Black?  Shit! I don’t have an already prepared response… scramble, Mackensey, scramble. What are you gonna say?!

Yes, trust me ladies and gentleman if this was your internal dialogue you would make a few extra trips to the bathroom too, even at the expense that people may assume you are having a serious reaction to the Thai food.

Anyway, so hellos are the easy part, the middle conversation and mingling is a slow painful road to exhaustion, but the goodbye is where my own self confidence goes to die.

You know how I said hellos are straight forward? Stick out your hand, look them in the eye, and introduce yourself. Now sometimes I even mess that up but usually that’s where I get it right.  Well goodbyes, they are nowhere near straightforward.

Goodbyes force you to be ultra conscious of the crowd.  Is this a hugging crowd or a second handshake bunch? Did I make enough of a connection with so and so to warrant a more intimate parting gesture? Do I go the conservative route with a handshake at the risk that the other person felt some close bond that put us on that new “hug level”? 

Now I want to pause for a second and speak to all you “huggers” out there.  You know who you are and if you aren’t a hugger than you know the people I’m referring to.  You are the people that had functional families that showed appropriate amounts of affection leading to this crazy thing called secure attachments.  Yeah, I basically despise you.  You go for the hug after a social interaction lasted even just half an hour because of that intense human connection you feel with all your fellow earth dwellers. Blah blah blah…

Cut the bullshit. If I’ve only known you for half an hour, then most likely you don’t even know my last name, which means we are no where near the level of a hug.  Now I don’t mean to sound harsh because I love a good hug as much as the next guy, but you huggers make it really hard for us goodbye-phobic people. Because essentially our whole goal is to avoid that handshake-hug confusion fiasco.

You know the situation.  You reach your hand in toward the person’s torso only to have them extend outstretched arms in preparation for a bear hug.  Not only are you left with your hand in a rather uncomfortable area you also have to deal with the resulting awkwardness with a cool and easy going recovery.

Folks, if you can tell so far, I am neither cool nor easy going.

Therefore, you quickly fetch your lingering hand that had landed all too close the person’s crotch and reposition it in the most awkward hug known to humankind.  But you gotta be cool.  You meant to do that.  You were always going in for the hug.  It’s all good. Nothing to see here.  And you both drown in the awkwardness without once acknowledging it.

Torture. But not the worst of the hug fiasco.

Once one person sets that hug precedent.  Everyone else in the vicinity of the hugger feels obligated to follow suit.  So you have the worst kind of domino effect that can make someone with my level of social anxiety want to suffer through more small talk rather than conquer the receiving line of goodbyes that awaits you.  Now you have found yourself among a group of people who you consider just above the level of absolute and complete stranger that feel this internal obligation to hug you goodbye.

Thank you, healthy relationship hugger man/woman.  You have just forced someone else with a normal distrust of human connection and appropriate personal space awareness to face her own personal hell.  And you are smiling about it.  Basking in the glow of having met so many amazing people that you convince yourself are gonna be your new best friends.

Wrong. I just want to do a simple benediction-type goodbye with a wave and a universal “See ya’ll later” and get the hell out of there so I can lay in bed with my book or Netflix and bask in feeling safe from these catastrophic social situations.

But the risk of looking stand offish or unfriendly overpowers my crippling anxiety and growing resentment at Hugger McHuggerson over there.  I walk the line. Hugging each person, some of whom I didn’t even share a hello.  I begrudgingly do the “right” thing simply because it leads me closer to my exit.

So, now you know, goodbyes are the worst.  Sure you can hug and hug freely!  Hugging is awesome. But maybe as a human race we can figure out like a safe word or a signal to smoothly communicate the awkward message of: I really don’t know you very well and, although I’m sure you are a great person I do not feel the need to say goodbye like we are new soul mates. Please accept a nice wave or handshake as my token of acquaintanceship. 

And maybe with that signal we could spare just one life from the devastating fear of goodbye.

On That Roosevelt Bus or My First ‘Short’ Story

Thud. The weight of the rush hour bus hurdling over the pothole-dotted Roosevelt Road threw Damarion up in the air then harshly back to his seat.  He hated taking the bus. His mom’s car had been in the shop for months now. He missed that car, a well-worn Toyota Corolla in a shade of deep blue that had chipped in places, exposing the familiar rust caused by the brutal Chicago winter.  Damarion called it his “bat-mobile”.  His mother would smirk at him and talk about his extensive imagination…whatever that meant, Damarion thought.  For him, that car was his escape. And after two months of riding the bus, Damarion was starting to wonder if his beloved car was actually at the repair shop.

In fact, his mom had only told Damarion this in order to quell the inevitable battle that was sure to rage when the truth was finally told.  His father had taken the car.  Marcus, Damarion’s father, showed up at the house in early October begging to see his son.  Damarion’s mother could tell by the sacks of sleeplessness under his eyes and unshaven scruff around his mouth that it had happened once again.  Marcus had failed at whatever new business venture he had begun this month and was clutching the remains of the savings that he hadn’t already spent drowning his sorrows at whatever local waterhole suited his fancy this week.

She couldn’t remember what this exact business plan had entailed but she had learned to ignore the details for they never seemed to matter.  After only a couple weeks, Marcus would be back at her door asking for something.  And here he was again.

She pushed the screen door open, which had been protecting her from the stench wafting from Marcus’s matted hair.

“Ay, babe,” mumbled Marcus as he cautiously inched toward her.

“Babe! Who you talkin’ to, Marcus. I damn sure ain’t your babe.”

It had been four years since she had loved Marcus. Lured by his light brown eyes and unbeatable ambition she had fallen…fallen too hard. Within a year of meeting him, Damarion was on the way and she was left nursing Marcus’ hangovers and his all too fragile ego.

“Ah, you know what I mean. Let me see my son. It’s been a long week.”

Every week was a long week for Marcus.

“He’s at his piano lessons, Mar. And no need for him to see you like this anyway.”

“Whatchu mean? He’s my son, he can see me any damn time.”

“Alright. You gotta leave.”

“Wait! If I can’t see him, can I at least borrow the car for the night. I got this new business deal comin’ and I gotta drive down south to meet up with one of my guys ‘bout it.”

You would think after knowing Marcus all this time she would have learned the ability to say no to these frequent requests. But after a pause she shrunk back into the house and appeared a few minutes later with a key chain jangling in her right hand.

“Now, you lucky Damarion is getting a ride back from his lesson tonight. Boy, you betta be back in the morning. I gotta work the afternoon shift and get Damarion to school.”

“Yeah, no worries. Your car will be back. Man, always naggin’ me. No wonder I ain’t with yo ass anymore.”

And with that less than endearing goodbye, Marcus turned and marched to the car.

It’s been two months and no word from him.


Thump. The bus ran over yet another pothole jostling Damarion out of his blissful thoughts of the “bat-mobile.”  He shot a hostile glance at his mother hoping that in that single look he could show his complete disdain for this form of transportation.  To his dismay, though, his mother, Rose, issued a graceful smile back in his direction.

She always seemed to be teaching Damarion about the importance of being grateful in any situation.  He almost expected his mother to start clamoring on about the importance of experiencing potholes, somehow relating it to the “long, hard road of life.”  Luckily Damarion had learned how to distract himself during these sermons by watching each new passenger ascend the buses steps.

Mostly the passengers formed a predictable parade. Young mothers with distraught babies in tow, commuters traveling to and from their downtown jobs, food service employees with exhausted stares out the large rectangular windows, and kids Damarion’s age with see-through backpacks, which had become an identification badge for all Chicago Public School students.

Softening his glance back to his mother, Damarion asked, “Ma, when am I gonna get to go back to school? It’s been a long time.”

Rose worked full time so without the car it had been hard to get Damarion to school consistently. The past few weeks he had to skipped school and travel with Rose on her commute to work. Even though Damarion thought his seven-year-old self could handle a two-bus route to his school, Rose knew differently.

“I’m working on it, babe. I told you the car is in the shop. Once it’s done you’ll get to school every day. Lemme see if Auntie can pick you up this next week. Alright?”

Rose had worked out a system with Damarion’s school. They knew the situation with his dad and were pretty lenient about his attendance when events like this happened. David, his cousin, had been picking up homework for Damarion to do for the days that he had missed.

“Ah, alright,” Damarion surrendered and returned to watching people ascend the front stairs of the bus.

Mom and her toddler-aged son. Man in an oversized business suit. Teenage boy with short braids. Damarion liked the consistency of the parade. He had gotten pretty good at guessing the people that would join the ride at the different stops. A game that passed the time on these never-ending commutes. His dad had taught him this game.


Damarion remembered Marcus as well as any six year old can remember an important person in his life. It had been almost a whole year since his dad had come to visit him—Rose hadn’t told him about Marcus visiting a couple months ago. She worked hard to allow Damarion to have some type of relationship with Marcus without bringing her own baggage into it. Damarion was getting old enough, though, that he knew he didn’t have a father…Well at least not a father like some of his friends had.

One of his most vivid memories of Marcus, though, happened on this very bus route when Damarion was four. Marcus wanted to spend some time with Damarion so he decided to take him to the Shedd Aquarium because he knew that Finding Nemo had instilled in Damarion an obsession with sea turtles. After the trip, Damarion was tired and hungry so, in order to distract him, Marcus thought up this game.

“Mar.” Marcus enjoyed calling his son by the same nickname that he had acquired as a young kid mostly because it reminded him that Damarion was his. Reminded him that despite his many failures he had created something.

“Mar. Look, look. Daddy’s got a game for you. Now watch. Hear that dinging sound? That means that the bus is gonna stop. So you gotta pay attention.”

Damarion stared into his dad’s eyes motivated partly by amusement and partly by a heavy exhaustion that had settled into his eyelids.

“When the bus stops, see, people get off and new people get on. Ain’t that cool?” Silence. Marcus hurriedly continued, worried that the short attention span of his four year old was wearing thin.

“Yeah, so new people come on and each one is different. See, there’s a momma with her baby. Oh wow there’s a soldier, you know, like your G.I. Joe action figure? Whatchu think? Fun to watch right?”

Damarion had yet to grasp an appreciation for differences and was not gonna be fooled by his dad’s poor attempt to distract him from his growling belly and sleep-deprived body. He answered with a swift head swing away from Marcus and toward the bus window, finding the progressing darkness outside much more entertaining than the people on the bus.


Excuse me. An elderly woman next to him gently nudge Damarion’s shoulder in an attempt to get him to stand up and let her out from the window seat.

Only a few stops away and Damarion could not wait to get out of this packed bus. The seat near his mom opened up so he scurried over there before another passenger could snatch the coveted real estate.

“Hey, boo.” His mom greeted her with her beautiful smile gleaming in his direction.

“Hey, ma. We’re almost home, right?”

“Yup. Only a few more stops. Whatchu been thinkin’ about over there mister?”

Damarion hated that his mom could always tell when he had something on his mind. He could never keep a secret from her because she always knew.

“Ah, it was nothin’.”

“Oh yeah? It didn’t look like nothin’. That vein in your forehead look like it was ‘bout to pop out.”

“Pshh. Ma, why you gotta be like that? Can’t a man have his own life?”

“Oh you think you a man do ya? Alright little man, whatcha makin’ for dinner tonight.”

“…you know what I mean, though.”

“That’s fine.” His mother pouted. “Don’t tell me then. You all grown over there.” Rose always had a way of guilting him into divulging the exact thing he worked so hard to keep to him self.

“Uhh, fine. I was just thinkin’ ‘bout Dad.” Damarion sheepishly admitted.

“Oh yeah, hun? What were you thinkin’ about him? You know it’s okay to talk to me about him. Your father and I have our differences, but he is still your father.”

“Yeah, yeah I know but it’s gotta be weird for you to talk about him with me right?”

“Not really.” Rose held back even though she knew he was right. She hated the subject. “So go on.”

“Naw, I was just playing this little game in my head that I remember he taught me on the bus a few years ago. Not really a game…even though he tried to act like it was. You just watch the different people come and go on the bus.”

Rose laughed. And whenever she laughed it was impossible to not laugh with her. “See that wasn’t too hard now was it?”

“No. I guess it wasn’t. I just… Oh, nevermind.” Damarion didn’t really feel like talking about it anymore so he hoped she’d be satisfied with that one confession.

“Okay, baby. You can always talk to me.” As she said this, she reached her arm up and yanked the thick wire that hung from above the bus window.


Ding! The firm pull his mother had dealt the wire issued forth that most familiar sound. Damarion was relieved they were finally home but that sound brought his mind back to that bittersweet memory of his dad on the bus.

After Marcus realized from Damarion’s less than enthusiastic response that his son was not enjoying the ride, he would have Damarion guess when the bell would ring next. Some stops no one wanted to get off so the bus continued its forward journey uninterrupted.   Marcus made it Damarion’s job to guess these stops.

That first ride, Damarion was not good at anticipating these stops. He would randomly pick and choose the stops and he maybe chose correctly once. Now that he was a veteran bus rider, he knew that the stops near the shopping centers, movie theater, and train stops were automatically requested but the ones in between were always a crapshoot.

Obviously, Marcus was pleased that this last minute addition to his “game” succeeded in distracting Damarion enough to get them to their stop.

Something about that bell, though, stuck with Damarion. He was so young but had already experienced his father leaving late at night and not returning until the next evening. He knew he didn’t have a father…well he didn’t have one like his friends had.

Even after this bus ride with his father he remembered getting home and being told to go to sleep immediately. His parents hoped that the thin door separating him from the living room would keep out the noise of their argument. But it didn’t.

“Whatchu thinkin’ keepin’ him out this late. It’s a school night.” Rose exclaimed.

“He’s fine. We were having a good time. I didn’t wanna ruin the day by telling him we had to go home.”

“Yeah cuz you are the fun guy. Why don’t you try taking care of him every hour of the day sometime, huh? Instead of just picking him up here and there and taking him on these trips you like to do.”

Damarion wished he could force himself to sleep, but even the weight of two pillows didn’t block out the words that his parents hurled at each other. He doesn’t remember falling asleep that night but he’s sure he did because he always did at some point.

That bell. That bell haunted him, which is another reason he hated the bus. That bell reminded him of his father and his father’s game that Damarion kept playing on every bus trip.


Have a good day, son! The overly-friendly bus drive smirked as Damarion followed his mother down the stairs of the bus. He had become one of the leaving passengers. He quietly wondered if there was some other kid bored on the bus watching him as he left.

Probably not, he thought. Because most kids have dads that teach them real games like Checkers and baseball…not this weird bus game.

As they walked the mile more to their house, Damarion thought more about his dad and about this game. He even found himself chuckling to himself about the game. Luckily it wasn’t loud enough for his mother to hear. Lord knows she would interrogate him like always.

He laughed at the game because his dad wanted him to watch people coming and going. His dad was teaching him that people come and go. God. What a fucking brilliant plan! Damarion was only seven so he wasn’t allowed to curse so he took great pride in cursing in his thoughts sometimes. He thought it made him seem more like a man…whatever that meant.

That’s why he couldn’t stop playing that childish game that his dad had taught him because every day with each annoying bell ding that echoed through the bus he hoped that one of the men climbing the front stairs was Marcus.

He had gotten so use to his dad coming and going from his life. Leaving without telling him. Showing up for Christmas with a brand new PlayStation game. Calling in the middle of the night even though he knew Damarion was asleep. Marcus was always entering Damarion’s life and then pulling the string to make a quick exit. Just like that shitty bus, Damarion thought.

While he was arriving at that conclusion, their house was in sight. Something was different though. Parked in front of their stone two-flat was that blue car, chipped paint and all. And leaning on the back bumper was Marcus, looking much better than when Rose had last seen him.

Damarion could see the frustration on his mother’s face. She looked like she could cry. He had inherited his mom’s peculiar talent for reading people…she couldn’t hide much from him either, even though she tried.

Marcus rose from his makeshift seat and yelled down the sidewalk toward them. “Hey, fam!”

The words met Damarion’s ears with a sweet sting. Rose let an audible sign of disbelief escape from her pursed lips as they both made their way toward him. Damarion wished he didn’t miss his dad. But he did.

Before he knew it, his scrawny legs had picked up a great amount of speed. He began to run toward his dad with outstretched arms choosing to ignore that persistent bell ding in his mind reminding him of his dad’s inevitable exit. Because in that moment he had a dad… not a dad like his friends had. But a dad that always taught him that life is often a shitty, long ride and people will come and go quickly, but the best you can do is notice them, enjoy them, and join them in the ride while they are there. And that was a good enough lesson for right now.


 

Image credit to Transit Chicago.