Monday, January 22, 2018

Hide & Go Murder!

So, I hung with two different groups of kids growing up. The second group, down the block and around the corner. We all lurked around this 2 story apartment complex. It was the place we conducted all our games, experiments, and other manner of ill-advised ideas.

One game in particular-- which I would like to inform you fair ladies and gents, I was, and still am the extremely proud inventor of-- was this version of “Hide & Seek” that we all called “Jason”, as in the homicidal, undead, sex-hating, murder-machine from the Friday the 13th movie franchise. You see, “Jason” had all the same basic rules as the original game, but through the miracle of modern science we also successfully incorporated a plastic meat cleaver, and old Jason Voorhees mask, that I had left over from a previous Halloween.

The kid who was “It”, had to wear the mask, and tag out runners before they reached the safety of the the apartment's front steps. But the rules were that Jason had to touch you with the actual meat cleaver to tag you out, which was considered a “kill”. For even more demented fun, anytime someone was tagged out, they had to scream like they had just been murdered. Just imagine how much all the parents, and other adults of the neighborhood probably loved, and appreciated our theatrical death cries.

Did I forget to mention we only played this game during the evenings? We did this because we wanted our games to have the same sophisticated, and nuanced atmosphere of the movies.

So this one time, Jermaine’s older brother, Shawn-- who was obviously bored out of his mind-- came out to watch a couple of rounds of “Jason”. He thought it was all pretty funny. Imagine our awed shock when he, who was 17 years old, offered to join in with us mostly 4th and 5th graders. But he said he would only do so if he could play the killer. We all eagerly agreed. Now, looking back, I do not think it ever remotely occurred to any of us that Shawn was bigger, faster, stronger, coincidentally wearing all black, and could most likely swing a pretty mean pretend meat cleaver.

So, on that particularly clear summer night, the games commenced in all its creepy glory. Perhaps because he was in a particularly magnanimous mood, Shawn decided to extend the normal 10 seconds count to 20. Everyone bolted in every direction,

I had not been hiding long before I heard the first victim's scream. After hearing a second, and then third unfortunate recipient of a meat cleaver to the extremities, and/or sternum, I carefully crept from behind the bushes in hopes of reaching the safety zone. Just before I was going to take my chances, I heard running coming from around the corner behind me.

I quickly ducked and rolled under a nearby car. Lying there on my stomach, I watched Jason creep by in search of more victims. Only after I was certain it was as clear as it was going to get, I crawled from under the vehicle, and hurried off in the opposite direction to the apartment's backyard.

There were two ways to enter the backyard. The actual entrance, a wooden gate at the front of the apartments, near the community parking area. And the other was by way of a single, missing plank that left a small gap in the tall, wooden fence at the rear of the property. My only safe option was the latter. I was surprised to find 5 out of the 9 other boys all hiding there.

Another scream from somewhere nearby signaled the end of another victim, and then silence. The killer was lurking somewhere out there and we had no idea where. The last survivors, and I, split our surveillance between watching the hole in the fence, and the front entrance at the start of the long straightaway nestled between the apartment, and neighboring house.

Did anyone see him?” The first boy asked.

No.” The second replied nervously.

We should just make a break for it!” A third chimed in.

But which way?” The first asked.

If we all run it won't matter!” The third reasoned.

No! He's super fast! He could kill everyone!” The second warned.

Indecision kept us all rooted back there. On one hand we all could have made a desperate sprint for the safe zone, but Jason could have been waiting to ambush us. On the other, we could have made the classic-- and might I add tactically sound-- choice often demonstrated in many of horror films, and split up to take our individual chances of sneaking to safety. Then the choice was made for us when Jason suddenly came barreling down the straightaway with his cleaver held at ready.

Oh shit!” One of the boys yelled before we all rushed for the hole in the fence. Unfortunately, one of the “heavier” boys attempted to go through the makeshift exit first, and promptly clogged it with his wedged bulk. In a mixture of excited laughter and nervous screams we began trying to save the heavier kid, and ourselves, by attempting to force him the rest of the way through.

He's going to kill us all!” Someone exclaimed.

We’re all going to die, you fat bastard!” Another yelled.

Shit! He's almost here! He's almost here!” A third warned over, and over.

Jermaine, and I, exchanged a look, then as if the plan was agreed upon on some telepathic level, we both jumped at the same time, grabbed a top of the fence, and scurried over it just as Jason arrived to begin slaughtering all the others. In true horror movie fashion we ran for safety without looking back.

While a Goddess Stared Down

Night slowly swallowed daylight before opening it's solitary, vast, milk white eye to gaze upon the world below, saturating everything in a gentle but unsympathetic glow on that particularly balmy summer evening.

This full moon was a spotlight cast down on our little ensemble. The three of us had gathered there on that bridge stretching over the creek to act out the last scene of an unexpected change. A sudden tragedy had abruptly written a mutual friend out of the script of our lives. No warning, no foreshadowing, just gone.

It was Akhelios who's life had come to an end. He was one of the first kids I met after moving from Oakland to Union City. He was also the first Muslim I had ever known in my life. Perhaps, the latter seems like an arbitrary thing to recall now, but it was an extremely profound encounter for me back then. I was so genuinely fascinated by his customs and religion. While reminding myself to not become a nuisance, I often asked questions about different aspects of Islam, and he would always patiently answer as best he could.

Akhelios was a lively kid who was quick to laugh, thought video games were one of the greatest inventions ever, retold incredibly dirty jokes he heard from older cousins, and absolutely loved all things hip-hop. It was easy to imagine he would always be around to deliver a smart-ass remark, or try and convince us of some crazy idea.

One bright afternoon, Akhelios told us-- with a dramatic groan of disapproval and roll of his eyes-- that he was going camping with family. He said he would catch us later before turning and heading home. He never returned from that trip. Some sort of accident occurred while he was swimming and it extinguished his young life.

Dolos, our friend Archon, and I, did not attend his funeral. None of us felt we knew his family well enough to make such a request. So, it was decided that we would have our own small, impromptu gathering to wish his soul well. After we each arrived that night on the bridge we said a small prayer for Arkhelios that was followed by a full minute of silence.

Its hard to believe that Akhelios is simply gone.” I began after the silence ended.

Yeah. Just like that.” Dolos mumbled.

Stills seems kind of unreal, you know?” Archon said with a shake of his head while leaning atop the bridge’s railing with his forearms. “I literally just talked to him a few days ago.”

Damn.” I leaned backwards against the railing and looked up at the sky. “I hope it wasn’t too painful.”

Well-- he drowned, Walt.” Dolos explained. “I hate to say it but I have always heard it is painful.”

Yeah. That’s true.” I glanced over at Dolos. “But I also remember reading that eventually you stop feeling any pain and the lack of oxygen causes you to go unconscious until you die.”


Well, then I hope that’s how it went down for him.” Dolos nodded. “Akhelios was hell of young. Just makes you think. Any of us could die at any time. It just all seems really fucked up-- and sort of unfair.”

Fuck. I would hate to bite the bullet at this age.” Archon added as he pushed up from the railing. “There’s a lot of stuff I still want to do and see.”

I just think it is messed up that he drowned.” Dolos looked over between me and Archon. “I don’t want to drown or burn to death, you know? If I die I just want it to be quick.”

Then you better not swim too often.” I laughed a little trying to inject a little humor into such a heavy topic.

What? If I was drowning and you were there? Are you trying to say you wouldn’t jump in save me?” Dolos laughed as he looked over at me.

Ha! And get my clothes wet? I can always get more friends for free. I have to actually go out and buy new clothes.” I joked causing them to both laugh.

Fuck you.” Dolos laughed. “Cold bastard!”

Someone has to look out for me. So I figure it might as well be me.” I explained.

We all laughed for a while and it offered some minor relief from the situation that had brought us there that night. It was nice while it lasted. It was not long before we each returned to a mutual contemplative silence. I returned to watching the sky. It seemed so vast that night.

I wonder where he is now.” I stated to no one in particular without looking away from the stars.

What do you mean?” Dolos asked curiously.

I mean, where has he gone? I get that he's dead. I know what the Bible or Qur’an says about dying-- but still. I wonder where he has gone.” I explained.

I don’t know.” Dolos shrugged. “Don’t Muslims talk about some version of heaven and hell too? Maybe he went to heaven.”

Ha. Akhelios in heaven? I wonder how long it will take him to get in some sort of trouble even there.” Archon snorted in amusement.

He would meet god and then try and make her laugh by telling one of those dirty jokes his oldest cousins told him.” I added as we began all laughing together.

I can see that happening.” Archon added sort of wisfully.

Do you think it is instant?” Dolos asked me. “Or do you think it takes a while to get to those places? Like-- I don't know-- maybe it’s a kind of journey?”

You mean like walking there?” I asked curiously.
Maybe.” He answered.

I can kind of see that.” Archon nodded.

We all went quiet again contemplating the new question in our own ways. I am not sure what my friends were thinking during those quiet moments but I found myself wondering if Akhelios was maybe on some sort of spiritual journey that would lead to paradise. I hoped he was. I imagined one of those angels of death guiding him along the way so he would not be alone.

I wonder what were his last thoughts when that was happening to him?” I said in an effort to break the stretching and oppressively heavy silence.

He probably was really scared.” Archon replied. “Shit, I know I would be. I couldn’t imagine how that must have felt.”

I think he probably knew. Like, maybe a few seconds before it actually happened, I think he knew he was going to die.” Dolos folded his arms and turned to look down off the bridge. “I wouldn't want my death to be like that.”

Ironically, the abrupt death of Akhelios, would serve as a clever foreshadowing for a tragic event much later. None of us knew it at that moment but one day, one day very soon, Dolos would face his own extremely close brush with the end. He would go on to survive but he would never be the same afterwards.

What a way to go. I would hate to know I am finished. I don’t even want to picture how scary that would have been. All that water around you, no escaping, praying someone will come for you...” Dolos trailed off.

I feel sorry for his family.” I added.

I'm sure they're hurting. Maybe even blaming themselves.” Archon said.

Dolos was quiet for a while as if contemplating something. “Hey,” He began as he looked up from the water towards me. “What do you think you would do if you knew you were going to die?”

I don’t know. Probably try and tell everyone goodbye-- maybe pray before the end came.” I shrugged and then looked over at Archon. “What about you?”

Fuck if I know.” He laughed nervously while running a hand over his head before dropping it at his side. “I would probably just drink. Get a little smoke. Maybe find a cute girl and try to get a last fuck before I kicked the bucket.”

What about you?” I asked Dolos.

Damn. This is some really heavy stuff.” Dolos answered quietly with a brief laugh that seemed a little uncomfortable.

Says the guy who started this line of questioning.” I reminded him.

Yeah, yeah.” Dolos began again. “I'm not really sure. Maybe try and make things right with that lady my dad married?” He sometimes referred to his step-mother in such terms during times they were not getting along. “She isn't really that bad-- maybe we could talk one last time. Make things right between us before the end.” It was a rare admittance on his part and it only served to make the night all the more stranger.

What? Dude, you forgot about also getting laid.” Archon added quickly.

I didn't forget. It just goes without saying.” Dolos laughed.

Well, glad to see the two of you have your priorities straight.” I added with a shake of my head.

Fuck that. Just because you don’t want to get laid, Walt, doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to die before getting a little more. Damn, now that I think about it,” Dolos grinned nastily as he looked over at me. “You would die a virgin.”

Yeah, well--” I stammered. At that age the entire subject of sex seemed alien and embarrassing. I was not looking to be involved with anyone that way. It all just seemed way too much to deal with emotionally. “Shut up, Dolos!”

Hey, at least you would get into heaven for damn sure.” Archon began while laughing with Dolos. “Virgins don't go to hell. That shit has to be a 'get in for free' card.”

God, I hate you both.” I looked away feeling the blood rush to my face. “Just hurry up and die already.”

Our conversation continued on for a while after that. We exchanged more memories of Akhelios. We talked about life and death. We considered the future and many other topics we were struggling to fully comprehend at that age. Finally, at some point, Archon glanced down at his watch.

Fuck! It’s past midnight. I’m heading off to the house! I’ll catch the both of you tomorrow!” He turned and began leaving.

Alright then. Take it easy.” I called behind him.

Dolos, and I did not immediately speak to one another after Archon's departure. Now that we were alone the atmosphere was decidedly different and uncomfortable. That third presence somehow acted as an illusion that kept away the harsh reality of what had transpired between us not too long ago. Without it we both immediately felt what had never been discussed.

Hey,” Dolos began hesitantly after some time and looked over at me. “Walt, maybe tomorrow--”

I better get going.” I suddenly blurted out surprising even myself. I wanted out of this situation. Things still felt incredibly raw. When I looked up at him from the water he seemed anxious.

Oh.” Dolos finally replied and turned to look down below the bridge again. “Yeah. I guess I better get going to. No reason to piss pop’s off.”

Yeah. Definitely.” I agreed.

Then it was quiet again. Only the sounds of those small creatures that gathered at night to fill the air with their quiet songs filled that void between us. Maybe we both wanted to say something. Maybe we should have. One of us wanted to make amends. The other wanted to accept. For any number of reasons nothing happened.

I better get going.” I finally broke our silence and turned walking off. “I'll see you around.”

I'll see you around, Walt.” Dolos called back as he did the same.

Turbulence III

What did she do to you?” Sariel asked curiously as we continued walking.

Long story short; I did not dress, she made fun of me, so I made fun of her back, and she told me to get out.” I shrugged.

Couch Ahti is annoying but maybe you should just do it.” Sariel urged gently.

I rather not.” I shook my head.

Is it because you still find that locker room 'creepy'?” Sariel teased with a grin. Before I could answer she looked over my shoulder and something caused her expression to become one of surprise, then confusion. “Hey-- um, isn't your boy, Dolos with Hedone?”

Yeah. They got back together about a month ago.” I turned in the direction she was staring and my question as to why was answered without words.

Dolos had some girl pressed tightly between himself and the science building's wall. His hand was under her skirt and the both of them were making out like it was the most important business ever.

I sort of thought so...” I answered with a feeling of disbelief.

By the looks of it,” Sariel began with a note of disappointment in her voice. “looks like Hedone made an awesome choice.”

Yeah. Looks like.” I was unable to conceal my own disappointment.

You see, these are the type of guys you meet at Logan.” Sariel admonished with a roll of her eyes. “No offense to you of course. You’re a good guy... if even a little weird.”

You really know how to make me feel special.” I laughed briefly despite the current situation.

Well, I'm guessing you might want to sort of talk to him, seeing that both he and Hedone, are like two of your best friends.” Sariel smiled sympathetically at me. “Catch you class.”

Yeah. You too.” I mumbled.

After Sariel left I continued watching Dolos and the girl a few moments longer. On one hand I wanted to turn and leave. Why? Because who wants to be 'that guy'? No guy ever wants to be 'that guy'. Probably since ancient history primitive tribes gathered around the fire at night to hear about how to drive evil spirits away, avoid vicious predators, and most importantly how never to be 'that guy'. I wanted to just walk away.

Yet, on the other hand, the sudden guilt caused me to feel as if I should speak with him-- at least in private. It was not just because Dolos and Hedone were both two of my best friends, or that he was obviously cheating on her with someone else. I played a large part in convincing her that he had 'changed' and why it would be a good idea to give him a second chance.

I decided to speak with him. Maybe the matter could be cleared up. Maybe it was not what it looked like. Maybe there was much more to the story. Then again, maybe I was being foolish. Approaching gave me a better view of the girl, she was named Lamia, a light skinned, African-American girl that I shared a sociology class with. We had debated on several occasions and on numerous subjects. Safe to say she was not a fan of mine.

Hey, Dolos.” I spoke up, and the uncertainty in my voice surprised me.

Oh-- sup Walt!” Dolos loosened his hold upon her and she quickly pushed his hand from under her skirt. “This is Lamia-- she's-- she is a friend of mine.”

We've met.” I said without as much glancing over as she straightened her clothes with obvious embarrassment.

I'll-- um-- talk to you later, Dolos. Don't forget.” Lamia grinned sweetly at him, cut her eyes at me, and then hurried off.
Nice seeing you again.” I called politely behind her before turning my eyes back to Dolos.

You know her?” He asked quizzically.

Um, apparently not as well as you do.” I began.

Chill, she is just a friend.” Dolos frowned a little.

Hey-- so, I'm just going to go ahead, and get this out of the way,” I began with some reluctance despite my heavy disappointment. “But aren't you and Hedone still together?”

Well-- yeah,” Dolos cleared his throat. “But what is that supposed to mean?”

Come on, man. I think we both know why I'm asking.” I replied. I looked from right to left once to make sure no campus supervisors were on the prowl. There was nothing but the prevailing silence and a growing tension. For a moment I wished one of them would have come along and ended this awkward conversation.

It was nothing!” Dolos frowned with a languid shrug.

Dude, you sort of had your hand up her skirt. How do you think Hedone would have reacted to that, if she had seen it?” I asked.

So, what’s any of this have to do with you, Walt?” Dolos asked indignantly.

I wish it had both jack and shit to do with me.” I frowned angrily. “But in case you have forgotten, you had me playing cupid for you after that sob story of how much you missed her. Remember? Plus, she's our friend. She has been one of our friends for years. So yeah, seeing this sort of puts me in a really awkward situation.”

It doesn’t put you in anything because you’re making it your business, Walt. Then again, you are always making everything your business because you think you got that right.” Dolos suddenly seemed angry and for a moment it puzzled me.

So, this is now somehow my fault?” I laughed in disbelief. “Tell you what, since I'm so prone to making 'everything my business', either you tell her, or I tell her. But I'm not going to lie for you.”

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Dolos challenged.

Don't play stupid. If I caught Hedone with her hands shoved down some random dude's pants, and her tongue rammed into the back of his throat, wouldn't you expect me to tell you?” I replied. “And what if her cousin finds out about this?”

Play savior all you like. But we both know you are making this your business.” Dolos shook his head in disbelief, and folded his arms. “You know, you can be a real asshole sometimes. How can you just wander over here and go making demands like you own something? And fuck her cousin! What is he supposed to be?”

I imagine he's the guy that's most likely going to be punching you in the face by the end of the day.” I explained angrily, before catching my tone, and walking away a few paces to calm down. “Dude, come on. You know this isn't right. He already doesn't like you. Don't you think this will just be a reason for him to want to throw down? Look-- maybe if--”

Are you saying I'm some sort of punk?” Dolos demanded.

No. I'm saying he's a pretty big guy who already has beef with you,” I stated an obvious. The conversation was not going well. Then again, I honestly had no expectations such would be. “Why did you go through all the trouble of being with her again, just to do this?”

Walt-- its just. Well,” Dolos seemed to struggle with the question. “Maybe-- maybe I'm just not a 'one woman' sort of guy, you know? What's wrong with that? Maybe me, and Hedone should just take a break, or something.”

Dolos,” I began with a brief laugh of disbelief. “You literally begged her to be your girlfriend again, for over a month, and now the two of you have been dating for about 2 or 3 weeks. You have to see how fucked up this is?”

You got a lot of damn nerve, Walt. Who are you to preach to me?” Dolos raised his voice.

Who am I?” I raised my own voice in return. “I'm the idiot who convinced Hedone that you had all these lovey-dovey feelings for her. Can't you see why we are even arguing about this right now? Don't act like you're the only one who has a right to feel upset about this!”

The fact that its none of your fucking business gives me that right. You done acting like you’re better than me?” Dolos snapped at me.

You made it my business when you got me involved!” I quickly replied.
Wait. Wait. I see what this is about.” Dolos seemed to suddenly calm down and he laughed mockingly. “So, what? Are you jealous or something? You could get more women too if you stopped acting like you were scared of pussy or something.” He smirked. “Maybe you are gay--why else would you ignore so many girls?”

Wow.” I was briefly taken by surprise. So much so, I actually was silent for a few seconds, searching for my words. “Alright. Believe what you want to believe. Is that's the latest rumor? So after all these years of knowing me, and having your back, you are going to start listening to that idiot group of Nopacs Shakurs you have been playing dominoes with at lunch?”

I’m supposed to be you’re boy! And you stand here talking about who you have to feel loyal to?” Dolos asked with seemingly genuine disbelief.

Don't pull this B.S. Hedone is my friend as well. She was also your friend. This isn't about loyalty. Its about being honest.” I looked over this new Dolos with some confusion. “And its starting to look like you don't get what either of those things mean.”

Fuck you, Walt!” Dolos suddenly exploded with anger. In the heat of the moment, when those automated safety protocols, held by the bonds of friendship failed, he let lose with something I would have never seen coming. “Fuck you and you're broke ass family!”

Then there it was. A vicious, and acidic strike that burned the air between us. His anger abated and in its place was a sudden understanding of what had just happened. The regret in his eyes probably only mirrored the stunned disbelief in my own. We both knew, no matter how much either of us desired it, such could never be retracted.

You're right.” I began simply as I starred at this new Dolos. “I don't have much money, and neither does my family. You always knew that. Unlike you, and your new pals, I'm not rich, and never been. Yet, I’ve had your back for years. Now, I see that was an incredibly stupid mistake on my part.”

Walt, look...” Dolos began again more apologetically.

Tell you what,” I turned and began to leave. “I’ll keep away from you, and you will keep the hell away from me. You don't want to be caught by your new friends hanging with a poor kid.”

Walt..” Dolos said hesitantly. “Come on--I didn’t mean that.”

I ignored him and continued walking off. He called after me again but I did not reply or look back. There was really nothing else to say. My reeling mind kept replaying the conversation. I sincerely could not believe the words I had heard. They stung like a venomous bite. It felt as if the day was threatening to drown me. I was pulled out of my spiraling thoughts by the sounds of someone jogging to catch up with me. I thought maybe it was Dolos.

Yo, Walt! What's up?” Akhelios greeted as he caught up with me. He was an Afghani kid who was known for his easy-going personality and ability to make others laugh. It was rare that he ever took much seriously. I appreciated that about him. I sometimes wished I could share his laid-back and playful approach to life.

Oh, hey, Akhelios.” I returned with far less enthusiasm.

Hey, what's the matter with you?” His smile faded.

Too much to go into. It has been sort of a crappy day.” I explained.

Did something happen between you and Dolos?” He asked.

Yeah. You can definitely call it something.” I confirmed.

Akhelios frowned with some confusion. “What's going on with that guy lately?”

What do you mean?” I asked.

Are you kidding? He has become an ultra-massive asshole these days.” Akhelios said. “Its like the moment he started at Logan and began hanging with some of those other dick-goblins, he thinks he's the absolute shit now. I don't even bother talking to that jackass anymore.”

Yeah. I noticed. And I can't say I blame you.” We stopped just outside the classroom for a moment. “Think I will do the same as you.”

You should. Fuck that guy!” Akhelios shouted suddenly with enthusiasm while raising an arm into the air like it was a formal declaration.

Some of the other students saw and over heard this causing them to begin laugh. The teacher stopped doing what he was doing and looked over at us with a pensive sort of gaze.

Oh! Sorry! Sorry!” Akhelios ducked his head down and hurried into the class.

I followed after him but my mind remained on my suddenly damaged friendship with Dolos. Relationships, be they romantic, familia, or friend, are a lot like bodies of water. There are words and actions so terrible they can pollute those once sacred pools we all hold so dear. This defilement can occur to such a point that nothing can ever truly repair the damages. It would seem on that day, during that conversation, such a hazardous spill had occurred.

The Lost Times

There is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy times.”
-Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy

At 15 years old, I followed my mother, and 3 sisters off to a motel because our home was lost to us. Even before arriving there at that dismal little place, lying sprawled out next to the freeway like a blacked-out drunk, each of us were fully aware we had not the money to stay indefinitely. Weighing against this burrowed time was the fragile prayer that something would come through to absolve our family of this cruel situation.

My most vivid memory of that night was the expression on my mother’s face. Though she did not shed tears, or display a great deal of emotion, I could see in her eyes that she believed she had failed us. Knowing she believed this but being helpless to change that perspective was far worse to me than the actual given situation.

I wanted to explain to her that what befall us was not her fault. To get her to understand none of us were blaming her. These thoughts frequently occurred to me on numerous occasions as we sat alone together in that motel room. So many times I wanted to broach the topic but I never knew how. The needed words were just too heavy, and cumbersome for my tongue at that age. Yet, not discussing the subject did nothing to dissipate my thinking about it. So it constantly remained on my mind like a complex riddle I knew the answer to but lacked the ability to articulate it.

Life continues on even when it lies shattered into pieces at your feet. Our home was gone but my obligation to school did not vanish with it. I still physically attended classes but frequently was mentally absent. A lesson about ancient civilizations, or discussions concerning allegories of classic literature are not exactly a priority when your present is mired in troubles, and you future appears dreadfully uncertain at best. It would be a lie to say I was taking it all in stride. As a teenager it was torturous to come 'home' to a motel every evening after school. Yet, no matter how negatively I felt about it all, I refused to acknowledge it out loud. I firmly believed my mother and sisters felt bad enough without hearing me complain about our obvious troubles.

During that time my sisters shared an adjoining room, while my mother and I shared the other. She slept in the room's sole bed (despite her frequent protests), and I took a sleeping bag on the floor. I did not sleep much during the entire lamentable period we were financially marooned at that place. The reasons for my growing insomnia was not due to the poor hospitality of cement covered by a thin layer of carpeting. I stayed awake because of a combination of choice and anxiety.

With a crowbar under my pillow, I chose to lie there staring up at the ceiling through the dark, because while the place was considered one of the “better” cheap motels it was still an establishment of some mild ill-repute, and questionable activities. It did not only serve as a layover for people passing through town, long-haul truckers, or even other individuals given temporary vouchers while facing a housing crisis. There were always groups, especially on the weekends, who rented adjoining rooms for obnoxiously loud, drunken parties that led to screaming matches, and fists fights on more than a few occasions. Others met at this out-of-the-way location for discreet sexual liaisons. My older sister and I could always spot the latter individuals by their nervous body language, and hurried walk to their rooms. It became sort of a game after a while.

The constant anxiety that played into the insomnia derived from the emotional limbo I drifted between. Simultaneously, I absolutely hated imagining what the light of morning would possibly bring, but also hoping each new sunrise would deliver circumstances that could potentially liberate us. I frequently left a little before daybreak because sometimes I did not want to see the sun touching that motel, or filling that room. Maybe it was my failed attempt at keeping the entire situation a dreary nightmare of misfortune. However, the darker places of life do not require any light to exist.

One particularly early morning, weeks into our stay at that motel, I awoke after what was less than a mere 2 hours of sleep. I found the details of the room barely painted by a very faint, cold blue light. I was unable to fall back to sleep so I took that as my cue to start what would obviously be a long day. While putting away my sleeping bag, and gathering my clothes, I shrugged off a brief but noticeable feeling of dizziness before entering the bathroom.

The short shower was barely warm and felt like needles. I quickly dressed, gathered everything I would need for the day, then I knelled by the door and whispered a short prayer. Presently my former religion shares the same fate as the small cross I once always wore around my neck, all lost to me so very long ago. However, in my youth I was a true believer in that particular faith. With my head bowed, and eyes closed, I made the same request to God that I had been making every morning, and night since our troubles began.

It was not a prayer for myself. I was begging for respite for my mother, and sisters. Each morning I swore to do anything required of me, be it dedicating my life to missionary work, or one day becoming a pastor, if God would soon grant my family mercy. After my prayers I slipped out of the room. Before leaving I made absolutely certain the door was locked. There were a number of other “guests” I did not trust in the least. I also checked the door to my sisters' room just to be safe.

Outside the courtyard was bathed in a dim blue glow with its edges hugged by shadows. The early winter chill was sharp, the air crisp, and everything was still, while part of the sky remained dark enough to continue displaying a scattered number of stars. As I departed the grounds of the motel, the muffled thud of my old, worn boots sounded louder than normal with nearly none of the ambient background of a conscious city.

As always at that hour, across the parking lot were a small number of truckers preparing to continue on wherever their deliveries were taking them. With coffee in hand, and for some a cigarette in the other, the drivers would gather to converse near their idle trucks. Some would occasionally greet me, and others just watched in silence as I passed by.

The motel was tucked away behind a large supermarket. Its big, vibrant sign bathed the immediate sidewalk with a red light. Instead of taking the long walk across the store's and motel's shared parking lot, I would immediately turn right, making my way up the impromptu shortcut of a grassy incline adjacent to the main road, leading to the overpass stretching over the freeway.

This served as the start of my routine walk from Fremont to a James Logan high's bus stop outside of Alvarado Middle school in Union City. While it would have been a shorter trip to instead go directly to campus, there are two important reasons why I chose, and preferred the longer walk. First, the school was not open during those predawn hours. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I enjoyed being able to still see my friends at the start of the day because it kept my spirits from tittering over the edge, and plummeting down into despair.

That morning I was making good time, while still thinking about my mother, and sisters when second, but still brief spell of dizziness caught me by surprise. I paused at the corner in order to wait for it to pass. I dismissed the feeling as maybe still being groggy from having not slept much. It was just then I noticed a large, white, work van approaching. I would have ignored the vehicle as nothing out of the ordinary until it became clear it was slowing down, and coming to a stop near the curb where I was standing.

I took a cautious step back while simultaneously trying to see into the vehicle. The driver was a large, clean-shaven, Caucasian man, wearing what appeared to be some sort of work coveralls. I was instantly suspicious. Where I come from an unknown vehicle suddenly pulling over near you either meant they were representatives of the ass-whooping committee looking for lucky winners, or maybe even someone offering free bullets for whatever ungodly reason. I had no room in my life for either possibilities.

Good Morning.” He began.

Good Morning.” I returned tentatively.

You sure are walking a long way so early in the morning, young man.” The Stranger continued through his window with a warm smile.

It isn’t that far.” I lied. Though if he had taken note of my back-pack then he clearly deduced where I was most likely going. But I was not going to agree with him.

It could be dangerous walking alone down these dark streets all alone like this.” For a moment, though I admit my eyes could have been playing tricks on me, he seemed to leer on that last line and it made my skin crawl like a hive of ants. “You should really be a lot more careful.”

I tend to be extraordinarily careful.” I glanced over the rest of the large van, and it dawned on me he could very well have company hidden in the back. I began considering which would be the best direction to run if that turned out to be the case.

I bet.” The Stranger chuckled before going on. “Would you like a lift? It’s really cold this morning, and I wouldn’t mind at all.”

Being inordinately cynical at that age, my mind quickly deduced one of two outcomes resulting from accepting that seemingly polite stranger's invitation for a ride. The first option being he was a hard-working serial killer getting a very early start on his day, it was definitely killing season, and Negro was on his To-Do-List. The second possible alternative was that he may have been a genuinely kind man, and was offering a lift to my desired location, but-- and the 'but' is important here-- he was also probably Mormon, or Jehovah's Witness, and was secretly eager to give me an impromptu sermon all the way there. In the end it does not matter which of the two possible choices were true as it would not have changed the outcome; me desperately flinging open the passenger doors before enthusiastically leaping from the still moving van to offer myself to the loving embrace of the asphalt.

As this polite stranger smiled I quietly decided it was the first scenario. So, while it looked like a nice enough van to comfortably ride in all the way to an episode of America's Most Wanted, or a segment of Unsolved Mysteries, I figured it would be in my best interests to pass.

No thank you. I am not much further away.” I took another step back to give us more distance. “Besides, I don’t even know you.” Why I added the last obvious part was beyond even me. Some sort of defiance? To somehow reaffirm to him my intentions was not going with him? Your guesses are as good as mine.

I don’t bite.” In his defense there was probably some truth to that. At least not until I was properly gagged, and bound in some dark place where no one could hear my bloody, screaming, death screams.

I said, no thank you.” I added more firmness behind my reply before I made a motion as if I was turning to leave. “But it was kind of you to offer.” I decided I did not want to piss him off if he was really a wandering psychopath-- or if there were other psychopaths hiding in the back.

Okay. It was just a friendly offer. Be safe.” The Stranger said as I turned walking away. The van sat there for a long moment before taking off off down the road.

Not the sort of incident to start off a happy new morning with. Of course I made sure he kept going down that street before I started walking fully again. Still feeling a little sluggish by that point, I decided to make a pit-stop at the first liquor store I came across, and bought a bottle of “Jolt” in hopes the drink would give a kick start to my morning. After cutting through the parking lot, and Alvarado middle school, I finally reached the bus stop. No one else was there yet.

Even as I decided to sit on the curb to wait, I had not forgotten the friendly stranger back near the overpass, so I kept an eye out for him just in case. It was 6ish by this point. The bus would not arrive until 7am. To take my mind off the nagging, sluggish feeling, I unzipped my backpack, and took out a then current issue of Game Pro magazine.

Then like a blink in reality everything was suddenly different. One moment I was trying to read an article, and the next I was pushing myself up from the cold cement of the sidewalk. Disorientated, and confused, it took several moments for me to realize I must had blacked out. With a sudden sense of panic I ran my hands over myself to make sure I was not injured, wounded, or even bleeding. Fortunately, despite the small ache on the left side of my head, and mild headache, nothing else was wrong.

Oh, damnit.” I mumbled aloud to absolutely no one while forcing myself to stand. Rubbing the sore spot on the left side of my head, I looked about with some embarrassment. It was unsettling to realize I had just been lying there on that street alone, unconscious, and vulnerable. I gradually noticed the sky had brightened to much brighter shades of blue and orange. I checked my watch to discover it was 6:50 , and this only furthered my confusion because the bus would be arriving in 10 minutes but no one else had arrived yet. Nothing was making sense. I placed a hand to my head and released a quiet breath. That faint dizziness had yet to fully dissipate. I thought long, and hard despite feeling like someone had coated part of my brain with some sort of film. It was difficult to make any sense of the situation.

Then it dawned on my quite cruelly. It was Wednesday. School always started at 10am on Wednesdays. I was baffled, and upset at myself that I had somehow forgotten that little detail. Now, not only was I stuck with a much longer wait, I was also alone, cold, and had a worsening headache. I wanted to turn around and just go home. But there was no home to return or retreat to. There was nothing except a sleeping bag, on a floor barely different from the cold ground I just scrapped myself up from. These revelations were starting to upset me. I buried my face into one of my hands. I seriously just needed a moment to make it all slow down. I wished I could make the world stand still.
That terrible, raw feeling of wanting to breakdown began extending outwards from the core of my being like fractures. I was going to fall apart. I had to force myself to stop before any tears arrived. I literally commanded myself to suck it up. To stop whining. I reminded myself that there were people who did not have as much as a cheap motel room. I saw some of these individuals everyday during my walk as they slept on park benches, beneath overpass, and in doorways. They were people who existed in unyielding, callous, social isolation and true poverty. I needed to remember that. To count my blessings, no matter how small-- or increasingly meager.

Yet, for all my supposed maturity the reality is I was just a kid. At that moment I felt it more than any other time in my life. I felt inexperienced, lost and powerless. It was like the world was eating me, and my family alive, and I could do nothing to stop any of it. Again, I thought about how much I wanted to go to my non-existing home. While trying to re-exert control over myself, I looked up to the sky as the sun was just beginning to touch the tops of trees, and houses of the surrounding neighborhood. The light stung my eyes a little.

I was uncertain what to do next. I briefly considered walking back to the motel but I just could not. I could not bear seeing that place where those I loved were trapped. It was then I decided to walk to Dolos house until school started. I did not think much about the decision as I just needed to keep moving, or I would sit on that curb and refuse to get up again. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I turned and began walking towards my new destination.

Somehow, until it was too late, I failed to realize just how much pain I was setting myself up for by walking through my old neighborhood. I quickly began regretting retracing the same path I once took everyday to go home after school. Upon reaching the corner, two or three blocks to the left, I could see Bronco Billy's, a pizza parlor my friends and I hung out at frequently. Immediately across the street was a park I use to come to in order to watch friends play basketball. Barely a block later I was passing by a small video rental store I regularly rented video games from.

However, the worse came after I took a shortcut through the railroad tracks. When this was still my neighborhood I only had to walk a short distance then climb the tall brick-wall to the left, in order to reach my backyard. Now, as I walked pass I could see the second floor of our old house. It was so close and still impossibly far away. This trip was like a fun-house of mockery constructed from the remnants of better times. The pangs of nostalgia was quickly becoming rolling tidal waves threatening to drown me.

I cast my eyes down, refused to look at anything else, and increased my pace. It was not until reaching the old ramshackle bridge, stretching over the creek, that I finally decided to stop. It was an ugly but sturdy structure of gray metal, and dark wood. I leaned over the railing, and gazed down into the waters below, where I could see a distorted image of myself against the backdrop of the bright sky. My spirits were woefully low now. I decided not to stay long.

A creeping sense of disloyalty began to plague me at this point for feeling so bad about the situation. I knew without a doubt my mother was trying everything in her power to find us a way out of our current troubles. I struggled, and thought about this while walking down the jogging trail that led to the gated community where Dolos lived. It was a short walk to the trail's gate, and like most of the other kids without a key, I simply climbed over it.

I remember always thinking it was such a beautiful area. It was the sort of place I often wished my mother could live in peace. Immediately across the street from Dolos' house was a large park where numerous tall eucalyptus trees stood. By then the rays of the sun were touching the streets, falling through the gently swaying branches and leaves. It no longer felt like I was walking to Dolos' home. I was falling. Plummeting towards somewhere I was hoping to crash land just for a little while. Stopping outside of the large front door, I checked my watch to discover it was only 7:20 AM. I stood there without ringing the door bell for several minutes. I was hesitant at the thought it might be too early.

Finally deciding to take my chances, I rang the bell, took a step back, and waited nervously. Only a few moments passed before Dolos Sr opened the door. He was a very fair-skinned man of medium build, who's appearance frequently reminded me of my Mother's Creole brothers. He was one of the very few people I was not completely wary of at that age. Partially dressed in his normal business attire, dark slacks, and a dress shirt, with his tie still loose, it was clear he was preparing for his morning commute to one of the stores he owned.

Morning, Walter. You sure are up awfully early. I thought school started later on Wednesdays? Is this a sign you are on your way to becoming a dedicated scholar?” He acknowledged with some obvious puzzlement and good-humor, while fastening his tie.

No. Nothing like that. I am just getting an early start on the day, I guess.” I lied with the best smile I could manage. I am almost certain some of the weariness I was feeling must have seeped out.“Is Dolos awake yet?”

What?! Dolos getting up this early?” Dolos Sr began laughing as if I had just told a joke. He also stepped aside as a wordless invitation to enter. I thanked God he did. “I would have to go up there, and literally kick that kid in the butt if I wanted to get him out of bed at this hour.” He continued after closing the door. “And even then its a good chance he might only roll over a few times but keep sleeping.”

Well, I bet a second kick would do the job.” I joked causing him to laugh.

Don't tempt me.” Dolos Sr finished his tie, then began buttoning his cuffs. “Of course, you are welcomed to have a seat and wait for my slow son. I am surprised to see you up this early.” I noticed a brief pause as if he was considering something before speaking. “Are you alright?” He asked with a more serious tone.

Yes.” I replied perhaps a little too quickly. For the briefest moment I felt the urge to spill my guts but nothing came out. “Just up a lot earlier than I originally thought and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, here I am.”

You should have slept in.” Dolos Sr smiled a little but it did not completely cover his growing concern. Despite such he was never the type to pry. “Well feel free to sit in the family room upstairs. I am sure he will be up in about an hour.”

Thank you.” I said and started up the steps. Without warning I felt another brief dizzy spell and I placed a hand to my head and tried to laugh a little. “I guess I did get up pretty early.”

I’d say.” Dolos Sr added.

I’ll be okay.” I lied again and it made me feel a little guilty because Dolos Sr had always been really nice to me. A lot of parents treated me as if I were strange-- if even politely so. While Non-Black parents had the annoying habit of frequently reminding me I was so well spoken, or asking where I was from because I was well-spoken. Dolos Sr never did any of those things. But despite how much I respected him I was just not ready to talk about what was happening. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I could not talk about any of it. I felt ashamed and in that shame I felt guilty like I was betraying my mother because she was trying her best. I would not just stand by and let anyone judge her.

I walked up the two flights of steps, crossed the hallway, and entered the family room through its double-doors. Taking a seat in one of the large, blue armchairs nearest to the room's windows, I figured Dolos would be coming along soon. It was a soft, warm place to sit. I told myself I was closing my eyes for a little while to rest them. I just needed a few minutes to pull all the pieces of myself back together.

Walt, you sick?” Dolos suddenly asked and I awoke with a start. I guess I did more than rest my eyes. I placed a hand to my head. I felt a little better but definitely was not at 100%. “You look kind of tired.”

No, I’m cool.” I smiled a little and pushed up from the chair. “You got dress quick. Let me guess, there is some girl you are trying to meet before class?”

What?” Dolos smirked and looked at his watch. “What are you talking about? Its 9:10. I passed through from my room and you were sleep.”

Oh. I guess I was kind of tired.” I mumbled with some embarrassment.

Yeah, kind of.” He smirked but became a little more serious. “You sure you feeling okay?”

Great.” I replied and picked my back pack up. “You ready?”

Pft. I have been for about a half an hour.” He started for the door and I followed. “Don’t rush me now, you sleepy bastard.”

Fuck you.” I said as we walked down the steps and towards the front door. “You’re just lucky I showed up.” I felt it was the other way around really.

You two have a good day.” Dolos Sr called from the living room as he began walking towards us. He then looked to his son. “And you keep out of trouble. You hear me, boy?”

Geez. Thanks for the faith, pops.” Dolos frowned a little.

No need to thank me for something that don't exist, son.” Dolos Sr joked causing Dolos to laugh. He then looked over at me speaking more seriously. “You know, Walter, if you need anything...” He trailed off.

Thank you.” I nodded. “But everything is fine.” I added.

Just a friendly reminder.” Dolos Sr returned before turning and moving back to the living room. “Have a good day.”

And we’re off.” I said stepping through the front door when Dolos pulled it open. “It’s going to be a long day.”
Standing out in front of Dolos house I briefly paused just long enough to look up at the sky. The only hopes that were keeping me going was returning to that miserable motel, and possibly hearing my mother say the magic words that would free us from exile. I knew that one day it would happen. When the time came I wanted the sky to be blue as I stepped through the door to find her proud smile lit by the sunlight, where upon she would announce. “I have found us a place”.

Imagining that moment made the pain and the darkness bearable. The mere fantasy of that moment would have to suffice for quite a while.