Joe looked around & noticed the street was quiet. Dead quiet. Not a car or person or stray animal in sight. It was the perfect time to strike.
Down the street, in arm’s distance of a street light’s hazed glow, a gaggle of young men huddled, oblivious to anything but themselves. Joseph knew what they were doing, & swore he even knew one of them.
As a junior high school teacher, Joe learned how to disconnect himself whenever necessary. It was a component he developed throughout his years of run-ins with troubled teens & their equally-as-disturbed parents. Whenever he became too emotionally attached to a kid, he swiftly constructed a wall around his heart. Oftentimes he found that it also constricted his emotional airway, but after awhile, that became collateral damage he was able to tolerate. Kids, he’d come to realize, were a dime a dozen & Joe would be the first one to tell you he didn’t have enough money to try & save the world.
As the boys shuffled around, Joe sneaked between shadows & irresponsibility, closer to the pack of kids. “Kids” in the loosest sense, because to anybody else, this pack of young men were animals. Especially to police & other young men. A zombie approached from the mouth of an alley, just as Joe decided to spring into action. He watched as the young men interacted with it, handed it something, & turned their collective backs as it scurried back into it’s abyss. The groups seemed unfazed by this apparent transaction, & continued on with fellowship.
This was Joe’s perfect opportunity to make his move.
With a gun in one hand & stupidity in the other, all Joe thought about was how his son became a zombie, overnight, right before his very eyes. The boy he once knew was now a half-empty shell, weather-beaten & tired, sucked dry from the drugs that ravaged his young soul.
Joe inched between parked cars & a garbage bin, a little closer to the pack of wolves.
Joe thought that maybe if he had done something different during the early years, maybe his son wouldn’t be in this position. & neither would he. Those thoughts slowly dissipated, though, as another lifeless teenager lumbered over to the group, & repeated the same ritual as the one before him. This time, the other kid stayed with the group & before long, puffs of white smoke wafted gingerly from them, disappearing into the cold night.
Joe didn’t know if these boys were the boys that sold his son the drugs that caused his overdose, but right now, he didn’t care.
Wafts of smoke ascended above the group of boys while they quietly conversed amongst one another about the average bullshit that aimless, shameless teenage boys clamor on about. The night seemed to grow colder, quieter, & all they were concerned with was getting paid.
These boys, like so many, had gotten washed away, right from the hospital room to the nuclear families & forgotten dreams of the mean streets. The place were broken homes are a normal way of life, & hope stopped floating because the water bill was too high. Television paints portraits of happy adult life starting after high school, but for a lot of kids, part-time jobs that last a lifetime & selling drugs are the only tangible ends to a means. If they don’t die or go to prison indefinitely in the interim, that is.
A shadowy figure approached the boys in slow motion, & this life – to them – was what it was all about. Hustling becomes more than just survival to those who don’t know how to apply it to a bigger picture. & most boys that looked like them & lived in places like where they lived were all in the same imaginary boat. One of the young hustlers reached in his pocket, gave the shadowy figure a small wad, took it’s money, & turned to continue the conversation. Had the posse collectively looked around – like most hustlers should constantly – maybe they would’ve seen that man crouched behind the car. Had they looked around, perhaps they would’ve saw that they were being watched, & not only by the police.
None of the boys grew up think they’d be selling drugs in front of an abandoned house when they were kids. They had hopes & goals & aspirations like other children. It’s funny how life tricks you into thinking it’s going in your favor, yet slowly – over time – you realize that you’re just being pulled into whatever direction you’ve allowed to exist. Before you know it, you are no longer you, but them, those who you’d swore you’d never become.
This “cut & dry” process of growing up destroys more than it rebuilds in most instances, & to a teenager with no life experience, the end of a road may be all they see. It’s never too late to [re]build, but it’s hard to tell that to young people.
We all went to school with these kids, the ones who never talked about college or what they wanted to do when they grew up. Instead, they spoke more openly about what they would have to do if they made it out of the teen years. Sadly, many don’t, & those that do are few & far between, it seems.
One of the boys heard a rustling near the end of the alley, by the trash bin & abandoned cars.
“Sup man…” one of the older kids asked, as the pack of naïve wolves zeroed in on the source of the disturbance.
“Dunno,” said the small, snake-looking guy. “Sounds like a dog or something. Don’t even worry about it.”
The pack of boys continued to make money well into the night, with no intention of caring or stopping. So valiant was their collective effort at doing so that when the occasional cop car drove past, they didn’t look twice. Had they made eye contact, it would’ve become a foot chase, & as lazy as inner city cops are these days, it was apparent that neither the boys nor the officers wanted to do any running. That invisible nonchalance is the gateway drug to corrupt police precincts.
Again, a noise in the shadow drew the boys’ attention. This time, though, they weren’t so quick to ignore it.
To be continued…