Wizards and Gang Bangers






My mom gave birth to the four of us at a very young age. She was 20 years old when she had the first and 25 when she had the last. She was a tough single mother with a mission to survive and raise us the best she could. Only after becoming an adult and having children myself did I finally understand the burden she carried. Because she had to care for us, she never had her own youth. She was locked in 23 years of indentured servitude until the last of us had left home. I suppose the good thing about having children so young is that she was relatively young when she finally got her life back.


One of the strange things about my childhood was that I believed I should be able to move things with my mind but somehow I had forgotten how to do it. I also thought I should be able to speak to others with my mind but had forgotten how to do that as well. I remember being in second grade and longing for the day to end. I tried to think the hands of the clock forward. My stare was so intense, my teacher, Ms Billingsley, notice and said “ are you OK ?” I have another memory of an old car in the driveway of our house. It had broken down and had not moved for a long time. Eventually, we lost the keys. I thought if I could remember how to use my telekinetic powers, I could unlock the door. I spent hours in the backyard staring at the lock trying to get it to move with my mind. Of course, it never did.

It was moments like this that made me think of myself as a new soul. It seemed like everyone around me had gotten used to existence in this world and I alone was trying to make sense of a new universe. That’s probably why other kids thought I was an oddball. I suppose I did look strange with my big head and really large glasses carrying a copy of the Hobbit around like a security blanket. I wanted so badly to become a wizard like Gandalf. It was the only way I could get back to my normal self, the self I was before I ended up in this world.


At 8 years old I remember walking through the rubbish strewn streets of my neighborhood thinking there had to be something more than what I saw around me. The boarded up windows and peeling paint, along the rows of color coded buildings felt so hollow. Back then, the ghetto projects we lived in were color coded. Each section had a different colored door. There were the reds, the yellows, the greens, and the blues. I can't remember exactly, but I think we lived in the Blues.


Part of my need to escape into fantasy may have also come from the fact that the stress of raising four children alone at such a young age was something my mother did not deal with very well. She was prone to outbursts of incredible rage and violence. From the perspective of a child it was hard to understand why she was so angry. I get it now. She was high school educated, barely employable, just over 20 years old, and already the mother of four. Her entire existence had been derailed. Still, despite all of the pressures to do so, she never abandoned us.


I remember a day when the five of us were riding the city bus. I must have been nine or ten years old. There were gang bangers sitting in the back. Two of them got off and threw a brick through the bus window. Just before the brick broke the glass, one of the gang bangers on board dove to the floor. After the window was smashed the other bangers laughed and made a loud ruckus. An older gentleman at the front was quite upset. He confronted the gang and began to angrily scold them for acting like asses and potentially causing harm. Suddenly, the banger who had dove to the floor tried to punch the old man but the old man was too fast. He must have been a boxer in his youth. He handled that young man as if he were teaching his own son a lesson. He pummeled the kid from the back of the bus all the way to the front and out the door. The other gangsters who were on the bus went wild and began smashing more of the windows. My siblings and I crouched down as low as possible to avoid the flying glass and any unwanted attention from the gang. My mom, however, stood up and began shouting,“Don't you hurt my babies! Don't you hurt my babies!” We pulled at her sleeves and begged her to sit down and shut up. Luckily the gang bangers were too busy vandalizing the bus and fighting the old man to notice her. That was a powerful moment for me because, to my little boy brain, it was proof of my mother’s love.


(I took the photo in summer. To me, the fire eater was like a wizard casting spells. I guess I haven't changed that much.)

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