I AM NOT A HAMMER! Not a hammer. He screamed inwardly, directing his intentions at the tall, rough-brick buildings, the foreboding, overlooking passersby, the ominous, taunting sky. Screamed on the inside and what good did it do, but translate to another twisted face of his. The fear and anger welling up once again. If only he’d learned in time to pipe up, if only his voice could back him, if only the right person had asked the right things, if only. If only. If only.
Ah, but that is the curse of the foster kid shuffle. Is it not? The souls it claims tumbling out in ruins, vacillating between the unstoppable, menacing cacophony, playing incessantly between the ears of the touched, and coming out loud and disconcerting… Or the quiet ones; The ones still entangled in the monster-under-the-bed deluded illusion of the “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me” variety. Eyes averted. Lost beyond the depths. A despondency measured in dog years.
Herein is where our homeboy lay. He’d been pushed out into the sun under a bad star from the jump. Tunnels of NYC ain’t no place to hold a baby, especially when a woman didn’t know what the fuck was wrong with her until the day she uncontrollably pissed herself, and was stabbed by alien pains emanating from the depths of her belly when she was mostly used to being numb.
The cries and primal, animal sounds echoed through the dark maze beneath the streets that morning, about an eighth of a mile shy away from the nearest filtered shaft of dusted light. A baby was born onto a worn mattress full of unspeakable stains. Picked up reluctantly by filthy, unexpectant hands, and held, finally, to a tattered breast on a tired body with a rapid heartbeat, and the first. blossoming. of instant. surprise. love. A first love, that a person can only know once they’ve been left to bleed and all else had failed.
And speaking of blood, holy mother was it a mess. Messy from day one. This woman! She had no idea. She was just walking in the shoes that she’d been given a generation or two ago. She couldn’t be sure. Family history was never rich on the roster. But she’d stayed on the same path as her own mother. Tending her habits above all else. Passing them on to her skinny, cherubic child.
It was novelty at first. Because she’d never really known care. Never really known responsibility. Didn’t know the first thing about child rearing but hot-damn would she do her best. Her capabilities were few- let’s not glorify. I mean, an addict in deep is an addict in deep. But little can be done to stifle that innate knowledge that woman share. The one that is connected to ancestry. To source. The umbilical chord of the universe. She tended best she could, long as she could, until the mouth became too needy. Her own needs too greedy, to give proper attention to a babe.
So off with it on the kind of hot summer night where the nail-exposed overhangs drip with polluted condensation and people move molasses slow to keep the heat at bay. Off with it, this kid, this monkey, this needy thing she never wanted, couldn’t even remember how it happened in the first place. Off with this and onto some store’s front stoop where come morning a startled Asian grocer would find a itty-bitty-stinky-baby in a box and stare at in amazement for one shocked moment, wondering how people could be so cruel, before picking up the entire box that weighed all of 6 pounds and bringing it into NYPD’s 5th Precinct on Elizabeth and Canal, to be stared at suspiciously and questioned with intimidation, armed with about 30 specific, limited to shop-talk- English words. Oh poor secret Asian mang.
Fast forwarding our tale and on with it. Our poor guy. Our poor baby who would be sure to grow slight in height, and not far in the mental. Our poor guy who was to be pushed, dropped, dragged, and kicked through an unchecked system of house after house and on. Filled with predator and mouse. Loud television and louse. Lack of love, direction, or reliable constant. The irony of taxing the shit out of parents desperate to adopt, and adversely allowing the shittiest of the lot to be foster parents. And paying their asses. The horror. No criteria having mother-fuckers. Something to shake your head at.
Our boy never developed much of a taste for outward speak. Didn’t have much to say. Maybe he didn’t know how. Perhaps he lacked the overlooked tools of expressivity or composition. Teachers thought he a lost cause. Not much you can do with a lump that sits in the corner, refusing to engage. So in he went and out again. And at the glorious age of 18; the ripe age where we are fit and tied to greet the world; the age where we no longer need guidance or help at all, ever, and are ready- all of us- for complete and utter independence- our homeboy was let out.
He was like an instant street rat. Literally like a fucking rat. Where he learned from the rodents basic survival. Eat what you can find. Drink where you can find. Sleep in the little nooks where people are not apt to disturb you. He took to the streets with arguable natal instinct. The streets gave him selective shelter, opened up his fuzzy focus. Taught him the freedom to sit and stare. The freedom to bark or growl or yell at random- all of which he practiced, just to see. But it weren’t him. He were the silent type. But the city pulsed on and he felt off-shook by the beat. Our boy never had the luxury of feeling steady, really. His only purpose was today, I suppose. The ability to reflect on purpose is paired with those on the elevated levels of the comparably modern day caste system. Paired with those where the concept of hedonism can ring. Where people can afford sarcasm. His pockets bore holes and his currency nil.
Our boy. Left to eat the dust. Left an empty shell of nobody. He never got to be. Some people never do. They run through depleted soil from dia numero uno. No chance. Bleek grim. A sad ending from the beginning. A side bar. An untended weed.
In a world of hard focused happy endings I embrace the grime. Tip a 40 oz., a pinot with your pinky in the air, your G & T, your whisky neat, rip the tip off your blunt if you gotta- for all the living ghosts out there. They’re out there right now, shuffling, rocking, hiding. Tip it and sip it and know you got it good, and if not good, better than a lot.