Kent was a short man with salt and peppered hair and a gray beard. His bright blue eyes made him look wild, as if he were detached from reality, and his bent nose had been broken more than once.
Kent lived in Alphabet City for much of his life. He followed in the footsteps of his older brother Johnny.
However, Johnny’s luck ran out when a short Spanish girl led him to the apartment of a local junkie.
The girl led Johnny to an apartment where he assumed the two would fix themselves. But upon their entry, a longhaired biker approached Johnny with blood trickling from the corner of his mouth.
The room smelled like freebased cocaine and the needle marks in the biker’s arm were fresh and bleeding.
The biker asked, “Are you Johnny?”
Johnny had been beaten before, but never like this.
And before he could answer, the longhaired biker punched Johnny in the mouth. He kicked him to the floor and stomped his face until Johnny lay bloodied and still.
Hours later, Johnny was found lifeless on the corner of Avenue C and East 4th.
He was slumped with the hood of his winter coat pulled over his head.
There was no money in his pockets, and there were no drugs in his possession.
As for the biker and the Spanish girl; they were never heard from again…
At the time of his brother’s death, Kent had already seen his share of trouble. His first arrest was at the age of 13, and he was introduced to drugs before Johnny’s murder.
Kent would explain, “It’s like I didn’t have a chance. My old man was sent off to prison before I was born. My mother drank and cleaned apartments, and my brother was in and out of jail. What did they expect me to be, a boy’s scout?”
Somehow, Kent felt his life was already laid out for him.
He would say, “I figured, if I’m going to bad….then let me be the worst.”
During the cold weather months, Kent found himself in abandoned buildings. He learned to survive and eventually landed a score when his mother died.
Although it had been years since he had seen her, Kent’s mother hid money inside of her mattress.
She never told anyone about this. She certainly never told Kent.
She wrapped the money in several rubber bands and kept it in the stuffing of her bed.
At the time of the old woman’s death, there was more than ten thousand dollars hidden next to a black and white photograph of Kent’s father.
Kent did not what his father looked like. His mother rarely spoke of him and when she did, she often cried or called him a monster.
Reluctantly, Kent was given the money, keys to the apartment, and the photograph by a friend of his mother’s.
The apartment she lived in was small and inexpensive.
The stove was old and the refrigerator barely worked, but there was a bed inside the apartment. There was a toilet as well, and running water. All of which, are better than what Kent had while living on the street.
Susan was a girl from East 10th Street.
She was odd looking with a very slender face. She was painfully thin with long, bony fingers and bad skin.
Susan had terrible acne as a teenager. As she grew older, her acne went away, but it left deep scars in her cheeks.
And much like Kent, Susan had wild eyes. She had a space between her front teeth and her breath often smelled from cigarettes.
“I remember our first date,” Susan bragged. “We were standing on Avenue A and St Marks. We were nodding out at the same time….and I guess we just seemed to fit.”
Kent never hit Susan, but he would often threaten her. He would accuse her of stealing his dope, and while Susan would set up his next fix, Kent would scream at her.
Sometimes he would go so far as to call her a bucked tooth whore. However, Susan never complained.
“He needs me the same way I need him,” she would say. “If I leave, he’s got no one to take care of him.”
As mid-November came, Susan and Kent found themselves in a warm binge. Three days had passed, and neither of them left the apartment.
Susan discovered the date in a moment of clarity.
“Holy shit,” cried the frail woman. “Tomorrow is thanksgiving.”
Kent opened his eyes. His jaw hung down with a thin line of drool swaying from his chin.
Food was not their priority, and with no money, the idea of a meal was not realistic. “Maybe we can have a Thanksgiving dinner,” Susan asked. “I haven’t had one of those in a long time.”
Originally, Susan came from a wealthy family.
Her grandfather had a seat on the stock exchange, but her mother was mentally unfit and abusive.
After several run-ins with law enforcement and trips to the psych ward, Susan’s mother ended up on a substance abuse program, until she died in a Chelsea motel room.
Susan often told people, “I don’t care how much money is waiting for me. I’ll never go back there.”
And though Kent tried to change her mind; Susan refused.
She said, “I’ll never go back there, and that’s final!”
Kent would argue, “Well then find a way to pay rent, and I won’t complain.”
But Susan already found a way to pay the rent. Along with government assistance, Susan received a disability check.
“I got all that I need,” she would say.
The next afternoon, Susan walked to the nearest grocery store and purchased two frozen dinners with sliced turkey breast, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a tiny helping of cranberry sauce. She bought two candles, a box of wooden matches, and a bag of plastic knives and forks.
She opened the door to the apartment, and found Kent in the same position as when she left.
“Let’s eat,” she said.
She heated the processed meals and placed two candles on the small kitchen table.
Still weary, Kent sat down and waited for the food to be served.
His semi-conscious stare was brought on by the slow, but beautiful destruction of heroin. His lifeless eyes sunk into the deep sockets of his face, and his lips were dried.
“What’s for dinner,” he asked.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” Susan told him. “We’re having Turkey…..what else do people eat on Thanksgiving?”
“Good,” said Kent. “That means we have something to be thankful for.”
Far above the hustles on Avenue C, Susan and Kent enjoyed their meal.
They sat together on the couch and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life” on television.
They could hear the Church bells ringing from The Holy Redeemer Church on 3rd, and settling in together, Kent put his arm around Susan.
He told her, “See that?” It’s just like the movie said….every time a bell tings, an Angel gets its wings.”
As the plates empty this Thanksgiving and the eyes close after too much food, the world still turns with good and bad.
But even in the depths of Alphabet City, there is always something to be thankful for.