I have a memory. Albeit small but still, I have a memory nonetheless. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a work truck. We were driving somewhere down 2nd Avenue during midday in New York City. I was 16 years-old at the time. My hair was long and the summer was hot. I was in the middle of so many different things and at the same time, I was in the middle of nowhere. I had so many questions but I was looking for the answer in all the wrong places.
The city was different. Then again, everything was different. There were no cell phones. There were no cell phone cameras or videos. The Westside and the Eastside both had different vibes and experiences. Downtown was Downtown and Uptown was Uptown. I remember Alphabet City. I remember the empty vials on the streets near the park by 116th Street.
I remember a morning beneath a set of stairs, which were somewhere in the Bronx. And, I remember the sound of gunshots near Liberty in East New York, Brooklyn. I can also recall the sight of a man who was shot high in the chest by his left shoulder. He was running away and fleeing down the street with his left arm dangling like a limp piece of meat.
There is truth to the saying that once you see something, you can’t unsee it. And me as the younger version of who I am today, I was stuck with new images and experiences that refused to leave my system. I was caught up in the lie machine to fend off the truths of my behavior.
I was in a car, Uptown, and heading south. Meanwhile, the rest of the 16 year-old world was experiencing summer. They were out on the beaches. They were at the parks. They were experiencing teenage life at its best. And me, I was nearing the end of a certain life that I could not control.
In fairness, my sickness withered me down to skin and bones. I was 80lbs. I hardly ate because my appetite wasn’t geared towards food but instead, my hunger and my thirst was focused on a chemical appetite. I was worn out and sick but still, I was only a kid. I was literally a child; yet, I had the mindset of a beaten soldier who retreated with wounds from a war that never had to exist.
I wrote a short prose about this:
The soldier explains:
We the disposed, lie here in empty places,
we sit in the sunless gardens
We are aware that the war has stopped
and, still we tremble –
slowly crumbling like the dust from the friends
who no longer exist.
Folding in the faded nods
of our lost causes because above all things,
“Abandon all hope,
ye who enter here.”
If left behind,
I am without the dream of victory.
I have fallen, withered, sinking into the ground
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
The Lord giveth
the Lord taketh away-
Until the rise,
Once more. Just once more.
One more time, into the romance;
and waiting for more.
Where is life for the lost soldier?
Who is this person without their battle?
What will I do now that the fighting is done?
The Father answers:
Unfold your fist
The bleeding is over.
It is time to go home
and the battle has ended.
“But I can’t let go”
“I don’t know how.”
Let go of it.
“But this is all that I have.”
Let it go
“I can’t. I’m just too afraid.”
Then the battles will go on
and all is truly lost.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here . . .
I was young and yes, this person no longer exists. All that is left of that child is the man I am now. I have seen and endured, no differently from anyone else. My life has a story to tell. I consist of ups and downs, falls and personal reparation. I have endured and changed and repaired the broken pieces of my life. Yet, I am still a work in progress.
As a person, I had to learn how to connect information in ways that I could understand. I had to learn how to navigate through troubled waters without going back to old, default settings. I had to learn to liberate myself from my fears and my anxieties. But more, I had to enable my abilities to improve my personal function.
My whole life was spent on a chase. My journey (or so it seemed) was riddled with twists and turns. I was holding onto ideas, thoughts, emotions and feelings which kept me back like chains that kept me in an old uniform that no longer fit.
Moreover, I was tucked inside of a habitual mindset of a belief system, which promised, “This is all you will ever be.”
My way of understanding comes through analogies. This is the way I learned to understand and retain information. I had to learn how to relate my lessons to understandable moments in my life. This way I could understand how to navigate away from the storms instead of heading straight for them.
I had to figure out ways to stop the constant flood of worrisome thoughts that would not go away.
Someone asked, “Did you ever forgive yourself?”
I was asked this question but in my response, I shrugged this off.
I was asked, “Aren’t you tired of carrying that stuff around with you?”
Of course, the honest answer was yes. But again, I shrugged this off.
Self-persecution is amazing to me. It is amazing how we can carry the wounds from old battles for years, even decades and we refuse to let them go.
It is amazing how the empty weight from the wars of our past can weigh us down until one day, hopefully, we can unclench our fists and learn to liberate ourselves.
Some say, they’re not mad anymore but they never noticed their fists are still clenched.
Some say, “I don’t like to think about those things.”
Some deny. Some weep.
Some hurt and some lived until their end never knowing that they could be free too, if they only chose to let go.
I want to see the world. I want to see a roomful of people come to a realization and understand that they can be free too. All they have to do is choose a new direction. They have to make this choice and be militant about this. They have to be persistent and consistent with every choice they make.
I want to watch people be inspired. I want to see people overcome odds and defy the limitations they believed were against them.
I want to see a parent reconnected to their child and watch families end their battles, to find peace, to pull together and to overcome the cobwebs of their past. Or, if this is not possible; in an effort to repair old wounds without bringing harm to themselves or anyone else, I want to see people become their best possible self and leave the rest behind. I want to see people liberate themselves and watch them be so empowered that they choose their future over their past.
If I am able, I want to see a battered partner stand up against their home life oppression and watch as their bruises disappear and their strongest smiles eventually return.
Also, I want to repair the rips and tears in the fabric of my love. I want to restore myself and make amends for my past. I want to pay back now before the interest accrues and becomes far too much for my soul to bear.
But more, I want to be at one with myself. I want to empower my ability and be part of a solution because, put simply, I’ve been part of the problem before.
I was recently asked if I knew that I was lucky. I was asked if I realized why I was spared. Why was it me instead of someone else? Why did I go left instead of right? Why?
My answer is I really don’t know.
I’m lucky for a lot of reasons but what I have is not because I’m lucky. No, what I have is because I’ve worked for it.
All I know is I’m here.
All I know is there are people who thought or felt the same as me and because we spoke, something about us worked and together, we chose to live instead of giving up.
If I have done nothing else to replace what I’ve taken (or lost) at least I have done this. I got a hug from a young person who promised to live. I have a promise from a colleague who chose to change. And, as a person in this world, I’ve had the opportunity to clean up my side of the street, pay for my own messes and help others to the best of my ability.
Why did I survive myself?
I don’t know.
But I do know that so long as I have this chance, I promise to do my best
. . . . and make it count.