On Hugs and Walks


Commodus hugging Maximus as he plunges dagger into back (screenshot), Gladiator (2000), August 1, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws – low resolution of picture.

The beginning of August for me thirty years ago was the beginning of adulthood for me. I had little choice. After five weeks of emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse, my choices were to either allow myself to be broken or to find something to hope for. Otherwise, my life would’ve been over before my thirteenth birthday.

I thought hard about how to end the summer of ’82′s abuse. I figured that I could pretended to be something I wasn’t — a loving, wayward stepson. I begged for my stepfather’s forgiveness and even called him “Dad” while he beat me for the sixth time in a month, on August 1, ’82. He stopped, finally, and gave me a hug. I cried tears of rage and hate, because I couldn’t even stand to touch or smell the man, much less being pressed against his overabundance of fat. I prayed for his death to be long and painful, as if I had a dagger in my right hand, ready to plunge into his back left ribs.

Dagger through back rib and heart (screenshot), Gladiator (2000), August 1, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use – low resolution of picture.

If masturbation were the only thing that I discovered that month, I might’ve begun aspiring for some other kind of life. Instead, I decided on a boring early August day to do something else novel. I didn’t want to go to Wilson Woods again. We didn’t have any money anyway. I decided to take my siblings on a walk on the wild side, to walk outside our immediate neighborhood. Darren and I took baby Maurice and Yiscoc in his new stroller out of 616. We walked and strollered down East Lincoln Avenue, across the stone bridge over the Hutchinson River Parkway into Pelham, and turned left on Fifth Avenue to go north. This was uncharted territory for all of us, especially me. North Pelham might as well have been Helena, Montana to me.

“We don’t know where we’re going,” Darren said.

“Yeah, and?,” I said in response.

“Okay, but it’s your fault if we get lost, Donald,” Darren said.

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, August 1, 2012. (http://slc.edu). In public domain.

We didn’t get lost. We walked until we hit Chester Heights, the beginning of the village of Eastchester, and then Bronxville. It was amazing in that it was much more suburban than Mount Vernon or the part of Pelham that I’d known up until that moment. The homes were luxurious by my standards. Everyone seemed to own a BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, or Peugeot. There weren’t many sidewalks around, only well-manicured lawns. We had walked into several ritzy communities without any warning.

I began to think that the world was a cruel place, having rich Whites living so close to us yet their lives were so far apart from ours. But instead of becoming depressed or angry, it made me introspective. “Look at these houses!,” I said to Darren as we walked by one Tudor-style home after another three-story mansion, broken up only by a few cul-de-sacs. Darren, having been around rich Whites through Clear View for nearly eight years, didn’t think too much of it.

That’s when it hit me. If I wanted to live a better life, to have a nice house and a car and a family, it seemed to me that I needed an education, a college education. I wasn’t going to get there just graduating from high school, especially in Humanities, where the expectations for college were so high that some kids already knew that they were going to law school. I just knew that I couldn’t go through another summer of abuse. So I said to myself, “I’ve got to get through the next five years. I’ve got to go to college.” Yet it seemed like an impossible task.

As we meandered our way back toward Mount Vernon, we ended up on North Columbus Avenue/Route 22. That’s when we passed by a ranch-style home with a stone facade. I looked and saw someone out in front I hadn’t seen since the end of the school year. It was “P,” my eventual Crush #2, outside in the front yard with her sister, apparently back from bike riding. She called us over, and the four of us talked. This was the first Black family I’d seen during our two-hour walk.

Of course I didn’t go into any detail about what we’d been up to. After all, the one thing that the past year had taught me was not to open up my mouth and say everything that was on my mind! So I let her and her older sister do most of the talking. They’d gone somewhere down South to visit family.

“Do you live around here?,” P asked.

“Oh, we’re on a long walk and just happened to be in the neighborhood,” I said.

“Okay,” she said in response.

The Denzel Washington Walk, American Gangster (2007), August 1, 2012. (http://variety.com)

“In the neighborhood.” Sure, if Bronxville, Eastchester, Pelham and 616, all part of our eight-mile trek, were all one gigantic neighborhood! After about ten minutes, we continued home. Darren was more excited about seeing my eventual Crush #2 and her sister than I was.

I wasn’t unexcited. P was far and away the nicest person to me in 7S all year. She stepped up when others made fun of me. I just took her being nice to me the same way Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie probably took it when Mrs. Olsen was nice to her.

Still, I finally had a plan. I knew that there would be a lot of smaller steps that I’d have to take before even getting to college, though. But in looking at where P and her sister lived, I at least knew that someone in their family must’ve taken similar steps in the not-too-distant past.

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