It must’ve been everyone I’d come to know. About twenty-five or thirty of them in all. Led by Crush #1, her eventual first love and my Italian Club tormentors, they all were marching down East Lincoln near where I lived, sticks and stones in hand. More like bricks and baseball bats and chains as they got closer. They were all dressed in Sergio Valente and Jordache, Benetton and OshKosh, Levi’s and Gap attire. They were all after me, my kufi, my life, my eternal soul. They weren’t running after me. They were marching in formation, like Soviet troops in Red Square, only with ridiculous smiles of mayhem giving away their intentions. I felt scared. But I had resigned myself to my fate. If I was goin’ down, gosh darn it, I was gonna put up a fight and take some of them with me!
Dreaming about your classmates in any other way than out of adoration or infatuation isn’t healthy. They served as a metaphor. They were an obstacle between me and my inner peace, a constant reminder that the odds were against me escaping 616 and Mount Vernon for the brighter pastures of a life and education elsewhere. They were symbols all right, symbols for everything from abuse and fear of abuse to undying and unrequited love. I woke up, sweating and with a panicked heartbeat from the nightmare. I looked at all of my body parts to make sure that I still had them in place before getting out of bed.
Later that snow-melt Saturday in early ’84, my mother sent me to the Fleetwood Station post office in the northwest corner of Mount Vernon to pick up a certified package. She had a PO box there, set up originally to protect sensitive documents from thieves in the building. I assumed that she was using it now to keep Maurice from getting his hands on any checks or other sensitive information. This was yet another task that I’d become the go-to-child for. I got dressed in my hand-me down winter coat and blue sweats and began the slushy trek to Fleetwood.
Then deja vu struck. I found myself standing at the northeast corner of Lorraine and East Lincoln, unusually quiet because of the snow and the cold front that came with it the night before. This was where the metaphorical forces of destruction had lined up and marched against me. I laughed out loud, hoping at the same time that no one saw me. I looked down at the curb and sidewalk as the slush-ice was turning into mini-glacial streams and rivers, all blending as they ran toward a storm drain. In a semi-frozen pack nearby lay ten dollars. It had been trapped by the icy H2O. “My luck is getting better every day,” I said to myself. This happened to me, someone who never found more than a penny at a time on the streets and sidewalks of Mount Vernon.
It’s funny how things like this happened to me at the beginning of a year. A dream, nightmare or vision that helped to guide me or gave me no choice but to gird my loins. A crisis, financial or otherwise, that left me so motivated and focused that the work that followed helped bring the crisis to an end. Maybe it’s because at the beginning of a year, whatever baggage I’ve brought from the previous year has left me open to wisdom and understanding beyond my actual abilities. Maybe it’s been in the quiet of a cold month of January or a cold winter season that I’m most susceptible to a quiet voice of reason and imagination, insight, foresight and hindsight that works better in a calmer mind.
I had planned to discuss this nightmarish dream of twenty-six years ago this week, but the cataclysmic events in Haiti and other issues have distracted me. To imagine that so many people — through no fault of their own — lost their lives as quickly as it would take a nuclear bomb to knock out electricity and send out a devastating blast wave. It’s saddening and chilling right down to the marrow in my bones. Except that I don’t have to imagine. The BBC and CNN have done much to make sure of that. So many are considered dead that it’s hard to see Haiti ever recovering from this earthquake.
Except that this is more than about a 7.0 Richter scale shaking of the ground. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the poorest on Earth, was hit by this quake. A nation that has struggled with the scorn of idiot imperialists like Pat Robertson specifically, and the economic imperialism of the nations of Europe in general since those once enslaved there revolted against their French owners nearly 22o years ago. The richest colony in the French Empire quickly became as poor as anyone in the US Delta region or a Hurricane Katrina survivor from Ward 9 can imagine.
Civil wars and warlords and a light-skinned hierarchy, informal embargo-enforced economic inequality, and natural disaster have practically been a part of Haiti’s history ever since it officially became independent in 1804. With poverty and economic and political instability comes poor building structures, limited public infrastructure in terms of doctors, nurses, police and firefighters, and a lack of the construction and demolition equipment that we take for granted in the US. Just across the street from us is an almost-finished high-rise and state-of-the-art, solar-powered office building. There’s enough there to help dig out dozens of still trapped Haitians buried in rubble — the living and the dead.
Even in the midst of all of this horror, even with the smells of rotting corpses, the moans and screams and blank stares of the injured and living, and the sights of collapsed buildings and chaos, there is hope. For I’m certain that there’s a kid or an adult whose dreams remain unshaken. A tweener whose vision for his or her life remains their guidepost. A man or woman whose hurt, upset, and devastated, but refuses to surrender their wisdom and their hope because of this. And as those who hold out in hope that we can help in some way, we must not surrender our dreams either, for Haitians or for ourselves.