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East Prospect, Mount Vernon, New York, where Foodtown (once Waldbaum’s) and Rite Aid (formerly Genovese) are today – about 30m from where I was mugged in ’83. (http://maps.google.com).

Twenty-eight years ago yesterday was the last time I was mugged, the last time I had to fend off wannabe thugs. As important as the challenges I face in my life are now, the ones I faced just before my fourteenth birthday were a thousand times more intense, if for no other reason than I nearly took the path of suicide back then.

For whatever the reason, December ’83 was spent without food at 616, this time in the welfare and food stamps era. My mother hadn’t received her welfare check on time. She went to Maurice for money to buy groceries, a necessarily rare move. I’d rather had gone to A (see “The Legend of ‘Captain Zimbabwe‘” post from May ’09) for grocery money than to my stepfather. He came to me and gave me twenty dollars to go to the store.

“Donald, do not lose this money. I don’t want no excuses. I want all my change back. If you have to, catch the bus,” Maurice said to me. I had already missed the last 7 bus going into Mount Vernon, and I knew that by the time I’d finish shopping that I would miss the last 7 for the return.

After shopping for Great Northern beans and rice and some beef neck bones and spinach at the Waldbaum’s on East Prospect — which cost $6.50 by the way —  I walked out with the intent of cutting down Park Avenue to East Lincoln and avoiding most of the potential for a mugging. But it seemed that Maurice’s God had other plans for me. I barely got to the poorly lit corner of Prospect and Park before I was ambushed by four guys, all around my age and size. Part of it was my fault, as the Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips that held that corner had closed the year before, a casualty of the recent recession. I saw other people around, but none came to my aid.

So here it was that I was jumped by a bunch of dumb kids with dumb parents trying to beat me up and take thirteen dollars from me. Apparently I must’ve learned something from my idiot stepfather, because I was able to kick, punch, and bite my way out of the mugging at first. I kicked one dumb ass in the balls, bit another’s arm, punched someone else in the jaw. I kept going until someone was able to hold me long enough to reach into my pocket and take the money. Then they took off, running across one of the bridges into the South Side.

Grocery bag torn to shreds, food on the ground, shirttail hanging out, I took off after them, now thinking only about what I’d face at home if I didn’t come in with Maurice’s money. They went east up First Street, turned right up South Fulton, and then left on East Third. With groceries in tow, I just couldn’t keep up.

It was after 9 by the time I got back from Waldbaum’s and my mugging. Mom was worried, actually worried, while Maurice was just pissed.

My mother was more concerned about what happened during the actual fight. I told her about what happened.

“You see someone you know?”

“I think one of them’s named C,” I said.

C and his older brother lived in the equally impoverished building next door, 630 East Lincoln. C’s older brother was in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade with me at Holmes. I hadn’t seen either of them much since elementary school, but I recognized him immediately as the one who said, “Give me the money, muthafucka!” Those were some ugly kids, inside and out.

In an unbelievable turn, my mother took me the next morning to the Mount Vernon Police Station, its juvenile division, to have me press charges, look at mug shots and ID my attackers. It didn’t take me long to ID C and his henchmen, all of whom had juvenile records. Before I left, they had hauled C into the station for booking. I was glad to see that my fists had done some damage to his face.

I went to school that day with my mother and ended up signing in around sixth period. One of my classmates saw me as I was leaving Vice Principal Carapella’s office, on my way to gym. We talked for several minutes about what had happened. He gave me a high-five. It was maybe the second or third time in three years that anyone cared to ask me about what was going on with me outside of school.

That whole twenty-four-hour period was overwhelming. I spent most of that evening at 616 asleep. I spent the rest of the month until my fourteenth birthday considering how to off myself. I spent part of my birthday standing thirteen feet over the Hutchinson River Parkway, on top of the stone facing looking down at the traffic while tears streamed down my cheeks.

All because I had lost hope, and my life was filled with contradiction. Luckily, I found a reason to live, and a reason to begin to see good in others, at least outside of 616.