616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Addictions, Death, Domestic Violence, Happy Birthday, Homelessness, Mother-Son Relationship, Parenting, Parenting Lessons, Poverty, Running Away, Self-Reflection, Soul-Searching, Vanity, Welfare Poverty, Yiscoc Washington
“I took care of my kids! I put food on the table, put a roof over y’all’s heads, put clothes on yo’ back! I did the best that I could, and none of y’all can tell me different…” That’s what my Mom yelled at us the day before Sarai’s funeral seven Julys ago. It was an excited utterance, after she had spent five days in a trance, unable to do as much as eat a piece of toast. We were in the living room of Mom’s flat at 616, me, Mom, Maurice, Yiscoc and Eri, being yelled at over a lifetime of disappointment and frustration. Ours and hers.
Today is my brother Yiscoc’s thirty-sixth birthday. That he’s here at all is a bit of a miracle. Especially with the number of times he ran away from 616 between 1989 (when he was eight years old) and 1994, with his one-time video game addiction, and with muggers and pedophiles out there and all too willing to take advantage of a vulnerable preteen.
I started with Mom, though, for a reason. Her yelling at us was probably meant for me, but it was in response to Yiscoc, who shared a personal secret with her for the first time. Mom’s response was to defend her record as a parent, to tell us that we had no right to judge, critique, or assess her record. That she added, “That’s what you get for…” in response to Yiscoc’s tearful sharing session was shameful and disgusting.
“But you don’t understand, your Mom was mourning the loss of her only daughter,” would be the response of Mom-defenders everywhere. To which I say, really? Your Mom’s response is to push four of your five living children away with a tirade? One where she says, “this fucked up, piece of shit life I helped set up for all of you was the best I could do, and if you don’t like it, that’s on you, and you can kiss my Black ass!” Would that really be acceptable under any circumstances, much less during a week of mourning?
Yiscoc ran away from home, hung out with several wrong crowds, and dropped out of Mount Vernon High School a year and a half before he could have completed his coursework. Seventeen years later, and Yiscoc still doesn’t have his GED (the last two times, he failed the social studies portion of the exam — ain’t that a kicker!). I’m not laying all of this at my Mom’s feet. But Yiscoc’s adult life wasn’t exactly set up for success by his growing up years. The normative permanence of systemic racism on the one hand, and domestic violence, welfare poverty, and the 616 fire of 1995 that left Yiscoc and my other younger siblings temporarily homeless on the other, would make any kid itching to run away.
A second younger brother has now reached the second half of his thirties. Yiscoc’s the same age I was eleven and a half years ago, when I began working on Boy @ The Window in earnest. One of the things I figured out in writing such a torturous book was that I blamed myself for so many of my parents’/legal guardian’s failures and sins. I had blamed myself for not putting an end to the domestic violence at 616 since I was twelve, for not doing enough to support Mom and my younger siblings since I went away to college at Pitt in 1987. I also came to understand how much Mom deflected, defended, and denied when it came to her parenting, especially when we called on her to do more than find temporary shelter, meager food options, and threadbare clothing. Mom was and remains one of the vainest and unaffectionate people I have ever known — vain, insecure, and likely clinically depressed.
I also know that Mom has passed these traits down to each of us. I’ve been dealing directly with them for three decades. I’m not sure Yiscoc has ever peered behind his mask long enough to see Mom lurking in the shadows, warts and all. If he has or ever will, it has been or will be an ugly sight. But if we are truly attempting to rebuild and remake ourselves, it is a sight we must endure. A painful process of honesty, soul-searching, revelation, and admitting that on some level, we’ve fucked up, and been fucked up, by life, oppression, and parenting.
Happy Birthday, Yiscoc. Know that despite everything, I do love you. I hope that this next year brings you closer to the person you want and need to be.