616, 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Boy @ The Window, changes, Crossroads, decisions, Decisive, Decisiveness, Forbes Quadrangle, fork in the road, Homelessness, Jimme, Mount Vernon New York, My Father, Pitt, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Wesley Posvar Hall
It’s funny how things in our lives happen in cycles. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t heeded the wisdom we’ve accumulated in our lives to keep us from following that same bad habits, ones that lead to serious problems for much of our lives. Relationships with men and women, addictions and other vices, behaviors that lead to indecision. That last one has been a big one for me to overcome in my life, and it still has the power to keep me for achieving all that I know I can do in life.
It has led to several crossroads in my life. They usually occur in August or December. August, because of the twenty-two years I spent as a student (not to mention fourteen off and on as a professor). And December, because of Christmas, Jesus and my birthday. But Augusts, especially the last five days in August, tend to stand out as times of contemplation and revelation. August ’91 was the start of grad school, while August ’93 made me rethink how to approach grad school. August ’97 left me with bitterness about being unemployed, while August ’99 gave me a new appreciation for having a job, any job.
But, aside from now, no August was more revealing about my character than the one in ’88. About two weeks before I needed to go back to Pittsburgh for my sophomore year, I went to search for Jimme. I was still steamed with him for not getting me the money I needed to secure a dorm room for the upcoming school year. I hardly swung by to see him that summer, too busy taking care of my siblings and recovering from my second roughest year in the decade, one of four months of unemployment. So on the next to last Friday before I needed to get back, I bummed ten dollars from Mom and took the Metro-North down from Pelham to the city. I got off, took the shuttle over to Times Square and the 2 to 72nd before walking over the Levi brothers’ office on West 64th. Jimme wasn’t there, but Glen was. “He’s over at my brother’s on East 59th,” he said. I’d forgotten that Bruce Levi had his own cleaners and business on the East Side.
I walked the dozen or so blocks there. And there Jimme was. I caught him just as he was getting paid for the week. “Bo’ whatcha doin’ up here?,” he said with complete disbelief. We talked for just a few minutes, with me mentioning more than once how I needed money to secure some sort of apartment at school. “Donal’, I done messed up too much money dis summer,” Jimme said. Apparently my father had spent most of Summer ’88 going through one of his drinking binges. The Levi’s had bailed him out several times, as his landlord Mrs. Smalls had toyed with the idea of evicting him. Jimme gave me $100 on the spot, and promised to get me more money before I left. When I went to see him at work the following week, he’d given me $300 more.
In rapid succession, I packed up my stuff in the five-suitcase set Mom had bought me the year before. Two suitcases, two duffel bags, and a garment bag, all of which she’d ordered from a catalog for a measly eighty bucks. I went down to a travel agency that was down the street from the Pelham Metro-North station and C-Town and found a cheap one-way ticket on USAir for $35. I couldn’t buy a good steak dinner in midtown Manhattan for $35! I got myself mentally ready for finding an apartment, ideally a one-bedroom.
By that last Sunday in August, everything was ready, and I had everything I needed. I played songs with my siblings for almost two hours before I left. I gave them my Michael Jackson tapes and my radio cassette player, taking my beat-up Walkman with me. We all hugged and cried, much more so than we had the year before. Part of me really didn’t want to leave, and part of me knew that I wouldn’t be whole again if I didn’t.
I had no idea how tough the next five days would be, between that Sunday evening, August 28 and that Friday, September 2. I was homeless for five days, and within three days of heading back to New York and Mount Vernon when I finally found a one-room death-trap in a row house in which to live.
I was within three days of becoming a college dropout because I didn’t trust anybody. I was so close to losing something I’d dedicated seven years of my life to achieving because I had spent the previous year indecisive about whether what I wanted out of life was more important than helping out my mother and my younger siblings at 616. It made me think. What meaning could I draw from putting up with all the put-downs and disapprovals of classmates, teachers and families if things hadn’t worked out? The answer would’ve been, none at all.
Now, as then, I face a crossroads in many areas of my life. One where I have to decide, which part of me is most important in achieving my dreams, fulfilling my calling, providing for my son and family, possibly even in maintaining a marriage? Whatever decisions I do make, I need to stand firmly in them, to be decisive, to see them through. That formula has guided me for twenty-three years. And it has yet to let me down.