“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Langston Hughes- Mother to Son, 1922
I remember it was about two years before my mother “signed me” to the state; when I was in school. There was this huge celebration on the life of Langston Hughes. Being a lifelong Harlemite, Mr. Hughes became my hero of sorts. Almost every charter/grade school met at the Schomburg Center to remember this man who has open doors to many Black and Latino Artists living in New York City. So, for about three hours, I sat through almost a dozen recitals of Mr. Hughes’ work. A typical student would be bored out of its mind. But not me. I was awed. It was probably the most memorable day I had. Absolutely nothing went wrong. Mr. Hughes spoke to me in a way that teachers, or my mother couldn’t. I was not the greatest student, but when it came to Literature, and in particularly Langston Hughes-I was the Guru. His poetry has helped me cope with my troubled past, and has given me clarity.
See, my home life was very dysfunctional. My mother was mentally ill, and borderline retarded. Despite her issues, my mother did what she could for us. We were the family, that would ask the neighbors for help during the last few days, before the welfare check came in. We lived in a public housing development in the Upper West Side/Morningside District of Manhattan. It was literally a four block by four block high-crime ghetto, surrounded by Nice stores, fancy restaurants, and yuppies. I had issues myself. I had an sexually and physically abusive father, was educationally deprived, and dealt with homelessness at an early age. Still, me and the family survived. So, the fact that we lived in the Projects were more like a prayer answered than a nuisance. I remember days, that I would have to come out of the school bus, and walk into 102nd Street and Columbus avenue, and immediately get in a fight with the other street kids- just to get inside my building. Running was futile.
My mother had enough of the shenanigans. She was getting sicker, and me and my siblings saw that. The projects were no longer a place for a 10 year old boy. The day before ACS took me away, my mother gave me 20 Dollars, which was a shock-mainly because I never held so much money in my life. She told me “Mijo, go and get a haircut, and some munchies- you’re going to Camp in the morning”
My mother packed all my things, and left them in the front of the door. I was confused, because I thought I was going to be gone for a week. Morning came, and two women were knocking on the door. I remembered one woman’s name. Stephanie Fusco- mainly because of her name-tag. Stephanie said “ready to go?”. Excitedly, I drag the two duffel bags towards the elevator.
I start to see my mother cry. Puzzled, I asked her what’s wrong. She said ” ir al campo”, “go, you don’t wanna be late”. I extended my arms for a hug, with no reciprocation. She just walked away and cried. I was so confused. The two women escorted me into a Ford Windstar, and drove two hours to “camp”. Unfortunately, it was not camp. It was St. Agatha’s Home for Children, a Residential Treatment Campus, for troubled and abandoned youth.
So for nine years, I did the same things I did in the street. I fought to defend myself. I stole to eat. I lied and cheated, like any rebellious kid. The only difference, is that my mother was no longer raising me. I was the son of state. It was hell. I saw things, that normal adults shouldn’t be exposed to. Still I survived. A bout of Homeless, and hitchhiking after my “group home life”, I find myself fast-forwarding to a nice, simple apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey- Away from the rat race, we call New York City. Even though the semester is over, my desk is packed with Textbooks ranging from Gray’s illustrated anatomy, Medical Terminology, Biology, Physics, Physiology. Tons of Medical Journals, Psychology reviews, Sociology textbooks, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science Magazines from the 1990’s all over my hardwood floor. I am now a 25 year old pre-med student. I attend SUNY Empire State. I am a dual degree seeking student, majoring in Biomedical Science, and Social Theory. I tried the college thing a few times, but I was either stoned, or just too lazy. It didn’t help that I graduated from High School with a 1.9GPA. So honestly, I am grateful that ESC is taking a shot with me.
Me and my friend Andres, were talking one day, and I guess it would be therapeutic for me to share some of my life’s stories with him. After telling him some stuff he told me “Dude, I would have went fucking postal if I went through that”. I haven’t scratched the surface yet. I think Perseverance, and survival mentality was the reason I survived- and didn’t resort to utter suicide. I still have hints of Care life in me. I rarely sleep at night (partly due to the fear of getting jumped or “Blanket Party” in my sleep). When I eat, I usually cover my plate with my arm, even when I am alone. I make my bed, military style, which puzzles my friends. I get furious, when someone touches my laundry, or my food. My English is not great- I can articulate, but its still very difficult. The more I mature, the less these issues tend to be a problem in my life. I guess its called “Growing up”.