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To Brandon…

Yesterday, was a pretty bummed day for me. 

I found out my brother, Brandon was diagnosed with Brain Cancer. My brother currently lives in San Francisco, and has a son. I don’t know how bad it is- but Brain Cancer is indeed bad.

As I sit here and reflect the moments we shared, I can think about our 11 year friendship. We fought, cried, ran-away, left the catholic church, had the same girlfriend, fought, made hell for his foster mother, made hell for my mom, made hell for our sisters, became homeless, became addicted to drugs, moved to San Francisco…..Sheesh.

Brandon(Left), Me(Top), and his Girlfriend Jenny Z(Right)

Brandon(Left), Me(Top), and his Girlfriend Jenny Z(Right)

I thought we was going to do everything together. I couldn’t imagine my life, without brandon. Despite moments which we (We were both guilty of) screwed each other over- I could not ask for a better friend.

I remember, I had the unfortunate moment of meeting Brandon, on April 2003. I just turned fifteen, and I was sent to Haverstraw Group Home. As I was moving to my new room; there was this white kid with all this nice shit (Stereo, CDs, etc). I liked them, and my intention was to take it from him. I know it sounds really messed up; but understand the “Group Home Mentality”. There are many levels to this. I have lived in Foster Care-fighting for so long, I became a Predator type. Besides leaving “The Dog House” for a serene prison in Suburbia USA, was not a great improvement. 

So, Lamel, who I knew from “The Dog House” instigated the fight, by telling Brandon that I said something about his mother (she died). Eventually we exchanged words, and all shit broke loose.

The fight was brief, but we made some fucking hell. We made a hole in the wall, his radio was broken, after the trip to the hospital we were segregated, and were given “L.O.P. U.F.N.”. (That means Lost of Privileges until further notice.) We never fought again, though we had a few close calls (Playing basketball, walking to and from school-alone, walking to and from church-alone).

But the more we bickered, the more we learned about each other. This kid was responsible for my Love of the Foo Fighters and Incubus. I started to look up to him. He kinda taught me stuff I didn’t understand- Like Maths.

Our friendship grew, when me and brandon were late from church one sunday; which was always the case. Andre Thomas, a brolick Haitian/Canadian/American guy was working the 4-12 shift at the group home. None of us liked him, because of how Authoritative, verbally abusive, and insulting he can be. To this day, I have to love for the man. What bother us the most was that he would openly disrespect his wife( a nurse BTW) when she came by the house to bring him Lunch, Dinner, or whatever she bought him. We once witnessed him smack his wife.

So, we lived in this house for a long time- We pretty much hated this excuse of a man.

We both came home, and we said “We’re home. We signed in our “Log sheets” and and took our showers.

When we got ready to eat Dinner, there was NO FOOD.

See, in our house, we had a protocol. The resident who cooks for the house, MUST leave plates for those who were participating in a “House Approved Function”. Since “Church” was Mandatory (We attended EVERY SUNDAY, RAIN OR SHINE), we had a Validated excuse. We asked Napoleon, who cooked, and he told us, “Thomas said to not make a plate”. Napoleon, actually looked out for us, and made us a bowl of food, and stashed it. Brandon was pissed, and so was I. So, we decided that WE were going to eat. As we were eating, Andre had the audacity to take the food out of Brandon’s hand and throw it in the trash. That is when SHIT started.

Brandon was like “What the fuck?” and Thomas was like “Oh, you are not supposed to eat, You weren’t at church!”, and we were like “Dude, we were at Church, ask Father Matt. He said “I did”, and I said “Really? CALL HIM”. Thomas refused, and tried taking the bowl out of my hands. I nudged him, and he immediately started yelling “YOU HIM ME”. I kinda got mad, and I was like “Dude, I didn’t hit you, If I did hit you, you will be rockin a fucking shiner like your wife is now”. Brandon, amped me up, and the other residents started coming into the picture. Thomas then started disrespecting all of us. What type of father figure says “You are nothing but the property of Welfare!”, and “You are disposable, like Trash”? He went on to call Brandon’s mother some real nasty stuff. That is when we both had it. We went to our rooms, and got dressed, took our textbooks, whatever money we had, and a couple changes of clothes, and we walked out.

We ran away for our first time. When we got to the end of Simenovsky drive, me and brandon were to part.

“Where are you going”. I said

“Anywhere”, Brandon replied.

“Let’s go to the City” I snapped back.

“Cool”, he said.

As we walked, we became so close, and so bonded. It was surreal. For the first time, Brandon was my friend. We hopped on the 9:09 Red and Tan from in front of St. Peters Church, and got to NYC, by midnight. The excitement of doing something wrong in the face of its authority for the sake of protecting each other – WOW. We were awake the whole time. Talking about so many things. We were like, why the hell did we fight each other?

At Port Authority, we agreed that we’ll stay at my moms place. I called ahead, and she was furious because of the mistreatment. We slept on the floor, and shared the same blankets. We knocked out and woke up at 10am. I immediately phone the goonies on my block, Poppy, Misael, Deshon, and about fifteen others. I called the Social Worker, and come to find out he was already outside waiting for us. I explained to him, that my neighborhood is dangerous, and that he will get robbed, beaten and stabbed. He decided to drive to a safer area, about 10 blocks away. Me and Brandon asked for a transfer, and for Thomas to be terminated, as well as for him to be investigated on Domestic Violence charges.

We were teens, so we thought they would actually meet our demands. DID NOT HAPPEN. We actually did not get in any trouble though, and Thomas seldom spoke to us after the even, though we started to simply disrespected him until we both left the house for good.

After that, our friendship went through ups and downs, and currently we are in a Hiatus. I will not explain what happened or whose fault it was- but unfortunately we seldom speak to each other.

It hurts me sometimes, to think of his situation, and ask” What could I have done better to make the friendship better?”. Maybe I should have said the things I said, or Should I have did what I did at that time. Now, all I can think about is if he’s doing okay, and if he is going to recover. I wish, we would be in our 80’s when we’re old and gray, wrinkled and tattooed. We’ll be sitting in our rocking chairs, reminiscing about the fun we had. The All nighters in San Francisco. The time, I accidently broke his arm, by Judo throwing him. “Lovefest”. Bonfires. Playing basketball at the PAL, and stealing money from the church collection pit. Insha’allah it will be like this.

Brandon, if you are reading this, I love you, kid. I couldn’t ask for a better friend, and brother. I could not imagine what you’re going through, but I feel the same pain too.

To Brandon

Brandon (Right), with Ruckus, aka AJ(Left)(Deceased)

Brandon (Right), with Ruckus, aka AJ(Left)(Deceased)

School is out.

Ugh, finally. In four more fours, I will be able to sleep as much as I want without anyone bothering me! I just wanted to reflect on my experience during my semester at Science Colloquium class with Dr. Woo.

I had some awesome opportunities to meet up with some fascinating scientists, such as Dr. Jeanmarie Molina PhD, Dr. David Lahti, PhD, and Dr. Guillaume Marceau. I met some awesome classmates (Including a 62 year old Physics fanatic, and a Juilliard graduate)

Someone of the things I have learned.

1. All flowers do not smell good. Go to the Philippines and find that out.
2. There is no such thing is “De-Evolution”. Evolution does not have a backwards or forwards sign
3. There is really no such thing is “sustainable fishing”, partly because it has not been developed, and partly because most governments are dumb.
4. Technocracy is not democracy-AT ALL. But Dumb people might like it.
5. If the numbers match the results of a study paper; then its a good paper, but if it isn’t then there can be two issues (Either it was not done, or the paper was hastily done for the sake of getting government grant money.
6 Billions of Tax dollars go on to the study of fruit flies. Before you knock it down, the research of fruit flies has helped Forensic Anthropologist understand the levels of decomposition in human beings. Fruit flies, have been used to study aging, longevity, among other things.
7. Science is more about trying to prove something does not exist, rather than prove the existence.

I think thats all I wanna say.

Life ain’t a crystal stair.

“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —

Bare.”

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. Image

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”.