March 14, 2008

"I hope you blink before I do."

A fight.

The scene I watched unfold on the bus this morning has stayed with me all day.

Scott and I were on the bus going to get brunch, and a fight broke out between several Latino teenage boys in the back of the bus. We weren't far away from them but we didn't see how it started because we were talking.

All of a sudden they all sprung into action and one boy in particular was screaming, "You fucked up, nigga!" repeatedly. One boy was shoved down into a seat and several others were all-out wailing on him. He had his arms up to protect his head and face as they punched and kicked him over and over. One jumped up on top of the seats and was stomping down on him as hard as he could.

The other passengers fled--some jumped off the bus, most ran up toward the front. I knew that I should probably move because there was no telling what one of them would pull out, but I stood transfixed. I was so startled by the fury and hate in these boys.

The bus driver never did anything. Eventually the boy being ganged up on got away and jumped off the bus. He took off running only to emerge next to the bus again a few blocks down the road. All the passengers groaned. The boys in the back screamed and spat at him until the next stop. Then they jumped off the bus and chased him awhile before getting back on.

They were jubilant. They grabbed their dicks and recounted their versions of the fight to each other. They shouted at teenagers on other buses we passed, "We fucked him up!" They imitated the various punches and kicks that had taken place while periodically spitting on the floor.

I learned later that it had been a fight between the Bloods and the Crips. It seemed strange to be in the presence of members of these gangs I've been hearing about for years.

Maybe it sounds really boring and psychology-y, but I kept wondering, "What made them this way? Had they been loved and cared for? Did someone comfort them when they were little and hurt themselves? Had they themselves been treated they way they were treating the boy they were beating on? What would it take to change them? Was it already too late?"

A memory.

I told this story a couple of days ago, and the memory of it was so vivid to me while I was telling it that I can't stop re-living it. I thought I'd document it here.

In the late winter/early spring of 1994, I was a junior in high school. I had recently turned 17 and was living with my father and preparing to take the standardized tests that would get me into college. I can remember it so well--Beck's "Loser" was everywhere on the radio and MTV and Nirvana's In Utero had recently come out. (I so often use music as benchmarks for when various things in my life were happening.)

That year, my high school basketball team had made it to the state championship, and hundreds of people from Bridgeport were making the two-hour drive down to Charleston to watch the game. I was riding with D. J. and his sister Lea Ann--both of whom were in the band with me--and their mother, Barbara. Before leaving the house that morning, I had cut up a bunch of vegetables as a snack to share: carrots, celery, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes.

They came to pick me up and we got on the road, heading south on I-79. It was a cold and frosty morning. There was no snow, but all the puddles and small streams were frozen. We chattered in the car and listened to the radio. Lea Ann and I sat in the back, and I remember looking ahead as we saw cars crossing the upcoming bridge start to fish-tail. Barbara said something along the lines of, "The bridge must be really slippery," and gently tapped the break to slow us down.

We thought we were okay, but once we got onto the bridge the rear end of our car started to swerve and slide. The guard-rail on the side of the bridge wasn't very tall, and we were heading sideways toward it. The outer edge of the bridge was on my side of the car. I can still remember seeing it come closer and closer, and I remember wondering if there was land or water below. We thought we were going over.

It really did seem to happen in slow motion.

Lea Ann and I fell together in the center of the back seat and clung to each other in terror. My face was buried in Lea Ann's hair. I can still remember the taste of it in my mouth. She whimpered, "Amie..." in my ear.

The car slammed off the guard-rail, and then shot back across the road, through the median, and into the oncoming traffic on the other side. We slammed into the guard-rail on the other side of the interstate and eventually came to rest in the center median.

Lea Ann and I let go of one another looked around in confusion. I remember thinking, "Thank God we didn't go over," followed by, "There's cucumbers everywhere..." The cucumbers I'd sliced were stuck all over the windows, seats, and ceiling of the car.

We slowly climbed out of the car, blinking, trying to process what had happened, and asking each other, "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"

"I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand..."

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