The cruelty of children

The cruelty of children

There are some who say that cruelty is learned, and not inherent – the result of trauma and abuse early in life. Freud’s view was that cruelty is natural; that sadism (the want/need/desire to do harm to others) is the forgotten child of sexual desire and aggression, based in biology and psychology and a deep-rooted part of human nature. I’ve always liked British psychoanalyst and author Christopher Bollas’ view: He believed that beneath hatred and hateful behavior lies a pure and simple emptiness; that anger and hatred and subsequent cruelty are nothing more than ways of filling that emptiness. And, he said, importantly, that it is better to feel cruelly than to not feel at all. Cruelty among others Johns Berry came to live in our neighborhood the summer before we started eighth grade, and only a few days before my 13th birthday. He lived in the house across the street from mine. A house with three stories. Mine has only one. The third story is just an attic for storing things you wouldn’t be sad about never seeing again, but it was nice. It has big windows facing the street and pillars like Old Rome across the porch. Nobody else in the neighborhood cared about his house, though. They cared about his face. There was a rumor going around that that Johns Berry’s face was burned all the way through, caught in a fire when he was a baby, and now he wears a mask to cover it up. A hospital-blue mask that hangs loose around his skin. There was always spit running down his neck because he...
Why I like the rain, and why a dream is different during the day

Why I like the rain, and why a dream is different during the day

The sun shines through the window across all the stuffed animals Lala left behind in her room. It rained last night. There’s a rabbit sitting outside of my window, staring at me. So skinny I can see its ribs. The ghost of my grandmother comes and visits me every morning around this time, but today it’s just the rabbit. I believe in science, but she comes anyway. Science says if things move fast enough, they disappear. So we don’t really exist. We’re just moving slow enough to see what’s going on around us. Part I: Home Mom is watching TV on the couch, sweating with her stomach hanging over her knees. Tucker must be around somewhere else. I don’t hear him like I usually do when I get home from school. Maybe he’s in the garage. Maybe he’s out with a girl. It’s hot. Mom has the fan blowing right on her face so no one else can get at it. The AC is broken, it has been since last summer, and all we have is one fan for the whole house. She hogs it all to herself. Except for the one that Tucker uses in the garage, but that one is built into the wall so we can’t move it anywhere else. We don’t have any cereal left in the cupboard. I make myself a peanut butter sandwich instead. Food doesn’t last as long when it’s this hot. If we leave the bread sitting on the counter for just a week it turns blue-green and moldy. That happened once and mom got so mad at me I thought...
As long as love I live: The unchanging nature of people

As long as love I live: The unchanging nature of people

Yesterday We stand in front of long white walls: No pictures or wallpaper or paintings or even scuff marks to show that once, once, we had lived between them. The photographer takes two pictures. One I will send to grandma, where it will sit on her mantel next to old pictures of granddad and mom young, and the Christmas decorations she forgets to put away. She doesn’t put up pictures of Jesus, though: She is more into the fantasy of lights and colors; the notions of goodness within herself rather than from the Book written by men. She goes to church: She goes for the people, and for the coffee. She goes to see her friends. Nessa and I stand arm in arm. Nessa weeps softly with her head against my shoulder. The photographer steadies his camera, keeping his head down and covered so as to keep the whole thing impersonal. Distant, professional. But I know you, I think and I tell him with my eyes, I know you from the streets. From the alleyways. From the pictures of crimes and rapes behind buildings that you captured and published next to boxes of text trying to explain what happened to our world and all of the people in it. I can hear the streets outside moving in ways they didn’t use to. The sun shines now in a way it never did before. A year ago the streets were empty and dusty and alone. There was no one. Feral dogs pick through trash bins next to people with beards and long coats. A year ago the only shouts came...
An exploration of the night and safe places

An exploration of the night and safe places

They kicked the family out of the apartment upstairs and I saw them with their things on the side of the street. A mother and she has two kids – a girl and a boy probably who are 8 and 9 years old. I would hear her yelling almost every night and she hit them more than once. But that’s not the reason they were kicked out. She couldn’t pay the rent either. She couldn’t keep her temper and she couldn’t work enough hours at the car wash down the street to come up with $750 every month. It’s hard to be a single mother, mom says, but she still has pop so I don’t know how she knows that. I feel like everyone around me is made of thick fudge vanilla and butterscotch: all brown and beige and nondescript. I’m in a glass box in the middle where they can’t get in. They press against the glass, always pushing and trying to get in. Except it’s not really a cage. It’s a fortress. Like a glass pyramid. I can see the world around me, but I’m not a part of it. I’m safe in here, and separated. I tell Gogo, “I keep trying to bring you in, but those beige hands keep pulling you back out. They come in through the door when I try to bring you inside. I want to bring you in with me so you can be safe with me and forever.” Gogo laughs quick, like an incredulous laugh and she pushes the hair out of her eyes. “That’s so chauvinist of you. That’s...
Everything so beautiful and dirty and absurd

Everything so beautiful and dirty and absurd

My house was at the edge of the block, on the corner of 166th and Jackson in the Crenton neighborhood of a mid-sized American city. With dusty roads where all the trees died because the city just let them. The sidewalks were cracked and crooked and many mothers died stepping on them. The lawns were dirty and made of pebbles and broken glass. Rojo ran the neighborhood and we all went to him for whatever we needed. Cigarettes or whatever. He was three years older and seventeen when he dropped from high school. He told me his stories about sex so that I would know when I was ready to have sex on my own. His girlfriend Gogo he would tell me stories about. He went down on her once and, after fifteen minutes, mad that he hadn’t yet given her an orgasm/that she hadn’t gotten off/finished yet, he bit her until she screamed. She left him after that and disappeared somewhere down south where her uncle lives by the water. This was around the same time that health-conscious, vegetarian rapper Black Choy was attacked by pro-beef activists outside of his studio. They cut him with a knife and put him in the hospital. Is there a connection? Rojo loved hamburgers and Black Choy was playing a show at the Alamo that night. The the Jackson Street venue where everybody played music at some point or another. I tried to sing there once with a death metal band called Adagio. They didn’t book us for another show after that, but they give everybody in the neighborhood at least one...
From the long streets of American cities

From the long streets of American cities

The girls are chain-smoking cigarettes outside waiting for someone to notice them not noticing anyone else (youth in its paradox). The air is a perfect 80 degrees. Winter is over. The people around us are musing, eternally, how much of their lives they’ve spent sitting in cars. There’s trash on the street. Everything is concrete; the city is winning its war on nature. But weeds still come up through the cracks in the sidewalk to take back what they can. We live in the north. We spend our time in the sun. We drink iced tea from plastic cups spiked with whatever we can find. We walk the streets in new sneakers dropped online at early hours from secret sites before anyone else can get them. This is what we do while the rest of the world crumbles. Beauty is still the greatest currency. Except, perhaps, the ability not to feel or care. Staying cold is gold. Time is money and it is on our side. To care is to die drowning in someone/everyone else’s problems. And being young is the only thing we have. People don’t know anything about us more than that. We’re near corner door in the alley where Bella went to get her baby cut. There wasn’t anywhere else she could go, no one to help. A sister far away, I guess, a mother who told her she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. She wakes up early in the morning to run. She spent her paycheck on new running gear: shoes, shorts, headbands. I sleep in late and wait for her to...