When I was little, I was a kid. And when I was a kid, I did things because I wanted to do them. I had no insurgent idea about right and wrong or good and bad.
I just was.
Others instilled inside of me the fears, doubts, hopes, dreams, love, hate, good and bad that leaked inside me and I carried this into society as I grew.
That’s how it goes.
One day, I was standing in my grandmother’s yard, awed by the beauty of flowers by the front step. Their bright petals with the dark colored faces stunned my thoughts as I stood motionless; the beauty captivated my little mind and I needed to be closer.
I bent down and smelled the brilliant blooms and just like that, I plucked the delicate flower from its bed.
I plucked it for my own selfish needs – for no other reason. I just wanted it.
I stole its little life.
I skipped away with my new trophy.
I would steal flower lives intermittently as my life swirled and changed. They were so pretty, so magical.
I wanted to be like the flowers I picked.
Then one day long after that day…
It didn’t matter how many flowers I picked.
They would always die. And so would my happiness.
Later, after many withered flower carcasses…
I let the flowers just be – as I just was – and I would visit them.
My grandmother was my weekend sidekick as we drove all over Northeast Philly and Bucks County, PA on ‘outings’ to mystical places like New Hope, PA, and Clover on Frankford Avenue. We were in the Acme on Torresdale Avenue across from Lindenfield projects (they have since been torn down) and we went through the usual routine. Gram would get food for the weekend along with whatever I wanted. All I had to do was ask.
“Gram, can I get these people snack crackers?” I asked her once excited at the fact of me being able to ingest mini, crunchy people.
“People don’t taste very good,” I garbled between crunches. I ate two of them before I read the box and figured out that they were dog biscuits.
Clearly, I needed therapy long before it became a thing.
Once, we were in the checkout line and I eyeballed rows upon rows of Snickers, Milky Way, M & M’s chocolate candies along with boxes of colorful gum. Oh, the gum! There were skinny seven-stick packs of minty stuff stamped Wrigley and then the best of all: Chicklets and Bubblicious! There were these little snack packs of gum that came in a yellow pouch. I forget what they were called but they were eye catching.
This day my eye was drawn to a pack of watermelon Bubblicious. I stared at it for a good two minutes, imagining a big, juicy wad of that gum in my mouth, sticking to my tiny teeth as the scent of fake watermelon wafted to my nostrils while drool puddled at the corners of my mouth.
I looked at my grandmother who was busy putting groceries on the conveyor belt. I looked behind me. No one there and on either side of me was racks of candy and magazines.
I could hear my heart beating as I snatched the watermelon wonder off the rack and slid it in my shorts pocket. I looked around again. No one was staring at me. No sirens or alarms rang. No dog came charging down the aisle with gnashing teeth ready to bite off my thieving hand.
I played it cool. I did it. I got away with theft. I was a bonified genius.
We went out to the car, loaded the groceries, got in and before we even pulled out of the parking lot, I decided… I wanted a piece of my new gum.
Bonified genius my ass…
I pulled it out of my pocket unwrapped a piece and popped it in my mouth. It was glorious! It tasted better than I had imagined and I truly had little drool pockets at the corners of my mouth. I smiled and looked at my grandmother who was staring me down which made me super uncomfortable.
“Where did you get that?” she asked me calmly.
I just kept staring at her like a corrupt criminal under the blazing spotlight of degradation while I flipped through a catalog of excuses in my mind.
“Darlene, did you steal that gum?” she asked in the same calm voice.
My catalog was empty, after all, I was seven. I had no justification except, “I wanted it.”
Again in her same calm voice, “I am so disappointed in you,” she said and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
The gum, now rancid and bitter, sat in the cheek of my mouth as we drove home. I looked out the passenger window filled with shame and discomfort. My eyes welled with tears but I wouldn’t let them fall. I had to get rid of this gum. Just holding it – my tainted prize of pushing boundaries – felt dirty.
I threw the gum in the trash (chewed piece too!) as soon as we got home. I never stole anything again.
Hard lessons stick the best… sometimes better than stolen gum.
Life was ironing out when I met him. I was fourteen, a sophomore in high school (I was one of those lucky kids born in January) and excited about this new chapter in my life. Adjusting to high school was awkward, but I made a couple friends.
Gym class though… ugh.
My parents were fighting a lot because my father was trying to get sober and not having a good go at it. Life was getting uncomfortable which is why when I got to high school, temptation got the best of me.
There were difficult roads I could have traveled to make life easier, but I chose painful roads that made life difficult.
I met a guy who was way too old for me but that’s what I thought I needed – an older boy with a car, who smoked and had a regular job.
A boy who could get me out of my home life of hell.
And he did.
He was a boy who I fell for blindly; the outside cool and handsome, the inside black and miserable.
He scraped me off one level of hell and dropped me in a deeper one.
First it started with my clothes.
Then it was my make up.
After that it was my friends.
Who is he?
Why is he standing so close to you? I saw you touching him.
Why do you smell like sex?
Then it got worse.
I wished for a pair of horse blinders to wear.
We were at a red light in his pick up truck one afternoon and there was a guy on the corner. Waiting for the bus I guess?
I made the mistake of looking to my right and as fast as I saw him, I turned away.
Suddenly, the right side of my face was kissing the passenger side glass.
There was a sharp pain in the left side of my head.
“What are you looking at? Do you wanna fuck that guy? Huh? You think he’s cute?”
I was only looking out the window.
I didn’t mean it.
He got out of the truck and approached the man. “You like my girl, huh?”
The man seemed confused.
Suddenly, the man was on the ground being pummeled.
These idiots on the street, walking around minding their own business. Didn’t they know what would happen if I looked at them? If they looked at me?
After that, I scanned the roads as far as I could see, looking for people so I could look away when we got close.
They didn’t know, but I knew. I knew the danger we would be in if I looked at you and you looked at me.
So when I get that urge to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, and slink down to the bad part of town I avoid like the plague, I have to beat those thoughts back with common sense. I have to control them.
It’s not easy.
I blame so many people, places and things when the battle becomes exhausting in this never ending war on my sanity – my life.
I haven’t been to that place, that hell, that devil’s den of bad choices in almost eleven years.
Those thoughts blossom in my mind when I get comfortable and complacent. They sprout like sick weeds in a garden of naive flowers.
No matter how many weeds I pull or kill, new ones grow and wait, searching for that weak crack in my foundation.