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Bullies

When we came back to the States, from Haiti, we lived at 1 Monroe Street in Yonkers for a few months before moving to Port Chester, NY, where my mother had bought a new house. We were speaking fluent French, at the time, and had to relearn English. So, though we were Americans, we were bullied like we were foreigners. The first time a kid tried to scare me, I hit him in the head with a stick like I would any street dog. He was an Irish kid named Thomas. He would later move to Port Chester, NY, a couple years after me. It was interesting to see the role reversal with him as the shy new kid and me with established friends. I did not reciprocate his treatment but when our eyes met for the first time, on the second time around, I knew he acknowledged the irony. Moving back to the town where I was born did not mean the end to the bullying. Black kids tend to be relentless in their name calling. I did not realize until I was older that any attempts to clarify the truth while being verbally assaulted would not conclude with your arched nemesis realizing the error of his ways and stop. You just taught him the lesson that if he ignored logic, repeated the same insult at a higher volume and laughed at his own joke, that confidence in your joke + volume are sometimes more important than facts and logic in getting a laugh. One of my bullies was on my baseball team. He was my teammate! One Sunday morning, we would play against the Jewish War Vets. The majority of players on the opposing team were his "real life" friends who shared a disdain for me. They were a team among themselves and their unstructured play was picking on kids like me. My "teammate" cheered for me during the entire game; when I was at bat, when I ran the bases; when I hit the ball. At the close of the 6th inning, he went to play with his other team. My mother had allowed her friend, Tony, to mount two metal baskets which saddled the rear tires of my 10-speed bike, so that we could carry our books to school and not hurt our backs. They meant well but a sore back was no way near as painful as the beatings that these “bully-magnet” would attract. As I packed my equipment in my bicycle baskets, i saw them approaching me. Now, the two boys stood next to me, one slightly behind my right arm and the other in front, blocking my path. They were in perfect position to play a game of "bully ball". The one behind me grabbed my shoulder and I reacted by rotating my arm to remove it. This motion resulted in my elbowing him in his jaw stunning the boy. He was stunned and froze for a second. I instinctively brought my foot down on the pedal and rode away having won at both little league baseball and bully ball that day. We lived in a predominantly Latino area of Port Chester. There would continue to be a handful of Black and white families in the neighborhood for years to follow. One of our immediate neighbors was friendly with the kids on the bully team. He would confront me, in front of my house, in the days following my victory in the bully games. My mother ran out of the house and snatched up the boy and shook the fear of god into him and the boy ran away. I would later become friends with this kid. After I graduated college and commuted to the city for work, I would see him on the corner on my walks to the train. I later learned that he told the guys, who still wanted to play bully ball with me as an adult, that if they laid a hand on me that they would have to answer to him. Just like high school athletes graduated and played at institutions of higher learning, those who played bully ball sometimes went on to play in the school of the hard knocks. The last time I saw this guy, he was asking me if I had a way to help him “clean” $76,000 that he had stuffed in his mattress, and I did. I was starting a business at the time and could have used the much-needed capital, but I could not take it. It was not the life I wanted to lead. Mom had her own battles that she would fights that we would witness. One being with the downstairs tenant. When she purchased the house, she took loan from a federal program that required that she rent the apartments to qualified Section-8 recipients. The downstairs tenant was new and a result of the program. The conflict peaked with her constant banging on the ceiling with a broom, the universal apartment dwellers signal for a noise complaint. My mother was aware of the meaning but as far as she was concerned, this was her house that she had purchased to escape the trappings of apartment living. Though she had tenants and would be respectful of them, she would not accept being forced to rear her children. She allowed us boys to be boys. The relationship with the downstairs tenant continued to deteriorate, to the point where my mother needed to solicit the aide of her lawyer to remove the tenant from her premises. The tenant, who already had an established criminal record would add to the lines of text on her existing rap sheet after spitting in the face of my mother’s attorney. This incident marked a notable shift in mother’s perception of the government. She preferred to take out a hard-money loan to pay off the program. My mother’s comments around this incident would have her extoling similar soundbites that I would later recognize from the guest speakers on Fox News. My mother had two sons. My brother Baudelaire, aka Boe and me. My brother and I lived together in the same room and under the same roof since I my discharge from the hospital, 7 days following my birth. Yet, our experiences, perspectives, and mindset on similar experiences could not be more different. My mother would be accused of preferring me over my brother by many in the family. The difference in our relationships that we had individually, with our mother, was rooted in our different perspectives and differing world views. For years, my mother and brother would do battle. She tried having family meetings to get at the root of the problem. I've sat in numerous waiting rooms waiting from my brother and mother while they met with counselors. My mother’s attempts to use the rod to save the child ended the day the teenager stood up to the rod. Years later, my brother would hold court with my mother to have her account for her regressions, as he saw them. My cousin and I hid outside my mother’s her bedroom door, where we fought to muffles our laughter, as we heard my brother offer unsolicited forgiveness to my mother. He forgave her for abandoning us as children; he forgave her for how she had treated him as a child. My mother did not say much following the conversation, but this was just the beginning of a conversation that would conclude years later after my brother had his own children. He would later apologize to my mother for all the heartache and difficulties that he had put her through. I witnessed his selfish behavior as a child and, as an adult, he took full ownership for his role in their difficult relationship. Today, my brother and mother have a high functioning relationship where the speak several times a week.

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