Journey to Love
Chapter Seven - Violence
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
DeAngelo and I had, I know, hoped and prayed that Mr. Williams would convince Dad he was wrong and we'd be back at the Center the next day. It was not to be. We were both disappointed when, after Dad's outburst, Mr. Williams just said, “Al, you don't know how wrong you are,” and left. I'm sure he carried with him DeAngelo's hopes and dreams for the future; I know he did mine. In fact, Dad seemed to dig his heels in even deeper after Mr. Williams' visit.
I was surprised when DeAngelo and I got back from our morning ride to find Dad still at home and not at work. As DeAngelo and I made our breakfast, Dad started ranting and raving about queers and honkies. Finally he said “I catch you anywhere near the Center or one of them queers, I'll belt you like I've never belted you before. Understand me? I never got yo mama pregnant with no queers and she didn't birth none and we're sure as hell not goin' to let no queer honkie turn you queer. You know what's good for you, you'll stay away from the Center and them two queers.” Both DeAngelo and I held our peace and just let him rant, but we were becoming more depressed by the minute. Dad finally ran down and left for work.
DeAngelo and I dumped our uneaten breakfast and cleared the kitchen and left for school, I think mainly to get out of the house. As we approached the school, DeAngelo said, “Bro, I'm going to talk to Coach,” and peeled off toward the gym. I went to my locker, put my things away and got what I needed for my first two classes. Suddenly I couldn't hold back the tears and they started running down my face. I managed to keep from crying out loud, but I couldn't stop the tears. I was angry and drew back my fist to slug my locker. Before I could actually swing, my wrist was grabbed in an iron grip.
“Derek, I think you'll find you’d hurt yourself a lot more than you'd hurt your innocent locker,” Mr. Manning said. “Come with me.” Mr. Manning led me down the hall, took out a key and opened a door. Inside the walls were lined with bookshelves which held row after row of textbooks, novels and collections of short stories. A computer sat on a desk and there were two old, somewhat beat-up sofas and three comfortable if well-used chairs. “Have a seat,” Mr. Manning said. “Want to tell me why the tears and why you are angry enough to take on a locker?”
I poured out the story of what Dad had said this morning—even after Mr. Williams’ talk with him—and what that meant for DeAngelo and me. “Mr. Manning, you know what kind of life we will have if we don't get an education beyond high school. Maybe I don't have a real chance of getting beyond high school, but DeAngelo does. Mr. Williams told Dad that although they couldn't openly scout a sophomore, college basketball scouts were already coming here to keep an eye on DeAngelo. I at least have a chance for an academic scholarship and have three years to develop as a swimmer and diver, so maybe I can get an athletic scholarship as well, but everything, all of that, pretty much depends on our continuing working with Brad and Sam and at the Center.”
“Derek, what you say is true,” Mr. Manning said, “and it appears your dad is a hard nut to crack. I was positive he would listen to Mr. Williams. That having been said, you can't give up and anger, as much as I can understand why, will be like hitting your locker. You're likely to hurt only yourself. I know at your age controlling your anger is hard, but put the energy and passion to good use. Use it to attack the problem and let your locker live in peace.”
Mr. Manning smiled and I had to grin at how foolish slugging a locker would have been. “Thanks, Mr. Manning.”
“Use the restroom,” Mr. Manning said, pointing to a door, “wash your face and get on to class. I think you have time to make it before the tardy bell, but I'll give you a late pass.” I did make it to my first period class just as the tardy bell rang.
It was hard to keep my mind on my classes, but I kept reminding myself that if I didn't, what I was worrying about wouldn't matter. Getting out of Stanton really depended on me, not someone else. Others could and would help, but when you get right down to it, if I didn't do what was required of me, there was nothing anyone could do. As DeAngelo and I rode home after school, I reminded him of that and we discussed it since DeAngelo had always operated on the 'getting by' standard before Sam and Brad took us under their wing.
When we got home, we both went to work on homework and when we had completed that, we started supper. When Mom came in from work, she hugged us both and said, “Things are going to work out for you, but you are going to have to be patient.” She refused to say any more.
The next afternoon when we got home from school, Mom told us we needed to take a long bike ride, at least an hour and a half to two hours. She refused to say more except to say we needn't worry about supper and we could do homework when we got back. We wondered what was going on, but did as we were told.
We had talked about riding a circuit from Stanton to Churchville to Christian and back to Stanton and now seemed a good time to do it. We put our school things away, changed clothes and took off. We weren't out to set any speed records, so we often rode side by side and talked. Mostly we speculated about what was going on. Neither of us could recall anytime Mom had defied Dad, so we didn't think that was about to happen in regard to our continuing at the Center and being mentored by Brad and Sam. Anyway, we tried to enjoy the ride and it was two hours before we got back to the house.
Parked out front were three cars and the only one we recognized was Sam and Brad's Spyder. We locked our bikes on the porch and went inside. Sitting in our living room were Sam and Brad, Mr. Manning, Mr. Williams, Coach Andrews, and Mom and Dad. Neither of us noticed Granny Lotz until she spoke, “Come in and sit down,” she said. Granny Lotz was a tiny woman and was sitting to one side. She indicated spots on the floor on either side of her and said, “We have some business to attend to here.”
Granny Lotz was Mom's mother, but that wasn't why she was here, I was sure. As was the case with most African-American communities, Stanton's was matriarchal and Stanton's matriarch was Granny Lotz. If you believe anything, you better believe that.
It as no surprise, then, that when someone told us what had been going on, that someone turned out to be Granny Lotz. “Boys, Mr. Williams came by to see me about what could be done about Alonzo's deciding you two were in danger from Brad and Sam. Now we all know better and he does too, but he wants to hold on to a bunch of gossip from over a decade ago. Well, that's fine so long as it harms nobody. I asked Mr. Williams to get some folk together to talk about what the future holds for you two with Brad and Sam in your corner because we all know what will happen without that help. We have talked for an hour and Alonzo is still being an ass, but that doesn't matter. So long as you are in school and you, DeAngelo, maintain Bs and you, Derek, As, you do your chores and stay out of trouble, you can continue your training programs and swimming at the Center. For the time being, you will not be spending time at Grace House. Is that what you agreed to Alonzo?” Dad merely nodded, clearly unhappy with the situation. “Boys, can you agree to that?” I looked at DeAngelo and he grinned. I guess I was happy with the agreement, but I didn't like the idea of not being able to go to Grace House. I nodded after I looked at Brad and saw him give me the faintest nod.
That meeting at our house changed everything. It gave us back our dreams; it gave us hope. By the end of my freshman year and DeAngelo's sophomore one we were spending every free minute at the Center. As soon as basketball season had ended, DeAngelo had been asked by the baseball coach, Mr. Chandler, to try out for baseball. He had played Little League ball, but nothing since. Mr. Chandler said given DeAngelo's speed and ability to move—Mr. Chandlercalled it grace, but DeAngelo was having none of that—he thought he could make a baseball player out of him. I guess he knew what he was talking about because before the season was over, DeAngelo had made the starting lineup a couple of times. He could hit and he could run, but had to work hard at fielding.
More important than his achievements on the baseball diamond was DeAngelo's performance in the classroom. He earned a B in every class except PE where, of course, he had an A. I had an A in all my classes. We worked hard in school and helped each other, but most important was the help and encouragement Brad and Sam gave us.
Another change in our lives was the change in Dad. He would hardly speak to us and spent less and less time at home and more and more time at the juke joint. Fortunately, Mom got a small raise and both DeAngelo and I met our own expenses with our work at the Center, otherwise I don't know how we would have made it because most all Dad made was spent on booze. As I had said earlier, Dad was a mean drunk unless he was really drunk. He had limited his meanness to ranting and raving and had not attempted to hit Mom or one of us, that is until shortly before the School for the Deaf's spring break. Mom mentioned she would be at home for the week and Dad went nuts shouting and raving about how he worked his ass off and she would just lie around the house for a week. This went on from the time he came home from work until he left for the juke joint.
When Dad came in, drunk as usual, he stormed into the bedroom and started yelling at Mom. DeAngelo and I went downstairs just in time to see him pull his fist back to hit her. DeAngelo grabbed Dad's fist and twisted his arm behind his back and said through gritted teeth, “You ever hit Mom, you will regret it. Now get your drunk ass in the living room and sack out on the couch if you know what's good for you.” Dad started cussing him and DeAngelo said, “And be quiet about it. Derek and I need our sleep.” He propelled Dad to the couch, pushed him down onto it, and Dad finally lay down.
I discovered Mom had an opportunity to go on a tour during the school's spring break. It was nothing fancy. The driver for the school's activity bus agreed to drive it for free, the school would pay for the expense of the bus and those on the trip would stay in state housing where it was available and they would eat as inexpensively as possible. I told Derek about it and he mentioned it to Brad and talked about how he wished he had money to pay Mom's way. The next day, Brad called me and Derek into his office and asked us what we planned for spring break at R. E. Lee. “Same old, same old,” I said.
“Would you be willing to work the maximum number of hours during the break?” he asked. We both told him we'd be happy to. “If you're serious about your Mom going on that tour, I'll advance the money and you can work it off during the break.” Happily, we both agreed.
Mom couldn't believe she was going and kept talking about the money and we told her we were taking care of that and she shouldn't worry. She definitely left Stanton with mixed emotions. On the one hand, she was still a bit worried about the money, what we would do without her around and on the other, she was like a little kid she was so excited. She left Stanton the Friday the students left for their break and would be gone until the following Saturday. Dad, of course, had been told all about her tour, but was really pissed when he got home and learned it had happened. He yelled and carried on until he left for the juke joint. I was as glad to see him go as was DeAngelo.
Two nights after Mom left, I asked Dad for money to buy some groceries because we were out of food. He told me there was no money because Mom had spent it all on “some fool trip.” I knew better and told him she had spent nothing on the trip because DeAngelo and I had given her the money for the trip. “How the hell did you get money to pay for some god damn trip?” he asked. Innocent-like, I told him and he went completely crazy and started yelling about my selling my ass to god damn queers and getting money to get Mom out of town so they could fuck my ass. I tried to reason with him without realizing that although he had just come home from work, he'd managed to get drunk on the way. I was caught off guard when he hit me on the side of the head with his fist, shoved me to the floor and started kicking me. I yelled for DeAngelo who was in our room doing homework. He came running down the stairs and before he had realized what was going on, Dad hit him as well. Dad then kicked DeAngelo in the balls and, I guess, even drunk realized DeAngelo could do him serious damage, so he ran out the front door.
I was in real pain, my nose was bleeding and DeAngelo was crumpled in the floor, holding his balls. As soon as he was able, he did what he could to help me, then said, “I'll calling Sam and Brad.” He picked up the phone and said, “Shit! Dad was supposed to pay the phone bill and I bet he didn't. The phone' dead! Hang in there Littl' Bro, I'm going for help.”
I don't know how he managed to ride a bike after the kick in the balls, but he rode to the Center and told Brad what had happened. Brad called an ambulance and brought DeAngelo back to the house, getting there about the same time it arrived. I was loaded in the ambulance and taken to the emergency room. There was no serious damage done, but I would definitely be wearing a black eye and some serious bruises awhile.
Brad took us back to the house and said, “Get your school things and a week's clothes. You are staying at Grace House until your mom returns.” DeAngelo and I argued with him reminding him our agreement said we would not go to Grace House. “I think the agreement has been broken. You remember Sam and I said you were not to be abused. Well, you have been.”
The week passed without further incidents and Brad and Sam waited at the School for the Deaf for Mom's return. She was afraid something terrible had happened to us, and to tell the truth it had, but it wasn't too physical. They assured her we were OK and suggested she not go home until we had talked to her. They brought her to Grace House where we told her what had happened while Sam finished a fabulous dinner. After dinner, we five sat around the kitchen table and Sam said, “Mrs. Wilson, we would like for DeAngelo and Derek to live with us. You as well, if you'd like. Until Mr. Wilson gets help dealing with alcohol and his temper, all three of you are in danger.”
“It's not that either boy is incapable of defending himself, but as last week's incident shows, he can harm them before they are prepared,” Brad said.
“Sam, Brad, I know you have the best interests of my boys at heart. I have no problem with them staying with you two. I have never had any problem with you. Brad, I know Miss Grace practically raised you and I know she wouldn't have tolerated anything less than your best. Sam, I know enough of your work at the hospital to know you are a good man. There will be trouble from Al over the boys being here, but I can handle that. I'll try to get him to get help, but I doubt it will happen. He's right and the rest of the world is wrong.
“Frankly, his job is in danger and he knows it, but he blames his white boss rather his coming to work hung over most days. Anyway, I know the best thing for the boys will be to stay with you. DeAngelo, Derek, I will miss you, but I want what's best for you. I know you'll be given opportunities you'll not have otherwise. You have been already. I really appreciate the offer, Sam and Brad, but I'll stay in my own house. It's mine, my mother helped me buy it and I worked hard to pay for it. Al is welcome to live there, but I'll take no abuse off of him. I hope I can get him to get his life straightened out, but if he doesn't there's nothing I can do about it.
Sam and Brad got a lawyer to draw up the necessary papers for us to live with them and to make them our legal guardians. Mom signed them. Dad continued his old habits and was given his last warning. One more being drunk on the job and he‘d be fired. He was given the opportunity to go into rehab, but refused.
Thanks to Sam and Brad, Again DeAngelo finished the year with all Bs except for the A in PE and I had straight As.
Mr. Chandler got DeAngelo a scholarship so he could attend a two-week baseball camp. DeAngelo wanted to go to basketball camp, but there were no scholarships available and, as Mr. Chandler told him, he was developing into a very good baseball player and could probably get a baseball scholarship as easily as a basketball one, maybe easier. I did his job at the Center as well as my own while he was in camp.
I did a two-week swimming 'camp' except there was no camp. Ms. Bianchi and Mr. Malik ran the swimming and diving program, Brad did the personal fitness part of it—as had been true since the program was started—and Mr. Manning and Miss Kaplin handled the other activities. We made a trip to Monticello, had a party and swam against a couple other swimming camps. We also swam against Bridegwater and Eastern Mennonite College teams. Of course, they were much better than we were, but we made a good showing. In fact, I placed fourth in the diving competition at Mennonite and second at Bridgewater. DeAngelo paid me back by doing my job at the Center while I did swim camp.
By the end of the summer, we were ready to return to school when Brad dropped a bomb on R. E. Lee. He took us to Mr. Carroll's office and requested DeAngelo and my records. “Sam and I are DeAngelo's and Derek's legal guardians and they live with us, so they live in the Fort Defiance district,” he said with an innocent look on his face.
Mr. Carroll looked shocked. “You're transferring DeAngelo his senior year?”
“What choice do we have? He lives in the Fort Defiance district and we certainly are not paying out of district tuition just to keep him here. Besides, there's the question of transportation. No, we've talked and he's not sure about transferring and, of course, it means a new basketball and baseball team, but you know how R. E. Lee feels about out-of-district students. DeAngelo has caught a lot of flack because he's black and now because he lives with a couple of queers. I'm not sure but what he will welcome the change.” It was all Brad could do to keep the grin off his face. We had talked about the situation and Brad was sure if we played it right, a way would be found to keep both of us at R. E. Lee. I had told him not to bother about me. I had no fond attachment to R. E. Lee and where I was in school had nothing to do with my being on the swim team.
Mr. Carroll was also having a hard time keeping a grin off his face. “Seems a shame to transfer him his senior year. What do you think, DeAngelo?”
DeAngelo played his part well, talking about how he'd like to stay with the team he knew even though they disrespected him at times, but Brad and Sam were having expense enough keeping us and he didn't want to add one that could be avoided.
“I understand,” Mr. Carroll said. “There's no rush as it's three weeks before either school starts. Let me look into the situation.” On that note, we took our records and left.
In less than a week, the out-of-district tuition for DeAngelo didn't seem to apply because, after all, his mother was a resident of Stanton, and he could ride to school with a new teacher who lived down the road from Grace House. He would come home with Sam and/or Brad.
When Brad realized DeAngelo had a driver's license, but had never had enough practice to really know how to drive, and I had never bothered to get a learner's permit, he talked to Sam. They set up a schedule and started teaching us both to drive. We got our driver's licenses shortly after school started in the fall.
Not that it was something we would not have done anyway, but they insisted we spend time with Mom and we made it a point of spending Saturdays doing what she needed done as well as visiting with her. We also ate Sunday dinner with Mom and Dad as we had always done since we were old enough to eat at the table. Well, these days it was usually just Mom, which was good because when Dad was present, he acted as though the two of us did not exist.
One Wednesday, after we had finished at the Center, we got back to Grace House and found Sam and Brad sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee and a cookie. They invited us to join them. I fixed two hot chocolates and as we sat down, DeAngelo finally got up the courage to ask Sam and Brad something he had been stewing about for a week. “Guys, do you think one of you might take Sarah and me to a movie and pick us up afterward Saturday night?” Sarah was a girl from Buffalo Gap DeAngelo had met at the Center. She was on the swim team and DeAngelo was at the Center every day.
“Well, to be honest, DeAngelo, we were planning on driving to Harrisonburg to take in a play at James Monroe. Do you really want to go to a movie?”
“Well, I'd like to go out with Sarah and that's about the only choice I can think of.”
“I think we would be able to get another ticket to the play. We're having dinner before the play and would be happy to have Sarah join us. I guess we just made an assumption that you and Derek would be going. We need to watch that, Babe,” Sam said.
“If you'd like to do that, DeAngelo, you could pick Sarah up and join us at the restaurant and then go to the play.”
“You'd do that?”
“No, you'd do that,” Brad said. “You've been driving awhile now and we have watched you and believe you will be responsible. You can take the Spyder and pick up Sarah. We'll program the GPS for the restaurant so all you'll have to do is follow directions. It's also time we got you two cell phones. Your mom objected, but we insisted she have a phone so we paid the back bill and placed an order to have the phone turned back on. You'll need to call her during the week as soon as it's back on.”
I was sure Brad kept talking just enjoying the look on DeAngelo's face when it finally sunk in they were letting him drive the Spyder on a date. He said, “Sam, Brad you have been so good to us. There's no way in the world we can ever thank you enough.”
“Oh, but there is, DeAngelo. Take advantage of the little help we can offer you, be the young man you are meant to be and we will be thanked more than enough. That includes, by the way, respecting Sarah and any other woman who comes into your life. I don't mean you never have sex with someone you're dating. I'm afraid that would be asking more than you might be able to deliver, but I do mean be responsible and respectful. Know what I mean?”
DeAngelo nodded and said, “Only safe sex and not using a woman to replace Rosy Thumb and her four sisters.”
“At least that,” Brad grinned.
Saturday night was much fun. I loved the play; it was done extremely well. Dinner was outstanding. I had seen DeAngelo hanging around Sarah when I was at R. E. Lee and knew she was pretty, smart and had a great sense of humor. After dinner, we separated as DeAngelo and Sarah's seats were not with ours.
Life settled into a new routine soon. We spent Saturdays and ate Sunday dinner at Mom's, but seldom saw Dad. Other than that, we were at school, doing homework, chores around Grace House, working on our personal training at the Center, in practice—swimming for me and baseball for DeAngelo—and biking. Sam and Brad said we were isolating ourselves socially and encouraged us to go out. We did some. DeAngelo pretty much played the field although he saw more of Sarah than any other girl. I took a girl to an event occasionally, but not often and never the same girl more than twice in a row. Mostly I did things with swim teammates and we always went as a group.
Brad and Sam took us on several trips: Colonial Williamsburg just before Christmas, Washington in the spring to see the cherry blossoms and visit museums, as well as more local trips.
The year passed quickly as had the summer. Spring break, DeAngelo's class organized a trip to Europe. He didn't have quite enough money to go and refused to accept money from Sam and Brad. They tried to convince him otherwise, but he said he wouldn't accept it. He did accept a loan from me. He was glad he did as he had a grand time and certainly had his horizon broadened.
During the year he was scouted by both basketball and baseball scouts and, I think, surprised us all when one night he asked if we could have a family conference. He even brought Mom out to Grace House so she'd be included. When we were all sitting around the kitchen table after supper, he said, “I need to talk about scholarships. I have lots of offers, but only five worth thinking about and I need help deciding. I have three basketball offers—all about the same, so the only thing to discuss there is the difference in the colleges. I have two baseball scholarships. They are a bit better since they include books. All five pay tuition and room and board.”
“The schools?” Brad asked.
“Basketball at Freedom University, James Monroe and Eastern Mennonite. Baseball at James Monroe and Freedom.”
“Your preferences? You must have some,” Sam said.
“To be honest, Freedom is too religious for me, well, maybe not too religious, but too narrow.”
“Agreed,” Brad said without hesitation.
“Eastern Mennonite is pretty strict so far as religion is concerned as well, but still expects you to think. Both it and Monroe are close to home and that has advantages and disadvantages. If I chose Monroe, I think I could still play baseball if I wanted to and could handle it and school, but I prefer basketball if I have to choose between the two.”
“Seems to me you know what you want to do,” Mom said. “Books can't cost that much.”
“Between five hundred and a thousand dollars a year,” DeAngelo said.
“Bet if you talked to the scout and coach, they could find you a job that would give you pocket money and books, probably as a personal trainer. You are more qualified than most personal trainers in public spas. Talk with them, bargain. They want you and you don't have to have them,” Brad said.
That's what happened. Somehow or other the basketball coach at Monroe came up with a book scholarship and a job as well which kept DeAngelo in spending money. He also had a baseball scholarship which covered room and board. He would be going to James Monroe University in the fall.
Shortly after DeAngelo had signed the letter of intent, I was in my room doing homework as was DeAngelo when the phone rang. While we had phones in our room, we never answered them during the time we set aside for homework. If one of our friends called, they were politely told to call back later or Brad or Sam took a message. It didn't take long for them to learn when to call and when to wait. I was, therefore, surprised when Brad knocked on my door. When I opened it, I saw Sam going into DeAngelo's room. “Derek, I have some sad news,” Brad said. “That was your mom on the phone. Seems your dad got in a drunken brawl at the Leisure Palace and it ended in a knifing. The other man has been arrested and your dad has been taken to the emergency room. Your mom thinks he is in pretty bad shape. She needs you with her. Get your shoes on”—I went barefoot in the house all the time and was teased about it—“and we'll go.”
Half an hour later we were in the emergency waiting room. No one had told Mom anything so Sam went to find out how things stood. When he came back it was clear from his face the news wasn't good. “No good news,” he said. “Mr. Wilson got the worse end of a knife more than once. Unfortunately, while most of the cuts are not life threatening, a serious cut to the stomach not only opened his gut, but also cut an artery. By the time the paramedics arrived, he had lost so much blood they could hardly find a pulse. His heart stopped twice on the way to the hospital. He is unconscious and, to be honest, I don't think he will make it. If you like, Mrs. Wilson, you can go back. DeAngelo, Derek, you can go back one at a time for a few minutes.” Mom stood and said, “Sam, could you go with me?”
“Of course,” he said and took her arm. “One of you can come back in five minutes,” he said as he led Mom away. In less than five minutes, Sam was back. “Sorry, guys, he didn't make it. I was afraid of that. He had just lost too much blood. You need to go back to your mom.” I was sure neither of us wanted to. I know I didn't, but we went back. Dad was lying on a gurney. I had never seen a dead person before the undertakers had done their bit, but I knew Dad was dead. I also knew I had very mixed feelings about that.
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