Friday, May 15, 2009

Ghost, Part 1

He was sixteen when I first met him. The guys from my unit suggested that he was an asshole that I could waste my time on.

Ghost was gangly, tall, blue-eyed, and fair with blond hair so light that it was almost white, hence the nickname. He was a member of Diamond Street, whose distinctive diamond symbol and DST initials could be found all over the northside neighborhood.

He lived in a tiny house in a neighborhood that had over time become a haven for blue collar families with young kids, immigrants, and retirees who'd lived in the area for 30 years or more. These groups shared an uneasy truce and very little understanding of one another.

Ghost loved basketball. When I drove to his house, parking underneath a shady tree in the front, he was in his driveway, shooting baskets with a cheap basketball that had been burnished with the sweat of hundreds of free-throw shots. The ball was covered with repetitive scuff marks from the cement driveway. Ghost took shot after shot, rebounding his own ball as I walked casually up the driveway.

I'd worked with hundreds of kids over the years, but those kids were facility kids, trained into structure and some degree of compliance. Ghost was my first street kid, and as I would soon learn, facility kids were different from street kids.

Facility kids had something to lose.

Street kids had already lost more than I could comprehend.

I was nervous, and he was indifferent. I was just another well-intentioned white lady, a busybody there to meddle, but not to help. I told him that the department had received many complaints from his neighbors, and that I understood that his home had recently been hit in a drive-by shooting. Did he understand how dangerous it was to be in a gang? Was there anything I could do? He was sullen, and didn't have much to say. He didn't smile, and in fact, kept his lips tightly clenched across his teeth. I'm not surprised he didn't like me. Why would he?

I was nervous, sweaty, and smiled a lot. Finally, he let loose with some information: that very day was his 16th birthday. I asked if he was excited, and what presents he'd received.

He avoided the question, but I could tell it made him uncomfortable.

I told him I hoped he had a happy day, and that I'd be around again, then drove away. He was back to shooting hoops as rhythmic as a clock as I left. On the way to the office, I passed a neighborhood bodega, and saw a basketball in the window. It was the first of many tiny hunches and gut impulses I would follow with Casper and other kids on the street. I bought the ball for less than $10, a small card to go with it, and drove the mile or so back to his house. When I handed them to him, he was clearly surprised.

He took the ball, thanked me, and started shooting with it.

I later learned it was the only present Ghost received that year.

Ghost, Part 2
Ghost, Part 3


A Free Man said...

Just out of curiosity, are these stories set in the town in which you currently reside? If so, I was a hell of a lot more clueless than I thought a few years back.

Trouble said...

No. They are set in an unidentified location in the western U.S.

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