Thursday, May 21, 2009

School Days (Cecelia & Ghost, part 4)

Cecelia - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Ghost - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Both Ghost and Cecelia weren't attending school when I met them. Ghost was expelled during the previous school year, and I met Cecelia at the beginning of the summer.

When fall came, of course neither were registered, but they lived in nearby neighborhoods and were zoned to attend Westside High School. Ghost, in particular, felt a strong connection to that particular school school.

I floated the idea of an alternative school:

"So, how did you do at Westside when you went there?"

"I got expelled at the end of the school year, and never went back."

"How did you manage to do that?"

"I was always getting into fights, and the principal got sick of it and expelled me."

"Have you considered the idea that maybe Westside isn't a good school for you, given that there are so many different rival gangs there, and you got into so many fights?"

"Nah. That's the only school I could go to. That's my school, that's where my boys go."

"Will your dad take you to register?"

"Nah, after I got kicked out last year, he told me I was on my own."

Cecelia had similar issues. It had taken her 4 months in the previous year to get registered for school due to her mom's work schedule. Her judge wanted her in school from day 1 of this school year. I tried to meet with her mom, to talk about it, but her mom was never home on the days and evenings I stopped by.

Finally, I formed a brilliant plan in my little pea brain. I'd take the two rival gang members at the same time, and register them myself. I probably should have run this plan past a more experienced person in my department, but being me, of course I didn't.

Instead, I laid the ground work.

"Dude, Cecelia, I'll take you and register you. But, you know Ghost from Diamond Street, he needs to register, too, so I think I'll take both of you at the same time."

Silence.

"C'mon, man. You're talking about something that is going to kill half a day for me. You two can put up with each other for half a day. I'll take you to lunch after."

Finally, she agreed. After a similar conversation with Ghost, and a similar level of reluctance, he also agreed. One thing they both had in common: They wanted to get into school and were powerless to do so on their own without the help of a parent or adult. They needed me, so they were willing to put up with a hated rival in the same car for a couple of hours.

The ground rules:

1) No smack talking.
2) No hard looks at each other.
3) No attempting to start nonsense and act like knuckleheads.
4) No throwing up handsigns.
5) No wearing gang colors while they were with me.
6) No disrespecting other sets by using insults or slurs.

Those were the standard rules I used when they were with me normally, so they were used to them. But, separately, I also I spelled it out to them further...I had no loyalty to either of their gangs. My loyalty was to them as individuals. And, I'd done a lot to earn their respect. Any attacks, verbal or otherwise, on the other person, I'd view that as disrespect to me, personally. I expected them to control themselves, at least for a short period of time. This was also a test to see how serious they were about attending school, and whether they were likely to have the self-control to succeed in doing so, at the same school.

They agreed.

I picked up Cecelia first. She immediately staked her claim to the front seat, tilting it back into the "gangster lean," and co-opting the radio to listen to the local rap station. She treated my car like she owned it. And, I let her, until I got sick of rap. Then I forced her to listen to alternative rock, which she hated. Occasionally, we compromised on oldies.

We drove to Ghost's house.

That sounds stupid, right? What was I thinking, driving her to the home of a rival gang member in rival gang territory. Looking back on those days, I'm fucking amazed at my level of naivete and idealism. I'm surprised it didn't get me or someone else killed.

Except, they both already knew where the other gang member lived. In fact, I would not be surprised if they'd already shot up each other's houses before they ever met. Both were major players in their own gangs, both had participated in drive-bys, and both had also had their houses shot up. That's who they were.

Beyond that, I trusted them to behave when they were with me. I trusted them to value our relationship enough to be respectable, for short periods of time. I felt like I knew their boundaries, and that they knew mine.

Ghost, as usual, was waiting for us on the front step.

Ghost and Cecelia looked at each other long and hard as he walked up to the car. I'm pretty sure that they'd never had a conversation, unless Cecelia yelling "Dick Street Putos" at him (or vice versa) could be considered conversation. I'm sure neither had ever been in the same car with a member of the other gang.

Ghost climbed into the backseat, behind me, and stared out the window. We drove to Westside High School in a loud silence punctuated by the thumps of gangsta rap.

When we got to the school, my kids and I went inside. The secretary stared at us nervously. Both kids had obvious gang tattoos on their hands, and were, to some extent, dressed down in dickies, white t-shirts, and g-nikes, though in keeping with my instructions, neither had on any colors. They looked like scary twins from different mothers.

I was given the paperwork and sat down in the office to fill it out with each of them. In between answering questions, they stared each other down.

"Cecelia, Ghost...knock it off."

They looked down at the floor. I was a mom with the two most dysfunctional kids, ever. The secretaries never took their eyes off us.

We finally completed the ordeal of filling out a stack of forms, in triplicate, and I handed them over to the registrar.

In front of both kids, she told me: "Cecelia is welcome to come to Westside. He, on the other hand," she pointed at Ghost, "can't come here. He was expelled last year and never fulfilled the conditions of his expulsion."

Ghost's face lost all expression. He cared, but he sure as hell wasn't showing it to this woman. He looked at the floor and never looked up again.

I protested. "Is there someone I can talk to about this decision?"

"Sure, you can talk to the vice principle in charge of administrative affairs, but he's out this week, on vacation. Do you want to schedule an appointment?"

I scheduled the appointment. Then, I wrote a check for Cecelia's school fees (the other apparent hangup that had kept her out of school for half of the previous year), and we left.

We drowned Ghost's sorrows with the promised Crown Burgers and chocolate milkshakes. Cecelia watched him from across the table. His face showed no emotion, but she knew what he was feeling.

"Yo, Ghost, I'm really sorry, those people suck," she told him, "fucking puta at the counter didn't have to act like that."

He lifted his head and really looked at her, for the first time. "Thanks, man," he said.

We left, and I dropped her off at her house. On the ride back to Ghost's house, I told him that we would meet with the Principal and I'd use my clout from the police department to try and get him into school. But, if he couldn't get in, he'd have to attend the alternative school, and I hoped he'd do so.

"You know, I'm not your mom, though, so I can't make you do anything."

He looked over at me, face completely serious, and said, "You are my mom, Miss A."

Cecelia, Part 5

5 comments:

Mongoliangirl said...

I just read every single post. I'm so glad you're capturing these stories. Seriously. This particular post is so lovely...these two finding something in common. There is always something in common. It reminded me that humanity shines through even when the situation is beyond desperate. "You are my mom, Miss A." I'm more grateful for that than you will ever know.

Rassles said...

You are so hardcore.

Trouble said...

Dude, I'm so not.

hereinfranklin said...

I love this story and can't wait for the end. Thank you for writing it--and for being there for the kids.

SciFi Dad said...

Damn, you can paint a picture with words. I felt like I was sitting at that burger place with the three of you at the end.

Great stuff.

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