Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Mule

Last summer, while I was visiting through Fort Worth, I shared a drive with an old friend, whom I will call Leon. Leon and I had not spoken in years. While we caught up on old times, he shared an interesting story. In it, he described a car drive he had taken years earlier, and how in that drive, he had never driven so carefully. In that drive, he kept both hands on the steering wheel at all times, and followed the posted speed limits without exception. In that drive, he knew that had a police officer pull him over, it probably would have meant 20 years behind bars. Possibly even his life. Had a police officer opened the trunk of his car, he would have found it filled with bricks of cocaine – and Leon was operating on strict instructions, “If you get caught, you’re on your own.” Leon was one of the most ambitious men I have ever known. However, in his story, while he nervously drove that car years earlier, he was a mule and a crack-head. He was also a father, a husband, and a former Navy man.

Leon and I had known each other since high school. Back then, he had sought me out because he was interested in the martial arts. We began working out together and quickly became friends. There were four of us in that circle of friends, Leon, Ira, Tong, and me. Each of us had a talent that made us stand out: Leon, the former singer in a boy’s choir, photographer, school journalist, and martial artist; Tong, the elite gymnast from Taiwan and future assistant coach under Nadia Comaneci and Bart Conners, at their gym in Norman, Oklahoma; Ira, the future golf pro; and me.

Leon once stood amongst the four of us and declared aloud, “With all the talent in this room, one of us has got to make it! There has got to be at least a million dollars in this room right now!” At the time, we barely had two nickels to rub together, but we were all ambitious, with no noticeable vices. We also were equally prejudiced against the common obstacles, drugs, alcohol, and thuggish behavior.

While I listened to Leon’s story, more than twenty years has passed, and in that time he had transformed himself from the ambitious teenager I knew, into a disparate crack-head mule, and then finally into a successful self-employed photographer and journalist with one published book under his belt. I was intrigued; and I wanted to know how the proud Leon had ever allowed himself to fall to drugs. More importantly, I wanted to know how he so amazingly climbed back from where many fade away.

When I asked him, he told me about his time in the Navy, the trips to the Philippines, and throughout the Far East. He talked about life at sea, and the boredom. How boredom led him to smoke, and how smoking led him to drink. He also talked about his transition from alcohol to narcotics, how easy narcotics were to find in and around the foreign ports, and how he discharged from the Navy after 4 years.

By the time Leon arrived back in Fort Worth, crack cocaine had become very popular, and Leon saw it as a way to make easy money. He soon found himself connected to the local kingpin, another old schoolmate of mine, whom had grown into a brilliant but roofless man. Their union began Leon’s life as a mule, and in time, Leon gave in to sample the product. It was something he had promised never to do, and he quickly found himself utterly addicted.

His life became a living hell, in where he lost the respect of everyone around him. Crack entangled his soul and smothered out his character, leaving an untrustworthy thief whose only mission in life was to achieve his next hit. Traveling down that dark path, Leon eventually found his rock bottom. He says it is what all crack-heads must find, before they are able to change. For Leon, rock bottom was his own reflection in the mirror, holding a photo of his young son. “It was pride that made me realize I had to change,” he said, the FBI was closing in, and the kingpin had put a hit out on his life.

While he stared into the bloodshot eyes of his reflection, he reminisced, and saw how far he had fallen. In that moment, he decided to change his life. He surrendered himself to the FBI and turned states evidence against the men that hunted him. He then enrolled himself into a substance abuse rehabilitation center and recommitted himself to God and family. It was a long difficult journey, back from where he had gone, but he found his way back.

Leon finished his story just as we arrived at our destination, a church where I would listen to Leon give a presentation to the minister in the back office, promoting his book. Had Leon never told me about his time as a mule, I never would have guessed it; or his recipe: (1) hitting rock bottom, (2) making a decision to change, (3) seeking help (rehabilitation, council, and spiritual guidance), (4) committing to the change, and (5) fighting with all your might.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Night Air

My silhouette moves among them, stable cracks and shadows of the branches above, cased down by a full moon. They resemble a maze, or a spider’s web, illusions – and yet they capture my thoughts. We press onward; warm lungs and crisp night air, distance memories, and sorting things from care.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Journey

In this dream, I drift slowly down the center of a narrow stream. My raft is small, and the mist that surrounds me is so heavy that I can hardly see beyond my reach. The same night sounds that once sang to my ancestors also sang to me. They link past to present, as my thoughts roam the crowded aisles of my imagination.

There are two companions at my side, not on my raft, but walking along the shores to my left and right. I can faintly see them, their ghostly silhouettes moving eerily at the pace of my raft. They rival each other, each trying to lure me to either side.

The figure to my right is aggressive. He offers me incentives to end what he calls my journey, and dock on his side. The figure to my left is quiet; and he has a calm demeanor. He cautions me; saying that once I dock on either side, I cannot reenter the stream. I remain on my raft, still drifting, and unsure of what will come.

In the distance, beyond the figure to my right, hillsides began to form. I gaze intently at them, and still my companions appear cloudy.

“Some of your relatives are beyond those hills,” the figure to my right announced, “You can visit with them after you dock.”

I focus harder on the background and realize that the figure to my right is not alone. There are shadows moving behind him. Creepy, and silently, they go about their business.

“Let me see them first,” I say, “Bring them closer.”

“No!” he said, “First you must dock. Then you’ll see everything.” His voice was agitated. Then he calms himself enough to offer me more incentives.

The figure to my left had been quiet, but then interrupts. “Look forward,” he said, “Notice that the river is becoming narrow. It will eventually end, and you must choose before then.”

I look forward, and indeed the river is growing narrow under the night skies. I cannot see where it ends – and while I have not yet decided, I continue to drift forward.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bone Soup

I see soup; and how each ingredient is carefully added, one by one – a dash of love to form the base, and sometimes not. Perhaps a pinch of neglect; constantly stirred by the steady hands of time. Who shall taste of this soup? Now I see bones, once strong, but now for flavor; sprinkles of wind-swept dust and a smile on chapped lips. They may savor this soup, memories and things that cling, another dash of passion, and then some pain. The flames must be just right.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Plum Trees

One day, while plums were in season, and the middle schools were having a teacher’s conference, we had the day off, Richard, Tyron, and me. We also did not have anything constructive to do, so we set out on a quest to find unguarded plum trees. We searched up and down alleys and through crowded fields until we finally came to a young boy sitting in a backyard. A chain link fence surrounded the yard, and three full plum trees surrounded the young boy, butterflies, and cool shade.

We asked the boy if we could have some of his plums and began climbing the fence before he finished saying, yes. I chose the tree furthest from the alley, closest to the house, and began stuffing the large pockets of my baggy shorts. Richard and Tyron chose the other two trees.

Not long after we began picking, did a large figure suddenly appear at the corner of my eye. It was moving towards me so fast, that I dared not pause to confirm what it was.

With full pockets, I darted towards the alley, past Richard and Tyron, and with the large figure strongly barreling after me. Momentum, adrenalin, and the classes I had had in gymnastic vaulted me over the fence without breaking my stride, and I felt a breeze at the back of my legs. Something had missed me.

Safely on the other side of the fence, I turned to see what had been chasing me. It was an elderly woman, the boy’s grandmother, wildly wielding a rigid switch, and furious that I had gotten away. She was a large black woman, amazingly quick for her size, and her gray hair was flying in all directions.

She then spun around and went after Tyron. Richard was huddled underneath a tree, watching as Tyron tried to run pass the woman. She was hitting at him the entire time, swatting and missing his back and legs. Tyron did not vault over the fence as I had done. Instead, he placed his back against the fence, faced the woman and tried to take the switch from her hand. That made her even madder, as she spoke for the first time.

“Oh! You gonna fight back, huh?” she growled and started swinging harder.

“He said we could have some,” Tyron yelled, referring to the young boy, as he continued grabbing at the woman’s stick. She landed another eight, or so slashes before Tyron finally spun around and jumped over the fence. From the alley, he and I then called for Richard to run.

Richard was still huddled underneath a tree, looking like a frightened rabbit as the woman howled, “Come out of there you little crook!” She repeatedly swung at him, hitting limbs, and knocking down leaves and plums, until Richard finally darted out. Tyron and I cheered him on as he and the woman ran around the yard like a skit from the Benny Hill show. He then dashed for the fence – but not fast enough, for before he could jump from atop the fence into the alley, the woman landed a slashing blow across his back.

“Y’all stay out of my yard!” she yelled, as Richard fell into the alley, nervously laughing. We all laughed, except for the woman and the young boy. We jogged away; and from the corner of the street, we looked back and saw the woman still chasing the young boy around the yard.