I sit at the back of the bus, my little boy quietly beside me as we pass Queen and Jarvis. We’ve come a long way, and we don’t have to sit at the back of the bus, but my son chooses it. We have a choice, don’t we?
I stare, unnoticed from my seat on the bus, through the glass and into the smooth black face of a young man of about fifteen, who stands on the corner, calm like a soldier. An animated, tizzic old junkie is telling him a tale that seems half made up of interpretive dance. His EarPods dangle around his neck, and over his ears. He checks his phone, looks bored. He reminds me of Babyface, of Loonie (short for lunatic), of Ghost, Lurch, Milky, Horace, Devon, Cornflake, Doughboy the list goes on and I don’t need to Google search every name on the list because I’ve seen enough, and I saw what happened, and all I can do is hope as I clutch my baby’s hand on the bus, knowing that I’m a statistic, knowing that my child is a statistic.
I want to scream at that young man. I want to scream that I know what he’s doing, and that I’ve seen this story play out over and over and enough to know that it will not end well for him. I want to scream out the window as loudly as I can that it’s a honeytrap and for him to run for his life, run back to school, but I’m now only a mild-mannered middle aged woman with grey hairs to prove it, clutching her son’s almost brand new smooth caramel-coloured hand on the bus. What do I know? I know that I’m a statistic, and that I’ve seen that young man in many faces, and I’ve seen that story play out over and over until my heart was shattered and ground into dust, and what’s left of me is now clutching my son’s hand on the bus, wanting to scream, knowing we’re statistics now, no matter who’s fault it is that’s what we are, and all I can do is sit there, stiff, composed, quiet, clutching my child’s little hand on that bus. I hate passing through this part of town.
In two weeks, we get on a plane. We will go far away from this city, and far away from these reminders. I can feel a new understanding developing within me of my grandmother’s journey to Canada. She had six children before she got here, and she still kept going. She also had my grandfather, but still. Things are different for women now. We’ll be fine and maybe if we run far enough there is hope, and my son won’t get sucked into that cycle, chewed up, locked in a cage, or spit out bloody in the streets like my uncle, my grandmother’s firstborn son. I’ve already seen it from two perspectives, I know I won’t survive seeing it from another. Maybe I can save just this one innocent little child.
Maybe I’m in a cage and it just isn’t as obvious. Maybe I’m still trapped. Maybe we all are. Maybe I was a “street kid” and maybe my man sold dope, maybe I was lucky enough, I guess, to have a way out of my own… straight into another honeytrap, though, and I’m still breathing, but now I’m a statistic; a black woman with a fatherless child. Exactly what I swore I’d never be, and here I am, riding the bus, clutching this child’s little hand and what do I know?
I know that unless you’ve seen it or lived it, it’s an enigma. The pull it has on you when things are so tense and tight that it feels like there are hands around your throat that never go away, and an easy way out is right there staring you in the face. To have to walk past the dealer’s BMW into your shit-ass apartment knowing you’re hungry as fuck and your mom doesn’t get paid till next week so you can’t even say anything because it’ll make her cry. To know that whether you hustle or no, you could still get stabbed up or shot just for living there, so you might as well hustle and try to get out. It’s not like you can afford to entertain yourself any other way. Even all the best music, the only music that actually speaks to your experience is telling you to do it. It sucks kids in like a vacuum, and it’s more a question of when, than if, really.
To put it in different perspective, it would be as if Fyre Fest planned a trip for you to aboard the Titanic and that’s your life. Things already start out as a nightmare, you’re pretty sure the boat is sinking, the crew is rude and unwelcoming, nobody seems to know what’s going on, but making a panicked run for the lifeboats (hustling) is the popular option. It would be frowned upon to say, “Oh, the boat is sinking? Well, pish-posh, I’m just going to continue to study by the candlelight and hope for a fair shot at life.” And some violinists show up, but instead of playing Nearer My God To Thee, they start playing super catchy tunes about making a panicked, every-man-for-himself dash for the lifeboats now before it’s too late, and not being afraid to kill anyone who gets in your way because there are only so many boats and not a lot of people are going to make it, but life will be so much better, and it could finally be you playing these fine violins from the best of the lifeboats, if only you can survive the Fyre Fest Titanic. Whether the boat is sinking or no, your studies by the candlelight are not going to go too well in that crazy environment. That’s what people don’t understand. That was Regent Park in 1997 and to me it does appear to be a perpetual and self-sustaining cycle, and I don’t think it just stopped when they tore down the buildings and put up condos. I don’t know much, but I know it scares me, and that I don’t want my child to be this statistic or fulfil that stereotype, but what can a lone black woman with a fatherless child do? What am I capable of?
After Jarvis comes Church Street, and I think about my longest friendship and bonafide confidante, loyal and down for me through anything from the start, and how far away he will be when we move, as we pass by his spot only a few blocks from Regent Park, but in a different world, my safe place, my honeypot, the reason I’m still breathing. It doesn’t cross my mind to stop in or call, not while I’m out with my child, and instead we begin to talk about the buildings we see. First the big church, and then St. Michael’s Hospital, which is on the next block.
This was just a free writing exercise that I sort of did which was inspired by our recent trip to the mall. I don’t confirm or deny that any of it’s true. It is what it is and that’s all I have to say about that.