Beckett: Detroit 1995

Excursus: This short story is based on true events. These events are not chronological. They are true recollections as I best remember them, even really small ones like the Power Rangers wallet I find in this story. I made up some of the characters’ names because I cannot remember them, which are the principal and the girl I became friends with (although I’m fairly confident that Marie was her name). I also had to be creative and reimagine some scenes, such as the conversation between my parents as well as with the principal. I don’t remember what the conversations were, but I do remember that they took place. I reimagined the scenes at best I could according to what I know of my parents’ temperaments.These events took place at Kosciusko Elementary school in Detroit, Michigan in 1995, which is now an abandoned building.

“Have a good day at school, sweetie!” my mom wished as she finished packing my lunch.

I grabbed my lunchbox as I walked to school with my older brother, Danny, as he walked me to my kindergarten class.

The teacher came up to me and said, “What’s your name?”

“Ricky,” I said bashfully.

She walked me over to a desk and sat me down. I put my hands inside the desk, felt something, and pulled out the coolest Power Rangers wallet I had ever seen. I put it in my backpack where it would stay safer. Finders keepers.

“Hi! What’s your name!” I heard a sweet little voice say next to me.

I looked over to my right and there was a beautiful, mixed girl, likely Puerto Rican and African American like me.

“Ricky,” I said bashfully once again.

“My name’s Marie!” she said as she kissed my cheek.

Sheesh, she moves fast. But I blushed anyway.

“Hey! No kissing!” the teacher yelled from across the classroom. “I’m Mrs. Smith,” she announced with authority to us all. “You will call me Mrs. Smith. Not Ms. Smith—Mrs. Smith, ’cause I’m married.”

Marie was my only friend. She always shared her Doritos and Cheetos with me during lunch, as well as sneaking some during class. We held hands whenever we sat at our desks and walked together. Is it possible to fall in love eat 5-years-old?

The next day at school we were all sitting in a circle, waiting to do an activity. Marie sat next to me and kissed my cheek as she always does.

“Marie,” Mrs. Smith exclaimed, “the next time you kiss Ricky, I’m sending you to the principal’s office!”

That didn’t stop Marie from kissing my cheek in the future, though. She was just more discreet about it when we were around Mrs. Smith.

Mrs. Smith had some posters with bold-coloured letters on them. We’ve been working on the alphabet lately.

“When I ask you what each letter stands for,” she instructed, “I want you to raise your hand and whoever I call on, you tell me a word that begins with that letter.”

We went through the alphabet and I didn’t participate until we got to Z.

When we got to the letter, I exclaimed, “Zipper!”

“No, you idiot!” Mrs. Smith snapped at me. She turned the poster over and said, “Zebra!”

Sure enough, there was a picture of a zebra. I was befuddled with her frustration, but boy did I feel stupid.

School ended a little later and as I walked out of the classroom, somebody pushed me to the ground.

“Get out of my way, nigger!” a tall white kid in the 5th grade yelled at me.

I didn’t know why he pushed me. And what’s a nigger? So, I got up, shrugged, and Danny and I started walking home.

We were about a quarter of the way there when I got punched on the left side of my nose, blood spraying out of my top lip and nose as I stumbled and fell to the ground. I looked over, my eyes drowning in tears.

It was that same kid.

He pushed me to the ground as dirt, sticks, and leaves filled my mouth. I turned and watched as Danny pushed the kid, scaring him away.

Danny helped me up. Tears were in his eyes.

“C’mon, Ricky. Let’s go home,” Danny said as he helped me up and walked me home.

We got home and I saw the sorrow and worry in my mother’s eyes as soon as she saw the dried blood on my face and shirt.

“What happened?” she asked us.

“Some kid punched Ricky, Momma!” Danny answered.

Momma took me to the bathroom, took my shirt off, and washed the blood off my face.

This certain event continued for several months. I’d go to school, Mrs. Smith would belittle my intelligence, and I’d go home getting punched, repeatedly being called “nigger” and other racial slurs throughout the entire day. Not even the other black kids liked me. To them, I wasn’t a real black person since my father is white. I wasn’t black enough for them.

Although I would have tears in my eyes whenever the bully would punch me, not once did I actually weep. Marie made each day a little better with her sweet little kisses. She made everything bad go away.

The last time the bully punched me, he did his usual routine with surprising me, but this time he continued to kick me repeatedly. What happened differently after this was that it wasn’t just Danny who drove him off. This time, other white kids joined in as well to chase him off and help me up. And they were white kids. I guess they all got sick of watching him beat me up every day. Danny helped walk me home afterwards.

Once we got home, Momma washed the blood off my face as usual, but this was also the last straw for Momma. She took me to Daddy.

“Dan, we have to do something about this bully at school!” she implored. “This is getting out of hand! Ricky comes home every day like this from school!”

“You’re right,” Daddy agreed. “It’s about time we’ve done something about this. We’ll go see the principal right now.”

Momma, Daddy, and I walked to the school, Momma leading the way with her little feet marching down the sidewalk with militaristic fashion. I’ve never seen my sweet Momma like this before—so irate.

The principal accepted our unexpected arrival, sitting us down in his office with the door closed.

Momma started, “Mr. Atkinson, our son Ricky has been coming home from school for the last three months with a bloody nose because he gets beaten up by the same kid! And he is repeatedly called a nigger from this kid!”

“Do you know the kid’s name?” Mr. Atkinson asked.

Looking at Daddy, Momma said, “Danny might know his name.” Looking back at Mr. Atkinson, she said, “You need to do something about him! Suspend him, expel him, something!”

“Ma’am,” Mr. Atkinson started, “with all due respect, there’s nothing we can really do. We cannot control these kids let alone the level of racism at this school.”

Daddy slammed his fist down on the desk. “How the hell do you know that? Have you even tried to intervene? This is a school, damn it! So, teach them that it is immoral to bully someone based on their skin colour! Do you want kids growing up in a racist environment at your school and having it affect their future behaviour as adults when they begin to contribute to society? Most of all, do you want our son growing up in such a hateful, indifferent environment while you sit on your ass and do nothing because you assume ignorance is more noble than action? If you don’t do something about this, we’ll sue the school district for racial negligence.”

“Okay, okay, Mr. Beckett,” Mr. Atkinson pleaded. “I’ll deal with this tomorrow. Just give me the kid’s name and I’ll get this resolved as soon as I can.”

The next day of school wasn’t very normal, or very routine. I never saw the white kid anywhere during school as I usually did. I kept expecting his fist to come out of nowhere and punch me across the face around every corner, but it never came. The white bully may have been gone, but the black kids still wanted nothing to do with me because of my relation to my white father. I still wasn’t black enough for them.

Marie was excited and happy about the apparent outcome. She gave me a big kiss on the cheek as we went our separate ways after school. I exited the building, looked back, and saw the kid walking out of the school.

“Hi!” I exclaimed. I have no idea why I greeted him so excitedly. I guess I just had an abnormally good day and wanted to be sure he was okay. (I always always abnormally oblivious as a kid.)

He looked up and straight at me with a depressed look on his face. He looked back down and walked the other way. I never saw him again after that. For some reason, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Maybe that was me being oblivious, or maybe that was me being unconditionally compassionate.

One night, we were eating dinner—Danny, Momma, Daddy, and I. We had my favourite dinner: chicken and mashed potatoes! But not the nasty green  beans; they’re dreadful (although now as an adult, I like them). Momma and Daddy started clearing the table when Danny went outside into the backyard.

As soon as he went outside, we heard a gunshot. Everyone froze, too afraid to move, staring at the door.

Danny walked in, holding our puppy, Mickey.

“Daddy, he’s not moving,” Danny said in tears.

Daddy grabbed Mickey as Momma took hold of Danny, and I followed Momma and Danny. Daddy seemed really angry. I don’t know what he did with Mickey’s body.

Apparently, we later found out, it was the drug dealer who lived behind us who shot our dog whilst he was high on drugs.

Soon after these events, in April of 1996, everything in our house was packed up and we were moving to Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania. We got away from the racial problems and the drug dealers who lived behind our house. However, we had another problem to deal with: the effect this experience would have on me as a child and into my adolescence and even my adulthood. I eventually suffered depression and was suicidal, and where therapy was ineffective and Prozac medication made me worse, only Jesus Christ prevailed. But this is a story for another day.

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