Begrudgingly, the time goes by. Before I know it it’s almost 7 am. What takes me by mild surprise is the fact that we’re not stopped at a hotel yet. In fact, the city has disappeared. All that’s in view are high, voluptuous mountains and luscious greenery. Every square inch of land is caked with nature. Valerie inquires first about where we’re at and that’s when Blake mentions, “It’s time to clear our heads for awhile.”
By “clear our heads,” Blake meant soaking in the view of such pristine divinity. The car is parked below us in a very tight space tucked between two crest boulders. We’re above it, sitting upon a rocky plain looking out into a bright sunrise with trees swaying and birds chirping. The wind is crisp and cooling against our skin. Not much human life lurks among these parts. I wonder how Blake was able to find such a place anyway.
Speaking of the guy who has my heart, he stands at the brink of the mini mountaintop as if he’s Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic. His arms are spread wide and he lets the wind caress his body. A chuckle omits from Antonio and he lazily asks, “What are you doing?”
“Oh, you know, just contemplating killing myself.”
We all share a small laugh, and it honestly feels really nice. Seeing Blake smile after all these hours feels even nicer.
“I miss the hell out of Barbara,” Antonio changes the mood in one sentence.
This puts a damper on all of us. I truly miss her too.
“That was such a bitch move, catching us in the dark like that. Especially after we clarified that Blake would stop selling,” Antonio sighs.
Thinking about it makes me eerily silent. My mind draws pictures of the forest again; the way the silhouette looked holding a gun that was bigger than him. The way Barbara looked as her body shut down on her.
Blake just stares at us as if figuring something out. He then moves to join us and we all sit in an unintentional circle. All eyes are on him. He speaks with clarity and formality.
“Sometimes I wish I would’ve grown up a normal kid. You know, the kid who had two parents who graduated from college, who went to the nicer schools in the district, who was happy and healthy and stable. I didn’t get to enjoy that shit. I’ve had to struggle since I was damn there born.”
As he’s talking, his eyes are on a piece of the ground instead of on anyone in particular. I can’t take my eyes off of him. I want to hear his backstory.
“Antonio and Valerie don’t even know this about me, so this will be new to everyone.”
He takes a deep breath and exposes himself.
“I had to abandon childhood innocence early. I never got the chance to be a kid. I was a mistake, and I clearly saw that in my mom and dad’s behavior. They would neglect me, beat me, both too strung out on crack and alcohol to raise a child properly. I grew up in one of the worst neighborhoods in Springfield, used to seeing theft and murder like it was a everyday, common thing.”
Valerie rubs Blake’s back and he takes a dragged out breath. He sits up a little straighter, still not making eye contact with anyone.
“I remember wanting to actually die as a kid. Mom and dad would argue all the time, they broke things, then dad would beat the shit out of me because I would always, ‘get in the way.’ Eventually, I grew numb to that shit. I became more and more distant from them and I would just read books and write out my feelings. Like, why don’t my own parents love me? How come every other kid gets love but I don’t?”
I can’t even bear the thought of a small, helpless child being uncared for and abused by their own parents. That is so heartbreaking to me. I cry when tears start falling from Blake’s face. It’s apparent that digging back into his childhood is utterly painful for him.
“The only people who loved me were my cousins, Dan and Nate. They prevented me from going insane. They stopped me from falling apart, no matter how bad things were. They knew how fucked up my parents were, and they would save me all the time, like real superheroes. Fuck a Spiderman or a Superman, Dan and Nate were actual superheroes. They would buy me new clothes and take me out for food and encourage me to stay strong. They were more like the teenage brothers I never had compared to being just cousins.”
Antonio starts sobbing again. Since he’s to my left, it’s easier to reach him and pull him in for a hug. As his tears seep into my shirt, Blake keeps sharing his grievous story as we all feel for him.
“They are the ones who taught me my street wisdom. Dan and Nate were on the block doing whatever they had to do to keep me and themselves thriving as much as possible. I admired them, did anything they asked of me wholeheartedly because I knew they loved me. They taught me that at the end of the day, loyalty is everything. You look out for others who are in distress. You do the best you can to provide, no matter how you got to get it.”
Blake’s story gets more and more difficult to hear as he reaches the climax, explaining to us how one night, he was a content fourth grader reading a book in his room when he heard screaming and hollering from downstairs. This was nothing new, Blake says, so he ignored it. He began to get nervous when he heard banging and what sounded like fists knocking against furniture. He stopped pretending as if nothing was happening and became alert of the situation.
Before he knew it, his father barged into the room reeking of alcohol and other types of drugs. He approached Blake in a frantic manner claiming that, “if they didn’t get on now, they would never get away from crazy ass Elma,” which is Blake’s mother.
Blake had no idea what was going on, much rather than knowing what he was going to do. His coherent-deficient dad was pressuring him to pack his things and leave with him and he didn’t know why. Questioning it seemed to provoke the alcoholic even more.
“I said, pack yo things and come on! We getting out of here. Tonight!” Blake says in a frantic voice, mimicking what his father sounded like. Blake remembers fear highlighting his face as his dad was rummaging through his room picking out what to throw in plastic bags. Just then, his throttled mother appeared in the doorway with a broom in her hand threatening to call the police if Jason (Blake’s dad) didn’t leave. Their argument started boiling in Blake’s room and his little eight-year-old heart didn’t know what to do. He witnessed his dad closing in on his mom and his heart jerked with fretfulness. Although he didn’t like either of his parents, eight-year-old Blake couldn’t just stand there and let the abuse happen.
“Things got out of control man. I remember getting repeatedly punched in the face because apparently, ‘I was taking too long to get ready.’ When my dad let up on me, I ran past them both in thin clothes and socks, dripping blood, escaping their bullshit and going to see Dan who lived two blocks away. When Dan saw me he said I would never go back there again. He comforted me and cleaned me up while letting me know things were about to go downhill because he couldn’t afford to keep paying rent and that himself, Nate, and I would have to undergo more struggles than before.”
In Blake’s story, him and his cousins bounced around from homeless shelter to homeless shelter, his cousins selling weed to make a tiny income. Robberies, shootouts, and hide out locations were all apart of routine at that point. Blake grew immune to the drug game. He starts choking on his words a little when explaining how years later, he found out that his father had been pulled over for alcohol possession and that his mother had been committed to an asylum. Blake has no idea about their whereabouts to this very day.
Eventually, a “drug raid gone wrong” and “someone being loose at the mouth” is what ended up getting Dan and Nate thrown in jail. Blake had to take over their drug business and since his cousins knew his present-day drug supplier TJ, he was automatically connected to someone familiar and loyal who would sell supply to him for a better price than anyone else.
“You guys always wondered why I’d take money from our inventory. It was never for me. It was for them. Due to them getting snitched on, they had to serve a seven year sentence. Jail isn’t a comfortable place, so I would do them kudos and send them cash so they can eat a little better and buy things that make that horrible place slightly suitable for them. That’s all I was doing. Even though it was hurting us, I had to sacrifice something. My cousins always looked out for me so I’m gonna always look out for them.”
He ends his story by slouching his shoulders. Valerie is still comforting him although there’s been a duration of silence. I clear my throat and speak directly to Blake, my heart being broken in a million pieces for him.
“I would’ve never known you were abused and neglected Blake. Most people would grow up demented and vengeful but all you want to do is take care of those you look out for. You have a really big heart.”
My words must’ve touched him because he smiles and scratches at his neck. Watching Blake fold shy under my gaze makes me feel like a proud lover on so many levels.
What also makes me proud is how open we
are with one another. This moment draws us closer together. Antonio explains how he grew up with two immigrant parents who did nothing to try and better their lives for him. They were lazy and inadequate which eventually turned Antonio off from them completely.
Valerie grew up in a trailer park with five other sisters and a sloppy mom who let her foul boyfriend beat, molest, and rape her little girls. Valerie was one of them. Her cold-blooded attitude stems from a raw and triggering past. She hates her father and wishes she would’ve killed him a long time ago.
I proceed to tell my story to them on how my sexuality got me quietly disowned and disapproved by my parents. How I grew up getting taunted and beat up and nobody did anything to help me. How a boy named Colton Berkeley let me down in front of my whole fifth-grade student body and ever since, I had developed a lacking sense of security and confidence within myself, those negative attributes following me up until teenhood. My story is nowhere near as severe or heartbreaking as the other’s but it’s my personal struggle and it has impacted my life for years. It had me feeling lonely and worthless and suicidal for years. Being consumed by demons is just as bad as abuse and neglect.
Once our story sharing is over, Blake stands and brushes himself off. He angles himself away from us, talking to the open plains and the faraway road instead.
“Barbara had to endure almost the same thing as Ron. Never being good enough, being emotionally neglected and uncared for. Only difference is that Ron grew up with money and Barbara didn’t. Lets you know at the end of the day, that shit really doesn’t matter. Money will never matter. You have to be mentally okay first for anything to matter.”
I nod, letting everyone’s dark past seep into my bones. Their stories become a part of me. Their words fill me with poison, a feeling so bittersweet but deadly that it breaks my body down from the inside out. For a split second I feel more alive than I have ever been in my entire life. Being with these broken but strong souls boosts my spirits by the slightest. I no longer take Valerie as being a heartless bitch. She has had her heart ripped out by the man who was supposed to love her the most. I no longer see Antonio as just a “lazy chill guy.” He feels pain. He cries the hardest. Being nonchalant helps mask his insecurities. I no longer have to figure out why Blake was called a bull or why he seemed made of fire, looking mad at the world all the time. It’s because he is mad at the world. He has every right to be. All life has ever done for him was curse him with shitty circumstances and it robbed him of childhood innocence. In a way, we were all robbed.
Robbed from attaining just the tiniest bit of hope and happiness.