It's My Party
Not more than an hour had passed when I happened to glance over my left shoulder. I noticed a silhouette of something lurking behind all the bushes that were filled with spiderwebs and dead branches. “Who goes there?” I yelled out while glancing around. “Was I going crazy?” I didn’t want to sound like some crazy fool so I stayed quiet and never mentioned it to my friends who came out to celebrate my birthday at the Park.
At certain times of the year, the Park would get dreary and dark. By 9:00 pm the grass would be covered by a blanket of fog. It would get so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. A few minutes had passed when my eyes finally came into focus; however, curiosity was already getting the best of me and I needed to know what was creeping behind those bushes. What was it?
Maybe it was a wild pig or maybe it was a raccoon that had rabbis.
Maybe I was just hallucinating from all of the drugs I had taken earlier. Who knows?
I zoomed in by taking my hands and turning them into binoculars and to my surprise there He stood, sure as the sky was blue.
It was Mr. Mischievous, Golden Curls, Wild Cuddle Bug, Classy Honey Buns also known as Cupid.
“Let me start from the beginning..”
We decided to meet up at Lemon Park for my 16th birthday in the Summer of 1983.
As the celebration got started I had only one goal in mind, I was determined to have a good time that meant without anything or anyone ruining my big day... or so I thought.
Before my friends arrived I took a seat on my favorite green bench under this old eucalyptus tree. This tree was so old it stood tall since the early 1920s. And, if I had to bet, I’d say that the bench was just as old as the tree because it was worn down and covered in tree sap. There was this distinctive mint aroma that filled the air most of the time, the other half was spent smelling like urine from the homeless population that began using the park as a campsite, so it wasn't uncommon to find hypodermic needles lying around in the sandbox.
Ironically, it was the same bench where I received my first kiss, drank my first beer, and smoked my first cigarette.
That afternoon I spent the majority of my time twiddling my thumbs. I got really good at it too. But it was during those quiet moments the world would stop spinning. It gave me just enough time to ponder on all the years wasted and all the years that I could’ve, should've, and would've somehow done things differently if I had only been born in another family or even in another era.
I had so many regrets that haunted me about my adolescent years because while most teenagers were accomplishing monumental events such as acquiring their driver’s license and opening bank accounts I was too busy spending all of my time behind bars.
It was without fail, like clockwork every year around the same time I’d find myself sitting on a two-inch plastic mattress that sat in the corner of a dimmed-lit grey cell. Not only was the cell dimmed it also had this wet and dingy smell, a smell so horrific I would gag when first walking into that dilapidated jail cell.
Nights always seemed to be the most difficult because that's when I could hear the cries of the young men attempting to make good on their promise, they echoed through the emptiness of the cold and eerie corridor. We were all just a bunch of young and immature knuckleheads who constantly vowed and made promises to our loved ones, but within six months we’d find ourselves back in that God-forsaken place and confined once again to a 10x10 cell.
“I swear God, if you get me out of this mess I promise to never do it again.”
“Mom, it wasn’t me! I swear, I wasn’t the one who robbed the store… Please, Mom, just get me out.”
Just a few things I’d hear while sitting on my bunk.
I lived behind the wall for just over four years, sharing a cell with this young kid Mikey who slept on the top bunk.
Mikey would have these unmanageable nightmares that terrifyingly caused him to break out in cold sweats, the rigor of Mikey’s screams sounded a lot like someone was being massacred.
“Mikey, hey Mikey, are you okay?”
I tried shaking him, but nothing… I had even attempted sticking his hand in cold water assuming it would snap him out of what was haunting him. It wasn't until later that I found out that putting someone’s hand in cold water only works when someone snores.
No matter what I tried I just couldn’t get him to stop screaming.
Mikey watched as his little brother Ricky perished in his arms.
“Destin, I swear, I thought the gun wasn’t loaded. I pointed and pulled the trigger… YOU, believe me, RIGHT Destin?”
I didn’t know how to respond.
“Yeah, Mikey I believe you,” I replied with a quiet, almost whispered tone in my voice.
Unlike myself and every other inmate doing time, Mikey and Ricky were actually good kids.
Mikey's life wasn’t filled with violence and drugs. Receiving full scholarships at MIT they both dreamed one day of becoming a Biomedical Engineers, but it all tragically ended when the bullet logged into one of Ricky’s lungs.
Believing his brother would catch his breath after a few minutes, Mikey tried not to panic and in doing so he never called 911.
Although Mikey didn’t have a criminal record he was still charged with his little brother's murder. The jury didn’t believe his side of the story and sentenced him to life in prison.
Mikey and I could never phantom the idea of ever making it out alive, so with no goals, dreams, or hope, I had only one ambition and that was to become a career criminal.
I stood 6’2 and weighed 280 pounds at 16 years old. I was the type of young man people feared, and didn’t want to meet in a dark alley.
I’d already been shot twice, stabbed once, and had acquired a total of sixty stitches from a bumper jack that almost caved the top of my skull. It seemed as if every corner I turned mishaps and violence appeared to follow.
I was what many called the epitome of a troubled teenager.
Unfortunately, I knew I was on a dead-end road but I vowed to follow that dark and gloaming path of crime, violence, and mischief, and if anyone stood in the way they would quickly become a victim of my rage.
There was one night I had just finished stealing a car stereo when the Police came pounding at my door.
I somehow evaded and ran from them for more than three blocks until I finally reached my house.
“Destin, who are you running from?” my mom yelled out right before jumping over the dog and running into my room. “I’m not running from nobody Mom, I’m just in a hurry.”
“Then why are you running?”
Still trying to catch my breath I slammed the door behind me and quickly changed my clothes so that I wouldn’t fit the description. They were looking for a six-foot Mexican wearing a blue baseball cap, black shirt, and blue Livi jeans. Back in my neighborhood, there weren’t too many people who fit that description.
“Yes! ... I got away.…” I was trying to convince myself. “Those dumb cops can’t catch me, I’m too fast for them.” I just figured the more I said it, the more that it might happen.
Then, not more than a few seconds later I heard the pounding.
There was a loud THUMP... and then another thump.
They continued pounding and pounding until my mom finally got up and quietly opened the squeaky door. I thought for sure that they would come in with guns blazing, but then I heard my name mentioned a few times before there was an awkward silence.
I pinned myself under the bed. I’m still not quite sure how I was able to squeeze underneath that twin-size mattress. I could feel the sweat rolling off my forehead as the dog continued licking my face. “This stupid dog was going to get me busted,” I said to myself.
“Chico get out of here...!” I whispered pushing him towards the door. I wanted to surrender and come out with my hands up but that wasn’t an option so I quietly peeked out from under the bed and watched my mom crack the door open. “Hello, que quires?”
“Crap...” it was Officer Stedman at the door.
Officer Stedman was one of the most ruthless and notorious officers on the force. “Good evening ma’am, we are looking for your son Destin.” I immediately recognized his voice. I could hear that he was winded from chasing me. “Is Destin here?”
“Por que? que quires con mi hijo?”
Officer Stedman paused… he took a few more deep breaths one after another and before answering my mom’s question he asked again, “Is your son here?” By this time my mom was getting aggravated and yelled out “Si, pero he’s sleeping... Por que? Que quires con mi hijo?” she asked again in her broken accent.
From past conversations with my mom, the Officer knew there was no way that he was going to win the argument.
My mother had been down this road before. “I don’t know why you are always looking for my son every time something happens. Stop harassing him.”
“Ma’am you’ll be lucky if Destin survives long enough to see his sixteenth birthday.” And with that, my mom shut the door right in his face.
Before I could say anything, my mother yelled out in Spanish “You idiot, wait until your father gets home.”
In Spanish, it sounded much nastier.
Thank God Officer Stedman was wrong! Because here I was getting ready to celebrate without wearing an orange jumpsuit, the kind they make us wear while in jail.
One by one everyone started showing up and greeting me with handshakes, and hugs. Then there were those who just nodded their head as they paid their $2 dollars to get in.
David was the first to walk in with both hands raised up in the air as he approached with his infamous raised eyebrow and cheesy smile.
“What’s up, Destin?”
“Nothing much Little Bear... Just getting ready to get this party started. I noticed that you are the first to show up as usual.”
“Yeah, buddy… It’s been a while since we got together. I’m just happy to see that you’re not behind bars.”
David was my best friend. He was the only homeboy who knew everything about me. There was nothing I didn't do without Lil Bear being involved. We were thick as thieves.
David walked over in my direction. I could see he had that serious but dumb look on his face.
He leaned over and whispered, “Hey Destin, who would have guessed that we would be celebrating your sixteenth birthday and live to talk about it?”
David meant every word.
We both understood there was no logical reason as to why we were both still standing.
David’s question echoed in my ear throughout the night, I kept hearing his voice in my head. “How was it that we avoided death?” I asked myself.
David was like a brother, I could always count on Little Bear to be the first to show up even when he wasn’t invited David would find a way to crash the party and somehow some way before the night was over little Bear would end up stealing the keg of beer.
In the early 40s, our families migrated from Mexico so we didn’t grow up with college trust funds or 401ks.
It was our grandparents who were the first to buy their little homes near the orange groves of Fullerton Orange County in California. It was during the time when family members still gathered for the holidays. Our cousins were more like siblings because we spent the nights at our grandparent's house.
We were what you’d call homegrown, there was no need for us to be jumped into the gang.
When getting jumped into our neighborhood there would be four other gang members who got one minute to smack you around, we just weren’t allowed to hit them in the face or kick them when they were on the floor.
David’s sanguine smile always brought life to the party with his contagious laugh that would echo through the crowd. No matter how many people would be in a crowd when David chuckled everyone knew it was him. David just always showed up empty-handed. It didn’t matter whose party it was Little Bear just didn’t bother coming with a gift.
The DJ started playing oldies but goodies, and I could hear everyone start to cheer as the keg was lifted out the back of Ronnie’s truck. “HURRY UP!… hurry up!…” the crowd started chanting louder and louder.
“You better not be cutting the line, Joe.” My little sister Becky yelled out.
“Hey, Becky... go get those plastic red cups from the car and start handing them out to everyone who paid to get in.”
This was Becky’s first party in the neighborhood. I couldn’t help but laugh as she was bobbing her head to the music. Honestly, this was probably the safest place for her since everyone looked at her like their own baby sister.
Becky fit right in and took her assignment seriously. Before I could even help her I heard that stern tone in her voice as she yelled at the homies.
“You better stop shoving me you animals... everyone’s going to get a stupid cup”
“Don’t let them push you around kid…” Little Bear couldn’t help himself from instigating the situation.