In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth
Today is his birthday, and I want to thank him for being born and coming into my life. He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met.
I remember the first moment I saw him. I was on jury duty at the Bronx County Courthouse. During a lunch break, I went to the nearby mosque to perform salaah. I had just finished performing wudu (washing face, hands and feet, in preparation for salaah) when I turned around and saw him standing by the door, holding a mop. Apparently, it was his job to mop the floor and keep it decent after so many men had performed wudu. We looked at each other. He started to say something, but nothing came out.
The next thing I remember is that he and I had established a pattern of eating together and going to movies, once a week. Pleadingly, he would say, “I want to be with you” and “Take me home with you”. I was definitely not going to take him home, because he was only 16, and I was 35. And because I was abstinent and trying to not be homosexual (whatever that means). And because we were being watched by a gang (“community”) of “Muslim” men who prided themselves on having killed a man they claimed was having sex with “boys”. (I could never get clarification on the age of the “boys” in question.) And because this young man was surviving by exchanging sexual favors for money. (It had never occurred to me that treating him to dinner and a movie and occasionally giving him a little money — I didn’t have much to give — was supposed to be a prelude to sexual favors.)
Despite the fact that he was hyperactive and classified as “mentally challenged”, I genuinely enjoyed his company. To this day — thirty-six years later — he is the closest thing to a son I’ve ever had.
He wants me to write his book. This is a modest beginning.
He was born 52 years ago. His father was a crackhead and separated from his mother a week after he was born. His mother was alcoholic — drinking while he was in the womb. He is coping with the effects of that.
He has two sisters by a different father. Aside from the emotional insensitivity that seems to characterize most of his family, one of his sisters is a relatively decent person. The other sister is a dangerous psychotic who would occasionally cut up his clothing when she became angry with him — which was quite often. Their father is a man whose acts of brutality defy belief. (What type of man attacks his daughter with a hammer?)
When I met him, his mother was not feeding him. Out of the welfare money, she gave him thirty dollars a month — not enough for a slice of pizza a day. A skinny, hungry kid, growing up in the projects in the Bronx.
Into his world, when he was eleven, came Leroy, his mother’s boyfriend, who sexually abused him for five years. When he pleaded for help, his mother accused him of lying and his sisters told him that he liked it and that he was gay. This situation came to an end when the brute was caught stealing somebody’s TV and shot dead. (Apparently, a TV is more precious than a young man’s dignity.)
Gay men in the projects were giving him money in return for sex. As best I can tell, some of those men must have taken him out to nice restaurants. When I took him to nice places, he knew exactly how to behave. So, in return for sex, he was getting not only money and food, but some loving attention from older men.
When I met him, Leroy the Brute was dead. But, I suppose, the young man expected me to pick up the pattern of providing food and money in return for sex.
I know this is un-American, but I was actually being charitable. There was no quid-pro-quo. And, I enjoyed his company. His non-stop chatter was bit of a problem, but he was a sweet child. In effect, he was my child. I even berated him — going on and on about how much money I was spending on him. And then, when I was done, he would look at me with his big sad eyes and say, “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?” And I’d say to myself, “He didn’t hear a word I said.”
One evening, I took this hungry, hyper child to a movie on Lexington Avenue, not far from 59th Street. There was time before the movie, so we ate at this little joint across the street. We each got a half of a chicken, with sides, and it didn’t cost much. As usual, he was chattering non-stop — but he was also eating non-stop. I had to stop eating, in order to fully comprehend what I was seeing. Yes, it actually happened. In fifteen minutes — or less — using a knife and fork, he had cleaned half of a chicken to bare bones, while talking non-stop. I told him it was a miracle he hadn’t choked to death.
He wanted to watch blood-and-gore movies. I wasn’t having it. So, we compromised on action movies. (I insist, you’ve got to believe me, that before I met him I was watching only the finest serious intellectual movies. Really.) Even then, his attention flagged. I remember how bored he was watching Aliens (the second Alien movie), until the aliens started killing people and the shooting started — then he was jumping around in his seat in uncontained excitement.
Over the years, his taste in movies changed. I remember he wanted to watch Regarding Henry. And he got a real kick out of Twins — imagining that he and I were twins like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.
After his 21st birthday, I decided to risk inviting him to my apartment. That first night was a bit of drama. He’s addicted to soda pop. I don’t drink the stuff, and had none in my refrigerator. So he went out to the store. I should have gone with him, but I just gave him directions. It was dark out, but East 215th Street in the Bronx was (and still is, to my knowledge) in a safe neighborhood, and the store was just three blocks away, on Boston Road.
While he was gone, his mother called. I told her he had gone to the store and would be back soon. A half hour later, she called again. I myself was concerned, but I didn’t know what to do. Most disturbing, this was during the time when young Black men were disappearing in Atlanta. She called again, and he still wasn’t back. I could only imagine how worried a mother — even that kind of mother — would be when her son goes off with a stranger, and disappears. Eventually, I got a phone call from a neighbor. Apparently, my young man — lost and alone, wandering around in the dark in a strange neighborhood — had encountered a helpful neighbor. I went out to the sidewalk, and there he was, up in the next block, in the opposite direction from Boston Road. So, we let his mother know he was back. He spent the night, and that was that.
Over the next several years, he spent many nights in my apartment. We slept in the bed together. Fully clothed.
It had never seemed to me that he was homosexual. When we slept in the bed together, I became sure that he was not homosexual. His expectation was that he would have sex with me and I would take care of him. My policy was that (a) I would not have sex with him, and (b) I would not take care of him. And that’s how it went.
More to come. The crackhead girlfriend who said the baby was his. My stint as his payee. His family accusing me of theft. His first marriage, and divorce. His wonderful second, current, and (I hope) forever wife. And more.
And, of course, why I think he is such a remarkable person.