18 Years Old

I know this blog is supposed to be lite and fluffy and about relationships, but that just ain’t where my head’s at right now. At least not when I’m off work. I write whatever inspires me and that topic—though there are tons of developments--just isn’t giving me the energy to write. Blame today’s blog on “Twinkle” by Erykah. 


Tariq sent me the link earlier today. (It’s a long read, but very worth it.) I’d heard about the story and if you haven’t clicked the link, it’s about a 17 year old boy, an athlete, who was murdered near his L.A. home. The reported story is he was walking home and some boys, gang members supposedly, asked where he was from, allegedly gang code for what set he claimed. He wasn’t involved in no gangster shit and he didn’t answer. They shot him. The father was home, and close enough to hear the shots. He called his son to warn him there was trouble near the house. When the kid doesn’t answer, he gets that terrible feeling, and runs outside. He finds his boy, his junior namesake, on the ground. Dead. In interviews with his Dad, the father’s said all he ever wanted was to get his boy to 18. If his boy could get to 18, the Dad thought he’d be okay in life. Just to get him to 18. The 18 Year Old Plan is what it’s been dubbed.

I heard the story and thought, what a tragedy. Yet another by all accounts good kid with college ambitions, gone. No death other than a natural one of an old person is senseless, but this one… senseless is the only word in my lexicon that I can think of to describe it. I got to thinking about the limited, but perhaps realistic expectations of the Dad. Just get him to 18. Just 18. 18. That’s so young! I read the article and choked up in Act One. Act Two the tears welled and at the final sentence in Act Three, I cried at my desk. I think of anyone under 25 as children. Anyone under 21 are babies. 18? You might as well be on a bottle.

I wrote a blog awhile back (2007) called 18 Years Old. I never posted it. It was just stories and after several attempts, I couldn’t find the point I was trying to make in writing all that I wrote. So I put it in the Belle- To Be Continued folder on my desktop. This is it (with additions):

18 Years Old.

My former co-worker used to talk about her nephew* all the time. I worked with her off and on for 4 years, so I constantly heard about this kid. He’s the greatest aparently and her eyes light when she mentions his name. She’s so proud of him. She's a year younger than my mom. She has no children so her nephew is like her own son. He lives in Newark and she is the cool aunt in the city. When he wanted to go shopping, he called her. (She knows how to find a good sale!) He had money. She paid for his stuff anyway. He wanted videogames. He called her. He wanted to get away from his parents... He went to college last September (2006). He was having fun and fucking up. The last Saturday in 2006, the cool aunt took the 18 year old to lunch for a sit down, talked to him about getting some act right. He knew he was wrong, said he’d do better next semester. New Year’s Day, he was in the passenger seat of a car, leaving a Wendy's with his friends. A SUV hit the vehicle on the driver’s side, smashed it into the tree on the passenger side. The driver has a few scratches. The boy in the backseat has some broken bones and will have to learn to walk again. The 18 year old has been in a coma since. Swelling on the brain. A damaged brainstem. The doctors don't know if he will make it. Life support is the only thing keeping him with us. They've already talked to the parents about “pulling the plug.”

My co-worker was out for a week and I heard through the workvine what happened. When she returned, I went to her office to.. to just say, “I’m here, whatever you need.” Her eyes were puffy and her face was swollen. Rumpled tissues all over her desk. I asked how he was doing and she opened her mouth to speak. She got out, “He’s…” and burst into tears.

18 years old.

At 18, my “brother” -- bless his soul-- decided that college is not for him. He wants to find himself. I argue there is no better place than to get found than in college or the military. I’d advocate for the latter, but uh, we’re at war. He barely got a high school diploma (long story). He got suspended from college (don’t ask) his freshman year (longer story), wrecked his car (walked away)... I could go on, but I’ll stop now. Life happens. We don’t all get it “together” at the “right” time. And Lord knows I fucked up in many a way before I got some sembelance of act right (the worst were the one “and a half” arrests and a near run-in with DEA. Longest story. My godsister, a brilliant writer, is supposed to working on the screenplay in her free time.) I’m hard on him, sometimes tougher than I need to be because I want the best from him and he doesn’t know what that is yet. I”ll give him credit, he believes in hard work. He always holds a job. But he’s thinking today and tomorrow (and rims for his new whip), when I’m thinking of what’s in his decades to come. He was raised to run, not to walk. I give him shit, but I let him know, “I’m here. If you need me or you need anything, I’m here.” He usually only calls me when he’s in trouble. Every time I see his name on my phone screen (like early contractions, the calls come far apart), I get worried and start praying. Whatever it is God, let it be fixable. He’s 19 now, still trying to figure it out. I’ll pray again tonight for the day that he does.

18 years old.

I’ve never met this kid, but he’s a friend of the family’s 18 year old son. He graduated from military school last June and decided college wasn’t for him yet. If you haven’t figured out, I come from a background that strongly advocates college. Declaring you're not going is somewhere up there with telling a Southern Baptist you’re an atheist. His Mom says he needs time to find himself and gives him leadway to make the discovery. The child has visions of backpacking through Europe (on his parents’ dime) and that will be his way to making the X that marks his spot. It’s not the worst thing in the world and it is the acceptable, if not expected, post-graduation standard in Europe. Instead, he ends up hanging around Maryland finding the best fun a not yet of age boy can get into in a boring place. He’s driving home from wherever one night in January. Crashes his car on a freeway. He doesn’t survive. When my parents tell me, I’m stunned into silence over a kid I never knew. I mourn his passing and his abbreviated future at the same time. I can't manage a physical sign of grief. No loud gulps. No tears. Stunned silence and then, "Gosh.. he was only 18..." is all I can come up with.

Even the babies aren’t promised the tomorrows we count on every day.


*By the grace of God and the near-miraculous rejuvenation that comes with youth, the kid pulled through. He’ll walk and run and live again. And in time, he’ll be pretty much just fine with few limitations. The worst affect that he’ll have for the forseeable future is that he’s forgotten a year of his life. He doesn’t remember turning 18 or going to college or the accident.