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Thilly me to think for one second that ESF and Syracuse University wouldn’t be glad to take our money and that various financial institutions wouldn’t be glad to continue loaning it at usurious rates.

Of course, RTT can stick around till December!

Pat, the one sane member of the RTT crew, is also matriculating in December and has an extra bedroom that RTT can rent. Drew will give him a job in T-burg this summer digging foundations at 10 bucks an hour three days a week, and – great news! – since Drew is on court-mandated urine tests every week, Drew is no longer drinking or smoking weed! No bad influences.

Ben dragged RTT off to Tompkins County Mental Health Services first thing Monday morning – as much to make the reapplication process look good on paper as out of any concern for RTT’s mental hygiene. RTT starts therapy tomorrow.

It ended well, so it all must be well, right?

I dunno.

I did have an awfully good time with Max:

13226858_10209115507742336_8322958743128734111_n


But I floated through yesterday feeling positively awful. Weak. Tired. Unable to focus on anything.

I binge-ate half a bag of incredibly salty, awful potato chips.

Jeanna called, and the phone reception was bad. “Are you drunk?” Jeanna said. “You sound drunk.”

No, I’m not drunk,” I snapped. “What an incredibly offensive thing to say!”

Very uncharacteristic reaction on my part.

I mean, I know Jeanna is a complete and total space cadet. Most of the time, I love her anyway.

###

Justin accompanied RTT and me on our college tour of Purchase.

“Wait!” I’d said. “Nobody is taking you on any tours of college campuses?”

He’d shrugged.

So I'd carted him along on this one. Which in retrospect was a mistake. Purchase was a hideously long way from Ithaca. We spent hours and hours driving, and I got lost, and the campus tour only lasted an hour. The boys camped out in the back seat listening to hiphop and cracking jokes in that curiously abbreviated language that only two people understood – Justin and Robin.

“So, do you think this might be some place you’d want to apply?” I asked Justin. In my fantasy, I was already editing his admissions essay.

“Nah,” said Justin. “I want to study business.”

“My nigger’s workin’ on his first million,” said Robin.

“Robin. I have told you before. I do not want you using that word.”

“Why not? Justin doesn’t mind.”

“Justin does mind. He just doesn’t think he can say that to you.”

“Do you mind, my nigger?”

Justin shrugged.

Robin cackled.

Justin said mildly, “Don’t be disrespecting your mama like that.”

427868_10150737295740667_1082220315_n


Justin ended up getting the We-Need-To-Diversify-This-Whitebread-Student-Body scholarship to some dinky little liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I’d never heard of it. Given what ended up happening to him, I can’t say he was lucky to get the scholarship. But certainly, it seemed like a redemption arc at the time.

###

By his senior year of high school, Justin had started drinking heavily.

“Justin doesn’t do weed,” Robin would tell me self-righteously. “Justin gave up weed.”

Right.

But Justin routinely drank himself into such a stupor that he pissed his bed. (For some odd reason, Robin thought this was hilarious.)

Robin and Justin would hang out in DeWitt Park doing God knows what until long after dark. Robin was supposed to hop the bus and come back to Freeville after school. But he hardly ever did. Around 9pm, I’d get the call: “I’m spending the night at Justin’s –”

“Oh, no, you’re not,” I’d say.

And hop in the car. And pray that the fumes in the gas tank were enough to get me to Ithaca and back.

And deal with the screaming fests over going to school the next morning.

Of course, Justin had no interest whatsoever in going to school either. When she rescued Justin and his brother Jason from the crack addict mother in Richmond, California, Janet, Justin’s grandmother, depleted the last of her energy. She was in her late 70s anyway. So it fell to the redoubtable and saintly Meryl, then the Dean of Students at New Roots High School, to drive to Janet’s house, and kick Justin’s ass. And make Justin go to school.

###

Justin was extremely soft-spoken. He liked skateboards. He liked bluegrass music. He liked dropping acid. I guess you could call him a hippie.

The gangsta in the family was Justin’s younger brother, Jason.

One day, Justin and Jason ended up in a car with some other dude against whom Jason was carrying some sort of gangsta grudge. Jason was also carrying a gun.

Jason was sitting in the backseat; Justin was riding shotgun. They got to the Sunoco Station on Greene Street and Seneca – shortly to be torn down to make way for a condo highrise – and Jason pulled out his gun, held it to the back of the driver’s head.

“I think I’m just gonna get out right here,” said Justin.

Thus, Justin avoided getting charged as an accessory to the burglary and assault with a deadly weapon charges that sent Jason to the Big House for 10 months or so.

“I don’t understand how Justin could just get out of that car like that!” Ben raged afterwards.

In Ben’s revisionist history, he’d always liked Justin although, of course, he’d always recognized that Justin had Major Problems.

That’s not the way I remember it.

I remember Ben hating Justin. Blaming Justin for all RTT’s lapses.

Myself, I’d always seen it the other way around. RTT was the instigator; Justin the follower. Except that Justin was black – something RTT wanted to be. But wasn’t ever gonna be.

“Of course Justin got out of the car,” I said to Ben. “That was the only sensible thing to do.”

“What? And just leave his own brother with a gun in his hand?”

“That’s right!” I said. “You don’t talk to someone with a gun in his hand.”

“That’s bullshit,” said Ben. I guess Ben has his own gangsta fantasies.

###

A year or so later, Justin ended up as the token black kid in a lily white college.

And committed suicide in December 2012.

The story I pieced together was that Justin began drinking more heavily than ever and got popped for a DUI. Couldn’t stand the pressure of having failed to live up to everyone’s expectations. Didn’t tell anyone he’d gotten popped. Didn’t show up for his court date. Stopped going to classes.

Hung himself. In a closet. You can find full instructions on the Internet if you’d like to try this yourself at home!

Just before he killed himself, Justin had called Robin.

Only Robin was busy and didn’t pick up the phone.

I suppose James Taylor is a terminally white and terminally corny troubadour. Nonetheless, it’s James Taylor’s words I always think of when I think of Justin: The plans they made put an end to you…

And Robin has survivor’s guilt.

Maybe therapy will help him with that.

Justin

Dec. 4th, 2012 10:03 am
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Justin killed himself last night.

Robin's best friend.

Jonathan to Robin's David.

Starsky to Robin's Hutch.

Sundance to Robin's Kid.

Pepper to Robin's salt.

Dead.

Last night.

###


I guess teen suicide really is an epidemic. Second of Robin's friends to kill himself in a year. The first one did it as an act of bravado. I don't know why Justin did it. I think the expectations were just too big, the loneliness too great.

But who really fucking knows.

###


Here's what I knew about Justin:

(1) He grew up in Richmond, California, officially the Third Most Dangerous City in the United States. Before his mother became a crack 'ho, she was the daughter of one of Sarah Lawrence's first African American graduates.

What do you call that when one generation struggles so hard, and the next generation says, "Homie ain't playin' that game," and spits in its face?

Justin's mother grew up during the turbulent 1960s. Racial identity was one of the cards people played. I dated Huey Newton during what I can only call his Winston Smith period, long after the murder charges were dropped, when his eyes had the glazed, yellow look of eggs fried so long their yolks had solidified. I dated him not because I liked him, but because he was Huey Newton. He dated me because I was white.

Justin's mother was black, but she grew up in the household of someone who was setting an example. I guess that made her feel alienated from her black roots. Crack cocaine brought her closer.

Somehow, along the way, she had six kids, all boys. Separate fathers. The fathers didn't have much to do with the kids. All Justin's mamma's boys had names that started with J.

(2) When Justin was 12, his grandma got him. I don't know what, if any, legal maneuvers were involved. She brought him and Jason, one of his brothers, to the little house she owned in Ithaca. She was long retired, but very active in the Unitarian Church and I suppose it was through them that she heard about New Roots, the alternative high school with its sustainability agenda.

Justin kept switching back and forth between New Roots and other schools. One of the longest conversations I ever had with him was when he was in the 10th grade. He explained to me why he was transferring out of New Roots to Ithaca High School. "They got Latin, man. I want to learn Latin. I'm serious about this academic shit."

He lasted one semester at Ithaca High School and then he transferred back to New Roots.

A lot of his life was spent like that. Shuttling between one place and another.

(3) His grandmother did the best she could, but she was in her 70s, not in the best of health. Justin would skip school for days at a time because he'd rather be sleeping. Practically every Friday night, Robin and Justin would hook up for parties – Ithaca High School parties, frat parties at Cornell, parties in Dryden, Trumansburg – Robin was really, really popular. Justin was his wingman. Robin would crash at Justin's house, but he always had to leave at impossibly early hours of the morning – I think maybe Justin's grandmother was oblivious to the partying and to Robin's subsequent presence in the house. I would drive down the long hill from Freeville and fetch him back home where he'd crash all day.

Then the custody arrangements changed, and Robin started spending his weekends, and more and more of his time in Trumansburg.

(4) I took Justin with us on our college tour of SUNY Purchase because it made me mad and sad that no one seemed to be taking Justin's college application process seriously – least of all Justin.

The trip was a disaster. A long time to be cooped up in a car, and of course I got lost and the kids insisted in sitting in the backseat together where they could whisper, text, listen to iPods and make cryptic remarks like, "Whoa, my niggah –"

"Robin, I don't like that word –"

"Justin is black, and he doesn't care if use that word! Right, Justin? Right, my niggah?"

"Robin –"

"Don't be disrespectful to yr mother," Justin said mildly.

Also Justin disapproved of the entire Purchase experience. He wanted to be a business major and saw no reason to go to college unless it somehow enhanced his ability to make money.

###


There's more, lots more I want to write.

But I've got to work.

Oh, Jesus.

Next week is Finals week at Syracuse University. This could really fuck things up for RTT.

###


I'm remembering a warm day sitting in my car, watching the two boys horse around in DeWitt Park. I was there to pick up Robin but they were having so much fun together I thought I'd let them play for a while.

Maybe they're still playing.

Oh, Justin. Poor, poor, poor, poor Justin.

Kyle and Mac are stuck in a John Cougar Mellencroft song. Bram has disappeared. Cooper is in jail. And Justin is gone. Ithaca won't ever feel like a place to be attached to again. Poor, poor Robin. The hapy memories all destroyed.

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