Blah, blah blah.
That’s what the speakers have been saying for the last forty-five minutes at the reception at the American-Israel Friendship League.
Blah blah blah.
First they’ve been thanking people none of us have ever heard of for making cooperation between the two countries possible. A retired ambassador speaks, followed by someone from the Anti-Defamation League, then two speakers from the Council of Great City Schools. On and on and on.
“Check that girl out,” Mike from Chicago says, his voice none too quiet. His eyes are on one of the girls from the Milwaukee delegation. She’s probably a junior, and she’s leaning forward with one knee crossed over the other. She stands out in this crowd of preppies: colorful spiked hair, a black leather jacket and bright pink combat boots. She’s cute, really—if anything, she kind of reminds me of Spot, a girl I used to know who hung around the Masquerade and a few other lesser alternative clubs. Spot—I don’t know what her real name is—was creative as hell, smart, cute, and addicted to painkillers. Her parents had kicked her out, and there were a few times we ended up shacking up together. Not out of lust or attraction—she was strictly a lesbian—but out of a need to stay warm on cold, homeless nights.
Yes, homeless. See, my Mom is a parent of the tough-love variety, and when I dropped out of high school, she gave me an ultimatum. Go back to school and quit drinking, or get out. I couch surfed for a while—after all, I had plenty of friends. But parents of sixteen year olds become curious—too curious—when a sleepover turns into an extended stay.
I found occasional work in the fall—landscaping, day labor. Show up at the 7-11 in the morning and stand in line with the illegal immigrants and other homeless looking for a day’s backbreaking labor for 25 bucks. Then I’d go hang out with the guys and smoke pot.
I met Spot the weekend before Thanksgiving. I was standing with a couple of guys behind the dumpster in the back of the Masquerade having a smoke when I heard a short, muffled scream. I got up and walked down the alley, my friends trailing behind me. In the dark I could barely make out what was happening—a big guy, maybe six feet, and built, was shaking a girl who stood maybe five-feet two and probably weighed 95 pounds. Her head was flopping back and forth as he shook her hard, using his massive strength to shake her like a rag doll.
“Stop!” she squeaked. He pulled his fist way back, about to slug her.
He didn’t get to throw the punch: Snatching up a loose brick, I lunged forward and hit him in the back of the head. He went down, and the alley fell silent.
“Mother fuck,” one of the guys said. “That’s Lonnie Wallace. Dylan, get the fuck out of here before he wakes up. I’m out.”
“Who is he?” I asked
“Dealer. Dangerous man. Really dangerous. I’m gone.”
I shrugged, then looked at the girl. “You okay?” I asked.
She looked at me, a little dazed. “Yeah,” she whispered.
I had my doubts. But I didn’t have anywhere safe to take her. “You got any place to go? Someone we can call?”
She shook her head.
I sighed. Then I said, “Let’s take a walk. Get away from here. I’m Dylan.”
“Spot,” she said.
Weird. Whatever. Lot of people used street names. I grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s go. I don’t want to be here when he wakes up.”
“He’s got a gun,” she said.
That changed things, didn’t it? I crouched down and touched the guy’s shoulder. He wasn’t moving. I hoped he wasn’t dead. I leaned close enough to see and hear that he was breathing. I rolled him over and, sure enough, a pistol was stuffed in his waistband. Automatic, I guess—I didn’t know much about guns other than what I’d seen on television and the one or two times when I was a little kid that my dad took me hunting. But we didn’t hunt with automatic pistols.
Dad had taught me basic weapons safety. I slid the pistol out of Asshole’s waistband. It took a minute trying to figure out how to eject the magazine, then I found the button and ejected the magazine, then pulled the slide back. The chambered bullet went flying.
“Come on,” I said. I left the ammo on the ground and threw the pistol in the dumpster. Just to slow him down, if he ever woke up. Then I grabbed her hand and we ran.
A month later on Christmas Eve, I ran into Spot downtown, not long after the trains stopped running for the night. It was raining and cold, and my jacket did little to keep me dry. I was looking for a good sheltered spot to sleep when I ran into her. We walked together and finally huddled under the bridge under I-20. I’d slept there before, and knew the dozen or so semi-permanent residents who kept tents, clotheslines, mattresses and personal items stored there.
When we got there that night, a blazing fire was going, and two families were huddled around the fire.
“It looks warm,” she said.
“Come on, then,” I replied, and pulled her over to the fire. I could feel the heat against my skin, and the heat of Spot as she leaned against me.
Sometimes I wanted to track down her asshole father and punch him until he couldn’t see. I was just as homeless as Spot was, but I was homeless because of something I did—not because of who I was. She, on the other hand, was a good kid with bad parents. They had kicked her out because she was a lesbian. Not because of anything she’d done—they kicked her out because of who she was.
That’s when it hit me. I could choose to go home any time I wanted. All I had to do was stop the drinking and pot. All I had to do was go back to school.
Spot couldn’t go home. She had no one.
The mother of one of the two families who lived under the bridge began to sing. Her voice was clear and beautiful and the moment she heard the singing begin, Spot began to shiver. Then to sob.
Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.
I’ll be honest. I cried just a little too, as I held Spot and she sobbed. I wished right then that I could find a home for her, find someone who loved her. But it wasn’t really feasible. I had no resources, no money. I had nothing.
A few weeks later, I had signed up to go back to school. I had quit drinking and cleaned up my act. I had moved back home. And then I had gone looking for Spot. There were a dozen weekends over the months after that, when I went and looked for her, searching at clubs and under bridges—searching everywhere.
But I never saw her again.
Now, I’m slow to come back to the present. Now, my missing friend Spot seems far more real than the kids here in New York.
“Hello?” Mike from Chicago says, waving a hand in front of my face. “Are you awake?” I’ve heard him introduce himself that way to half a dozen people now. Hi, I’m Mike. From Chicago. It’s become part of his name.
I shake my head slightly. “Sorry. I guess I was stuck in a memory.”
He chuckles. “Must have been a good one.”
I don’t answer. I go through the motions for the remainder of the reception, listening where I need to and saying what I have to, but never really focused on the present. I’m interested in the foreign exchange program, but sometimes it is difficult to maintain my sense of reality. I’m surrounded by people who think hunger was not being able to get your favorite appetizer and who flaunt clothing which is unimaginably expensive, just because they can. They’re public school kids just like I am, but they’re public school kids with backgrounds I don’t really understand: tutors and test-prep programs, expensive extracurricular activities and parents who sponsor scholarships, academic camps and God only knew what else.
I don’t belong there.
I don’t belong anywhere.
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Author website: //sheehanmiles.com