Kids Quill: Violence and Loss
Violence sometimes happens to young people while they are in youth-serving programs, and youth workers see the immediate effects. More often, youth workers see the after-effects — sadness, depression, anger. These stories (by a 17-year-old and 16-year-old, respectively) underline the importance of treating teens with sensitivity and compassion, even when (or especially when) they are acting out.
A Visit One Night
By Julia James
At approximately 11:45 p.m., a pair of NYPD police officers venture to my East Flatbush home. This will not be a regular visit. These officers are about to inform my family and myself of the death of my father, Frank Ewart James, Sr.
I imagine the plight of the policemen.
In the patrol car, the cops are immersed in deep silence. Their hearts are heavy as they face an aspect of their careers that they wish they could avoid. As the blue patrol car turns into my street, they look at each other and shake their heads at what is apparently another senseless killing. The officers exit their car and walk up the stairs of my porch.
Each step sounds like bullets against the dry salt on the stairs and the police officers again look at one another. “Damn,” one says. But it still must be done. Finally, they summon up enough courage and press the doorbell, each silently hoping that no one will answer. But my aunt, my father’s sister, answers, and opens the door to our visitors.
My imagination stops here.
In actuality, the policemen were curt, insensitive and uncaring. One officer droned, “and he died at approximately 10:03 p.m.” They could not have known that they brought news that would make my 18-month-old brother and 3-year-old sister fatherless. They were, after all, just doing their jobs.
At the time I was dozing in my bedroom, closest to the room in which the officers stood. I opened my eyes just in time to hear, “died at approximately 10:03 p.m.”
My heart began pounding. Although they could have been speaking about anyone, somehow I realized that it was my father. Suddenly my brain summoned memories I hadn’t thought of in years — my father throwing darts at Coney Island, and the snapping of the fishing rod the summer he took me fishing. These memories flowed freely and I was unable to restrain them.
My older sister ran to me and said, “Julia! Wake up! Daddy’s dead!” But her words fell on deaf ears. I pulled the covers over my head and went to sleep to escape this reality.
I woke up the next morning feeling empty. I ventured to the kitchen expecting breakfast and chatter, rituals of morning. But instead, I heard nothing. My family sat at the kitchen table motionless. Each person seemed lost in his or her thoughts, but I believed that we were all thinking the same thing, “How could this happen?”
The days passed quickly and my father’s viewing arrived. I found myself thinking of silly things like, “Will daddy wear his navy blue suit?” and “How will they style his hair?” I was lost in the details without facing the facts.
At the viewing, I finally attempted to make sense of what was happening. I tried to say the words in my head, “Daddy was shot and killed by an unidentified individual in the robbery of his taxi.” I repeated these words again and again, but they refused to sink in. I couldn’t believe my father had been killed for a total of $101.
© Urban Health Chronicles, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A Family Changed Forever
By Sophia Mostella
Hash’im died on a Monday four years ago. He had just turned 20 a week before and he was taking the bus home from the DMV where he’d been applying for his driver’s license. A 16-year-old boy and four of his friends approached Hash’im on the bus and told him to give up his silver chain and pager. My brother refused, and the boy shot him in the face.
I was 11 at the time. I was watching TV at home when the phone rang and my mom picked up. After she hung up, she and my dad got in the car and said they were going somewhere. Two hours later they came home. My dad was holding my mom. She looked sick. I thought it was something with my mom’s health.
My dad called my brother Jason from his room and he made us sit down at the table.
“What’s going on?” I kept asking. I started to worry because nobody answered.
“Where’s Elon?” I asked. Elon is my second oldest brother. “Where’s Hash’im?”
My dad looked sick. His face was red and he was stuttering.
“Just tell them, Louis,” my mom said.
“Hash’im was — uh — on the bus — and — He was shot and he’s uh — dead.”
Elon came home from a doctor’s appointment at 6 p.m. He didn’t know yet. When my mom told him, he yelled at her, “You’re lying!” He broke down in a flood of tears and it was the saddest thing to see my mom holding him, crying for the first time since Hash’im died. In my family we usually don’t express emotions, especially sadness.
Hash’im’s death affected me, but I’m still not sure exactly how. I tried to keep my feelings to myself and not think about it. I didn’t cry like people said you should. I didn’t think it would help me. It just made me feel worse.
After Hash’im died, my mom couldn’t get out of bed. She was in the house all day and wouldn’t eat. She was up walking all night. I couldn’t sleep either, for about a month. I could hear her crying some nights. Everybody kept bringing food over.
Every night we’d be in a circle and pray together — me, my dad, my older brothers, my mom, and cousin. One night my dad was praying and I saw drops of water falling. I thought, “What was that?” It was the first time I saw him cry.
My brother’s death made me a little bit more open and nice to people. My mom’s attitude is that if we have something, even if it’s not a lot, we have to share it with somebody who doesn’t. They used to have to make me share, but now I like giving to people.
I’m also a lot more forgiving. I’m forgiving even to the guy who did it. I can’t help but assume he had some problems. In no way do I justify what he did or make excuses for his actions. I can’t imagine wanting to hurt anyone for a stupid chain and a pager. Were they worth my brother’s life?
Hash’im’s death brought us closer as a family. We never hugged before, but now we do sometimes. My dad started saying, “I love you.” Also, every night when my father goes to work, he kisses my mom on the cheek.
“Ewww,” I thought at first, but now I kind of understand.
© LA Youth, Los Angeles
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James, Julia. "A Visit One Night." Kid's Quill.Youth Today, February 2001, p. 28.
Mostella, Sophia. "A Family Changed Forever." Kid's Quill.Youth Today, February 2001, p. 28.
©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.