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The Means This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
I wasn't always like this. And if I could go back and change things, I would. Some people live with no regrets, but really, that's only when their lives are wonderful - violins playing, deer frolicking, the whole bit. People like me spend their entire lives looking backwards. A real rowboat effect. My life is one long, lazy river and I am stuck in this rowboat with no oars to push me any faster than the slow-moving current. I am forced to recount every detail until finally, someday, the details will disappear into the horizon.

I guess some people are too busy to realize they are looking backwards, and it is just some strange optical illusion that makes it seem they are looking forward. I am jealous of those people who wish that the day were longer. Maybe they don't know what it is like to be me, a social sloth, a worm in the gutter of society. They don't know how lucky they are that time flies because they are actually having fun. For me, it's like this: when the hours drip like honey, when people start walking slower than they really are, and I can't feel my legs because I have been sitting on them for so long, yeah, time goes by slowly.

Slowly enough to remember everything but fast enough for me to keep living. So slow, that one day in April, we were having ourselves an early summer on the streets of Boston. So I put on this rugby shirt, tried to look decent, and hid the rest of my junk somewhere. I was walking and noticed there were painters about three stories up on the building across from the library. I sat on the granite steps of the library, they felt nice and cool at the time. It had to be about 90 degrees out. It was too hot to sing, too hot to play. And when it happened, I saw everything. I saw someone losing his life over something that could not be controlled and I didn't feel bad for him, because I had lost my life for the same reason.

I was watching the guys paint, and I noticed something above them start to fall - a cinder block - and it started right at that place where the building meets the sky. It fell real slow. The air kind of cradled it as it dropped and spiralled down, toppling over itself. And it rested before it smashed through the scaffolding with a guy standing on it. One of the ropes on the scaffolding broke, and the guy tried to hold on, but he joined his foe in the air. They just kept going, nice and free and slow, until they touched the ground and shattered. Just broke apart and there was a mist of dust in the air before things started speeding up again.

Then they started going fast. People started swarming and yelling, There was an ambulance and a fire truck and I couldn't see what was going on because I was still sitting on the steps of that library. I didn't feel like getting up; the coolness of the steps hadn't gone away, but things were going faster and faster. More people were showing up, and one ambulance, then another, drove away with those red lights that sting your eyes and make

you tear up a little. The painter on the scaffolding was gone in an ambulance. He had fallen, too, just like the cinder block; he had one moment of freedom and then smashed to the ground. The painters were gone. They had stripped off their stained jumpsuits before diving into a nearby bus, probably headed to the hospital. It was so fast, so sudden, and I had to slow it down.

Then it started coming out of me, kind of soft at first and then a little louder - "Summertime." I stood up and let my head nod a little to the beat and sang a little louder, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy ..."

***

Like I said, I wasn't always like this. I used to have the warm bed, the loving mother and food, all the time. But I was 17 and fatherless. Trying to think of which is worse is arguable and unimportant because they both cost me my life.

A family, in its completeness, has a father. I didn't. Well, I had one, of course, I just had no idea who he was. But he was black, and my mother wasn't. She wasn't black at all, she was Italian. And I was both.

It wasn't the playing catch or the fishing or all those other insignificant testosterone-filled details that I missed. If I could go back and have a father, he would be abrasive and mean. My mother's love was clearly not enough to keep me a healthy human being. Instead, I left my mother and the house I grew up in knowing nothing about anything. I knew how to love, but only myself. I didn't know how to work. I learned how to need and how to be cold and alone when I should have been fulfilled and happy. She was my glory, but also my adversary. Yet, I could not be without her; she was the reason that I stayed. And when the reason that I stayed left me, I left with her.

It was the summer before my junior year that I got my first saxophone. It was an alto, and fairly beat up. I was in band and had been using a borrowed horn for a while before I finally got my own. It's not a heroic story, I didn't work all summer and use my life's earnings to buy it, but I got one.

I was pretty good, too. I played in the district jazz band back when they were letting anyone in, but I was still good. Even if I had been out in the 'burbs, I would have been good. I practiced all the time and drove my mom crazy. The band director had high hopes for me, but I never learned a lick from him. He was an awful jazz musician.

The first group I was in played downtown every Saturday night. I had just turned 17 and, man, I thought I was the greatest. I memorized all of Coltrane's solos and played a bit of them in my creations. Only the really good listeners could pick them out, and I cussed them when they came up to me with that air of smugness that they knew I was an imposter. I really wasn't a fake, I was just learning. It was too bad I stopped there.

***

She smelled of oregano and olives and almost danced around the kitchen. She cooked, she cleaned immaculately, she went to student-teacher conferences and did crossword puzzles every day with a dishrag slung over her shoulder. She was perfect. She was perfectly original, from the old country but only with the slightest bit of an accent when she got angry enough to yell.

She coddled me, to say the least. She knew my difficulties and the way I felt about being my strange ethnic mix. She knew that when I looked into the mirror, I saw a pair of lips that were full, but not full enough, pale smooth skin and a straight nose. But the worst, as well as the greatest part, were my eyes, flashing green and quick. Small in comparison to the rest of my features and fairly widespread, I was clearly neither here nor there. She knew this perfectly.

***

My first night alone on the street was 12 years ago. I had my birthday last week, so I am 33 years old, almost to the day. I was 21 and the subway brought me to Harvard Square. I had no money, no car and no one to call. So, I took off my coat and slept on it. I was tired. It was that easy.

After that, my appearance was shot. I quickly whittled my things down to a bag and my saxophone and a grand total of two outfits that I alternated weekly. I stopped caring after a while, and that's when everything started to move slower.

Instead of looking forward to playing gigs, I looked forward to the church van that came every Tuesday with sandwiches and soup. Sometimes I would play in the subway, and it was pretty good money too, I could get up to 50 bucks a day, but it would be gone before I knew it.

Then one winter, I sold my sax. It was just too cold for it, and I bought a harmonica. The harmonica was great, but I could only play in one key, and b-flat can get kind of redundant, if you know what I'm saying. But that sax, it was all I ever was. If I wanted to say to someone who asked me what I used to be, I would say "a jazzer," and I could never say that if I hadn't played every night for four years.

***

She died in May. Almost on Mother's Day, but she managed to hang on for it. I left her and she died. The doctors said she died of a stroke. But she really died because I left her. I didn't really leave her, but I was gone. We never talked anymore. I stayed in my room all day and practiced. She worked from nine to five and cooked dinner I usually didn't eat.

I think it was not going to school that really fired off the depressive rockets with my mother. I was going to be a jazzer, so why bother going? She had tried hard to love me and I gave her up for myself. No one really came to her funeral, it was just me and her and a few aunts and uncles. The whole thing was full of regret. Everything that anyone says about how lonely they are when someone dies and how they wish that they had spent more time with that person, all of that stuff is true. Things happened so fast I couldn't slow them down. I felt responsible.

***

I was just walking down the street after it all happened. I stopped for a coffee and was enjoying the air. It was so warm and I still had "Summertime" floating around in my head. I didn't really know where to go, so I just walked. I hadn't gone far before I heard a voice behind me.

"Hey, Buddy!" it shouted. "Hey, man, wait a minute." So, I turned and looked. It was a policeman. He took off his sunglasses and wiped a layer of sweat off his face.

"Wait," he said again, and I stopped. I didn't say anything so he started talking again. I didn't know whether to say something or start running, so I didn't do anything.

"I just wanted to ask you some questions," he explained. "Some bystanders said they saw you at the scene of the accident across from the library."

"Yeah," I said.

We moved under the awning of a coffee bar. "Did you see anyone push the cement off the building?"

"No," I said.

"Sir, I am going to have to ask you again because it was a serious accident and it looked a little bit too much like a crime. Did you see anyone push the block off the building?"

"No," I said firmly. "I didn't."

"Alright then," he sighed. "Well, the boy died, you probably saw it, it's a big mess."

"That's a shame," I said. He walked away. Tragedy, I thought. I wondered if he had a mother. I can only imagine if it had been me, dead at the funeral for my mother. It was the same for both of us, the kid who died and me. Our lives being ripped away by some unknown force. I wanted to blame mine on somebody, too. Wish that I had known who wrecked it for me. But the finger only points to myself. That is what is so bad about regret, it has nothing to do with anyone else.

In a way, I hoped the policeman would find the person who threw the block down, but I knew he wouldn't. For people like me and the painter, there is no closure. There is no reason. There are no means to justify the ends.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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vivalalindsay<3 said...
Jun. 5, 2009 at 7:25 pm
wow. that was an excellent story. both heartwrenching and inspirational. i think that one day you're gonna be a bestselling author ^_^. keep up the great work!
 
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