The Norm

January 16, 2008
By Yaakov Mavashev, Brooklyn, NY

“How can I get in?” I asked very shakily. I was standing in a dark alleyway circled by many gang members. The members were all around me screaming and talking in Russian and causing the tension to increase. I waited, and finally the leader spoke in a terribly loud voice.
“To get into this gang you must fight with five members. We call it an Initiation. At one point we all had to go through this step. It will be over before you know it.”
All of a sudden, the wind had grown stronger and stronger and had started moving all the papers, cans, and garbage around in a tornado-like spin. Then just as suddenly as the wind started it stopped. It was in that moment I realized that I had to do it. I thought I would be fighting them one at a time, but all of them started to close in on me.
“I want in” I said, biting my lip. Five gang members immediately jumped at me and gave me the beating of a lifetime.

I felt like a man. If I could take a beating from five gang members, I could take anything from anyone. I only joined the gang for one reason: my mom. She was constantly telling me that I was a disgrace to the household, and I felt so down because of that. I needed somebody to be there for me, so I turned to the gang. I thought that it would help me feel better and help me in general, but it only ended up getting worse.
A year passed, and I already had three tear-drop tattoos on my face. The tattoos were representative of the number of people I’d killed or attempted to kill.
“Eric, get your worthless a** over here,” my mother said while stomping her feet.
“Mom, stop talking to me like that. I am tired of you always treating me as if I’m nothing. You should be happy with whatever I have accomplished,” I said. She turned and gave me a long stare.
“Eric, you have accomplished nothing. You don’t have a stable job, and you should leave that gang of yours,” she said as she looked at me, getting all emotional. “Look at what they did to my baby’s face.” The tears instantly started rushing down her cheeks.
As I saw my mother crying, I couldn’t help but break down as well. I realized that I was hurting her. The pain I was giving her was something that no parent should ever receive from a child.
I left the house and went to the alleyway where it had all begun. This time, I wasn’t nervous because I knew that I knew I had to do something to make it all better. The rest of the gang was all there. I walked up to the leader and spoke slowly. I wanted him to understand I was serious
“I’ve made a huge mistake. I want out,” I said, and he stared at me. I could tell he was angry. He started yelling at me.
“You wanted in and now you want out!? What is this s***!?” The rest of the guys started moving in closer towards me. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“Yea, well, it’s gonna work like that. You made me do horrible things. You f***ed up my life. Now it ends.” I turned and started to walk away, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be that easy. I felt the familiar feeling of punches as the gang started beating me up again. I just smiled and let them hurt me. If this is what it took to be free, then so be it.
It was as if I had come full circle. I couldn’t go home looking like this, so I found the nearest doctor. While he was patching me up, I told him to do something about the tattoos. I didn’t want them anymore. I didn’t want to live with the scars on my face. It was bad enough I had the memories in my head.
I went home to my mother and told her it was over. She gave me a hug and started crying.
“Honey, oh my God, what happened to your face, where are the tattoos?” she said rubbing my face with her soft wrinkly hands.
“I got out of the gang, it’s over. There was a beating in and a beating out, which was the only way out. I can start a new life, look for a new job. I can finally be stable.” I said with my hands on my head putting pressure on the cuts and bruises.
“Sweety, I meant the tattoos. Where are they?” she asked as a smile formed on her face.
“I got them removed while I was being patched up. I didn’t want to live with the shame on my face.” I said, looking down at the floor.
“My Baby’s finally come back home” she said reaching over giving me a hug.

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