The Ronald Reagan Era

Kevin Cruz (3rd place. Fiction. Fall 2012 Writing Contest)
Ya’ll gather around me and let me tell ya’ll a story. Now ya’ll know I’ve been all around the country, right? I’ve been on the east coast, the west coast, the midwest, I’ve seen it all. The eighties, those were tough times in this country, you kids think ya’ll have it tough, ya’ll have no idea. How old are ya’ll? Ten? Eight? Well let me tell ya’ll a couple of stories of some things I witnessed. The first story happened when I was on the east coast back in ’84. It’s a story about a kid just about ya’ll’s age.
He was ten years old when he first stood on that corner, standing there amongst the other hustlers, the notorious ballers of his neighborhood. He looked up to these guys, they had the fanciest cars in the neighborhood, had all the girls, they were the ones who weren’t broke after paying rent at the beginning of the month, he wanted to be just like them. He never knew how they acquired the money, until the day he was there by force, by last resort, his mom needed money to pay the rent. She had lost her job and had been unable to pay the rent. With the remaining money she had she sent him to where she got her drugs from, told him to buy as much as he could with one hundred and fifty dollars and sell it.
The boy, Jamal, went to where the drug dealers did their stuff, a torndown house he always passed by on the way to school. He walked inside and was hit by a giant cloud of smoke that filled the house. He passed through the living room, the kitchen where it seemed everything was being done except cooking, and ended up in a back room that had the smell of burnt plastic. He was now facing a guy, a bald version of Wesley Snipes. He had seen the man before, he would go to his house late at night and ask for his mom. His mom would let him in and tell Jamal to go to his room and not to come out. He would peek out at times and see them smoking, laughing, and kissing in the living room; Jamal didn’t like the man. He handed him the money and in return the man gave him a black Jansport backpack.
Jamal went home with the new acquired backpack. He showed his mom the backpack and she said good. She grabbed a small amount of the drugs that were in the backpack and told Jamal to go the liquor store on the corner and sell it. Jamal had no idea what he was doing. The only thing he had sold was chocolates for his school charity, he didn’t even know exactly what was in the backpack, but he went to the corner like his mom commanded.

Jonathan Lopez, NYC-Deco

Jonathan Lopez, NYC-Deco

Jamal liked the liquor store, that’s where all the guys with the fancy cars would hang out at. He thought now he finally had an excuse for him to be there and now maybe he could be like them. He showed up to the liquor store with a smile on his face; he was received with frowns and puzzled faces.
“Whatchu doin’ here, li’l man?” one of the guys asked.
“I’m selling,” Jamal said, happy as can be to be in the presence of guys he idolized.
“You can’t be selling no chocolates here, li’l man, you needs’ta get out of here.”
“I’m not selling chocolates,” Jamal replied. He then proceeded to pull off his backpack and show the guys what it was that he had. He didn’t even know what was in it, yet he handed the backpack to one of the guys. The guy’s face lit up when he took a look at what was inside. He was surprised and happy at what was just handed to him. He whispered something to the other guys; some nodded while others shook their heads. Jamal stood waiting with a smile on his face just happy to be in their presence.
The guy then looked at Jamal and threw a jab at him. Jamal looked confused, he was still on his feet, rubbing his jaw, his eyes watering. Then the guy proceeded to throw Jamal another jab, throwing him to the ground, and proceeding to kick and stomp Jamal.
Jamal was taken to a nearby hospital. He had a broken jaw and broken ribs, but he was expected to be okay. Once Jamal’s mother heard the news she snapped. She realized the decisions her drug lifestyle had led her to make. She had sent her ten-year old to sell drugs, she spent the little money they had on drugs and sent him to the corner, now he was in the hospital. She was worried about how she was going to pay the rent, she had just lost one hundred and fifty dollars and with Jamal in the hospital, more bills would come her way. She then did what was her last resort.
Jamal’s mother was seen that night in her their neighborhood, jumping in and out of cars, one after the other, coming out, pulling down her skirt, then going into alleyways and coming out with men zipping up their pants. Jamal’s mother would do anything to keep a roof on top of her son’s head.
Jamal’s mother had raised him by herself since he was born. She didn’t know who his father was, and just tells Jamal that he left them before he was born. She had always had a problem with drugs from a young age, and seeing her parents do them didn’t help. She dropped out of high school once she was pregnant with Jamal and started working various part-time jobs, but she was never able to hold a steady one due to her constant drug problem.
Six years go by, Jamal is now sixteen. The Jamal you see today is not the same Jamal from six years ago. He’s matured now, become his own man; the struggles he’s had to endure with his mother have made him strong. Nowadays you can find Jamal on the same corner where he was once beaten up as a child. The guys who used to be on that corner are now either dead or in jail. Jamal now sells drugs on that corner, it’s his corner. He’s making enough money to support his mom, she doesn’t have to work anymore, she still has a constant problem with drugs. Jamal tries to avoid the subject, since he himself sells drugs and this is how he and his mother get money.
He sees nothing wrong with his mom doing drugs, he sometimes gives her a little of what he doesn’t sell in a day. He does anything to keep his mom happy. That’s the main reason he’s out on the corner every night, to keep his mom happy. His mom has found a boyfriend and Jamal is happy for them. He sometimes goes to Jamal’s corner and buys a couple of grams from him and says it’s for him and Jamal’s mom to have some fun. Jamal doesn’t mind it, anything to keep his mom happy.
On one night his mom’s boyfriend came by again, like usual, and bought a few grams from Jamal.
“It’s me and your mom’s anniversary tonight, six months together we’re going to have a little fun tonight.”
“Oh, congratulations, man. Ya’ll kids have fun now and be safe,” Jamal joked.
Jamal was on the corner all night, selling and making his money. He was done around two o’ clock in the morning, he was headed home when he received a call from his mom’s boyfriend.
“She overdosed, we were just having fun and I think she overdosed, she’s not breathing!”
Once Jamal got to the apartment, he walked in and saw his mom on the living room floor. She was dead. He had sold the crack that killed his mom. He killed his mom. The money he had in his pocket killed his mom, when the only reason he sold drugs was to keep his mom happy; in turn it ended up killing her. Everything he had done was to keep his mom happy and he had killed her, he couldn’t get it off his mind. He killed his mom.
* * *
Jessica was brought to the United States in ’86. She came to the United States with her mother. They left Mexico to leave the life of poverty they lived there, they hoped they would get better opportunities in America. Sadly in the United States things didn’t get any better. They moved into a low-income neighborhood that was well known for drug trafficking and prostitution. Jessica was fourteen when she first came to the United States, she started to go to school while her mom worked a job as a waitress. Life was hard for the two; a waitress’s income is not enough to pay rent or keep food on the table and Jessica would develop a bad drug habit. It was not exactly the life the two hoped for.
Alexandria Ward, Look Up Minus The Birds

Alexandria Ward, Look Up Minus The Birds

Jessica was enjoying her time in the United States, she already knew English back in Mexico, so it wasn’t hard for her to get along with the other kids. She went to her neighborhood high school which was filled with drug dealers and gang members. Jessica tried to stay out of trouble, she was already accustomed to being around trouble. In Mexico Jessica lived in the middle of the drug cartel wars that were going on there. But just like any other young person, Jessica liked to have fun and would participate in the crack smoking that kids would indulge in. Jessica soon became addicted to smoking crack, it was so easily accessible for her. On her way home from school she could buy crack from dozens of drug dealers: the house next to hers was a known drug dealer’s, where she would spend her time after school smoking away while her mom was working.
Jessica’s mom noticed her daughter’s behavior and knew she was abusing drugs. She herself was stressed out from the situation she was in, a low paying job, unable to afford much food, and now her daughter abusing drugs and doing poorly in school. She herself started smoking crack with some of the clients who would go into her restaurant, one in particular who was really nice to her. He would give free crack rocks to her for a few weeks; then one day he mentioned how nice he was to her, how he thought her daughter was a beautiful young woman. He had seen her daughter around the neighborhood hanging around with the drug dealer from next door. He knew many guys liked her and would pay any amount to be with her. He made an offer, if she would let him use her daughter for the escort business he ran. He would in return give her seventy-five percent of what he made from her, and give her a steady amount of drugs for her to use. Jessica’s mom was desperate, and like many people at the time wasn’t thinking straight from all the drugs she had started to take. So she agreed.
Jessica didn’t know what was going on when the guy, whose name was Pablo, came to their house one night and said it was time to work. Jessica’s mom said, “It’s okay, he’s a good man and he’ll help us pay the bills and put food on the table.”
Jessica knew who the guy was, she had seen him rough up guys who wouldn’t pay up after an escort had performed her services. Jessica was high most of the time and this time no different. Pablo brought in a young man into the house and escorted both of them into Jessica’s room, reminding them to “have fun.”
While Pablo and Jessica’s mom smoked a few rocks in the living room, Jessica was raped. She didn’t want to have sex with the guy, but she was so high that in time she just gave up. She cried during the whole situation, sobbing while the guy took advantage of her. Fifteen minutes later he then walked out of the room and gave Pablo two hundred dollars of which he then gave one-hundred-and-fifty to Jessica’s mom.
This went on for weeks. Jessica was numb to it after a couple of days. Most of the time she was high on crack and enjoyed it. Others times she would cry, not knowing if she cried because of the unwanted sex she was having or because of the way she was living her life. She had dropped out of school, and was now a slave to drugs, her mother, and Pablo. Jessica’s mother knew what she was doing was wrong, but before she could start thinking about how to stop the problem, she would just smoke another rock. It was the solution to everyone’s problem back then.
Soon Jessica was diagnosed as HIV positive. She blurted it out one time while she was in the middle of sex with a customer; he looked at her shocked since he wasn’t using a condom. He was infuriated; he pulled out a knife and stabbed Jessica in the stomach five times. Jessica’s body was found next to a dumpster. Jessica’s mom blamed herself for her daughter’s misfortune. Six months later she overdosed on crack.
It’s a sad thing what drugs do to a person. What people do when they’re put in certain situations. How easily one can get lost in drugs and money, and lose sight of what’s important. I witnessed the whole crack epidemic of the eighties, the Ronald Reagan Era. These are just a few of the stories I’ve witnessed, I still have dozens more. I’m not here to tell you not to do drugs, or what to do with your life, I’m just here to tell you how fucked up the world is. A man my age has his days numbered; I’m just here to share as much wisdom as I can to anyone who is willing to listen. Now ya’ll kids go on and scram.
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