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Today I made the rounds some of the neighborhoods where I grew up. I happened to run into an old acquaintance in front of one of the buildings.
Back in the days, this guy was a respected member of one of the more “influential” gangs. He always looked very strong and healthy back then.
Last I saw him before today, he looked as if he was on some sort of downward spiral. I thought it was one of two things, simply aging, or potentially drug abuse. Although, it could be an illness, but this didn’t look like it, and my gut said otherwise.
When I saw him today, I tried to have a conversation with him. He recognized me, and gave me a hug, I embraced him back, but I was very reluctant to make physical contact. He looked really bad, and it concerned me.
After a few moments of talking, I concluded that this must be due to drugs. He said a few things to me, and I could not understand him at all. I had to really focus my attempts at understanding what he was trying to say and could only pick out a few words. In fact, one woman who was standing with him attempted to help translate for him.
This made me feel kind of troubled. This is a guy I respected when I was a kid. Now he’s all sorts of messed up. His face was scarred up, his clothes looked tattered, and his health looked really bad. The streets, and apparent drug abuse will mess you up!
Now, though this man was an actual gang member, he was always nice to me. He never treated me badly as a kid or a teen. It brings me no pleasure to see someone who lead that “evil” life end up so messed up. There was no “you did this all to yourself” or “I told you so” going on in my thoughts. I simply felt bad for him, and I felt bad that I wanted to leave the conversation asap. I wondered if he could be helped, but that thought was put to rest as I saw him put the joint to his lips. I needed to keep it moving.
In the past, I’ve caught trouble with cops and gangs for standing around with the wrong person at the wrong time. With him being a gang member, and smoking illegal drugs at the time, I’m sure he was not the best person for me to stand around talking on the streets with. As soon as someone else came by to greet him, I took the advantage of the opening, waved and left.
I spent the day with family, and as I left their home, I saw him in front of yet another building a few blocks away. I waved at him from across the street, and kept it moving. I really didn’t want to start another conversation. I’m sorry man, I can’t do it.
I’ve often said that many of the people I grew up with were either dead, in jail, or still standing in front of the building. Knowing it, and saying it is one thing, but actually seeing it once again, that made me feel pretty sad.
Growing Up Bronx