The kid in the middle, the one hiding, was Gene, he got shot in some war, somewhere. It was the only thing he ever did that anyone was ever proud of. Gene spent most of his life hiding and blaming others.
The one on the right was Jackson. He was my best bud – I mean the kind of pal who would lay down his life for you, give you the last cent in his pocket – there ain’t too many of them who crossed my path. Jackson was the mouthy one, the one who knew what to do, the one who never stopped eating and the one who always wore his brother’s hand-me-downs.
The day this photo was taken was my fourteenth birthday – that’s me on the left – my ma had given me 50 cents to get the guys some hotdogs. I had wanted a bike but I knew, given the way things were, hotdogs were as good as it was gonna get.
My pa had gone to see a friend in a downtown store on one sunny morning and had never returned. It was like that for many of the guys on my street. I was convinced that the fathers who had disappeared all went to some town, upstate and swapped stories.
I remember being on watch at the kitchen window for months waiting on his return. Some days I would knock on doors and ask if anyone had seen my pa. Some slammed the door in my face, others kinda giggled and said that I should ask some woman or other. Seemed my pa liked to hang about with women called ‘Belle’ or ‘Busty’. Maybe if my ma had changed her name from Edith to something else, he might have stayed.
I never did see him again, although I heard once when I was down south, that a man answering his description had been involved in some robbery or other, and the guy who told me was sure that the man I was talking about had been shot cold dead. That’s the way he said it, ‘cold dead’ and a shiver ran right through me, making me think that he was probably right.
My ma had good days and bad ones. There were times when she’d take to her bed on account that the ‘darkness’ had taken her over, and when she was like that there weren’t much I could do except sit with her and hold her hand.
I meant to mention that I had a younger brother, Teddy and he was the kinda guy who was born all growed up. I mean Teddy dealt with all the money (or lack of it) and Teddy was the one who looked after me and my ma. His head was always screwed right on. When Teddy was old enough, and sure that I was gonna survive, he joined the Army and all. Last I heard from him he was a Major, married with two kids and was expecting to retire real soon.
Me and Jackson ran the streets for a few more years after the photo was taken, but then he found God in a gutter in Tallahassee, and became a preacher who toured the panhandle with an old truck and a tent. I hope he did get to Heaven, I really do, and I hope his angel wings ain’t no hand-me-downs either.
As for me, I didn’t do much that was special except look after my ma as the darkness, which didn’t just take her over but in the end, devoured her – god rest her soul – was eventually laid to rest. I guess there are a million of us out there who have done work like that and we don’t have no medals to show for it.
We are the walking wounded and we just keep putting one foot in front of the other – a kinda secret society that don’t have no special handshakes, but we can see the scars in each other’s eyes.
And the reason I show you this photo today, is for a simple reason – it was the only one that was ever took of me. I kid you not.
bobby stevenson 2016