|There is a black and blue mark in the form of the Nike logo planted under my left eye. The bruise that has formed is not purple, but dark black. The mark of shame runs from the corner of my already sad eyelid, across my high cheek bone, and curves upward again, coming to a point just under a piercing hazel stare.
I saw stars when the mark on my eye was planted, but I did not realize damage to my radiant glow had occurred because there was so much blood pouring from my scalp at the time. I thought for sure I would die.
I was holding the wound on my head when I awoke on the floor in the hallway outside of my apartment door. A gang of three young men and their step-father were to blame. They live upstairs. I was awoken from a hot afternoon slumber by the voice of my lover late Monday evening. He cried, “Charles, Help!” I came running as fast as I could. I ran into the hallway into the midst of an argument. It was my head that received the brunt of everyone’s anger that day.
Perhaps the pool of blood that had trickled from my scalp was enough to stop the four angry men and my lover from fighting any longer. I crawled on my hands and knees across a dusty floor of the hallway. A long smear of blood was left in my wake. I made it back inside the apartment where crumbs of corn chips at the foot of the sofa were a welcome relief to these sad eyes. I collapsed upon the chips, my head seeping salsa.
Someone shouted the police were coming. The neighbors ran upstairs. My lover helped me to our sofa. I was so hot. Salty blood had mixed with a layer of sticky sweat covering my body and I felt as though I were being suffocated.
“Let me go,” I cried to my lover as I pulled off a yellow UCLA shirt I was wearing and wrapped my head with it. The police finally convinced me to let go of the shirt.
“Do you remember who did this to your head?” a policeman asked.
“What did they do to my head?” I asked. “I didn’t see who did it. It happened so fast.”
“They cut you with something. This is a typical gang marking,” the policeman explained. “We have to take you to the emergency room, but all of you are being arrested.”
“We should lock the door to my apartment before we leave here,” I reminded a police officer who firmly locked my wrists into a silver pair of handcuffs. I noticed that my hands were stained red. Dried blood was caked around the seam of my fingernails and my knuckles appeared to have formed scabs from the vast amount of A Positive that had collected on them. I looked at my hands before placing them behind my back as ordered. The officer lifted me from the sofa as gently as possible as he cuffed me.
A female medical technician who had placed multiple layers of gauze over my bleeding scalp had already left the apartment to prepare the ambulance for my arrival. The officer instructed me to sit down again as he tried to locate my house keys.
“Where are they?” The officer asked. His innocent face, obviously a mix of the many white and Italian races that populate Long Island, offered an aura of purity, free of the callous traits that often mark so many of New York’s finest. Years on the job, after responding to thousands of offenses among the millions of residents of this great city is hard on the soul of city police, yet this officer held himself like an alter boy during communion.
He walked with a cocky swagger toward the back of the house. A thick black belt pulled tightly around his midsection must have formed at most, a twenty-eight inch circumference. It held a big gun to the hip of the young man in blue. He had a flat little ass. The officer’s ability to remain totally calm, despite all the blood that I had lost, offered a bit of relief to me. I knew, through his gaze at me, that I was going to live. Thoughts behind his saintly blue eyes were so hard for me to read. So many women must have fallen helpless victims to that stare.
The gaping slash on my face was of little concern to either the emergency medical services worker or to New York’s finest police officer. He said very little. He remained mostly silent beneath a sly-as-a-fox demeanor. He seemed anxious to get me behind bars and unconcerned whether or not I had even thrown a punch or a slap in the direction of my attackers.
This was how officers were trained to deal with such situations, I realized. For the time being, I was as guilty as the four attackers who accosted my lover and me outside of our apartment door. It shocked me that the side of my face hurt so much. When I spoke to give the officer directions, I wondered if the medical technician took note of the many piercing wounds, seemingly all over my body, as I awaited transport in ambulance while in restraints.
“My keys are in the bedroom on the left,” I explained, grimacing as a fresh bolt of pain jolted through my jaw. “They are atop the pool table.” Blood oozed from the cherry-red scrape on the right side of my face. Funny that I remembered, despite the blow to my noggin, where I had left my keys the night before. Usually, it takes hours for me to find them, and rarely do I ever remember where I put them.
My partner had taken me to Fire Island for the day on Sunday. Although exhausted and covered with sand, we ran into the house the moment we arrived back home, dropped our bags without unpacking them, and played a game of pool.
The scratch on my jaw incurred during the attack was obviously made by a metal object, such as a house key. Thankfully, the scrape merely broke the surface of my cleanly shaven face. I wished that my hands were free so that I could examine the wound by touch. I realized that potentially, I could have been marked for life.
At the time of the arrest, I did not have the opportunity to look into a mirror to examine just how ungodly an appearance my own once, charming face had taken. If I had seen myself prior to being escorted out of the house in front of my neighbors who were standing around like TMZ reporters, I would not have been able to take the embarrassment on my way to Kings County jail.
I nodded toward the back of the apartment in the direction of the bedroom, which was used as a room to store my lover’s pool table. The room was in a sense, an oversized walk-in closet. Oh yes, I vividly remember dropping the keys in there the night before. I nudged my head in a jerking motion to the left to signal which way the young, blond officer should turn as he made his way back a long, narrow hallway and through the doorway to my lover’s sinister playground.
The officer’s hair was cut in military fashion. My lover B just loves hair cut like that, I remembered. The short blond strands of hair on the officer’s head seemed angelic.
I chuckled at the officer’s innocence when his back was to me. I had a flashback of the night before and the many evenings playing a game of tease in there. My lover called the game “pool hall slut.” The room is nothing more than a sex den with a pool table for a bed. Many times I have agreed remain motionless upon my knees, a pool cue on the back of my neck, suspending my arms, while my lover yells things like “Fucking white boy!” at me.
He sometimes yells loud enough for neighbors on the third floor to hear. Not even an experienced officer of the law could have ever imagined someone like me with a black eightball jammed firmly into my mouth squatted atop that table. The serenity of hot July sunset blasting into the room must have distracted his attention from the fact that the pool balls were all connected by a long string. The pool room is simply sinful. I rarely run the sweeper in there and only dust when I fear the stench has become offensive to our two cats.
“Do you have identification on you?” The officer asked, retreating from the playground with my set of keys jingling in his tender hand.
“No, Sir.” I replied as I gazed directly into his handsome face without blushing. “My wallet is in my desk in the top drawer on the left next to that pile of manuscripts. My drivers license is in the wallet.” I realized at the moment that my wallet had at least $400 in cash inside. What would stop such a young handsome officer of the law of helping himself to what must have been to his eyes gay whore money anyway?
The officer filled out paperwork indicating that my house keys were being kept at the 79th Precinct and that I would be required to retrieve them from that office upon my release from prison. He handed me a green carbon copy and I placed it in my back pocket.
I was cuffed to the stretcher inside the ambulance while being escorted to Brookdale Hospital. I was offered a tetanus shot on my left shoulder and an injection of antibiotics on my left ass cheek. I noticed the officer hid his face when I exposed my buttocks to the nurse. I barely flinched as the needle went in. A physician on duty ordered that I undergo a C-T scan, where blue lights indicated that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my head.
The officer paced nervously while awaiting the results of my scan. He knocked several times on the door of the physician on duty. The doctor was in no rush to accommodate him. She looked in my eyes with a sense of compassion as she explained the purpose of the injections.
“You can take him now,” the doctor ordered. I was assisted from the comfortable stretcher and led away like a common criminal to my new bed, atop the filth inside the cells of a nearby police station. Outside, the evening temperature in Brooklyn has risen well above 100 degrees. I nearly fainted as I marched with my head held high into the precinct. I saw my reflection in the bulletproof glass that protected an officer conducting intakes. But even with a black eye, I was handsome as hell.
Three officers, all wearing purple rubber gloves, escorted me through a facility that reminded me of a medieval castle. Marching in shame with my head held low through the vast corridor made the precinct seem more like a dungeon than a place that maintains the peace.
The ceiling overhead was not quite visible. The cells ahead of us rested on a giant slab of dull, grey concrete. Dampness hovered over the multitude of cages in a windowless cave buried away secretly deep beneath the heart of beloved Brooklyn.
I saw B, my lover. He was in a cell by himself. They placed me in the cage next to his and slammed the door. I immediately removed my shoes but the officer who happened to be much older and not as handsome as my arresting officer told me to put my shoes back on and asked where the hell I though I was. Three walls surrounding me were made of whitewashed cement bricks. In front of me there was a wall of bars with a door that slammed as hard as the fists that had earlier struck my eye and cheek.
B didn’t speak to me as I slowly passed his cell in the grip of six purple hands. But I felt him against the wall next to me as soon as I took a seat on the wooden bench in my cell. Living and sleeping with the same man for a decade leaves homosexual species with a keen sense of attachment to their loved ones. There have only ever been a few nights over the past decade when we haven’t slept next to each other – when I traveled to visit my family. I couldn’t sleep on those nights. The energy I sense when he is next to me was there inside my dark, lonely cell.
Fate, as it dances with love, somehow that evening, managed to keep us close together during my most excruciating ordeal. B’s gold tooth was shimmering when the three officers walked by with me. The officers slowed me down so that my lover could examine my condition. B saw that I was fine. I thought it was a kind gesture on the part of the police. B nodded at me with a sense of dignity and I caught the hunch that already, he had officers at the precinct eating out of his clever little black hands. I sensed he was turned on by the fact that I came to his rescue during a skirmish with the upstairs neighbors. Lovers know the look of their lover when they are turned on.
“They are only kids,” I used to tell B when the kids who have lived up stairs for the past eight or so years got on his nerves while playing in the hallway outside our door. “Just ignore them,” I’d say.
“I can’t ignore them. I don’t mind the chatter, but they keep banging against the wall and the walls here are so fucking thin. They need stay out of my space!”
Two twenty-something kids who B and I have known since they wore mittens were likely the ones who beat me up. They are huge now, play football on the street to pass time, and run in and out of the house leaving the front door open as if they were born in a barn.
B has argued with them for ages over the noise they make coming in and out. They are all grown up now and they make more noise than when they were toddlers. It was the noise that led to the altercation with B, and eventually required my intervention, which caused all our asses to end up jail.
The two young men have eyes that are too far apart. They have always been that way, even when they were boys with snotty little noses. They never bothered me much, but B, over the years, has coldly referred to the family as a ‘bunch of fucking trolls that live overhead.”
“Ignore them? My ass!” B shouted when I advised him to tune out the noise of the neighbor kids again. “I have to get up for work every day while they collect welfare. I will not tolerate children who have grown-up and graduated high school and still live with their mother. The little fuckers smoke weed outside in the hallway all night long. And they had the nerve to leave rubbers laying around in that little storage room in the hallway where Lenox keeps the salt for the steps in winter. They need to go to the second floor to do that sort of thing. I bet their grandmother will not tolerate anything like that on the hallway of the second floor. There are enough children without fathers in Bed Stuy! They need to take it someplace else.”
I should have never gotten involved in the battle with the upstairs neighbors. The fued has gone on for at least a half-dozen years anyway. Why ever did I ever insist to the little wide-eyed boy who lives upstairs that he had no right to speak to me in such a tone, considering I had known him ever since he was a small child? How silly of me to expect children these days to respect their elders.
They had me surrounded. I was talking to the kid I have known ever since he was first learning to walk when someone clobbered me from behind. Was it his other brother? What about the step-father, or whatever he is to them? Honestly, there was no way for me to tell who it me, or if in fact, as I suspect, they all tore into me in a rage of racial hatred.
The violence erupted so fast. I do not remember falling to the floor. How the hell did I end up in jail with the other six, and why was I, not even my lover, the only one covered in blood? I heard, just as I was coming out of a state of blackness as the police arrived, that I had bit someone, although who I sank these cavity-filled teeth into is anyone’s guess at this point.
There was a gigantic stainless steel toilet in my prison cell. I noticed that it was clogged with paper cups and the wrath of an ass that had seen a war of the intestines. My face, still stained with blood, was tight and in need of heavy moisturizing, and at least a refreshing splash of water. I frowned when I realized the source of running water for drinking and washing was attached to the massive silver toilet. I decided after inspecting just a trickle of water flowing from the fountain atop the toilet that it was not safe for me to use for washing my wounds.
The physician who had treated me in the hospital emergency room offered me a cap of Maalox. She explained that the Motrin she was administering to me often causes nausea and insisted that I drink the white, milky liquid. My throat, following hours of heavy, nervous breathing, was quite dry. The coating of Maalox clinging to the inside of my mouth made the act of swallowing impossible. The neck that housed my dry throat was practically the only feature above my chest that had not been severely scrapped or cut in the fight. I rubbed it while contemplating whether I could last several hours without anything to drink. The heat inside the jail made my newly forming scabs peel off with the slightest touch.
I glanced through the gate at the front of my cell and wondered if perhaps the prison system was offering an alternate source of irrigation for the inmates. Perhaps there was a cooler of water outside of the cells and all I had to do was ask a guard to come fetch some for me. Just then, I noted a plastic bottle of Sprite sitting on a small metal tray that had been welded into the bars that formed the entrance to my cage. I wondered where it came from and soon settled upon the realization that one of the officers had left it behind.
I opened the bottle and discovered there was still carbonation, although the lemon-lime refreshment was as warm as piss. I drank two large mouthfuls and waited approximately one minute before finishing off the bottle. I wanted to be sure the soda was not laced with a mind-altering substance.
Sleep came upon my battered head moments after my bruised scalp found a comfortable spot to rest upon. I used the empty soda bottle as a cushion for my neck, so that my bloody head could hover inches above the filthy bench upon which I had no choice but to lay.
I was asleep for at least an hour before being stirred awake by B rolling around on the bench in his cell. It was apparent that the two benches were connected, likely by a metal brace that ran through the cement wall that separated us. A prisoner several stalls away from us started yelling for the police.
“Offica,” he shouted in a poor dialect, which I had surmised was a voice belonging to one either from the Bronx or Nassau County, Long Island. He had a heavy Spanish tongue that was quite annoying and I understood why the police turned a deaf ear to such ignorance. “Offica,” he screamed louder, realizing he was being ignored. He replaced his r’s with long drawn-out a’s and kept repeating the call for an “Offica” until eventually my lover started laughing hysterically. I followed suit, bursting out with a child-like giggle.
“I’m going to kill myself,” the prisoner yelled.
“Alright. Go right ahead,” an “offica” finally responded.
“Offica, I have to take a dump,” he yelled. “Can I git some paper?”
“We cannot issue you toilet paper,” an officer in the distance yelled. “It clogs the toilets.” I wondered how such massive toilets could ever be clogged.
“You gotta be playin’,” the man yelled. “I gotta wipe my ass or I’m going to die.”
I rested my head upon my Sprite bottle and laughed. Just then, three officers entered the holding area. I noticed they were unlocking a cell several feet away from my own. Out stepped my neighbors and attackers. They were placed in handcuffs and were about to be escorted away.
Before turning, the youngest of the boys must have sensed I was staring at them with an evil glare, for he turned in my direction and looked directly at me with his widely spaced, troll-like eyes. I didn’t move from my resting position upon the bottle of Sprite. I smiled at him, not to provoke him, but I wasn’t sure what else to do.
He waved at me with his free hand, as if he had not attempted to murder me.
It seemed unfair that my attackers were being led away to central booking before my lover and me. I thought, surely, the police officers will escort us to the van as well, but they left us to our cells. The guards walked away with my neighbors leashed like dogs. It became apparent that a night in the precinct dungeon was in store for us.
I decided to meditate rather than try to fall back to sleep. I sat with the soles of my feet together and my legs bent like butterfly wings. Instantly I recalled just how effective this induced state of trance can be.
I learned a most peculiar method of “controlling folly” from author Carlos Castaneda in his book “The Eagle’s Gift.” I had finished the guide less than a week before. In the silence and darkness of my cell, I placed the bottom of my feet together and imagined that my shoes were off. Immediately a soothing sensation raced through my badly battered body and I felt, as is typical for me in this pose, the spirit of the Eagle stirring through me. I was still dizzy from the multiple blows to my scalp, but yes, this was the place that I had prepared my mind for in times of duress, just as Castaneda had described to me in his work.
The guard who had arrested me and escorted me to the hospital appeared before the bars at the entrance to my cave. He asked B whether we wanted to be placed in the same cell. B said yes. Immediately I heard the policeman’s keys jingling, and moments later, my lover walked into my chamber.
“How long have the two of you been together,” the blonde with a crew-cut asked as he locked the metal gate to the unclean cage. “Ten years,” B immediately responded. “That’s nice,” the guard remarked. “We’ll see about getting the two of you down to Central Booking tonight. That way, you can appear before a judge and hopefully be released tomorrow.” He secured his keys to a metal ring next to the bulge on his pants line. “Do you need anything?”
“No. We’re fine now.” I noted, hoping he would just leave us so that I could meditate sitting next to my lover as I typically did. The guard, sensing I was not in the mood for girl talk smiled like a robot, turned and walked east towards to offices where the officers congregated when not on calls.
“He’s a really nice guy,” B said. “He kept calling down to the hospital to check on you for me. He said you were going to be fine, and you are, just look at you.” B then kissed my forehead and closely examined my wounds.
I slept like a baby on the cement floor of the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn. B had taken over the bench in our cell,but somehow I found paradise during my meditation. I awoke with my legs still crossed and my hands clasped over my heart.
“I need to take photographs of your wounds,” an officer with red hair said to me as I squinted my eyes to bring him into focus.
“Don’t forget to take a shot of the deep gash on the back of my head,” I advised. The officer snapped at least a dozen electronic photographs and thanked me for my cooperation.
There was just one female prisoner among the eight bodies that lined up to be escorted to Central Booking in the police van. She was obviously born and raised in Brooklyn, for without speaking a word, she managed to project an air of racial hatred toward the posse of white officers who all seemed bothered by that fact that we had taken up space in their city jail the night before.
The woman prisoner was advised to remove a white headband from her hair. She asked “what the fuck for?” The sister complained that her hair would fall into her eyes. She obeyed the order anyway as she glanced directly into my eyes as she snapped the elastic band from her scalp. Immediately, her long wavy hair fell into her eyes.
The prisoners remained silent during a bumpy ride down DeKalb Avenue. Only the black woman spoke. She yelled out the cracked window of the van at a group of white woman pushing baby carriages who had stopped at a cross walk while the van slowly crossed Nostrand Avenue– “What the fuck is wrong with you all?” she shouted with her head resting firmly against the van window. He hair was now sweaty and wet and it was matted against the glass.– “Haven’t you seen a criminal before?”
We all laughed as we watched the women quickly push their babies across the avenue, away from that corner that is notorious for crime.
By the time we were loaded into a police van to be transported to Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn, I was covered in sweat. I licked my lips in an attempt to sooth the dryness that had formed at the corners of my mouth. Having learned to clear my mind during long periods of meditation enabled me to put aside the pain of fasting, but inside the police van, with the sun beating down my back, it was nearly impossible for me to tune out the world.
The temperature in Kings County was sweltering. My back was exposed to sunlight blasting through smudged windows of the van. The air that I gasped down my throat was thick. Despite the intense heat, a sense of bliss was filling me.
I felt faint and quite dizzy when we were pulled from the van. We were escorted in a line, chained together like paper dolls and led like cattle through the main entrance of the police station on Livingston Street.
There were five cells inside the police station, all designed to temporarily house at least twenty prisoners. With the exception of the female prisoner who traveled with us in the van, we were shoved into over-crowded cell number five, where at least a dozen other arrested men were taking up space on the cement floor. I immediately grabbed a spot near the front gate and sat, unmoved in a Lotus pose. B immediately came over to where I was seated and sat next to me. It was only a matter of seconds before I was back on a beach created through my will – a place of total imagination, yet one as real as any place I have ever visited.
A man with salt and pepper hair shaved closely to his scalp paced nervously in a circle around us. I heard B laugh at him. I closed my eyes, hoping the stranger did not want to engage in conversation.
“This is fucking, bullshit,” the stranger said, blotting away the silence of our cell. I opened my eyes to look at him. He was holding onto his jeans. With no belt, his pants would have easily fallen off if he had not held onto them. As his conversation carried on, he occasionally let go of his belt loops to make gestures with his hands, causing his trousers to slip. The man was not wearing underwear and I noticed that his pubic hair was dark and not a single strand of grey hair was to be seen.
“They got me in here for domestic violence,” he claimed. “I don’t know how it is possible for me to domestically abuse a bitch I’m not married to. I only fucked her a few quick times,” he explained, stroking the white whiskers on his face. His facial hair was somewhat darker than the hair upon his head, but not as rich as the youthful glimmer I had spotted just moments before. For an old man, the stranger was in excellent physical shape. He flexed his biceps as he spoke to us– almost insinuating that he knew, without having to ask, that we were homosexual lovers.
B looked into the man’s eyes after he had made his point and replied, “I believe you.”
“I don’t even like the bitch,” the stranger explained. “I should never have gone back to her. We always fight. She’s so jealous. You guys know how it is when pussy calls.” He said, chuckling. “I should have told the police that she is a fucking whore and the reason we were fighting is because she wouldn’t hold up to her end of the deal. At least then, she’d be in here too, and that is the God’s honest truth.”
B’s seemingly keen interest in his story only caused the pacing of the old man to intensify, until eventually, the stranger was running circles around us and breathing heavily. My effort of focus and meditate had vanished. The stranger had captured my undivided attention.
I closed my eyes and tried to tune the conversation out. I sat motionless for what seemed like hours as the old man talked my lover’s ears off. He spoke of an addiction to crack and hoped that he would receive medical attention while waiting to see the judge. I opened my eyes a few times as the day slowly dragged on. My left eye was so swollen. It was nearly impossibly to see clearly without squeezing it down in painful pressure, so that I could peer through my one good eye.
The chatty old man was still above me talking; pacing back and forth like an angry sea under stormy skies. Others had gathered near to hear the man speak, and to share their own stories as to how they had all ended up inside cell number five. I sat motionless with my eyes closed, hoping that eventually silence would return to our large cell. B seemed to be holding court. The inmates did not interrupt each other when they shared their stories, they told their story to B, who simply sat innocently, making very few comments himself, but somehow directed the flow of verbal traffic and decided who would speak next. I did not know my lover was such a charismatic figure.
“This is not fair,” a man with a youthful sounding voice said when it was his turn. “You are never going to believe this. I was sitting on my stoop and this dude comes by on a skateboard, one of those Rip Sticks, the kind of skateboard that twists. So get this. He drops something on my lap. I had no idea what the hell it was. I thought he was fuckin’ around wit me, ya know. Well guess what? It turned out to be a bottle of Xanax. He threw the damn things on my lap, probably outrunnin’ the cops or something. Wouldn’t you know it; two minutes later, the police are there, friskin’ me. It was a fucking set-up.” Again, I opened my eyes, just to get a look at who was telling the story. He was a white kid– no more than twenty-two, I figured. He had such a terrified look in his eye that I had no choice but to break my silence to suggest.
“Tell the judge that you did not intend to sell the pills. Admit that you are addicted to them.”
The inmates erupted in laughter. The boy’s face turned red, but suddenly, like within peaceful meditation, the room faded to absolute silence. The crowed realized that my suggestion was a good one. Although none of them moved from where they were sitting and standing, I sensed they all wanted to get close to B and me.
Suddenly, the lights flickered inside the prison. Moments later, a policewoman called out names. The old man and the boy were left behind in cell number five. They moved the rest of us into a holding area under the court house.
The men who had beaten me in the hallway in front of my apartment door were inside the cell B and I were moved to. I was glad that my violent neighbors were still in jail, too. I hoped we would appear before a judge soon. I certainly didn’t want to spend another night locked up with them. I was weary and concerned that my attackers would try to do more harm to me behind the loosely guarded central jail facility of Kings County.
From conversations I’d overheard, I learned that the courthouse upstairs remained open until midnight. Other inmates had been through the court system numerous times and were well aware of how long that courthouse stayed open. It was after 9 p.m. I reasoned, based on what I had gathered, that I would sleep at home in my own bed that night.
I wanted a cigarette desperately, but was pleased with my ability to cut the habit off without many symptoms of withdrawal described by Carlos Castenada in his books. My true want was in alcohol, even though the sorcerer warns against it. All I could think about while I waited to see the judge upstairs was drinking shots of tequila washed down with refreshing gulps of golden beer from Mexico. I realized then that I may be developing a dependence on booze. I was thrilled while thinking about an escape from the aches and pains of my beaten body through a two-day drinking binge. I was going to turn to the bottle because it was rumored, due to a new tax on the poor, that the price of cigarettes in New York City was now $12 a pack. The currents of liquid intoxication were just steps away from my parched spirit. I wanted to take all my clothes off and jump in that river – ass naked.
Although I was somewhat concerned as the officers unshackled me inside the cell with the men who had attempted to kill me, I was too tired to care or worry as I looked at the bullies with a smile across my black and blue face. My lover had already developed strong ties with other prisoners. My attackers sat in a far-off corner. As we walked into the cell, it seemed a group of celebrities had arrived, for B’s jail buddies quickly rallied to his side. They wanted to finish the in-depth conversations they were having with B in cell number five earlier that day.
I knew my attackers would not bother me, considering B had become the master-of-ceremonies of storytelling in Kings County Jail. I was safer behind bars than in my own home. My neighbors are pussy fighters who fight in packs like dogs. My black eye was proof of their cowardice.
My badly beaten condition attracted the attention of other inmates in the cell. There seemed to be a sense of compassion in the eyes as they examined my wounds. We were, after all, awaiting a judgment on our fate by a supreme being, and under such circumstances, it is easy for anyone to be compassionate to others. Although I felt very little pain upon my face, I knew the look of it was enough to cause even the toughest of thugs to cringe, for they did so when I sat down next to them in the cell.
I wondered if I would be attacked again, but put my best face forward next to the young man who was cause of my incarceration. The little boy from upstairs who had once tossed snowballs at me had grown into a full-fledged Bed-Stuy thug. The young man, whom I had known since he was just out of diapers, didn’t flinch. The ugly lad actually moved to make room for me on the concrete floor next to him.
“Offica! How long will it be before we go upstairs to see the judge?” A man standing above me and the boy was hovering next to a payphone and shouted for the information. He was dressed in Muslim attire, and he closed the Koran that he was reading as he addressed the passing officer. I recognized the voice. He was the individual who spent the previous night at the same precinct and B and me. Despite his whining while at the precinct, the man had been quiet all day while at central booking.
“There is a chance you will get out of here tonight,” the guard answered, without stopping her stride past the prison cell. The smell of her perfume was strong. For one brief moment, I longed to be next to her, or any heavily perfumed woman on a soft bed.
“Can we get some water, offica?” he asked. Prisoners in the cell turned to hear her response. We were all very thirsty.
“I’ll have some sent down.” She responded, with very little concern.
“It’s suffocating in here. You have to give us water, offica!” She stepped away like a nun headed for confession during the Inquisition.
I reclined my stiff body on the concrete floor and glanced across the weary heads of those in prison so that I could assess the position of my lover. He was sitting near the entrance as usual and had somehow found a place on the only bench in the cell next to a fat Spanish man.
The stepfather of the boys who had attacked me approached me moments after my fingers were interlocked, forming a make-shift pillow for my bloody head.
“I’m really sorry things got so carried away,” he said.
“Me too. Now go away. I hurt badly and I need a cigarette.”
The boy, whose nick-name is Bam-Bam, laughed and smiled widely at me as I snipped at his step-father. It was obvious Bam-Bam resented his step-father Paul as much as I did at that moment. It was, after all, Paul who must have thrown the punch that started the fight that landed all of us in jail. I clearly remember Bam-Bam standing in front of me – arguing – promising to whip my white ass when the blow that nearly made me unconscious came from behind – and it was Paul who had struck me, of that I was almost sure. I was pleased when I realized it took five opponents to take me to my knees. Even though I was the only one who had sustained injury, I felt somehow I won the battle.
I closed my eyes and decided to take another nap because a dizzy spell had come over me as Paul stood there begging. I wasn’t sure if the heat was the cause of my lethargic state, or if my injuries were more severe than what the physician had noted. Perhaps I was dying from internal bleeding. I didn’t care. I felt it was a good time to die in my sleep, so I closed my eyes. Hours passed slowly and as midnight rolled around, I knew we would not be released that night.
My own snoring was what woke me up several times throughout the night. I was a little embarrassed, realizing how loud I had been in the total blissful state that is my snore-sleep. Bam-Bam was sleeping next to me – his mouth open like that of a blow-up sex doll. Slobber ran down his lips and puddled upon the concrete floor.
The Muslim man was still standing above us next to the pay phone when I finally decided to get up and find a new resting place. He read his Muslim prayer book all night. Every time I stirred myself awake with the choking sound deep down in my throat, I looked up at him, batting my eyes, wondering why it was, after twenty years in New York City, I had never sucked off a Muslim man.
He must have sensed the rhythm of my snoring and ceased reading in his prayer book each time I awoke. He stopped reading when the sound from my larynx ceased and peered down at me. He rocked back and forth reading the Koran, as if in a trance, or simply a heightened state of prayer.
How desperately I wanted to share with him that the most effective way to meditate was to put aside the written word, and focus one’s attention on nothing, yet I understood that for some, the easiest way to harness the flow of streaming consciousness, was to read and tune out the busy chatter of the mind with the words of others. The act of reading is an effective means for one to stop discursive thinking, according to what I’ve read myself in various ancient books published by mystic thinkers, but the true path to perfection is to learn to harness the mind to remain motionless without reading – it is in this state that one is truly able to escape the prison that is life and to become free. I feared the Muslim man had no clue as to the way to true perfection or what was behind the words on the pages of his book.
I looked to my left and noticed that B was still awake. He was engaged in conversation with a fat Dominican man near the cell’s entrance. The Dominican had shed his shirt and appeared in near bliss sitting next to my lover, chuckling over the conversation. The man was quite young. The fat on his body was not yet wrinkled. He had breasts like an old, heavy woman that hung in deflated exhaustion over a belly so big that he could have easily carried a fetus to maturity. I sat up, wondering what time it was. The Muslim spoke to me as I prepared to relocate closer to my lover.
“I saw the most unusual thing last night,” he explained as I wiped sleep from my eyes. “I’ve been watching them bring the female prisoners into the cell across the hallway. They frisk them in there, you know. They took this dude that looked just like a real woman into that area and frisked her. That was wild!”
“Well, they cannot put them in a cell such as this, with us real men,” I remarked.
“You are right. That is very true. They couldn’t put them in here with the guys, now, or could they? I never imagined they were like that. He looked just like a woman!”
“How did you find out it was a man?” I asked. I knew we could not see into the cell across the way. There were partitions that blocked our view.
“The female guards freaked out. They started screaming when he took off his clothing. Someone shouted ‘Big Dick’ and the next thing you know, they took her, or him, or whatever that was, away to be searched by the male officers. It was fuckin’ wild, dude. If you ask me, the female officers should have inspected that prisoner. That was a bitch if ever I saw one!”
“You know so little about the spirit of things,” I remarked, being careful not to be loud because Bam-Bam sleeping soundly next to me, his right arm cocked behind his neck and a patch of hair that looked like a Brillo pad was exposed just inches from my sore eye. It seemed a smelly green vapor was rising from the patch of hair, so I stood quickly from my space under the Muslim man and walked across the sea of sleeping bodies, to my lover, where I made a space between his legs and sank into a separate reality.
I remained perfectly still, suspended in a state of near bliss upon a patch of imagination under my lover’s legs. I had reached a state somewhere between sleep and contemplation, and thought of nothing for several hours. Someone started shouting and cursing. My concentration was broken. Immediately, I sat up to determine who was so angry.
The Dominican was screaming into the stagnant air of the dank prison. Obviously, B had triggered something in him. Like a therapist who pulls the psychological trigger in one of his patients, I realized my lover had touched a soft nerve in the fat man. He was red in his face and ranting into thick air.
“Bitches need to figure out what they want,” he claimed. “Sometimes, when they get out of hand, all you have to do is bend them over at the hip and fuck them up the ass until they cry. That’s all they understand. Treat them like a peace of crap. That’s what women need in the modern world. Do that, then they’ll never fuck around on you!”
I looked at B, who was laughing hysterically like Dr. Ruth at the concept of monogamy. I could only guess what they had been talking about, but assumed the man was in prison for domestically abusing a girlfriend or wife. As I listened in on his therapy session with my lover, I learned the real reason why fatty was sitting shirtless in a cage. He was a gang member. He was a part of the street group, “The Bloods”. The young, near-white Latino man was wearing a string of rosary beads. The chain of beads and a silver cross was bundled in a giant knot and was stuck inside mounds of male cleavage under his fat chin.
He claimed he was arrested on a warrant. A “little bitch” who was in gun fight along with several others from “the street” had turned him in, despite the warnings on his life that had been issued relating to what was supposed to remain between members of rival gangs. The man was angry for having his life stolen from him by a rat. Now, his foe would surely “bang away” at his girl, who was the cause of the battle of bullets in the first place. The man made a space for me to sit next to them.
I sat unmoved for several hours until eventually, the sun rose again in Brooklyn. After a breakfast of cereal and warm milk was distributed, a list of names was read by a police officer jingling a ring of skeleton keys. Those who were called were led in chains upstairs to another waiting area, closer to the doors of the courthouse.
Paul, the father of my attackers, approached me again, soon after I had found a place on the floor to rest.
“We are not pressing charges against you, and we ask that you do the same,” he pleaded.
“If all is forgiven of me, I must forgive you as well,” I replied, as I pulled the bottom of my feet together and adjusted my posture. I closed my eyes, hoping Paul would walk away as I tried to stop my internal dialogue. He remained stiff as a statue before me, hoping, I suppose, I would say more to assure him that he and his boys would be free later that day, without the burden of having to post bail or face the felony charge of assault. I knew the family from upstairs was experiencing financial difficulties. Several weeks earlier, representatives from Keyspan, the gas company of Brooklyn, pounded on my door, insisting on gaining access to the basement in order to cut of the gas supply to Paul and his family.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have a key,” I said to the Keyspan men, even though the neighbors were noisy and had kids who insisted on smoking dope in the hallway outside of my apartment door. Now I was sitting in prison with the ghetto monsters. I wish I had offered assistance to the utility men that day. Perhaps Paul, his welfare princess wife, and the grownup rug rats would have moved out and this entire incident would not have happened. Paul did not know about the day I helped his family when Keyspan came to shut off their cooking gas and hot water. The family only learned there was a problem with their bill when sheriff’s deputies broke down the cellar door the next week.
It was not important for me to boast of my act of grace at the time, nor was it inside the prison cell, where Paul stood in front of me with the dirtiest set of toenails I had ever seen on a human before. He must have been wearing flip flops when our fight broke out because he was wearing them in jail. The filthy toenails appeared to be horribly brittle. They were chipped and curved down over his ashy toes. The nails appeared to never have been trimmed. For more than eight years, B and I have argued over the possibility that our upstairs neighbor had a dog.The privilege of dog ownership was not permitted by our landlord in our building, yet every morning it sounded like a hound from hell was running around up there. I knew by looking at Paul’s feet, that horrible clickety-click-click sound was generated by his toenails and not the poodle we had once imagined.
I wished he would just go away and find some silent corner of the cell and meditate as I had learned to do. Paul just stood there, waiting for another assurance from me, that I would not press charges. I remembered my badly beaten face and I knew, if so desired, I could have Paul and his dirty toenails brought up on charges, but I didn’t.
“I don’t know what additional assurance you want from me,” I said. “I promised that I will not press charges. My word stands true. All you have is my word and the word of God. Now leave me alone in peace, so that I can rest. Get thee behind me Satan.”
Finally, Paul walked away. He tumbled into a dark corner of the cell and joined his family. His kids were packed together like slaves on a ship, tucked away in a desolate section of the cell, far away from my lover B who seemed to be enjoying every moment of our journey through the judicial process. I closed my eyes and prayed that the ordeal would soon be over.
Moments later, another prison guard appeared. He rattled the set of keys fastened to his belt and proclaimed, as he opened the cell door, “the Lord is my shepherd” before calling out the list of names for transfer.
Obviously, some oversight had occurred; my lover B and my attackers, along with their claw-footed stepfather, were all led away to another holding cell closer to the judge, but I was left to rot with the general population. Why had they been granted the opportunity to appear in court before for me? After all, I was the one severely beaten in the fight. They left me alone to suffer a bit longer.
I wanted to cry. I paced the cell, nearly going mad due to the unreasonable process through which prisoners were brought before justice. I closed my eyes again and prayed to the cloud of unknowing: that space that separates man from his God. Was there such a thing? Was Carlos Castenada correct in proclaiming that there is no God, just an eagle at the end of the road, a avian monster that devours all of our experiences and digests them in a form of cosmic gluttony through the gizzard of Hell? I erased all my doubts by clearing my mind of all random thoughts. I didn’t care at this point, anyway. I wished I could be consumed. I crawled across the wet concrete floor. The others who were in the fight were all gone now. It was just me alone, because I was the most guilty, I reasoned.
Where was my lover? Why was he taken first? Why didn’t he have a scratch on his face from the fight with our upstairs neighbors? There I was, damn-near naked in my blue plaid shorts, forgotten and alone with my rotted head. If only it all would end in silence.
It was at that moment when I noticed a set of keys on the floor, under a bench chained to the wall. It was a set of skeleton keys to the many cells of the massive jail that was Central Booking in Downtown Brooklyn. One of the prisoners had stolen a set of keys from the hip of one of the guards and left them on the prison floor, amid apple cores and remnants of stale sandwiches. I wondered if the keys on the floor were a sign to me as I opened my eyes from prayer, wishing for release. There was not doubt that those keys could open the chained door behind which we were being held, but I had no desire to try an escape, nor did any of the other prisoners.
A prisoner noticed the keys shortly after he caught me staring at them. He seemed as surprised at the sight of them as I was. We made eye contact. He blinked, picked them up and tried jamming them inside an empty cereal box. The keys were too large to fit. Soon, he tired of devising an escape plan, and abandoned the keys to the floor again. I found two bologna and cheese sandwiches on the floor. I decided to assemble them into a make-shift pillow while I waited.
“Why are you laying on my sandwich pillows?” An angry, obese, black man standing above me asked.
“I didn’t know they were yours,” I replied, hoping he would just step on my face and end it all. I was so tired. I wanted to die. “I’m sorry.”
“Give ‘em here,” he demanded looking down on me. I handed them to him and he shouted: “Damn! You made me a grilled cheese.” He grabbed the white-bread pillows stuffed with the down of imitation cheese and fatty bologna and happily ate them.
I was relived by the sound of a guard rattling a set of keys to the cell. He called my name and escorted me down a flight of stairs to a holding area where B and my neighbors were waiting. Paul approached me again, to gain assurance that I would not be pressing charges.
“Your eye looks horrible,” he said. “I just don’t understand how it all happened. You have always been so nice. B was the one who argued with us. Not you.”
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about it,” I replied. “At least I’m not dead. It’s nothing. I’ve suffered worse.”
Paul looked at me like I was exaggerating, but the fact is, my statement was true. July 4th marked the eighth anniversary of my psychosis and subsequent hospitalization. Being in jail only refreshed my memory of the ordeal. I wondered if I was being tested again.
Prison was a cakewalk in comparison to the mental ward and the pink pills that caused my face to distort and melt. Psychiatrists refer to the horrible side-effects of the pills as Tardive Dyskinesia. I promised myself eight years ago never to take such pills again.
An alien force had possessed my soul. I could not stop my mind from creating a pyramid of worry. But now the world was again at peace, even though I had just been attacked by a legion of angry neighbors. The books I had read, including those of Carlos Castenada and Teresa of Avila, had trained me to stop my racing thoughts and control my fear, even in jail. I realized, sitting in a hot prison eight years later, there is nothing one can do to halt the lunacy of others. We can only turn the other cheek when mental illness is purged from the souls of our neighbor.
I remember biting a nurse while in the hospital – how funny, I thought, that I bit someone again, eight years later, in a fight with my upstairs neighbors. Demons have a hard time of letting go, but Paul seemed the perfect host, and a perfect medium for releasing them. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A court-appointed attorney called my name. I entered one of four small confession-booths to meet with him.
“Hi. My name is Stephen Dean,” my lawyer said, extending his hand to shake mine. He was an old Jew, but had youthful eyes. He studied me like the Torah as he spoke: “How are your wounds?” He asked. It was obvious he had removed his yarmulka before entering the stall to speak with me. The thin grey hair atop his head was fluffed and disheveled and a fresh coat of dandruff covered his shoulders.
I wondered why he removed his kippah. Perhaps it was common for Jews to take off their little hats when getting down to business with gentiles, but the act, to me, was symbolic of a soul turning his back on God. “My cuts are not as bad as they seem,” I confessed to my attorney.
“Here is my card,” he said. “If for any reason you need an attorney after today, call the number on the card, but don’t ask for me. I work for the Brooklyn Defender Service and you will be referred to someone else at the firm if you call us.”
“What if I want to speak to you?” I asked. “Can I ask for Stephen Dean” when I call? Honestly, I prefer to have just one good Jewish lawyer.”
He laughed, then explained that there was good news. “Everyone is dropping their charges. How do you feel about the matter? You were the only one to sustain injuries.”
“I wish to drop charges as well,” I explained. “I have known that family from upstairs for eight years now, and I have patiently watched the kids grow up, little bastards they are, but nonetheless, they were cute when they were little! It was a freak incident.
“Do you think the attack had anything to do with your homosexuality?” The old Jew asked.
“Oh, please,” I replied, chuckling, wondering just how my court appointed lawyer figured that one out. I purposely let my wrist fall limp and explained with flying hand gestures. “My gayness has to be the last reason in the world why the family from upstairs tried to kill me. Believe me when I tell you this! They know why they did it. I don’t know where all that hate came from two days ago, but I’m not here to figure it out. I’m a Jew too, you know. Persecution seems to follow us. You must know how it is. They drink a lot up there, I can tell you that much. That’s about all I know regarding those mean people and that’s what I gathered from taking out the trash. The grandmother is a heavy drinker. It’s all so very sad up there. She hogs the front steps late at night and you have to step over her coming in, but we never got into a fight. I’ve learned not to go out when she’s perched along Kosciusko Street like a whore. I don’t know how many people live upstairs in that house. At least a dozen or so at different times over the years, is my guess. I bet more than half of those cousins and uncles who have all had keys to the place were flaming homosexuals, drunk ones, crack users and such. I think they were all jealous of my long-term relationship with my lover B. Who knows? There have been countless queers who all lived up there with that family and the million little children who they all seem to share as a type of community raising a child. Our landlord is gay too. He seems to favor us. No, that hateful family didn’t beat me just because I’m gay. It was madness.”
The old Jew smiled at me and replied, “Let me see how quickly I can get you out of here.”
Moments later, all eight of us who were in the brawl in the hallway outside of my apartment were summoned to appear before the judge. The smell of the courthouse was refreshing; it reminded me of the Brooklyn Public Library. We were lined up in a row, and our eight lawyers lined up in front of us.
I noticed, as the judge spoke, that he was blind and gay. I realized he was gay first – how funny is that? Then I saw he couldn’t see us. My severe head wounds and black eye were not visible to him. The judge wasn’t satisfied with what our attorneys were telling him. He wanted to hear each one of us say “I drop all charges.”
“Wait a minute,” a white woman representing my partner shouted and pointed to me. “This man is the only one who has sustained injury, your honor. Those injuries are quite severe.” She was trying to explain to find a way to explain to the gay, blind judge that he couldn’t see the extent of my injuries, but he interrputed her.
“I understand you wish to drop the charges. Is that correct, Mr. Taylor?”
“Yes, sir!” I replied.
“Then you are all free to go.”There wasn’t a paper for us to sign. “You are free to go now,” my lawyer, Stephen Dean repeated to all of us. I turned to shake Mr. Dean’s hand and to thank him. None of the others standing before the judge who had court appointed lawyers took the time to shake the hand of their counsel – those men appointed by God to ensure justice is served. It was over.