“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt had once said this glorious line. In 1932, that may have been the case. But now, here in the present day, we have many things to fear. So many terrifying, gut wrenching, blood spilling things to fear. I would know. Being who I am, and knowing where I came from and where I am now, I most certainly know all about the subject of fear. Fear has many forms, revealing itself to all ages and is ready to meet you around every corner.
I strode down the dingy sidewalk with a look of arrogance on my face. It was clear I meant business and was ready to fight anyone who dared to look at me “the wrong way”. As I passed the children playing on the sidewalk, I fought to hold my glare. I wanted to stop and play with them. One of the boys’ basketballs rolled in my direction, but I trudged on, ignoring it and the hurt look on the boy’s face as it rolled across the street and into a rottweiler’s awful jaws. When I passed the overly religious seniors of the neighborhood, I nodded my hello to them and they waved their Bibles in response, an unspoken reminder that ‘God’ is always with me. It was nearing sundown and the wonderful, light-blue sky was turning into a color palette of reds, pinks and oranges with slight accents of yellow.
As I was making my way through the park, I scanned my cold, deep brown eyes over the battered equipment. Swings hung by rusted chains to their frames and the slides were cracked, their bright colors completely bleached by years and years of sun exposure. Trash was strewn about the park and littered the road near by. As cars passed, candy wrappers and chip bags fluttered and spun around in the air like crazed butterflies. The sight was almost beautiful, yet saddening. I shook my head in pity for the little park. It had once been a great place for children of all ages. As a young boy, it was always a thrill to come to this place, to meet up with friends. We would pretend to be brave explorers, hopping over mountains of sand that taunted us with their height. When Jenny Wilcons came to join the adventures, she always managed to get herself kidnapped and we would have to save her from the awful jungle gym tower her captors locked her in.
A young mother and her three children scurried by, throwing the remains of Burger King kids meals on the ground. Watching them made me want to pick up their trash and shove it down their throats. It made me want to yell at them and force their eyes to see how they were destroying this place, to see that they not only were killing the environment, but killing the children that wished to play in the park without worry of stepping on glass or getting sick from one of the many syringes and needles that decorated the yellowing grass. Instead, I tapped the woman on her shoulder.
"You dropped something," I spat at her, letting her know that I was not at all impressed by her littering skills.
The woman spun around with a look of utter disgust and anger. I could even see a hint of fear in her dark-green eyes. She was mixed; her skin was the color of a caramel latte. Her thick hair was pulled into a tight bun on the back of her head and her nails were done like witch's claws; long and pointed with neon colors for all to see. Her kids stared at me with fright and I instantly started to regret my decision.
“Get the hell away from me! Who do you think you puttin’ ya hands on?” She yelled in a thick New York accent. The woman stood on her tip-toes and wagged a pointed index finger in my face while she threw a few choice racial slurs and attacked my mother’s honor. She was so close, I could smell her sour breath. It smelled of hard liquor and Newports. As she yelled, I stood there, trying my hardest not to raise a hand and smack her across the face. I wanted to yell back, tell her that I wasn’t the one at fault. Finally, she was through and continued on her way. I shook my head again and glared at the back of her head, mentally burning a hole through to her brain.
I was about to bend down and pick up the trash around the park when a sleek black car pulled up beside me. A few guys I recognized from the high school poked their heads out of the back seat windows. They all wore devious smiles, a few were missing their front teeth. I suspected that was probably a result of fighting and taking a couple kicks to the face. One of them waved a gun in the air and pretended to shoot me. It took all I had to keep from flinching. Fight, Flight or Freeze, that’s what my mother had taught me; the three f’s any human being will turn to when put in a dangerous situation. Of course, I froze and avoided looking directly at them, less I entice the guy with the gun to actually start firing at me. After a few short minutes, the guys had grown bored of me and accelerated on to terrorize other people. I was shaking and it took me a while to register that they had left. I felt as though I had to reteach myself how to walk; every step I took had almost landed me face first on the cracked sidewalk.
With hurried steps, I walked back down the same path I had taken to the park. I wanted to run, but I wasn’t going to allow people that satisfaction. “Hehe, look at big-bad Tyrell Davis. Running like a little girl to his mama,” they would taunt, unknowing as to how inaccurate their statements would have been. I could never go home. I could never face my mother or my younger sisters ever again. I knew they would accept me back into their lives, but would always fear me; I could never bring myself to bare the frightened looks on their innocent faces. I could never live with myself, knowing that they would lose peaceful sleep with me running loose in the house, threatening to snap at any moment. Ever since my life took a turn for the worse in Middleton Middle School, I have been forced to shuffle between homeless shelters and halfway houses.
My last class for the day was History and in the days prior, we had learned everything there was to learn about Franklin D. Roosevelt. That day, we were going to watch a documentary about him and his climb to presidency. “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” FDR, you truly were a brilliant man. I first heard Roosevelt’s famous speech on the same day I had tried my first and last drug. All in less than three hours. I was in eighth grade and it was nearing the end of the day. One of my friends got a couple of tiny white pills from his older brother’s room.
“Dude, I found these in my bro’s room!” He had texted me in all capital letters, accompanied by a blurry picture of them he had taken in one of the school’s bathrooms. My first thought was to text back, asking what they were, but then I thought otherwise. Obviously, he knew what they were and would probably expect me to know as well. I didn’t want to seem stupid so I shrugged it off and decided to text back with an unconvincing “cool.”
A few minutes into class I decided to meet my friend in the bathroom. There, we had a blast; popping the mysterious pills and seeing wonderful colors and shapes that weren’t there. It turned out, he hadn’t known what the pills were either and later on, as we were being question by the school’s security guard, we found out that we were taking ecstasy. The principal gave us a lengthy suspension and had the security guard escort us home to better inform our families. When I went home that day, my mother was waiting for me with a look of utter horror on her beautiful face. Wet trails left from hot tears led down her smooth cheeks to her chin. I could tell in that moment, she knew her beloved son was dead and replaced by a duplicate crafted by the devil.
“How could you?” She exclaimed, wagging a perfectly manicured index finger in my face. “How could you just throw my family to the dogs?”
At the time, I hadn’t known what she meant. My step father did things like that all the time. All. The. Time. I honestly couldn’t remember a single night when he didn’t come home drunk or high off his ass. I wanted to point this out to her, but I knew that before I could even get a chance to open my mouth, my mother would slap me with one of those wide palms of hers. I just stood there, waiting for this whole thing to be over so that I could go to bed, wake up, and move on with my life as though the events of that day never happened. She just kept yelling. At that point, I was scared- no, petrified of what might happen if I just stood there long enough. What if my stepfather came home and beat me for making my mother so angry? Then, I remembered he no longer lives with us. Before he was arrested, Cameron Armstrong always used to do that. Hell, he used to beat my sisters and I even if we didn’t do anything wrong. I remember waking up one morning, overhearing him say to my mother, “Joyce, I think today, I’ll give Tyrell one hell of a beating!” He said it with such enthusiasm, you could have swore he was an eager parent who just couldn’t wait to tell his beloved children he was taking them to the fair. I think he actually thought I looked forward to his abuse. Thank goodness, Joyce Shantell Davis was a woman who put her children before her relationship. When he said things like that, she would hussle into our rooms, pack a weeks worth of our clothing and rush my sisters and I into the car for a week at grandma Sammy’s house. But sometimes, we couldn’t just leave like that. Sometimes, Cameron would hide her keys and threaten to kill her if she tried to run. When, he gave our beatings, my mother would alway claw at his face and beat on the back of his head with her bonie fists. Once, she even stabbed him in the arm with a pair scissors. Her efforts would stop him, but not before we had a good amount of bruises. The night Joyce stabbed him with the scissors was the night he was arrested. He was screaming so loud, that the neighbors thought someone was being murdered. When the cops arrived, they told us they received ten calls from the same neighborhood talking about a murder in progress.
Still, her yelling hadn’t stopped. We weren’t really on the subject of me anymore; Now, she was reading directly from her Bible, trying to exorcise me of my demons. The book was a very old one. My mother used to tell us of all the countries that Bible had been too. “A family heirloom,” she would say. “This ratty thing was a gift from my great grandmother, who stole it from her slave owner.” She would say with affection, believing her own lies. I know that wasn’t true. My great great grandma was born a free woman, and an honest one at that; she never would have stolen from anyone, even someone who had done her wrong. To my relief, a knock at the door interrupted the exorcism of Tyrell Davis. With a grunt, my mother dropped the book and stormed off to jerk open the front door. Behind it stood the same police officer that arrested my stepfather. He nodded his hello to my mother, but held eye contact with me.
“Tyrell? We need to talk.” He said with a mask of sternness. “Your friend, he died…” As soon as the last word passed the officer’s lips, I stopped listening. Shortly after we were escorted home, my friend, Robert, killed himself out of fear of what his brother would do if he found out Robert had gone into his room. Now, thinking back, I completely understood why he offed himself before his brother did. Robert’s brother was in prison for killing their father and younger sister. The man was sentenced for life, but Robert was convinced his brother was a criminal master mind and would someday break himself out.
I left my home and never came back, convinced that my mother thought I would try to kill her as well. I know I hadn’t killed my friend, but I was young and scared. Now, Robert’s old home is a halfway home run by his mother. I’m a regular, purely because I feel responsible for what happened. To beg for her forgiveness, I cooked some of the houses meals and did other odd jobs for her, I knew she already forgave me, but I always told myself that I owed her at least that.
I should have stopped Rob, convinced him to think about what he was doing. Now his mother has to live on without him. Now, I hide every one of my emotions and hold back burning tears. Now, every morning and every evening she greets me with a warm smile and I can only do the same. I made my way to my room, trying not to cry. As I shut my bedroom door behind me, my throat started to get tight and my eyes fogged over. I curled into a ball, my hot tears finally falling and my feelings reveal themselves to no one. I am forced to remind myself that I am no longer a carefree child. I am an eighteen years-old boy who will never have that luxury again. I am Tyrell Davis and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words no longer apply to me.