Catching up with Kin and our Past

It’s strange how fate works and particularly it seems when you put temptation in its way. My twin, living as I told you in Worthing, has been unwell these past few weeks. We’d grown apart, separated by distance as well as divided by our chosen paths in life.

They say blood is thicker than water and sometimes these old sayings have more than an atom of truth. When summoned by his wife to pay a visit in case the worst should happen, how could I refuse? How could I resist the pleas of my sister-in-law when I know in my heart that my brother would be there for me were the tables turned? So with a heavy heart I left for Sussex, what they call Sunny Worthing.

I hadn’t intended to write about my twin in this blog since our lives are so different, but since the cards have been drawn I’ll tell you he was Christened Edmundo, though now he’s known as Ed as a more Anglo-Saxan version of his given name. To me though he’ll only ever be known as Edmundo. He’s a builder of course as I mentioned in an earlier blog, but currently he’s become more of a painter and decorator since the work became too heavy for his frail frame. He even set up his own business, called Worthing Painters and Decorators – so you can see originality and profound thought had never been one of his blessings!

Frail was how I found Edmundo when I arrived in the seaside town of Worthing. It’s not a place I’d visited before but pleasant enough with its sea front and Victorian pier. They say it was once a place to recuperate from tuberculosis and take the sea air but my twin looked as though he could do with more of a tonic than Worthing could offer.  He looked drawn, thin and wan though the doctors had been unable to determine what was wrong. Sometimes I think the tests they put you through at times like these are enough to make you feel bad and fear the worst. Certainly Edmundo was demoralised, though he was pleased enough to see his twin arrive unexpectedly.

I stayed two weeks and was pleased to see my brother improve during that time. We walked along the beach, threw stones in the sea and talked about our upbringing in the poorest areas and the gang life that surrounded us. Although he long ago moved away from such things, Edmundo seemed to need to talk about his early life and who else could share such conversation but me?  Perhaps he had guilt about the things we did as youngsters, though we were certainly no worse than others in our town.

We prayed together and our closeness once more seemed to make him grow stronger as our bond grew back. I suppose twins never lose that special attachment that can only come between those who shared a womb. In any case, I follow his progress and it’s been positive since my visit, which I was glad to hear. His painting and decorating is picking up and maybe he’ll even go back to building once his strength properly returns. After all, it’s in our blood to be builders.

And that visit made me think about my own life and where I go next. That’s a subject for another day but one thing is for sure – my family will al.ways be a big part of my journey



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From Fact to Fiction

It’s one thing to write a blog about my beginnings and our life but quite another to write a book of fiction. One based on our kind, one tinged with the background of violence yet showing the human side of our existence. For there is a lot of kindness and compassion in the way we live that might not be apparent to the casual observer.

With the practice of the blog behind me, it seemed worthwhile to attempt a novel. Not something that will ever compete with Dickens or stand out as a literary achievement, I’m sure, but nonetheless something worth reading. For who knows about growing up in our regions better than one who has done it, lived it and survived to tell the tale?

And unlikely though it might seem, just maybe it could bring a little extra money into our lives. With 4 children we could certainly use more income. The only alternative in these parts involves drugs. That’s something that might have been an option years ago before we had kids, but age and offspring have brought some sense of responsibility so the pen it is.

Our story, looking back over our youth and the places we knew, needs to be told, but truth is not always the best way. Wrapping it into a story, making it interesting and something the kids want to read may just preserve some of the memories without tainting our own reputations still further. For all our sins and ways, most of us try to do better as we grow older and take on responsibilities so I confide only in my blog and the book will sound like a work of fiction.

It’s not for my sake but for the next generation, who are doing better at school and could make something for themselves away from the poverty we know so well. Who wouldn’t want to provide better and see them move to a different world where it pays to dream?

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From Old to New

It’s strange to look back on my life in those times. It still haunts me, the violence, the gangs and the very way of life. And even stranger to realise how my brother and I turned out to be so completely different. In many ways I continued on the same path, whilst my twin changed his life so radically that he became a builder in Worthing. Didn’t turn out to be a millionaire or the top of the pile, but he lives the kind of respectable existence that has always been alien to me. I even paid for him to visit and stay for weeks so he could build an extension on my house and we could catch up on old times and reacquaint ourselves.

Not that I’ve moved that far away, either in distance or in lifestyle. Although my family is away from the worst of my upbringing, you can still feel the latent undertone of violence in the air around here. Whereas my twin shunned that life for one of a more genteel variety. He married a girl from outside our world, one who had a middle-class upbringing, attended a private school and has an elegance about her. Whilst I married Marietta, a local girl from our school, a childhood sweetheart if you will. Clever, brave, loyal and beautiful, but she could never be described as elegant.  My brother has a perfect family, one girl, one boy, beautifully mannered and high achievers at school. Marietta gave birth to five children, one of whom died shortly after birth due to the poor care given to our type. But we have 3 sons and a wayward daughter who love their parents and know from whence they come.

I couldn’t be happier, despite our lack of luxuries and treats that my brother’s family takes for granted. Our pleasures are simpler out of necessity but we have fun and lots of good friends who make living in this area so worthwhile. Our favourite entertainment is an outdoor party, roasting a pig over a pit, singing and dancing with more than a little beer in our bellies. We’re not the sort to drink wine, nor could we afford it, but we’re very happy with our lot and despite the reputation of our town, there’s nowhere we’d rather live.

Now I think perhaps I might move to a new chapter in my life

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Less than Lethal

As we walked our way down the path thoughts were running through my head abut how we were going to handle the situation as planned. Who was going to attack who, and how far we were going to go. When we reached the halfway mark on the path, we reeled around on our feet and squared off against the two. The need to stay tough and intimidating in this situation is important, for them, because now they were outnumbered by a group they thought were afraid of them. The tried to keep the mean mug on their face, but the smallest edges of surprise gave away how they thought this walk was going to go down.

We charged before they had the chance to react with enough clear thought. They obviously hadn’t planned out this walk the way that we did. Within the first few strikes, they were curled up in balls on the ground. As the three of us attacked head, body and back to head. The one violent vote stretched out the arm of the shooter, and nodded to me. This was where I should have brought my foot down on it, but I hesitated. To my surprise the non violent vote was the one to do the action without thinking twice. The sound that resulted let us know that it worked on the first try.

I kneeled down between the two of them, and told them that we had the opportunity to get revenge, we could have killed them if we wanted to, stamped them out in some random back alley, and that would be the end of their street, but we weren’t going to. One life was lost, and that was already too much. We gathered up our bags and sweaters, and walked home, leaving the two on the ground in crumped heaps to tend to their wounds. We felt big, we felt like we sent a message, and mostly I felt relieved that it didn’t have to go any further than that, cause when it came right down to it, I don’t know if I had it in me to take a life, especially if mine wasn’t in any form of real danger in that moment.

The movie ending of this story would play out a lot different, things would escalate, or I would wind up in jail, or my friends would die due to gang violence and not giving up the lifestyle, but that’s not how it played out. We finished our school years with much the same issues as it went previously, minus the one shooting of course, and then I enrolled in community college. My other two friends moved out of the city when they could. I still visit my parents, on the same street, and I see the spot where I lost a comrade growing up, but I feel no attachment. I feel pity for the three kids I see standing on the corner, knowing exactly what’s going through their minds.

But now we’re adults and my story continues

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Into the Rabbit Hole

I wish this was the point in the story where I could tell you that I turned my life around, and changed everything for the better, but it’s not, it’s where I got worse. You see, by a few days later, everyone in the neighborhood knew what had happened, who had did it and who they did it to, and if we didn’t do something about it then our fates were sealed. Everyone would know that Dos Fatales was an easy mark. I hated the situation, because I didn’t want to do anything about it. I wanted to forget it happened, be glad it didn’t happen to me, and be one of the kids that would sit in the cafeteria all lunch trying to be unnoticed. But I still had my walk home from school, and I would be an even bigger target than before.

When our group stood in the halls, or out in the yard at school, we could sense the other groups watching us, gauging whether or not we were going to be weak, or strong. And waiting for the opportunity to be first in line to take advantage if we proved to be the former. We mad many discussions that day, whether we were going to retaliate, what we should do and with three against two now, how we could come out on top in a way that would keep them from just coming back again later with that gun. That one gun counted as an easy dozen of us, but without being able to get a hold of it, we had no chance of coming out on top if we weren’t willing to meet them on the same terms they would come to us.

We had one vote for jumping them and breaking a few fingers to teach a lesson, and we had another for leaving the situation completely and trying our best to survive the school year. My vote was the tie breaking vote, which made me hate the situation even more, but all I could think of was what the remainder of our year would be like, how much more pain we would have to endure, and not just emotional, but the physical pain that everyone would inflict on us because they knew they could get away with it. My choice to stay quiet didn’t earn me any points, it simply kept me from going into the red.

On the walk home, we had two groups following us this time. The usual block over crew, and the two from the event days before. That same look was on their face, but I noticed a small difference, a little less confidence, which made me think that this time they didn’t have the sure fire means of victory in the form of a firearm. As we rounded the corner to a walking path that cut between the back yards of two streets of houses, the two followed us, just as I hoped they would.

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The Bell Tolls

Even though we were raised in a pretty rundown and gang ridden section of the city, I had never seen a gun up close, and certainly hadn’t heard one go off, minus of course ones way in the distance that could be mistaken for anything. But as I stood there, the realization of the severity of the situation dawning on me, I forgot about all sense of group loyalty and started running home. Just a direct bee line, thinking that if only I could make it to the door, I would be completely fine. As I ran the few hundred feet, I heard a series of popping sounds, and at one point, the cement near my feet jumped up at me. I didn’t slow down, or change my direction, I just ran at my house.

When I got inside and slammed the door behind me, I leaned back at the door and started panting harder than I ever had in my life. My heart was racing, I could feel sweat building up on my face and body, and was shaking uncontrollably. Neither of my parents were home at the time, so thankfully they didn’t have to see me in this state. I  reached behind me and locked the door, like the fastener was going to be bulletproof. I kneeled down and put my ear against the door, listening intently, dreading hearing footsteps coming up our meager driveway. But all was silent at the moment, before screams started to break out.

I ran from the door to the living room window, and pushed aside our cheap pull down blinds, and saw the source. The mother of one of the kids in my group, stumbling in the street, arms splayed out like she was trying to crowd control a crowd that wasn’t there, and about fifty yards ahead of her, her son, laying in the street like he was taking a nap at the most inopportune time. I watched without blinking, trying to force my eyes to be able to see whether or not he was breathing, looking for signs of blood, wanting to believe he tripped in his scramble and somehow knocked himself out.

I can’t recall if I blinked before the police arrived, or when they draped the sheet over his body in the middle of the road. When my parents came home they sat at the end of the driveway, arms crossed, watching the scene unfold. They sat in that exact fashion when the police arrived and started questioning me about whether or not I had seen anything. But how could I? I was in the house all night, I heard some noises and watched from the window long after it was all done and over with. I knew nobody believed me, but I knew my fate would be much worse if I had chosen to say anything else. So I stuck to my story, and within hours the police, ambulance, and everyone was gone, save for that boys mother, kneeling on her lawn with her family around trying to console her.

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After the Bell

This togetherness while in school needed to be extended beyond the borders. Most of the kids I knew didn’t take the bus, because it would be a closed space where you could easily get surrounded, so many of us resorted to walking. If you didn’t walk with your group though, you were a lone gazelle limping along the plains and waiting to be mauled by countless predators. Fortunately, with your set being from your street, you were all going in the same direction. There would be many times that my group, and the group no the next street would walk across the street from each other for blocks, lobbing glares and insults until we finally branched off.

Living on a longer street gave you benefit, as it meant there was more kids along that route, and with numbers came power. After your group was cohesive enough after the first few years of school together, you would wind up naming your crew, typically in some form of connection to your street. We lived on Dos Santos, which means the two saints, though using the word saint doesn’t really invoke fear into the hearts of your enemies, so one of my crew suggested we use Dos Fatales, or two fatalities, with a twist on the actual translation of course. It seemed hard, and was as close as we could get to saying we were people to be feared without being too blatant.

So my group of four went around acting tough, trying to puff up our chests and be bigger than we were, like pufferfish in the ocean. While other groups in the area would do the same. Eventually hanging out at school and walking home together, became hanging out on the corner of our street and another, trying to claim that area as ours. This of course led to some scuffles with groups that took it as disrespect, which it was meant to be, and others just didn’t have the numbers to do anything about it. We weren’t quite into gang territory yet, but we were younger and more idealistic. I mean that in the sense that, we had an ideal that everyone else, and ourselves could argue, fight, stare at one another, but that was the farthest that it would get.

One evening while standing out on the corner we claimed, one that was on the corner of our street of four and a small side street of two, those two began to walk towards us. This wasn’t too uncommon, but we were already inflated with the sense of self that knew we were going to kick their butts and send them back over the street line. We started lobbing our advanced artillery right away, threats, calling them every name in the book, and a myriad of other insults against their families because we were young stupid kids. As they stepped closer, they remained silent, a look of determination in their eyes, one that was common, yet had a different edge to it. I realized why when one of them pulled out a gun.

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The Fatal

childAllow me to take you back in time a little bit, to a young kid wandering the streets of a neighborhood that you’d probably roll up your windows and lock your doors as you drove through. This was the area I called home, and though there’s not that many good memories of that place, it’s where I came up, where I learned the lessons that shaped me today, and where I made most of the worst decisions in my life. You see, in this area, we didn’t spend our time thinking of where we were going to go to college, or what we were going to do as careers, it was a constant thought of how we were going to get through the day, and how we were going to take care of ourselves in the moment.

School was a place for everyone to gather, group up and try to intimidate the other groups who were doing the same to us. What block you lived on typically represented how many people were in your crew, and those on a block with more people their relative age had the fortune of having bigger crews. There was a spot two streets over from mine where there was seven kids  on the strip, my street had four. So you either grouped with another street of kids, or you stuck to low numbers and tried to be harder than everyone else.

Fights on the school yard weren’t over trivial things like someone said something, it was usually retaliatory for someone in your group getting jumped by another group. We didn’t just circle each other taunting and then throwing a punch or two, let’s just say that the ambulances knew pretty direct routed to our school yard. Across the halls you would see group after group with little mingling in between, and you formed a close bond with those within your group, even if you didn’t like them that much. They were part of the set you represented, and therefore were people you needed to worry about, if you wanted them to return the favor.

            Being stuck on a street with a bunch of scrawny and timid kids was usually the worst situation to be in, the others wouldn’t represent you, they would hide out in the gym or cafeteria at all times, and try to stay out of everyone’s way. These stragglers of people left on their own would usually jump to joining a bigger street, yet this wasn’t always met warmly. Some kids needed to be jumped into their groups, others had to jump someone else to gain cred. The teachers and other members of the school knew about all this of course, but they also knew that trying to get into the middle of it would just turn everyone’s negative attention towards them, and that was something above their pay grade, can’t say I blame them, I would have given up on us to. Just try to educate, and then get the hell out when the bell rang.