Warning: This post may be offensive or upsetting to a person reading it. Please note this is an open thought piece and not an admission or a particular stance. If I offend you for some reason, I am sorry. Please don’t flame me. If you are concerned about the potential in this material, please discontinue reading.
Beating on “The Valley Bridge”
As a teenager, I had angst. It was the age-old unchanging story of how my friends and I had it really bad. We grew up in the Northeast Bronx sheltered from the rest of the world in the mini island of five sections of self-sustainment known as Co-op City. I have written many times about growing up in Co-op but there are few things I think are sticky that I’d like to bring back to the top of mind. Co-op was seemingly an experiment. It was built for the middle class of the time with the intent to create a new kind of sustainable community.
In quick reflection, I think it was a self-contained community that the world was not ready for. I don’t believe the world is ready for it yet and it is 50 years old. What is interesting about Co-op is what happened when you walked the fringe of it. It was hugged by highways that would take you north to New Rochelle or south to what we called “the city.” If you walked out of Co-op towards the west you might find yourself in the Bronx. Yes, the real Bronx.
On Friday nights, a bunch of us kids would go on the hunt to find each other and scare up some innocent fun or trouble. It would start with one or two of us calling each other and the hunt would commence to seek out the rest of the kids in the normal hang out areas. If they weren’t in one place, there was a good chance they would be in another. We would walk all over that place to find each other. Once we finally found enough of us to give up walking and settle down, we would either simply stay there and talk or play some kind of game or do something to quash the boredom.
Our group had about 7-10 girls who floated in and out depending on the timeline. We had a core of boys, the girls called us some fun names. We represented many cultures and ethnic backgrounds. We would hang out in the fall and winter on these large exhaust ports for the building laundry. The heat from the dryers came out from the port and we would sit on them and stay warm.
If we wanted to get some alcohol, it wasn’t too difficult. We would walk near the liquor store and get someone to buy it for us or take the treck to “The Valley.” The Valley was this place right on the edge of Co-op. We would have to cross a highway walkover bridge to get there. It was a predominately black and Hispanic neighborhood that mattered as we understood the rules changed when you walked over that bridge.
One day, we were walking over the bridge to go get some “Old Gold” and cigarettes. The Bodega on the other side of the bridge had a revolving window on the outside. As long as the money went in, stuff came out and no one inside cared about how old anyone was. There were some rules for walking over the bridge. First, we couldn’t look at anyone else crossing. If we did, it might mean trouble. Second, no one could go alone. Third, if something happened and you had to run, go towards Co-op. We followed the rules and most of the time, made it there and back with no problem.
On this day, as we crossed the bridge, there were about 6-8 older boys coming in the other direction. They were from the other side of the bridge. I can’t remember which one of us looked up but one of us did. We caught the eye of one of the boys. We got a few feet past them and he turned and said: “Ohhhh, shit, this kid just stepped on my Adidas and left a mark.” We kept walking as to ignore but he started yelling out that we needed to come back there and wipe off his sneaker. Naturally, we weren’t going to do that. We were halfway over the bridge and if we started to run, we would be breaking the rule because we had to run in a more dangerous direction. We didn’t have time to think about it though as they ran to us and surrounded us. I think there were only three of us but the words turned into some real intent to humiliate us. I can’t remember which kid started throwing fists first but there were a lot of fists flying on the bridge. They were bigger, stronger and there were more of them. They made quick work of us and we found ourselves pretty beaten up. It was a clean and clear beating. No one had guns or knives, just fists but it hurt physically and mentally. It wasn’t the only time we would tangle with kids from there but it was one of the more clearly memorable. I remember the “clean my shoe” aspect the most. It was degrading.
As tough as this was, it was an event and it hurt but it wasn’t recorded other than in my brain. Could you imagine if this happened today and it was caught on camera? Would those boys be publically tried and convicted forever? Would I have been in trouble because I chose to walk over there? I am not defending those kids at all but I would take a beating over a recording any day.
Sorry NOT Sorry but I am Sorry
I have a long list of about eighteen kid years of Co-op City. Most of them aren’t bad, we just wanted out of there but we didn’t know what was on the outside. It sounds like it was a sheltered life and it was. The news reported the broken Bronx. Mayor Ed Koch and later David Dinkens would be seen dealing with poverty and burning buildings.
In Co-op, we didn’t physically see this until the late 1980s where things shifted and violence increased. The bulk of my life in this community was more about how the adults living in Co-op wanted a peaceful life. I knew people from the holocaust, tough neighborhoods all over the city and of great diversity. I was raised to look at everyone in the same way. I never heard slurs growing up in my apartment. It was only later as I went from early teens to my young adulthood that would I see and learn about hate. I am torn now as to whether I would prefer to be as blind as I was or fully knowledgable about the hate. I had started to learn about it from Lewis Farrakhan’s philosophies being further distorted by 5 percenters which I have written about before. Even though this was in my life as noise, most of my friends were all different. We made fun of each other, laughed, cried and drank. We held our 40-ounce bottles up to the sky and cried about how tough life was and how we wanted to get the hell out of Co-op. Thing is, we could at that time pretty much say anything to each other.
It was open to speak and we had a lot of learning and things to say. We didn’t apologize for how we felt or our perspective. There were many times, that I was the only white kid in a discussion. I never held back my thoughts and I never apologized. I didn’t because we were learning and sharing. We were growing. Today some of the same people I loved and had open conversations with are close-minded and even bold enough to express that I wouldn’t have the capacity to understand their situation in life. The same kids that were on the same side of the beating as I was, tell me that I can’t understand what it is to be in their shoes. We are now shamed into a quiet place. I don’t openly talk about politics, religion, my world view or perspective. I am not sorry for my perspective and I am not sorry for my experience. The machine that we have built which is now social is truly a trial by the public. We can’t say or do anything without the record being engrained in a hard disk on some social server forever.
We are expected to apologize for the things people did well before our time. We are expected to apologize for the things we did as children. We are expected to apologize for the mistakes we make without forgiveness. We have the requirement for perpetual apologies but no avenue for forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we can’t move forward and grow. I can memorialize my beatings from the kids that picked on me or hit me for one reason or another. I can reflect on how it felt and how it changed my behavior. I can blame them and talk about how they used excuses to be violent. I can do all those things but at the end of the day, I can forgive them. I don’t have the images to share with you but I do have the scars and shared memories from those who were there. Those same people have seemingly forgotten that we were there together. Those same people want an apology from me because of their perception of how I got to where I am.
We need some Change
I respect the history of people.
I respect experience.
I respect culture.
I respect choice.
That is where I think we need to end it. We are in a skewed age of “ism.” We have so many “ism’s” we are out of control. We should celebrate our differences and celebrate our culture(s) and our history but we need to celebrate our commonality and our humanity as well.
My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving and I am sure someone will seek to destroy it but for now, I still have it. I enjoy it because at least in my world, it is free from religion, politics, and isolation. I wish there were more holidays where could celebrate life and each other. We need an “enjoy the day” day. Maybe we need a holiday for closing out our apologies and moving towards forgiveness. Pick a Monday or Tuesday and find someone to apologize for all the people that did all the bad things before us and on Wednesday we hug, cry and laugh. On Thursday we are quiet and humbled by our emotions and on Friday we forgive. On that day, we close it out and move forward. Saturday and Sunday we rest and the next Monday we move forward with love in our hearts and a clean pallet, a fresh start and a new us.
Just a thought.
What do you think? I’d like to know.