Help And Protect
Jermaine saw Gwendolyn in the hall way and quickly ducked back into the classroom he had come out of. He had not seen her since the night that he had gone with Rafael to her house. He wanted to keep it that way. He did not condone what Raf had done, it was the opposite. He was embarrassed that he had been one of the guys helping Rafael break down her door. He never wanted to hit a woman. He had watched his mother being beaten by his father for most of his childhood. That was until he got caught in a gang shooting and got sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Watching Gwendolyn beat the crap out of Rafael was cathartic to him. He felt as though he was watching his mother stand up for herself. But he was part of Rafael’s gang so he had to help and protect Rafael and the others. He had only joined the gang for protection. Once his father was locked up, he and his mother felt vulnerable. In their neighborhood you were either affiliated with one gang or another. There was no other option. After a break in by one of the rival gangs, Jermaine decided he needed to protect his family the only way he could and joined. It had been hard. It was a blood in blood out gang. There was plenty of his blood spilled on his way in. He had actually almost died. So he did not want to know how much blood they would spill if he tried to leave.
Leaving The Gang
But leaving that gang was all he could think about. He had learned early that his immature decisions often came back to bite him in the butt. His mother hated that he had joined. She had wanted a better life for him. She had even been saving up whatever money she could to send him to New York to live with her sister. Jermaine knew that disappearing would be the only true way out of the gang.
He thought about all this as he stood in what he thought was an empty classroom. He hit his hand against the wall, cursing his younger self for getting him into this mess.
“Tough day?” a voice from behind asked, startling him.
He turned to see Mrs. Wiles looking up from her desk. Papers were all over it in huge piles.
“Uhh… yeah. You know…” he stuttered. He did not know what to say.
“So who are you avoiding?” she asked with her eyebrows raised. He gave her a confused look.
“Oh come on, students in this school avoid me like the plague. If you are hiding out in here, there is probably a good story behind who you are hiding from,” she said with a kind smile.
“No good story,” he said quickly. “I just don’t want to deal today.”
Mrs. Wiles surveyed him, seeing the orange bandana that was tied around his belt loop. She knew it was his gang colors. And he looked down at it ashamed. He could not imagine what she thought of him. It was probably not better than he was feeling about himself. He tugged at it self-consciously. He wanted to rip it off and throw it in the trash but he knew he could not. And for the thousandth time he resisted that urge.
The Offer, Again
“Jermaine, is there something I can help you with?” she asked nodding towards the bandana.
He sighed and shook his head. “Ain’t no helping me. What’s done is done,” he replied. Mrs. Wiles looked at him thoughtfully. Then spoke.
“Jermaine, have I ever told you about a student of mine named Carlos Jimenez?” she asked. He shook his head.
“Well he was in my class about 2 years ago. He was extremely bright and even though he struggled in my class, he always worked hard. And he was very good at math. Unfortunately, he was in a gang and they wouldn’t let him leave. He wanted to get out of this neighborhood, which I am sure you understand. But his mother couldn’t afford to move. But she had a brother in Texas, in a pretty good neighborhood that offered to take him. There was a good school nearby but to get in, he had to have a really good GPA and some letters of recommendation from his teachers. I worked with him to get his grades up and we got him in. He moved there last year and he even joined the soccer team,” she explained.
Jermaine listened intently. He wanted a life like that, a story like that but he was too cynical to hope. “What’s that got to do with me?” he asked.
She smiled at him. “Well, if you would like, we could work together to see if maybe you could get a fresh start somewhere.” As soon as she said that the door burst open and one of the other boys from his gang was standing there.
“Jermaine, why you hiding? Let’s go!” he said. Jermaine looked back at Mrs. Wiles. She nodded as if to say, I’m here to help when you are ready.
Without a word, he walked out. The rest of the day, he thought about the story. When he got home, he found his mother sitting at the table counting money she had saved up in a coffee can. He sat down across from her and opened his mouth to tell her what Mrs. Wiles had said.
Be sure to subscribe and receive an email update when Alexis Ali posts the last installment in this short-story series. Missed the other installments? Catch up the Lori’s as well as Gwendolyn’s story. Find out next week whether Jermaine left the gang and how you might handle the challenges of your situations.