In our neighborhood in November a teenager was fatally stabbed by another teen. It could have easily gone the other way, or the moment could have passed with just an exchange of harsh words. But a flash of anger/frustration/fear and one of them is dead and the other is left to live with that act. How did it get like this? How many years of discouragement about your chances to live a big life? How many times being humiliated?
How much meanness from grownups that is then batted back and forth amongst your peers? How much poisonous talk about each other’s people?
How much scarcity of resources — of housing you can afford, of work that matters, of schools that have the ability to pay attention to who you are? Where did we stint on kindness, on respect? What did it take to allow two young people to get so lost?
No parent alone can stop the onslaught that faces our children. No community is immune.
Nearby the neighborhood sits Wall Street, tinseled, but no less bleak.
We need to figure out how to stop this from happening to our children. A community, working together, just might be able to. But we’d have to mean it.
I don’t know how you do justice to a life that ends like that, but I can’t let it pass as just another line in the Police Blotter. I wrote this that night:
Cornflowers From the Police Blotter
I woke up thinking about cornflowers. They’re blue.
Do I got that right?
Nothing special. A weed? Blue.
* * *
Last night I held the head of an 18-year-old boy who lay on the street. Knife wound to the chest.
I hear screams and see people running.
I go to the spot they are running from and see a young man stretched out on the sidewalk.
Dozens of young people mill around, fearful. Some cry.
I cover him with my jacket and sit down at his head.
Another woman comes and keeps pressure on his wound.
His cousin sits down.
His eyes dart. He tries to sit up. We tell him to stay down.
I speak quietly, gently.
I want to build a quiet place for him to try to stay alive in. He listen intently.
I tell him: Your cousin is here and she loves you. I call him “sweetheart.”
I say: Stay still, help is coming. You are good. Everyone here loves you.
Don’t close your eyes.
Sirens. I hope it’s an ambulance.
His cousin is bent over him.
She cries. She tells him she loves him. She asks him not to leave. She is wonderful.
He can barely breathe. Sharp tiny hole in his chest.
Life escaping through such a tiny hole.
His eyes turn, searching. I keep my eyes on his.
I keep my voice kind and quiet. I talk. I wipe his forehead. I stroke his head.
We tell him to hold on.
His cousin finds his cell phone. Call his mother.
The ambulance comes after too long. Medic working madly. He knows this isn’t good.
He tells me to keep the boy’s head still. I do.
I talk to him: Help has come. You are fighting this well. You are good. You are a good, good young man. Your mom loves you. We all love you.
For this moment, I care for him with all my heart.
I try to say what his mother would say, do what she might do.
I want this boy to know how precious he is to her, to the world, to me.
But his eyes are fading.
They put a neck brace on him, put him on a board and take him away.
His cousin isn’t allowed to ride with him, but the police promise to take her to the hospital.
I collect my jacket from the ground.
Later that night, I call the police station, but they won’t tell me anything.
I understand. I check online.
When did he leave? Was it that moment when his eyes opened wide for a second? Surprised. Then that glazed look.
I can’t stop crying. I don’t want to.
He was so young.
He had such a sweet, young face.
* * *
His eyes were brown. Don’t know why I dreamed about cornflowers.
I’m thinking cornflowers are beautiful actually.
That pretty light blue.
Astonishingly beautiful, actually.
Precious beyond words.
K. WEBSTER is co-chairperson, M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park.