I am eighteen years old, so young to have gone through so much.
The good nurse peeks her head into my room and tells me it’s time to feed my baby. I die inside—again. Reliving the pain. Not just the hell pain of giving birth, but the terrible pain of the vast hurting and emptiness that clutches at my internal organs. The pain that keeps reminding me—I’ll never see him again.
They bring my tiny infant son in and place him in front of me. As if in a dream, I bring the bottle of formula to his little mouth that opens like it’s a small coin—a dime. I have to force myself to look at his face because he looks just like him. While feeding, the bad nurse comes in again with her paperwork and sternly tells me that I am taking the baby home tomorrow and I must give my little son a name. She has already been in twice before to put his name into the books. To add him to all the other infants that were born yesterday and now will go home with their mothers. Go home—to what?
I look up at her and tell her again what I told her before: my baby has no name.
Then I become hysterical and yell at her to leave. I am a prisoner of my memories of him.
I first saw him at a house party. I asked about him and found out he rolled with the Central Avenue Boys—The Cabs. I hated gang-bangers. They were always truer to their flags than their girls and never knew how to express any emotion but anger. If you found one that was halfway cool like my girl Sonia did, by the time you got into a serious relationship, he was either shot dead or doing life for homicide.
But I noticed a fleeting tenderness in this guy’s eyes when I got up close to him. A look that he tried to hide by playing the role he was handed from birth—acting hard, thuggish and down with it. It was as though he really didn’t go for all the shooting, killing and fighting that the Cabs do, but did it because all the other nineteen year old alpha males in the city had to. Your gang was your family—your family was your gang. If he wasn’t down, he would be labeled a soft punk and that was a fate worse than death.
No, he was different.
I finally got him to notice me and he asked me to dance. I looked around and saw a lot of the other girls checking him out. He was really cute and smelled real nice. He asked my name and then stayed silent for the rest of the dance. At the end, I whispered my name again in his ear.
I came home real late and got into an argument with my mother. So what if it was five in the morning when I got home, all the other girls I know can stay out.
I found out there was another party he would be at on the west side. I bought a new outfit and fixed my hair a little extra special. Mom gave me a hard time, but I promised I’d be back earlier. When I got to the set, I scanned the room for him. I didn’t see him and I panicked. Guys paid a lot of attention to me and complimented me on how fine I was. I danced a few times, but my heart wasn’t in it. The reason I was there was just for him.
My heart leaped when I saw him walk in with his crew. They all wore the same colors, and had this pseudo bravado. There was an air of swaggering tragedy about them. We caught each other’s eye and he came right over to me and called me by my name. He remembered.
I’m in love, but I try not to get stupid and fawn all over him because I know he’s used to having his way with girls. The best way to make an impression is to show that you have a mind as well as a figure, so I talk to him about Shakespeare. He doesn’t surprise me when he knows about the plays and famous lines—I knew he was different.
We talked through the night and after the party, he walked me home. Before I went inside, I gave him my home phone number because I didn’t have a cell phone. He promised to call me the next day.
The day after, I was walking on air and waited impatiently for him to call. He didn’t. Or the next day, or the next. I did my best to not think about him anymore and kept myself busy with this thing and that. But a week later, on Sunday afternoon, the phone rang. It was him.
He gave me a vague apology for not calling sooner and tells me to meet him at the entrance of Lincoln Park in an hour.
I got there before he did, so I waited in front of the park. It was warm and sunny and I felt real tingly inside; anticipating his arrival.
He came up behind me, put his arms around my waist and kissed me lightly on the neck. I froze because I didn’t like him being so bold and thinking I was like the other shorties he was used to. I pulled away and told him to chill. Before he could say anything, I grabbed his hand and led him into the park.
We spent the day in a bubble—away from our separate realities. Away from the Cabs, my dysfunctional home life and all the other stresses that we both were going through. Away from his crew, he seemed to let his guard down a little; he smiled and laughed a lot more. He talked about his two older brothers who were doing time in the pen. And he talked about how he lost his father when he was four years old.
I was really feeling him, and when he kissed me, yo, it was over. I had to make him mine.
Later that evening, we stopped at Dairy Queen for some ice cream. At the counter, his cell phone went off and when he saw the ID, he told me he had to take the call. He listened, then told the person he’d be right there, and left me holding a dripping vanilla cone.
A few days later he called and asked me to come over his place the next day—a Saturday. He said he’d meet me at the train station at 2 o’clock. I agreed. After I hung up, I thought about all the possibilities and rationalized that he probably wanted me to meet his people. After all, we’re talking 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
I guess I was naïve. When we got to his house, it was empty. He said everyone had errands to run and gone out.
I felt uncomfortable and when we sat on his couch, I folded my arms and crossed my legs. He asked if I wanted some beer or soda. I told him no thanks. He tried putting his arm around me, but I moved away from him to the other side. I wanted to know him better, and asked him about the Cabs—why he joined; would he ever leave?
He told me his father and older brothers were bangers and he just naturally followed them in. He said he would never leave the gang, because it had been his life since he was a young boy. He didn’t like how everything was turning out; how there was so much hatred and mistrust among all the gangs and how so many kids were getting killed on the streets. He told me he had gone to thirteen funerals already this year, and how they had to take turns standing guard so rival gangs couldn’t shoot up the casket. He said he wished the gangs could all come together and see about having some kind of truce.
There were tears in his eyes when he told me how his best friend died in his arms when he was shot on a downtown bus. He tried to sound brave, but by the look on his face, I knew he knew he could be next. He was in so much pain and I saw that he really needed someone to love.
So when he kissed me and led me to his room, I gave him all the love he wanted, and he gave me all the love I never had.
We saw each other every day after that day. He was spending more time with me than his homies and things were getting tense because of it. He told me he loved me and I was his special girl. He even gave up his gun for me. His boys told him he was crazy walking around without protection, but he never carried it when he was with me.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was scared to tell him. I waited a week before I got the courage. We were in Lincoln Park, sitting on a bench near the lake. I thought he would scream and curse, but he was happy. He said he wanted to get married.
We went home and told my mother that we wanted to get married. She said I was eighteen and didn’t need her consent. She said she hoped I’d be happy and we both started crying.
We got married at City Hall and I moved in with his family. We were happy.
Yesterday, the day my child was born, my husband caught a bullet in a drive-by on the way to see his new son. He died in this same hospital. Before they took his body away, I pleaded with them to let me spend five minutes alone with him. As I held his chillingly cold hand, I told him that he was the father of a beautiful baby boy and I would never stop loving him. It was so hard for me to let his hand go, but they made me. But before I did, I kissed his lips and made a promise to him.
Your son will have no name. He won’t be called Cab, or Crip, or Blood. He won’t be called Disciple, or King, or Cobra. Nobody will call him spick, or nigger, or chink or wop.
By me not naming him, no one on Earth will be able to put any label on him. Our son will break the cycle.
He will be free.
Rob Batista grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. In 1992 he founded Word Is Bond Press and began writing and publishing positive, uplifting stories for young adults. His books ‘The City Game’, ‘Street Angel’, and ‘Brooklyn Story’ have a powerful message of self-determination and non-violence and is now required reading in schools throughout the country. He is currently editing his new novel, ‘Imagination High’.