“Donald Haskill, get yo lazy butt up and get ready for school! Don-Don, you heard me, get yo raggedy, nappy-head butt up!”
“I’m up, I’m up. Quit hollering like a fool!” Don answered grumpily.
“No you ain’t, yo lazy butt! Don’t make me come up there and throw some cold water on yo funky butt!”
Ignoring his sister’s last remark, he asked, “Ay, girl, is Momma gone?”
“Boy, yeah. Momma been gone since six o’clock this morning. She waited for you to come in till one o’clock last night. She said to tell you to start bringing yo butt in this house at a decent hour. Just because she be spending time over her boyfriend house, she said to let you know that you only seventeen and you better start coming in this doggone house at a decent time on school nights.”
Don cut her off. “Did she leave me some money?”
His sister left the bathroom and climbed the few stairs to Don’s bedroom door, opened the door wide, and leaned on the door jamb.
She gloated, “She left me some money, but she didn’t leave you any. She would have, but you weren’t here. She said that she would have had to stop at the cash station and get some out and she wasn’t going to go through all of that trouble for you and you weren’t even here. If you stopped hanging out in the streets with them no-good friends of yours and got you a little part-time job or something after school then you wouldn’t have to wait on Momma to give you money all the time. I got to get ready for school. Something you should be concerning yourself about.”
As Rhonda retreated to finish preparing to leave, Don chuckled at his sister’s short speech. He loved Rhonda and he knew that she loved him, but she seemed to hate all of his friends and told him so at every available opportunity. She was nineteen, two years his senior, but she thought she was thirty. Because their mother worked long, hard hours as a Chicago policewoman, attended college, and still tried to have some semblance of a love life, Rhonda stepped up to play the role of surrogate mother to the hilt. He had to admit, she did manage to take pretty good care of home base with his mother being gone so much. She even looked like their mother, especially when she was fussing at him.
Don couldn’t remember much of his father, outside of his death, but his aunts and uncles claimed that he was the spitting image of the man. Whenever the subject of his old man arose his mother became tight-lipped. From what information he had been able to piece together about his father, his story was the same as too many Black men in America. Systematically raped and dehumanized by the unholy caste system in America, his father turned to the bottle. After four years of diligent service in the army, then as a glorified janitor at city hall, he grew tired of being overlooked for promotions. He thought no one at work noticed his deepening depression. The last day of his life he appeared to be happier than he had been in years. He whistled a cheery tune all day as he completed his daily tasks. When his coworkers noticed his obvious attitude adjustment and questioned him about the change, his only reply was a smile that seemed to signify that he had a secret—a secret that tickled him pink. At quitting time he cheerfully bid everyone farewell. At home he ate the dinner his wife had thoughtfully prepared in between her job as a loss-prevention specialist at Marshall Field’s downtown on State Street and her classes at Kennedy King Junior College. He drank two beers as he watched the evening news and then he took his .38 caliber handgun out of the closet, climbed to the roof of their apartment building, sat on a milk crate placed against the brick chimney, and ate a bullet.
On the roof, with a large portion of his head missing, is where Don-Don found his father. He had done his best to make several airplanes from notebook paper and took them to the roof to launch them with his dad. His four-year-old mind couldn’t contemplate the blood and brain matter splattered on the bricks behind his dad, so he shook his father’s shoulder to tell him to get up and help him fly his airplanes. His father’s lifeless body sprawled forward and pinned Don to the rooftop. As blood and goo oozed from his father’s mouth and head onto Don’s face, he began screaming, and when help finally came, that was how they found them.
At first Don’s mother didn’t think she could live without his father. After all, he was her first love and the father of both of her children. When she first found out that she was pregnant with Rhonda, she thought that he would back out on her, but he married her and put his dream of becoming a musician on hold. Instead he did the honorable thing and went off to join the army to support his family. On one of his home passes he planted Donald in his wife, when Rhonda was eighteen months old. During his years in the service he appeared to be reasonably faithful and after his honorable discharge he returned home and got a job. For a while he tried to hang out with his musician buddies, but their drug abuse, womanizing ways, and general lack of responsibility made him, a faithfully married, employed father of two, a stranger among them.
After her husband’s suicide, it almost made Hazel want to take her own life, just knowing that the man she loved with all her heart was going through enough mental anguish to make him take his own life, but he hadn’t confided in her. The thought of their two kids allowed her to draw from the reserve strength all Black mothers seem to have to continue on with her life. Using the money from her husband’s meager life-insurance policy, she purchased a small house in Chicago’s West Woodlawn area, at the time a middle-working-class neighborhood, and an old jalopy to get back and forth to her job. A few years later she took the city policeman’s test and passed it with flying colors and joined the force. Over the years she found herself increasingly overprotective of Don. She would scrutinize his every mood and give in to his every need. She hadn’t dated seriously for close to a decade of her children’s lives, and even now that she had a new boyfriend, a Cook County sheriff’s deputy, she wouldn’t really allow him around her children. She had recently returned to school to earn her master’s degree so she could take the lieutenant’s exam. With the hours Don kept, he rarely seemed to see his mother except on her days off. Whenever he did manage to bump into her, their face-to-face encounters usually ended up in shouting matches spanning everything from his grades to his street life to his blatant disregard for house rules.
“Damn, I needed a few dollars too,” Don said as he put his feet on the floor.
He flinched at the cool wood on his bare soles. His young bones creaked as he bent over to pick up the pair of pants he’d worn the previous day. Out of the hip pocket he fished half of a blunt. He straightened up and looked in the large mirror on top of his dresser. He saw a brown-skinned boy just a shade away from being a man; standing at five foot ten and weighing 173 pounds he wasn’t really skinny, but he wasn’t heavy either. He didn’t have six-pack abs, but there wasn’t any flab around his middle. His short fade sported a few waves on the top, but they weren’t really defined because he didn’t have the patience to sit and brush his hair hour after hour. Strong peach fuzz was evident around his mouth and under his chin, complementing his strong facial features. With a heavy sigh he lit the tip of the blunt with his lighter and took a long pull. He held the smoke in his lungs until he choked. For his efforts he was rewarded by the instant euphoric effects of the weed on his system. With his sister in mind he walked down the short hallway to the top of the staircase.
He called, “Rhonda! You want to hit this shit! It might mellow yo high-strung ass out some!”
“I don’t think so. You don’t even need to be smoking that stuff in the house! I don’t even see how you smoke that mess so early in the damn morning! That’s all you little dummies spend every cent you get your hands on! I’m leaving you ten dollars on the table. I’ve got to go. I can’t be late for humanities because of you. Make sure you take your behind to school too!”
The front door slammed as he headed for the bathroom. He pulled his boxers down and perched on the white porcelain toilet. Leisurely he thumbed through a Sports Illustrated magazine while he smoked and obeyed nature’s order to put out the garbage. He wondered what was on the agenda for the day. He had to laugh at that thought. He already knew the answer—the same as every other day. Ditching school, hanging out, dodging the police, trying to come upon money for weed and alcohol, and trying to talk some young girl out of her panties. Even though it was a school day, attending was definitely out of the question. He hadn’t been to school in two months. School was for the winter time. It was spring.
After showering and dressing, he devoured half of a box of Cap’n Crunch and left the house. His first stop was Momma Taylor’s weed spot on Vernon, the best weed in the neighborhood. Momma Taylor had the biggest bags and the best green that could be bought for ten dollars. After his purchase he ducked into the first unlocked hallway he came to and rolled two blunts. He dumped the contents of the cheap cigars on the carpeted steps of the hallway. He slid one of the blunts into the top of his sock and pulled his pant leg back down. He lit the other as he relaxed on the stairs. He smoked about half of the blunt before putting it out and sliding it into the band of his Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap.
He then headed to the pool hall. Confidently he pushed open the door and stepped inside. He began to greet his boys.
Excerpted from Slipping by Y. Blak Moore. Copyright © 2005 by Y. Blak Moore. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.