My best friend in eighth grade had what I thought was the perfect family.
At the time, Sista Moms was a domestic worker in the Axel Kraft Mansion in Anglerock Hills. We lived in the ‘maid’s quarters’ – basically, a one-bedroom apartment (with no kitchen) in the basement of the house. I had the bedroom and Moms slept in the living room. (Hey, she had the bedroom at the last place.) I was usually on my own either watching TV, or listening to the radio, waiting for a new Michael Jackson song to come on. I stayed up late writing poetry and tinkering. I obsessed over my wardrobe, trying to create a look for school that wouldn’t get me laughed at.
Moms was tired after all of her work, which included cooking big dinner parties. So, whenever I had the chance to stay late at Andre’s after school, or sleepover, I snatched it. They’re a family of six. Mom, Dad, and four boys, a little over a year apart. After migrating from the Caribbean, and a stint in a Harlem housing project, they bought a house in Black suburbia Anglerock.
I always idolized Andre’s dad. He lifted weights, built additions on to the house, and was a very solid guy. He walked into any space with the air of a wise bull. He was strong. His face was stern, but his smile was warm. Black, crinkly hair clouded around his lips in a scraggly moustache.
Although he was often rough on his sons, I have no memory of him being unkind to me. Ever. He spoke to me. He never gave me that side-eye I’d grown accustomed to from dads. He, and his family welcomed me. For a while, I felt part of the family.
Andre’s dad was a blue-collar worker who came home every day at the same time. You could hear him walking up the driveway. His jean’s jingling with tools, keys, or change. He climbed telephone poles, or something rugged, like that. His island accent is strong; his love is black; his van is tricked out – family style.
Andre’s mother is a classic hard working Caribbean woman. She worked full-time (sometimes, part-time at Christmas), cooked, and cared for her family. On the side, she took private orders for multi-layer doll-baby cakes. She helped her sons with their homework, inquired about relevant events, fed me, then kicked me out when it got too late (in her opinion;). I was so attracted to the way she nurtured her family. And, obviously, adored her man.
Andre is the graphic artist of the family. He was one of the best graff artists in our school. He was self-taught. He was one of the best breakers around, too. People would gather around to watch him dance, or draw. He would crush challengers in a battle in the hallway between classes, then pick his books up and quietly go to his next class. Andre got special attention from his mother because of his talent, humility, and his constant need for new supplies. His father was loving, but kind of indifferent. He was busy working at work, or renovating the house.
Andre is second in line. His older brother caught the lion share of the flack whenever his parents wanted to bring it. One day his dad, a man of compact strength, came home from work before his wife. All us kids were spread throughout the house, engaged in whatever (Speed Racer, Voltron, or Thundercats). I happen to be in the kitchen with Andre as their dad came in. He greeted me calmly. An intense greeting of “Andre.” was all he said to his son with all the frustration of a rough day. He left the kitchen.
Then, to the occupants of the house: WHY ARE ALL MY LIGHTS ON IN MY HOUSE!? No response. Again: WHY ARE ALL MY LIGHTS ON IN MY HOUSE?!! “Um, sorry dad…” Andre’s eldest brother, Andy, called from upstairs. “I was about to turn them off.” (He was gonna take the fall for everyone.) As many times as he tried to punk us, we’d let him go down. His dad followed the scent of blood in the water as he switched lights off, room-by-room.
Andre offered: “I turned off MY lights.” “Whatchu mean, ‘U turned off YOUR lights!?’ His father thundered in reply, “You don’t have no lights! And, if there’s lights left on in this house that don’t need to be on, then those are your lights to turn off, too! But, you don’t have no lights in this house, cause you don’t pay no bills!! And make sure u TURN OFF MY LIGHTS!” Typical hard-working-on-the come-up Black parent response. With that came a love tap upside Andre’s head.
A luminous fog still overshadowed his dad’s path, though. Quickened footsteps from rooms above us shuffled, thundering down the stairs. When Andy came down offering: “I was coming right baaaack! A series of a muffled “Thuds!” echoed through the house, closely followed by the sounds of gagged moan. “TURN OFF MY LIGHTS.” “Yes, dad.” Father, or son offered no further discussion.
It was bittersweet seeing this proud 5’9” high school upperclassmen – who often bullied us – reduced to a sobbing child by his even prouder 5′ 5” West Indian father. Big bruh thought he was the man, but pops was MAN-ner. Even though I didn’t think he deserved it, yeah, he deserved it. What goes around comes around to bust you in yo chest. However, in that moment, my 14 year-old-self hoped to never have to punch my teenage son in the chest. No judgment; hearts open, fingers crossed. Jussayin.
Intellectual property of ML. King, House of Aleijuan, all rights reserved, 2019