By Trevor Jackson
I woke up with butterflies. Thoughts of upcoming tests, the smell of loose-leaf paper, and #2 pencils made me uneasy. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the house as my grandma paced back and forth with footsteps as loud as a baby elephant. My mom, a single woman with credit- card debt up to her eyeballs, anxiety like a post-war veteran and a son that doesn’t listen, knocked on my door. Worried because my absences piled up like her missed credit card payments, she insisted that I hurry up before I miss the bus again.
At the pace of a 70-year-old man with knee and hip replacements I embarked on my journey to school, one article of clothing at a time. This infuriates my mother, built-up frustration and the burden of raising a young Black man with no help takes its toll. She yells, but not like usual, it was a plea. To me, an angry young man. Angry with a rage that I can’t identify, feelings of resentment and worthlessness fill my body like terminal cancer. I can feel it spreading, sometimes spewing a trail of self-hatred and of misery.
My mom’s words pierced my body, “You’re going to be to be just like your dad!” A man who I haven’t seen in years but lives just an hour away. A person who I can’t run away from no matter how hard I try because every time I look in mirror, I see him. A man who I dreamt gave me $10,000 to never reach out to him again.
My mom saw how her words hit me—face laid flat, with no emotion. She stood still, with the look of a parent who had just beaten her kid for the first time and didn’t know how to react. I walked away, stunned and in deep thought. Tired from a night of binge-watching the final episodes of Luke Cage, my focus shifted. The big, bald-headed, bullet-proof Black guy who listens to Wu-Tang Clan gave me hope. In him I see a man who represents everything I’d want my dad to be, as well as me.
I watched Luke Cage like an eight-year-old who collected all the action figures and thought he was real. He gave me hope in a world where statistics don’t. I watched and rooted for Luke Cage like he was my dad. For 13 episodes over countless hours he did a better job of parenting than my father ever did.
Thoughts of the show, ran through my mind during my walk to school. My boy missed the bus too. He also lived with his mom, grandmother, and four other younger siblings … no pops. On many occasions he missed school taking care of his brothers and sisters. He kept the family afloat, even if it meant doing some not so good things.
The man of the house, unlike me he never met his father. When someone older, but similar in appearance to us walked by, he would say, “Yo, I think that was my dad”. The humor covered the pain. At the age of 16, he walked with the burden of a 40-year-old man with three kids to put through college, all at once. Wise beyond his years, but he was doomed to repeat the cycle of many men before him—being a man without an example on how to be one. During our long walks to school we talked about life and our plans for the future. While some of our opinions differed, we wanted to be strong, good, intelligent men who took care of our families.
Our walk seemed longer than usual and the weather grew colder. Leaves on the trees turned autumn orange and the morning air imitated a December chill. Just as the reality set in that we would be late again, our friend’s dad pulled up, creeping toward the sidewalk in an all black 2012 Ford Expedition bumping Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life.” A good man, he owned a barber shop around the corner from the school after he got out of jail. A two-time loser who caught some bad breaks, he turned things around for his wife, a physician’s assistant at the local hospital, and a kid.
He greeted us with a fresh baldy and the scent of a man just out the chair. His deep voice projected over the bass of the stereo and his smooth dark-brown skin and muscular frame exuded the confidence of the man I hoped to be. He seemed sure of himself and for that five-minute ride we all felt safe. Every time we were around his dad we never wanted to leave. Patient but honest, stern but loving and, most important of all, genuine because he grew up just like us.
As we left the car, his dad asked if we needed any money to get lunch. We both said “No,” but he gave us $5, anyway. I accepted it and thanked him, giving him a dap and embracing him. He kissed his son on the forehead and told him he loved him. As we walked to the school entrance, I jokingly said to my friend “I didn’t know your dad was Luke Cage.” He smiled and chuckled. Little did he know, I was serious.