I finished off my teenage years in Houston messing around on the brick paved streets of 4th ward in a whirlwind of malt liqour, swisher sweets, black tar heroin and glances behind me that never saw what was coming. It was a strange and sad and yet somehow beautiful time in my life. I had a couple old school partners that took me under their wing in the neighborhood but my best friend was Dell. We did it all together. His mama and my mama were friends and bless their hearts, were trying their damndest to straighten out two boys that had already turned crooked. We had a goodness within us but had to get real good and lost before it could be found and we quickly recognized our likeness in the other. We rode every day of the week.
One time we took a real good beating together over on Gilette and Robin Street. Wrong place to be for sure and the crowd that dealt it was full of fellas with names like Fat Daddy and Black Sam. I had blood in my eye for three weeks and Dell's lip swole up much like a cartoon. Somehow it's a real good memory though. Another time we were climbing on the roof of an old abandoned school by Fat Mama's house and D fell through halway but he caught himself and i pulled him the rest of the way out. We both seem to remember that one. And when i think of it all, it feels like there was always something to escape from or to run to. Feels like it was always humid and hungry and the empty lots in the ward were always overgrown green and soaking through to your socks. I can't remember it ever even being winter back then. But of course it must of been at some point.
Last time i saw Dell was maybe 2002 and his mom in the final stages of cancer. I had just got home after being gone down south for a few years and was already doing my best to give away the half a chance i had. We met up somewhere downtown and i remember we could have taken the bus to go see his mom one more time but instead i decided to skid around in the ward and found a bottle or two over in old chinatown. It's a regret i've pardoned myself for but one that still makes my chest hurt once in a while. I didn't know how to do too much else back then though.
When Dell rolled into Dallas two weeks ago i knew where his heart was soon as i heard his voice. Wasn't sure where his head was at but told him to come on through anyway. We linked up, hopped in the car for a drive and after about 15 minutes of feeling each other out we were the same again but better, you know? He might be still on the run in some ways but sure enough he's still here. And when we're here there's a chance.
He stayed on for a couple days and shared some meals, joined in for the girl's bedtime prayers and even gave the yard a once over while i was lost in kickstarter land. When we were up on the roof at dusk one evening he told me that some years back he took his Mother's ashes up to a mountain top in Tennessee to finally set her free. Climbed up as high as he could, talked to her for a while and gave her back to the earth and the wind. Later that night he said that was one of the reasons he was headed to Colorado next. To be up above it again. Somewhere he could beat the summer, breathe clean and see all around him for a long ways. All of us have some place like that we'd like to get to. And i keep hoping and believing and doubting and believing again that im walking towards that place, inside and out. About like the rest of you.
We said another goodbye early the next morning and promised to send each other some good news from time to time. Driving off, i watched him get small as we really are in my rearview mirror and in my chest and throat i felt the loss that IS being alive and having to exist apart from some of the things you love. A few days later though he texted from the mountains and said he was about a mile high. His facebook last night showed some snowy peak in the distance and i think it said, "gonna make it to the top."