Monday, March 2, 2015

The Brass Ring

This month’s Blog Carnival is “My Jewelry Box”  Show us what you have in your personal jewelry box along with the stories or meanings it has to you!
“ Slam Dunk!”, says we. 

After traveling the world and collecting jewelry for over 50 years, we’ve got some good jewelry and great stories to go with it. So off we go to the jewelry “box”  to find a few interesting  tales. We had never looked at our cache of jewelry in this way before. Before long we were completely lost in a dense forest of memories.

In the middle of all this reverie, Corliss slid a large brass object out from the bottom of one of the boxes. “What’s this,” she asked, not recognizing the piece.

What indeed.

“I made that when I was ten years old,” I replied.  “How cute” Corliss gushed, “your first piece of jewelry!” Well,….not exactly. 

At age 10 I was living on the streets of Toledo, Ohio fending for myself. Derelict adults, homeless kids, street hustlers, criminals and worse were the norm in my world. You learn to be very wary of everyone. Despite any measure of bravado, the sense of your vulnerability is never far off.  The “ring” was, in fact, a weapon. It was a ten-year-old’s notion of brass knuckles.  I imagined that when attacked, it might provide me some advantage. It wasn’t long before I had a chance to test that theory out.

There were very distinct and separate black and white areas of town back then. White or black, wandering into the wrong part of town could get you killed by virtue of being the wrong color. Every day I had to pass through the wrong part of town to get to the downtown area where I supported myself by engaging in petty crime.

I had developed a relatively secret habi-trail of alleys, backyards, easements and other navigable paths to move undetected through one area to the next.  There was substantial comfort in the anonymity and aloneness of it all. Then I ran into Gavin.

In truth, we ran into each other coming around the corner of a downtown alley.  I remember how fast we sized each other up at that moment. What a professor would explain to me years later as a “fight or flight” reaction.  All I thought was “Black kid, my size, attacking, punch”.  I hit him square in the face, and he went down.  To my surprise, he stayed down. He was severely stunned. A few seconds later I felt the pain in my hand.

I looked at my hand and realized I had been wearing the brass ring. It felt like my finger was broken. I sat down on the pavement next to the black kid who, judging by the look on his face was just as terrified of me as I was of him.  “I’m John, do you wanna fight some more or be friends?”   “I’m Gavin,” he said, “let's be friends.” 

This encounter was the first either of us had ever had with anyone of another race. We became fast friends over that summer, each of us happy not to be alone on the streets. Both of us knew that we could never tell anyone about our friendship. That made it all the better. It was just for us.