Nose To Nose: A Modern Tragedy
He told me he had a brother & a sister.
“Do they live in Cleveland?”
Shrugging, telling me he wouldn’t know, looking down at his shoes & mumbling something about two years.
“I have not seen my brothers or sister in almost four years.”
He was popping open a Rip It energy drink (I think the flavor is something called Sting-Mo,) my new smoking buddy, and said he really misses his brother, Moses.
“He was always beatn’ me up. It was some stupid s#*t. Always on some kind of trash. I needed it. Obviously did no good. Look where I’m at.”
“He beat you up. And you miss him?”
Taking a long slurp from the can, belching a gun-shot belch, Tall Man (that’s not his real name, but that’s what he is: a tall man,) mumbled his story along, breaking only to pull from his Newport.
He told me about getting caught trying to sell his Junior High science lab equipment. He want to the E.R. over that. Split lip. Stitches required. It didn’t seem to bother him. Telling me about it, anyway.
He was speaking about it with an odd, genuine fondness. Like he was confused at being confused by his sentiments. It had me asking myself why his brother would do that to him. Knowing full-well why, yet it never ceases to astonish me: the cruelty we express in caring.
And just how many times had it happened?
“Oh, I couldn’t tell ya how many times that n*%#a was pulling me into Metro. Always the same story: fight at school. Even in the summer. Police showed up at my mama’s crib after my nose brake into the wall.”
I had to know what warranted a broken nose. And I was curious: Tall Man is not tiny. Not at all. What kind of brute would take-on Tall Man?
A big brother, a guess. It’s in their nature, I think.
“Moms had to have her wine. That’s all she needed. Wine and her phone. I took her phone. Traded it for some Hard. There was a whole month paid on that phone, man. No phone. Bitch couldn’t call anyone to get her her Irish Rose. My brother came home, found her in the bathroom. She was real sick. Carried her to the couch. She just shook. We had to hold the bottle for her, her hands was shaking so bad.”
His brother, apparently after their mother was sedated, slammed Tall Man’s face into a wall – more than once!
(Fight at school.)
Metro – Cleveland’s Downtown Hospital – felt that this needed to be stopped.
“Did they ever take you away,” I ask.
“Nope. My sister and Moms told’em it’s just how it was. Really that’s all they had to hear. They know how it is.”
My nose was broken two summers ago. I know what it feels like. The stinging, watery eyes. Sharp pain going-up into the brain. It does not feel good, to say the least. Lying to the Doctors & Nurses & Police feels worse. They have you in that Emergency Room all by your loathsome, wanting to help you! Doing their best to do their job – to help you – but you have to lie. And they know you are lying.
Where is there to go if the person you depend on is locked up?
You screw up, you get punished. You continue onto the next day.
That I understand.
And I understand loving a person that is toxic.
But what I did not understand: why was Tall Man’s brother the disciplinarian?
“Don’t know who my dad is. My mother don’t even know.”
Tall Man lit his third cigarette.
“My moms had some guys over sometimes. But Moses put a stop to that! All them n*#&as is no good. Smoking hard – “
“pissed Moses off. Moms had it bad enough with the wine. And he knew I was startin to sell it.”
“Do you think he was wrong, ya know, beating up on you?”
He didn’t answer.
He didn’t need to.
We finished our cigarettes in silence. Both of us shivering from the late-fall chill. Me thinking about all the times I had been in an Emergency Room. And all the times I lied. Who knows what Tall Man was thinking about.
Probably his brother.
Riding the elevator up to the fourth floor together, Tall Man asked me when was the last time I got beat up.
“Summer of 2019.”
“Tried calling for help.”
“N*%#a, you should be dead!”
“Yeah. I’ve heard that a lot.”