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A secret past was the fuel to Travis Moore’s fire. It woke him up in the morning and daily, he put more distance between it and himself. It had driven him to the success that he now enjoyed as the internal auditor for Home Supply Emporium, a large hardware firm. His past also had led him to where he was now driving, the Garrison Addictive Disease Center.
Travis had volunteered a few hours a week at the center and its adolescent treatment program. The last two months at work hadn’t allowed him to stop by Garrison. Home Supply was on the verge of going public, and Travis recently had uncovered an embezzlement scandal that could threaten its initial public offering. Today, he had to make an exception. Jarquis Love, “Baby Jar,” was in trouble.
Baby Jar had completed Garrison’s treatment and recovery program two months ago. Travis had heard that Baby Jar didn’t last a month back home before he was deep into the street life again. Travis wanted to find out what had gone wrong.
He followed South Boulevard from downtown until he came to Fremount Road and made the right turn leading to Garrison Center. Its appearance had changed over the last three years since Travis had started volunteering his time there.
Garrison used to strictly be a treatment center for adults with alcohol and drug abuse. Gradually, it increased its emphasis on drugs, as the problem exploded among teens. Two years ago, Garrison applied for, and was granted a government license to operate a federal halfway house. So, in came the barbed-wire fences, wooden gates, and the division of the Garrison campus to separate federal inmates from adults in treatment. Adults were separated from the adolescents.
Garrison was lucky so far. There hadn’t been any incidents among the federal inmates or the residents of the treatment center. Having teen males in close proximity to federal inmates begged for something to happen. If young men had observed what happened in a federal halfway house, they might have gotten the impression that doing time wasn’t so bad.
Travis parked his brand-new black Volvo in a nearby empty lot. The administrative staff and the counselors called it a day between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. It was a few minutes after seven o’clock. Travis wasn’t able to get away from work as early as he wanted. The evening counselors were the only staff remaining at the facility. He had considered not going; he would be interrupting Group. Travis was compelled to find out about Baby Jar.
Group was when all adolescents gathered in a circle for a joint therapy session monitored by two or three counselors. A teen would read the story of a recovering addict and relate his personal issues to the story as best he could. Then the counselors encouraged everyone to share their thoughts if they wanted. If anyone had an issue they wanted to discuss, the floor was open to them. Other peers offered advice to help that individual develop coping skills for various problems.
Travis removed his tie, loosened his collar, and tossed the tie into the passenger’s seat before stepping out the car and feeling the cold January night. He cinched up his black cashmere overcoat as he watched his breath escape into the night air.
Slim heard the bell ring. He nodded to his co-worker to inform him that he would answer. He then excused himself from the group meeting and entered the staff office.
Slim opened the door for Travis. He looked over his shoulder through the glass; he knew most, if not all, of the teens would have their eyes in the office instead of their circle. Slim glared at them and this did the trick; all eyes went back to the group. Not one of them dared to cross Slim. He was a dark-skinned, well-defined, two hundred forty-pound man that moved with the grace of a panther. He was hard on the teens because of their experiences and potential outcome. Clarke “Slim” Duncan would do anything he could to help them.
“Come on in the house, Travis.” After the kids were admonished with his eyes, he turned his attention back to Travis.
“What up with you, man? Face all tore up, chest all swoll. Little cold weather didn’t make you that hot, did it?” There was silence and they stared at each other. Travis was looking up at the six-foot-seven imposing figure in front of him. Slim was looking down at his five-foot-ten frame. It was a game of Chicken to see who would be the first to flinch. “What? C’mon, you ain’t mad for real?”
Slowly, the corners of Travis’ mouth began to arch upward and gave way to a devilish grin. “Gotcha!” He extended his hand.
“Ah, bulls…” Slim glanced over his shoulder again. “No, you didn’t.” He took Travis’ hand and shook it. “I was scared, though.” His voice was much lower.
“Damn straight, you scared.” Travis dropped his voice as well, to be mindful of the teens.
“Scared I was going to have to mop up this floor.”
The new linoleum tile was laid last week and the floor was spotless. Travis was confused.
“Mop the floor?”
“Yeah, from the blood you were about to spill ’cause of me bouncin’ yo’ butt off this floor.” The two laughed.
“Don’t let the height difference or this suit fool you.” Travis unbuttoned the coat and took it off. He held it out for Slim.
“That’s nice. What is that, cashmere?” Travis nodded. “That thing will be on the floor if you’re waiting on me to hang it up.” Slim moved his head in the direction of the coat rack. “There you go, playa.”
“Had to try it.” Hedging past Slim to hang up his coat, he caught a glimpse of the group in session. “Got another half-hour?”
“Nah, I think they’re going to finish pretty soon. Running a short one tonight; they had a long day.”
Travis spotted a few new faces since the last time he was at Garrison. “What you got? Twelve, thirteen?”
“Fifteen. Two of them are missing.”
The group started to get up. “Group’s about to end. You want to hit this Serenity Prayer?”
The two walked out the office and joined the group. The seats were in the middle of the floor in a circle. The teens stood in place and draped their arms over one another’s shoulders. The enclosed circle represented unity; when one couldn’t stand on his own, there was a shoulder to lean on. Donny, one of the coworkers, and the two absent teens came in the main entrance in time to join in. The circle opened for them and welcomed their return. The group always welcomed anyone; the only requirement was a desire to stop drinking or using drugs.
In unison, the group began to recite, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The group disbanded and proceeded to take the chairs from the circle and stack them in the room that contained vending machines.
When Group was over, Donny and Rob, two of the counselors, divided them into smaller groups of six teens each to take to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Three of the newest teens had to remain at the center to complete their individual study. They weren’t eligible for outside meetings yet. They were doing book work on drug and alcohol addiction.
Slim sat in the office, keeping a watchful eye. He filled Travis in on Jarquis Love. Slim could tell that Travis was unusually disturbed.
“You all right?” he asked. Travis nodded his head. “You know the drill, man; it happens.”
“I thought that kid was ready to change his life. I mean, I spent a lot of time with him.”
Slim was analyzing his answer. He was trying to get a handle on where Travis was coming from, and why this was hitting him so hard. He’d hung out with Travis. He’d even been over to his house. He knew what kind of work had brought him to Charlotte. But he was unaware about his past. Sometimes, he felt like he didn’t know Travis at all. This was one of those times. If Travis didn’t volunteer information, Slim didn’t ask. He felt they were fortunate to have someone like Travis come by on a volunteer basis. They didn’t want to make him feel unappreciated.
“What was it about him?”
“Don’t know. Guess I saw a lot of myself in him.”
“How’s that? He’s from the hood. He didn’t come from Ballantyne Country Club.”
“Neither did I,” Travis responded flatly. The silence echoed in the room. “I grew up in a neighborhood like his. Neighborhood… a housing project. I was smart like he is; hell, he’s a lot smarter than I was. I saw education as my way out. I thought he would, too.”
“Some people need a bigger push than others.”
“I thought I was pushing.”
“Did you share your story with him, Trav?”
“Some?” Slim’s voice was full of skepticism. “Let me guess, you left the past vague. You showed him the big picture, but you didn’t let him see the fine print.”
“What?” The question was simply habit. Travis knew what he meant.
“You don’t give it up, man. Your past. You’re wide open about your life now, what you do, and who you are. But you keep that other life to yourself. I heard you talk about school at N.C. State, living in Raleigh, the job that brought you here three years ago. Telling him you lived in a project doesn’t mean shit to him. In his mind, you don’t see the same stuff he sees, unless you give it to him. If you don’t, it’s cool. I respect that. Some things might be better kept secret. You can make that choice. You’re an example; shit, probably the exception. I’m saying all this because we want to keep you coming around here. We appreciate it and, sooner or later, some of these cats will, too. Just don’t be disappointed when one of them doesn’t.”
“I feel you.” Travis was pensive, pondering his next question. “So, how did he get himself out there so fast?”
“He hooked up with the right one. See that kid over there by the desk.” Sitting by the wall closest to the rooms was a young man with his back to them. His hair was a matted Afro. “He’s from Park Hills, where Jarquis is from. He said Jar was raw out there. I ain’t for them war stories, but the other counselor, Donny, he hit me with that, too. After we saw him that last time at the meeting, I knew it was only a matter of time.”
“Donny was sure?”
“Donny said he was down with a hitter. Cat named Kwame Brown, but they call him Bone.”
Travis was staring at the floor listening to Slim, but his body became rigid at the mention of the name Kwame “Bone” Brown. Travis was all too familiar with Park Hills. But his outside demeanor didn’t betray what he felt inside.
“We planted the seed. Maybe he’ll come back. Man, don’t let me talk your head off. You better get home to your woman.”
“Yeah. Thanks for filling me in.”
“Fo’ sho’. I give it to you straight.”
Travis had left Garrison with a lot more on his mind than he had anticipated. When he had left Charlotte fourteen years ago, he had left Park Slope behind. He wasn’t the same person he had been then. Park Slope was six blocks away from Park Hills, but those hoods were like peanut butter and jelly; they always went together. Kwane “Bone” Brown was a name Travis could go the rest of his life without hearing again. When Travis had left Charlotte, he would have bet money that Bone would have been dead within five years. From the sound of it, he was rolling a lot deeper than ever.
© 2010 J. Leon Pridgen II