(The names are all changed, but this story is true)
Weekends can be long and wearing during Minnesota winters, especially for mothers and children. Kids get to you when you are locked inside with them for days, with windows shut tight, rooms dim and gloomy from the endless string of cold, overcast days. When I start to feel trapped and penned in, and I’m yelling at every minor infraction, I know it's time to escape, even if it means packing up a pile of kids and bringing them with me. Anything, just get me out of the house. On this particular Saturday afternoon, I am at a suburban movie theatre complex with my eleven year old son, Miles, and his two best friends, Walter and Michael. We have trekked out here from our neighborhood on the edge of downtown because it is the only place playing the movie they want to see (Ace Ventura Pet Detective), and the movie I want to see (Six Degrees of Separation), at about the same time.
After we buy our tickets, I watch the boys head to the video games to hang out until the last second before the movie begins. It's an afternoon matinee, so they know they don't need to hurry in for good seats. They are trying their best to be bad-assed little brothers from the 'hood. They are talking very loud, using street language, and hitting and shoving each other. They are dressed alike — jeans so big and sagging so low on their rears, I am afraid they might fall off; huge athletic t-shirts that feature basketball superstars and hang almost to their knees; and big clunky black gym shoes, the most expensive version of the cheaper end of Nike and Converse that they could cajole from their parents. Walter's thick, shoulder length sandy-colored locs are gathered in a big ponytail and shake when he walks. Michael's hair is shaved on the bottom half, and big, loopy black curls spring from the top half. He is wearing rose colored granny glasses. Miles has on his trademark ball cap, a blue one with Tar Heels written in big, cartoon letters across the front, and is walking like he's about to hit somebody.
I love these honey-colored boys. My boys. When I watch them I see sweet, scruffy, rowdy puppies who make you crazy with their energy, but are so lovable and dear that you forgive them the ripped up cushions on the couch and the shredded magazines on the floor. I love Michael's shyness and politeness - he is well trained by his mother. Never once has he forgotten to clear his plate from the table after finishing one of the dozens of frozen pizzas I have served him and Miles's other friends over the years. I love Walter's ease with adults, that way oldest children know how to get you into conversation and charm you by being witty and smart about topics you think most kids don't care about or understand. And Miles. I love him for his tender-heartedness and the fact that he'll still let me put my arm around him in public and even hugs me in front of his classmates when I pick him up early from school.
"Hey that's wack, you're wack," yells Michael, shy Michael.
I know what wack means (stupid, uncool), but I have no idea what the context is.
"I'm gonna beat your fuckin' face in," says sweet Miles.
"You're a punk," says Michael, and shoves Miles, hard.
"That's cold, " laughs Walter.
Miles jumps him, not laughing.
I spin fast forward and stop. I'm lost in a nightmare. I can't see anything but brown skinned teen-aged boys pulled over by the police – for no reason and for every reason. I see senseless violence for senseless reasons. I see dreams deferred or lost all together. I see guns, flashing lights, sobbing mothers and girlfriends on the ten o'clock news. I search hard for my boys, to see the faces of the ones who will come up and out, the ones going places, the ones who will make it. I look to see if their futures are long or will be cut short. I look hard, but they're all unrecognizable, I can't make out who's who, or who’s going where. "Not them, not us, not me," I pray as the dream ends badly and the lights go dark.