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The Buckhorn

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The story behind my hearing problems isn’t pretty

It seems like I’m always asking people to turn up the volume on the TV or radio. It has always been like that for me. People would say, “God, are you hard of hearing or what?” I guess I am, but it wasn’t bad enough to keep me out of the Army.
There’s a story behind my hearing problems, but it’s not a pretty story. Up until this very moment in time, I have told no one else this story. I want to tell it to you now.
My two brothers and I lived in a one-room apartment behind the dry cleaners where my mother worked. Our building was jammed into the middle of a whole block of three story apartment buildings. Various small businesses were in a neat row along the ground floor of each building.
I’d like to say it was a nice neighborhood, but it wasn’t. It was in the middle of what was known as “Murder City” or downtown Detroit as it’s known now. It was not a good place to be.
My older brother, Tony, was always off running someplace, so it was pretty much up to me to watch after my younger brother Michael while my mother was working. I couldn’t have been much older than 6 or 7 years old, my brother 4 or 5.
Have you ever had a terrible day and you can’t ever forget even a single moment of it? My brother Michael and I shared the same memories of a terrible day. We had been through so much already, so I was always on the lookout for danger, but Michael was so young, and he didn’t know.
We played in the alleys behind the buildings because there was so much traffic in the front. We were throwing rocks and pieces of concrete at the rats in the trash when a big car came down the alley splashing the puddles of new rainwater onto the buildings on both sides of the alley. The car stopped right in front of my brother and me.
A man with a plaid shirt got out of the car and asked us if we wanted a dollar. Before I could stop him, Michael was running toward the man, and I was right behind him. The man grabbed my brother and threw him into the car. Before I knew it, he’d hit me hard on the side of the face and I was lying on the wet bricks of the alley.
My head was ringing so loud that I couldn’t hear myself yelling my brother’s name. I was so dizzy from the punch that I couldn’t stand up long enough to chase after the car. Michael was gone — kidnapped.
The next thing I know, my mother is being held by the cops and she’s crying. A lady that I didn’t know was wiping blood from my ear and I didn’t know what was going on. The loud ringing in my ear kept me within my own world for some time and I wanted to stay in that world as long as I could. Outside of that world was hell.
The kidnappers apparently accomplished what they wanted, because my brother was found three days later, across town, where he was dropped off. When he got home he looked at me but he wasn’t there. He had to be led around by the hand and he wouldn’t say a word.
Two days later, a crowd of people had gathered in front of the dry cleaners, pointing and looking up. I went out from the dry cleaners to see my brother standing on a ledge at the roof of the building, looking down at me. People were yelling and crying, and Michael looked like he was going to jump. I looked around for someone to help us but I couldn’t move my feet.
There in the crowd, I saw a big black man, Mr. Molly. He shook his head with a worried look. Mr. Molly had caught me playing in his back yard swing with his daughter Kathy Molly. He had thrown me out of his yard and told me never to come back. It was the first time I had seen the ugly head of racism. Now I was pleading with him, with my eyes, to help my brother. There was nothing he could do but shake his head.
I think Michael was
going to jump just as a fireman grabbed him from
behind.
Within six months or so, we were standing at the front door of a Catholic Orphanage in Little Rock, Arkansas. We were separated on the first night and it was many months before I saw him again. I walked past him on the playground and I didn’t even know who he was but I turned to see him turn and face me.
Michael raised his little hand like a Nazi salute and said, “Hi.” I raised my hand in the same manner and said the same. I stood there and watched as he turned and walked into the back door of the big children’s home without turning around. That was many years ago.
Anyway, that’s the story of my hearing trouble. Actually it’s no trouble for me but it seems to be a lot of trouble for those that have to turn up the volume. Now, when I’m alone, it’s foreign movies with subtitles for me most of the time and I like that just fine.
Michael lived in San Jose and he too was a disabled vet. We never discussed that day in Detroit or even our time in the orphanage. He died in 2006.