New Youth Connections, New York
(Names have been changed.)
I first started talking to Jay online more than a year ago. I fell for his humor after talking to him every day for a month. He spoke well, and over the phone he’d compliment me and open up to me about how he felt. After two months he asked me out, and I accepted. I thought being in a relationship with such a good-natured guy would be easy.
But a few weeks later, Jay called one night and told me he’d cut his arm in a fight after a bunch of guys jumped him and his friends. This was the first I’d heard of him fighting, and I was so upset I cried. I made him swear that he wouldn’t fight again. He agreed with no hesitation.
Then, almost a year later, I was hanging out at Jay’s house when his friend Keith walked in. Jay paused his video game because Keith started to tell a story about a fight that had gone down in the park a few blocks from his house.
I lay there just listening as the boys went through an exchange of “words” and “a’ights”. They seemed to get more excited about every new detail: Who threw the punches; who got a track ripped out of his hair.
Keith finished with, “You should have been there.”
“I was with my beautiful girlfriend,” Jay replied, glancing back at me and kissing my forehead.
“You could have brought her. The girls were fighting, too,” Keith said with a shrug.
My eyebrows shot up. “I would have run the other way!”
“That’s messed up,” both boys said.
“You would have left with me,” I told Jay. “You know I don’t like you fighting.”
“Of course, baby,” Jay answered with a smile.
I began to wonder if he was just saying he wouldn’t fight. I tried not to stress myself about it. I knew many girls who didn’t care that their boyfriends were in gangs. I didn’t want to care, either. I felt not caring would be easier on me and would save a lot of stress on the relationship.
One day about a month later, I was instant-messaging my friend Selma. She told me she was frustrated because her boyfriend was in a gang. I told her I was glad that wasn’t one of our problems. Then she told me something that I would never forget.
“Jay started two months ago,” she wrote to me.
I felt my blood grow hot. I felt absolutely blindsided. A few minutes later, I called Jay. I was so furious that I didn’t say a word for a long time.
“Are you in a gang?” I asked finally.
He was quiet for a while. “Why do you ask? Who said something to you?” he finally said.
When he confessed, I yelled at him.
“Why did you join?”
“Now that I’m in it, everyone knows me,” he said. “Even people I never met before know my name.”
It didn’t surprise me. I like to live in the shadows, but Jay likes attention and the center stage.
Eventually, I calmed down. I did have trouble trusting him, because he’d hidden what he’d done for so long. Jay told me that he wanted to keep the gang separate from his relationship with me so that I wouldn’t know about what he was doing and worry. Now it’s several months later. If I want to know something, I have to ask. I still want him to quit. If he doesn’t get out of it in a year or so, I will reconsider building a future with him.
I believe Jay has the drive to be someone great in this world, because he is a talented artist. He still makes me happy and makes me laugh. So for now, I deal with my worry and anger by hoping that in the end, he’ll see the gang isn’t making him better. As he starts to see his fellow gang members go nowhere, I hope he’ll push himself to be more.
© 2009 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc., http://www.youthcomm.org.