By Derrick B., 18
Represent, New York
I grew up without a father, a real family or a real mother in my life. If it were not for all the other family members I grew up with, I would never have made it.
When I talk about other family members, I don’t mean blood relatives. I’m talking about the unrelated family everyone has that they go to for help with a problem or to learn something new in life. I’m talking about the family that’s always there when your day is going rough. I’m talking about friends.
When I was 13, I decided to find a new family and forget about everybody else.
That’s when I met C.J. He was like a brother to me. The only difference between us was that I was a good boy and he was bad.
C.J. would pull out hundreds of dollars and spend it like water. I knew he got the money from the drugs he sold and I didn’t want to ask him about it. My life was bad, but I was taught drugs could kill you. But in time, C.J. taught me that keeping pain bottled up inside could kill me quicker.
I had never opened up to anyone about how my mother beat me – not since I told my teachers one day and got another beating for telling. But one day, a few months after I met him, C.J. just made me feel like I could trust him with anything.
After a particularly loud fight with my mom, I stormed out of the house and met C.J. in the park. I told him everything that happened, and he offered me something that looked like a cigar.
“What’s that?” I asked.
C.J. smiled. “This is going to help you forget your problems at home and make you happy again,” he said.
After that first pull off my first blunt, instead of getting in trouble at home I chilled on the streets with C.J. and got in bigger trouble. My mother would still hit me for reasons I never understood, but a few months of stealing from stores and smoking weed every day made me not care what she did to me. Now I had plenty of friends to chill with whenever I didn’t want to be at home.
Then my mom put me in foster care and I was sent to a group home. I was placed in a house with guys who were older than me. On my 14th birthday, I got drunk for the first time with one of my new friends, a guy named Manny. Manny made me forget about my mom and my problems. He gave me the one thing I’d always wanted from my mom: attention.
I made friends like Manny in each of the seven group homes I lived in. If it were not for all those friends, I don’t think I would have made it. One way my friends would forget their problems was by causing new ones. At first I didn’t understand this, because I thought more problems would build more stress. But for some strange reason, getting into trouble was kind of helpful when I thought about my life too much. I robbed people in the parks, stole phones from stores – I did it all and I never got caught. I didn’t want to calm down because I felt so good inside.
But I didn’t realize the negative effects of what I was doing until recently. When those guys were around and telling me their life stories, they helped me feel better and like I wasn’t alone. But they never gave me any advice that helped me move my life in a safe direction. When the people I thought were my friends heard I might be forced to live on the streets, they didn’t even act concerned. They only cared about how I was going to support their next high.
Still, I can’t say I regret anything I’ve done since the day I took that first smoke from C.J. If I hadn’t met all those new people and got in all the trouble I got in, I wouldn’t have a clue about how to survive in the world on my own.
My friends were the ones who first taught me the tricks of the games and the rules of the streets. They were my partners in crime, my street brothers and sisters, and they helped me get by. But now it’s time to move on.
© Youth Communication/New York Center. www.youthcomm.org.