“He NEVER had a chance” Part 2: General Bad Ass
The fondness Mrs. Christina had for SL overflows in her descriptions of him: “He was adorable and I fell instantly in love with him. I couldn’t help it. I just did.”
However, for how adorable he was, she is open about the fact that SL presented a dichotomy: “Dahvie could be super cute and cooperative one moment, and holy crap, the next minute people would be running for cover.”
And again: “Dahvie always walked around the school with his chest pushed out. Actually, he defiantly marched around with a serious threat presented in his stride, daring anyone to step out and say something. Today folks use the word swagger. Dahvie didn’t swagger; he challenged. He was an arrogant little general, all 3’10’ of the little black boy.”
It is one thing to say that SL was a challenging presence; it is another to actually imagine it on a second grader, all of 3’ 10’’. It’s adorable, there’s no other word for it. But I’m sure elementary school teachers must run into endearing terrors like this fairly frequently, and I have to imagine that there’s a great deal of struggle and frustration.
General Bad Ass
Mrs. Christina saw beyond the frustrating interior into the source of this dichotomy:
“Dahvie was smart, very intuitive, witty, and SMART . And he was General Bad Ass, capital B, capital A. He had to be. The kid was essentially on his own and he knew it. Life wasn’t going to cut him any breaks. It was simply going to cut him.”
Even now, I can speak to the fact that Dahvie is quick, intuitive, witty, and smart. His letters are filled with jokes, insights, and deep thoughts. But, as Mrs. Christina highlights, his world required him to have a certain kind of strength, and even at second grade he was learning that all too well.
Tiny 2x2 Photo
As Mrs. Christina stated before, “The kid was essentially on his own and he knew it.” This became ever more apparent as Mrs. Christina learned more about Dahvie’s family.
“Dahvie’s teenaged father was the victim of gang violence in the streets of Chicago, just another statistic in the growing tally. Dahvie’s grandmother, with whom he lived, didn’t have many words to share about his mother, beyond crackhead.”
She goes on to explain: “[Dahvie’s grandmother] didn’t have many photos of Dahvie’s father, her beloved son. One day she handed me a yellowed copy of the obituary with a tiny 2 X 2 photo of her deceased son. Dahvie stared at me with vacant eyes as I carefully held the newspaper clipping at a loss of words. Dahvie’s whole existence seemed fictional to me, to my white middle-class world. Hadn’t I seen his story depicted in the movies before? Movies like Boys in the Hood? However, it was real. It was very, very sad.”
It was, as Mrs. Christina points out, a story that we hear over and over again but never loses its tragedy. I just can’t imagine if all you had left of your loved one was a tiny photo, clipped out of a newspaper, sure to fade and tear with age. And, like Mrs. Christina, it is so hard for me to imagine. I lived a quiet, two-parent life—my father is alive and well, and I’ve never experienced gang violence. It’s beyond anything that I could ever fathom.
What’s more, Dahvie’s grandmother, although a woman with amazing love for Dahvie, was not physically capable of caring for Dahvie.
“Her haggard and gaunt appearance spoke volumes about her life. She was a sick woman, requiring dialysis twice weekly. She was aged far beyond her years and I often recognized that little Dahvie was responsible for her, not the other way around, as it was supposed to be.”
Here, I’m struck by, well, the loneliness of it. His father is dead, his mother is absent, and his grandmother is too sick to provide Dahvie with care and affection. He’s in second grade. I think of that and I want to just pick little second-grade Dahvie up and hug him, hold him close, hell, adopt him—because no one should have to be strong like that in second grade.
Of course he would be “General Bad Ass.” To this day, Dahvie has an incredible strength to handle situations which is oftentimes very inspiring. Sometimes he feels the need to be strong even when it might be time to let some of those emotions out. I think it’s pretty clear where he gets it.