It’s a story that takes longer to tell than it took to happen.
A blink of an eye, the tick of a clock, the nervous lip-chew of a man who spoke broken English and it was done. I snapped the phone shut and told him as best I could that the ambulance was on its way.
It’s a story I’ve tried to forget, too.
It was years ago, so long it’s mentally dated by who was living where with whom then. I was coming from a friend’s apartment in Humboldt Park, a nice little night of balcony beers and jokes.
A guy I didn’t know, but who was a friend of my friends so probably not a knife murderer, offered me a ride. We were walking to his car when two men ran out of a nearby home.
One screamed to call 911 or he thrust a phone in my face. He asked if I spoke Spanish or just called “Help me, help me. My son.”
It all happened so fast so late so many years ago I don’t remember the order. I just knew that soon I was on the phone trying to translate garbled, stumbled Spanish to an English-speaking 911 operator.
One thing I remember clearly is the man kept going back and forth on whether it was his son. It was his son. It wasn’t. It was. It wasn’t.
“He hung hisself,” the man said.
“Jesus,” I said, repeating what the man said to the operator, sure in my head they have Spanish-speakers on staff but not wanting to make an issue right now.
The other man stood back, leaning against the wall, shaking his head slowly. I could hear others moving in the house to watch and help the boy.
The 911 operator asked me to ask the man when it happened (a few minutes ago) whether the boy was still breathing (he was) and what he used.
“Like rope?” I asked as the man fumbled for the word, his bad English, my nonexistent Spanish. “Belt?”
His mouth moved in silence, his fingers made impotent little gestures as he tried to remember that word, that stupid English vocabulary word that suddenly was the most important word to know in the world.
“Shoelaces,” he said.
The 911 operator said an ambulance was coming. The man and his friend ran inside to see to the boy who was his son, was not his son, was, was not.
The friend of a friend and I looked at each other, looked around the now empty Humboldt street and walked to the car.
I later found out there’s a home for gay and lesbian teens somewhere in that area. It’s for children whose parents kicked them out. I’m pretty sure that’s the spot. Pretty sure.
I never found out if the boy lived or died.
I’m sure there are homophobes out there, people who recoil at the notion of love the way some shriek at snakes. But mostly it’s an inaccurate word, calling it fear when it’s just true, unbridled hate.
Hate for self, hate for others, hate for anything that doesn’t kowtow to the whims of some man-made god. 50 people are dead in Florida because of hate. We yell and scream our plans on Facebook — “It’s guns!” “It’s Islam!” “It’s America!” “It’s the concept of religion itself!” — as if this collection of former coworkers and people we knew in high school has any say in the matter.
But hate exists, and it’s able to buy an AR-15 military-grade semiautomatic machine gun whenever the hell it wants.
It’s able to make parents reject their children. It’s able to make an abandoned boy want to choke the life out of himself with whatever’s at hand. Rope or a belt. Or shoelaces.
But there is love. It exists. It’s there.
I saw it in a man calling for help on a Humboldt Park street, unable to say if the child hate orphaned and love brought to his care was or was not his son.