The House That Crack Built: A Word Special Feature
Nobody Is My Best Friend: Crack, Korea, Gangs...and Recovery
By Malcolm Pruitt
I remember running out of my motel room, in agonizing pain. I was gasping for air. It was in the middle of the day because I noticed, before I fell unconscious in the motel parking lot, that the sun over head was at its zenith. I must have faded in and out of consciousness because although foggy, I can remember the cold touch of the Paramedics rubber gloves. I could see him, standing over me, asking, “Are you infected, do you have AIDS?”
Arriving to the hospital was also a blur. It felt like a dream. I remember hearing someone say, “We’re losing him,” and I remember the chill of the operating room. I woke-up two days later strapped to a hospital bed in the suicide ward, at USC County General with a tracheotomy in my throat, wondering, How did I get here, how did this happen to me?
I survived a life threatening disease. There were many early warning signs. My first remembrance of illness occurred when I was a child. I knew something was definitely wrong with me, I just didn’t quite know what it was. I was different. I went to great lengths to be like the other kids. I remember my parents were taking my younger brother and me to Disneyland. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep the night before. The next day when we arrived, all I could think about was getting back home and telling the kids in my neighborhood how much fun I had. It never occurred to me until years later that I was so preoccupied with getting back to the neighborhood, I forgot to have fun. You see, all I wanted was to be accepted, I just wanted to belong. The children in my neighborhood nicknamed me Nobody. I could be right in the middle of all the excitement, but when all the action was re-told, my name was never mentioned. I was Nobody.
The older I got, the more erratic my behavior got. I started getting in to trouble at school. I became disruptive and disobedient. The administrators at 52nd Street Elementary School determined that I needed psychotherapy. My dear parents really tried to get me help. They enrolled me in Saturday morning art classes at USC because I loved to draw. I joined the YMCA; I even attended a couple of sessions with a therapist. All attempts to salvage my elementary school experience failed. Because I had so many infractions by the fifth grade, it became necessary for me and the Public School System to divorce. My last transgression occurred one morning after my teacher dismissed the class for recess and I remained seated at my desk. I didn’t feel like going out to play but Ms. Collins insisted that I go out and join my classmates. Well, I took my desk, dragged it down the bungalow stairs on to the play ground and resumed sitting. I remember my parents use to joke painfully how their son didn’t play, that he had quit school because of recess, literally.
Catholic school wasn’t so bad. My academics prospered, but my social standing suffered. Because of those damn uniforms, I had to fight what seemed like every day. My younger brother and a couple of more nerds from my neighborhood, who attended Saint Cecilia, would walk to school with me. We had to pass Normandie Avenue School, and those kids loved to harass Catholic school kids, and they must have been accustomed to the Catholic school kids running, but not me. I ran from no one, and I guess they got tired of fighting because they
started giving me and anyone with me a bye. I also had to rise my level of aggression to prove to individuals in my neighborhood that just because I wore a uniform, that I was no punk. I ran Saint Cecilia.
By the time I was to start High School, I had worn my welcome out in Catholic school. I returned to public school and rejoined my neighborhood friends. Most of them were gang members by now, and I wanted in. Manual Arts was a Brims and Family school. The area where I lived was also Brims hood. There were Terry and Bernard on Five-Tray, and Dexter, Byron and Butch on Five-Duce. My childhood friend Poncho was also a Brim, not to mention my arch enemy JoJo on 50th Street, and Sugar Bear, I don’t know where that fool lived. Me, lil’ Dav, Joe, and Big Dav claimed Hoover, and half of 51st Street was ours. Ace Duce Derbies, Bomber Jackets, Khakis, and Kroger Sates were proper Crip attire, and I wore mines proudly. I waited my whole life for this, a chance to belong. I was Nobody, and people respected me, they feared me.
I still had secret aspirations to do something positive, I would hide my books from my friends when I brought them home. The Art Department at Manual embraced me. I was given a scholarship to attend Saturday morning art classes at Otis Art Institute. I also got my first job at McDonalds on 54th and Western. All that was cool, but none of it seemed to please me as much as hanging out with my Homies. Gang Bangin’ was my true calling, my crew would sometimes get dusted to get their bang-on, but not me, I was a natural fool. I was ill, and that life style seemed to relinquish my fears, I felt like my illness was in remission.
I bought a car in my Junior year, a Six-six Chevy Impala. Now that my insanity had gone mobile, I was able to find more trouble than I ever knew existed. I frequently visited Fremont High School, where a friend from work attended. I would often pick her up from school and we’d ride to work together. The local gang set from Fremont made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome there. They didn’t scare me, besides, I had bigger problems. All my crew had lost their virginity by now, Smokey Robinson had just released the hit single, “Can You Love a Virgin Man,” I was terrified of women, and Diane was my target.
One afternoon while parked out front of Fremont, these fools rode up on me. They confronted me in a hostile manner, so I exit my car. Our verbal altercation quickly turned physical and by the time Diane appeared, I had been badly beaten. I was out numbered three to one, and the fact that I still fought gallantly earned me much respect. I vowed revenge, but I never saw them again. I even attended the after party when Fremont defeated Crenshaw for the City Basketball Championship, I was Nobody and I could do that.
Senior year started off great. I completed the customizing of my car during the summer. I added Rocket rims, Five point twenty tires, and hydraulics. One night after work I got arrested for trying to steal some of those new Cadillac Bench Bucket seats. I had to have some; I couldn’t properly low-ride without them. I got out of jail that morning and the next night me and lil’ Dav went back and got those seats. I started a new job at The Century Drive-In Theater shortly after that, and I also got my first real girl friend. She was a Junior and a Cheerleader at Manual, and yes I finally lost my virginity. I even managed to earn some decent grades, but everything started to go downhill from that point. Big Dav and lil’ Dav got busted for robbing the Drive-In where I worked and there were implications of my involvement. Joe was murdered over by the Nicks, and I Immediately enlisted in the Military after graduation.
I enjoyed Boot Camp, it was a controlled environment. The Drill Sergeant was the only immediate authority and all new recruits were equal. By the time I finished Basic Training I was smoking cigarettes and drinking. I was assigned to South Korea as my first tour of duty and I was given a thirty day leave before I flew out. Big Dav and lil’ Dav were out on bail while awaiting trail, and even though they were no longer speaking, they both came to the going away party everyone got together and through for me. For some of my friends that would be the last time I’d see them, and for me, my life was about to change forever.
In Korea my fears and my anxiety levels peaked. My disease had been lying dormant; however, now I was out of my comfort zone, and this all new environment caused my insecurities to over whelm me. You see my disease lie centered in the middle of my brain. I suffer from low self-esteem and no self-worth. My symptoms were nervousness, and stomach cramps from cringing.
Because of the rigid structure of the Military, I was unable to camouflage my fears with the same street mentality I’d been use to. I was introduced to Soju, a Korean made rice liquor, by this kid named Terry from Alabama, and Clark from New York always shared Marijuana with me, he was a pot head. In Korea, they grew marijuana to make hemp ropes, it was easy to get. I remember a few of my Homies smoked bud back in the real world, but I never did. Now, along with alcohol, herb was the vise that helped me get through that Hell Hole. Even after I returned to the states and finished my term out at Fort Hood Texas, I continued to drink and get high almost daily. I served my Country with reckless abandonment. By the time I was Honorably Discharged I was totally reliant on altering my natural state of mind for me function with confidence.
Everything seemingly went well for a while. I worked for the Southern California Rapid Transit District, damn that job validated me, I had a nice car; I bought a home, and even started a family. But most important, I was a socialite. I attended a house party or went to the club every weekend. I was less than faithful to the mother of my children on regular bases. While under the influence I had all the confidence in the World. I was able to conceal my insecurities. I had everyone fooled; no one knew I was Nobody.
All that changed very rapidly. One evening while hanging out with some associates, and under the influence, I tried a new drug out on the streets. Crack Cocaine. My downward spiral was almost spontaneous, yet the progression was so mild it practically went unnoticed. What started off as a social pleasure turned into a full time occupation. I was a Crack Head, an addict, an alcoholic. A disease I would not wish on my worst enemy. A disease that will kills in slow motion. I lost my family, my home, car, and every material possession I owned. But most important, I lost my soul. I went from low self-esteem, to no self-esteem. In a six year span, I became homeless.
Life on the streets were tough, trying to hustle money to get high was harder than any full time job I ever had. It’s ironic when I think back to this one particular morning while I was on my way home from the Carolina West. I stopped to get some gas and this bum approached me and asked if he could pump my gas for me. I kicked that man in his ass, and told him to get the fuck away from my car. Well, here I was several years later, asking motorist to pump their gas for change, and getting kicked in the ass. I can tell you for sure, God is the best punisher. The pain I was now experiencing far exceeded the discomforts I’d felt in the past. I wanted out. The thought of death didn’t frighten me, after all, I was already dead, I just hadn’t laid down yet. What I did fear was dying and no one missing me, I was Nobody.
I sat in a Motel room exhausted from getting high all night. I remember thinking to myself, this is it, “I can’t do this anymore.” In a daze I walked to a nearby Ralphs Market on Vernon and Figueroa and purchased a small bottle of ammonia. Once I was back in my room I poured a cup full of the nitrogen and hydrogen compound, took one last hit of crack from my pipe, and drank it. The self-inflicted pain was indescribable. My insides were on fire, and I couldn’t breathe. I ran out of my motel room and collapsed in the parking lot.
Well, that was in nineteen ninety- one. Needless to say I survived all attempts on my life. After I was discharged from the County hospital I was admitted in to a recovery program at the VA. That’s where my true healing began; the Doctors at County General did an excellent job mending my body. But I was still sick; my mind was all messed up. My transformation while in recovery was miraculous. I was introduced to some concepts and strategies to help overcome a disease like addiction. I found out that there were a lot of people like me, and that I would never be cured, but I could learn to live with it. I could have a long and fulfilling life if I was willing to follow a few simple rules. I was also introduced to an individual while in recovery who eventually became my best friend. I learned more single handedly through this person then I probably ever learned from anybody. I realize that I’m a sensitive and emotional person today. And I realize that I was always in search of, and trying to be someone other than who I really am. I became more conscious, and came to realize my full potentials. Today I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, who enjoys life at its fullest. I’m involved with a beautiful woman, who shares the same goals and aspirations as I. I have a healthy relationship with all my children. But the most unbelievable alteration is I’ve gained the confidence to do something I’ve always only dreamed of doing, going to college. It’s been nineteen years since I lie unconscious on that asphalt. And it’s been nineteen years since I’ve meet my best friend, and it might interest you to know, that my best friend is Nobody, my best friend is me.