I have been aware of the story of how Trayvon Martin was killed almost from the beginning. One of the website's I visit daily alerted me to this tragedy in early March, and I have been following it diligently ever since. Trayvon's story hit very close to home for me. One of my very good friend's has a 17 year old son who looks like Trayvon. His name is Jamal, and I've known him for 7 years.
I first met Jamal quite by accident. His dad and I belonged to the same social service organization because we both have the same affliction, and I knew Jamal's dad a few years longer because of that. One day, during one of my regular visits to this organization, Jamal's dad had an appointment to a place where he could not take Jamal, so he asked if I would keep an eye on his son while he was away. "It shouldn't take more than an hour, " he said. I was flattered that he trusted me enough to leave his son with me that I said "yes" immediately. Now, don't get me wrong. His dad and I were friends, but we only knew each other because we belonged to that organization and attended the same meetings, but we didn't socialize outside that group. Until that day. Now, I'm a smoker, and all smokers have to go outside to the designated smoking area where there were tables and chairs set up mostly for us smokers, but others also sat there just to enjoy the weather. It was at one of those tables that Jamal's dad introduced me to Jamal and he told him that I would be watching him until he returned. And he sat there smiling, holding a deck of cards, and greeted me as only a 10 year old smart aleck would.
"To-bacco is whack-o!" he said, looking at me, then at my burning cigarette. And I sighed, annoyed that I one more nag to deal with, and said, "Yeah, yeah, what kind of card games do you know how to play?" "War and Gold Fish, what do you want to play?" I chose Gold Fish (I eventually corrected him), and as we played, the little rug rat found his way into my heart. His dad was gone a bit longer than an hour, but Jamal and I managed to play a number of rounds of Go Fish and War and then Jenga, and when his dad returned I received the greatest compliment a 10 year old boy can give. "Dad, Bill's cool!"
Since that day, Jamal and I have been to the Great Fresno Fair, seen a few movies at the cinema (with his dad joining us), gone shopping for helmets and knee pads for skateboarding, played Slug Bug on the city bus (my arm hurts just thinking about that), and two graduation ceremonies. Nowadays, his dad and I are close friends. Some of his dad's other friends are surprised about our friendship because I'm a gay White single man and he is not. He is a single Black father. His dad is adamant in telling others that there is nothing unsavory about my affections toward his son, and that he considers me to be one of Jamal's uncles. You have no idea how good that makes me feel.
Jamal is a smart kid. He's always had excellent grades in school. He remembers every word of dialog of every movie he's ever seen, and he self-censors any curse word that might be spoken in the film. I lost count of his "bleeps" when I was over at their house once and Next Friday was on the tv. He graduated middle school and high school with honors, having taken college level classes, and is now on a full academic scholarship in a very good state university. He's majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I've never heard him curse. His dad can't make that same claim.
So, when I tell you that every time I see a photo of Trayvon, I think of Jamal, I do not lie. When I see Trayvon's parents on the news, my heart aches as if my friend had lost Jamal. My stomach is still in knots over this. Just yesterday, I spoke with Jamal's dad and shared this with him. He knew even before I called that I was going to be all torn up over this. Jamal was in school, so I told his dad to tell Jamal that I love him and that I'm praying for his safety as I'm sure Trayvon's family prayed for his.
So, anyway, that's how Trayvon's death is affecting me. I still smoke, and Jamal still nags me about it. I'm not much of a diarist. Some of you have seen my comments, and I think I'm a better commenter than a diarist, but I really needed to get this off my chest. Every day I read the news, and every day a young Black man or teenager is senselessly killed. Every day, my heart breaks and I think of Jamal.