To read prior chapters: https://themountainnewswa.net/category/the-men-of-honor-of-unity-house/
Day Two, 2 p.m
The Men of Honor go into action
I made copies of the Code and our flyer, and brought them out to TT, who was in the Commons area playing video games with the guys.
TT read them and said, “Okay guys, get your berets. We’re gonna have our first meetings of the Men of Honor and get our plan together for helping the neighborhood.”
Willy lingered at the controls of his video game but slowly surrendered, and the guys all went to their rooms. Deon and Naleef stayed. They hadn’t gotten their berets yet, so TT handed them the box and asked them to make their choices.
Deon tried all different angles, checking himself in the mirror next to the staff office to see which angle would be the coolest. Naleef just plopped his beret squarely on his head.
How different these two guys are, I mused, observing their hat selection.
Deon and Naleef were six months apart in age, the two youngest guys in the house, and widely separated from the older guys in teenage savvy. Naleef was just thirteen, and a very immature thirteen at that. Deon was twelve and sometimes acted nineteen, but was often a very large two-year old. Compared to them, the next oldest guy, Kevin A at fourteen, seemed like an adult.
Deon was our million-dollar baby. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had already spent a million bucks of tax money on him, as he had been in and out of institutional care since conception. His mother was a junkie who really wanted her baby. Her social worker, who had been working with her and her whole dysfunctional family for the seven years prior to Deon’s birth, supported her decision to become a mom. I guess he had no choice, really, because when a woman wants to become a mom what can a social worker do? But, he should have seen the writing on the wall because Deon’s mother, her two sisters and Deon’s grandmother racked up eight Child Protective Service referrals before the state pulled the plug and yanked Deon out of their care when he was four.
So, Deon entered the world of foster care, and ultimately Unity House, behind a very large eight ball of druggin’, drinkin’ and chaotic living.
Strangely, Deon did not drink or do drugs. His passion was making life hell for the Department of Social and Health Services, and his specialty was big-ticket items like burning down houses, which he did when he was nine to one of what was to become twenty-three foster homes before he reached Unity House.
In addition, Deon had thirty-six separate instances of police custody, for incidents ranging from wandering around the Mall at 3:00 am, to throwing a chair through his social worker’s window. At McCready Hall, the Worcester County prison for kids, Deon had been incarcerated there for at least an overnight eight different times according to my records, and he was only twelve.
Plus, he had been in Unity House three times in the past year. The first two times he had run away after a week or so, surviving on the street through a combination of street hustling, dumpster diving and little boy charm that would get him informally adopted by whomever he set his eyes on.
But this time was different. Deon had been with us for ten weeks; maybe he was changing. We even got him into Grafton Street Middle School, which was a miracle. Normally guys like Deon who bounce in and out of state facilities do not go to regular school since their behavior is so disruptive, or their educational performance is much lower than their grade level. As a result, Deon, and about another thirty other lads and lassies of Worcester County were tutored in a special school, called Sunrise Center, located in downtown Worcester.
Deon hated Sunrise and I couldn’t blame him. It was a converted gas station and had only one small window, no grass and no playground. The outdoor play area was a tiny asphalt lot where junked cars had once been parked. Whether he received any kind of education is debatable, but undeniably it lacked one critical factor for Deon, Mother Nature.
Deon loved the outdoors. Maybe since he didn’t have a functioning mom, he found mothers wherever he could and Mother Nature was his favorite. He hated formal therapy especially indoors in my office, so our sessions were held a short ways away in the aforementioned Gardens of Magdalene Abbey, another of the old McAllister homes that had reverted to a religious order, The Brothers of Marian.
Deon loved the garden and you could see him relax in the company of trees, blue skies and a gentle breeze. His favorite place to sit was on top of a big rock at the center of the garden, kind of like the Lion King on his Pride Rock.
I had been advocating that Deon go to a boot camp out in nature because the second place Deon thrived was prison. He liked, or at least appreciated, firm structure. Throughout August, Deon’s new social worker and I had tried to get him into a pastoral, no-bullshit, residence in the Big Sky Country of Montana. Unfortunately, Massachusetts didn’t have the $60,000 per year needed for the placement. Some bean-counter in the Governor’s Office figured the $6,000 per month at Unity House was cheaper. Duh? Or maybe the bean-counter figured that I or a doctor somewhere in Psychiatric Wonderland had a magic pill that was going to fix Deon once and for all and get him off the state’s books.
Whoever you are, friend, dream on.
Anyway, Deon was around for the start of the school year and since he had been stable with Unity House since early August, Grafton Street figured they could take a chance on him. Apparently, last night Deon flew his true colors at Grafton Street and his vandalism and utter disregard for others got him escorted back to us. “Thanks, Mr. Alsde, you saved me the trip.” Deon was my guy until Deon decided he wasn’t, so Unity was where Deon belonged.
As for Naleef, besides having a strange name he looked strange. Short and slender, he never stood straight. He looked crooked as if he had spinal bifida, which he didn’t, so I wondered if he was twisted psychosomatically, recoiling from life’s emotional attacks. His skin color was different as well, and that kept him from easy social acceptance. His light, mocha complexion and almond eyes reflected his mix of Vietnamese, Okinawan, and US Navy heritage.
Naleef was extremely shy and awkward, and I sometimes saw him pace our hallways like he was lost. Some of those times he also walked unsteadily, running his elbow along the wall, either in an effort to brace himself or perhaps as some kind of emotional reassurance. I never saw him initiate any direct social interaction, either. Rather, he would stealthily slide into something already going on, like joining a couple of guys playing video games on our large TV screen and merge with the group action.
His anxious fragility came out most clearly at night; Naleef suffered from nocturnal enuresis: nighttime bed-wetting. When he first came to Unity his enuresis was a nightly event, but as he acclimated to his new surroundings over the summer the incidents tapered off. However, when school started in September his enuresis returned in earnest at Unity, and also spilled over into his daytime at Grafton Street, where his lack of bladder control was a frequent occurrence.
Naleef was a wreck the first week of school, even in a half day “Easy Start” program. It was understandable since it was the first time in years he had been in a regular school.
Compounding Naleef’s problems was his insistence on having staff help him change the sheets. At nine-bucks-an-hour the night crew wanted a thirteen year-old to be able to change his own bed. The staff argued with Naleef nightly, escalating his anxiety, and they hounded me, demanding that I somehow “make him grow up faster.”
I thought Naleef was growing up as fast as he knew how. Nevertheless, I’d push him a little, asking in sessions why he still needed staff help with the sheets. His answer was always the same: a shrug.
Stonewalling all my efforts to get him to talk about it or about how he felt towards the guys or starting school, I sensed his past was at the heart of the issue. Until he was ready to talk about any of it, the best I could do was offer some social relief by playing chess or going for walks together during our sessions, or coloring paint-by-numbers in my office while we listened to country music.
Naleef had been profoundly abused sexually throughout his life. His mother suffered as an adult from the after-effects of fetal alcohol syndrome, and not only was she unable to cope with many of the responsibilities of motherhood she also was unable to control many of her own physical urges. She drank and drugged and turned to intermittent prostitution to make money for them to live. However, she often turned tricks right in the presence of Naleef, and some of her clients and boyfriends had sex with Naleef as well.
The culmination point occurred when Naleef was eight years old. Mom and her boyfriend du jour took Naleef to the movies, and during the show mom and boyfriend got drunk. After the show, they decided to have sex in the backseat of the car before going home. Turning to Naleef mom said, “Oh, honey just turn up the radio and don’t look.” Then, she tossed her son the keys.
Hearing loud music for over twenty minutes from a stationary car, the Shopping Mall Security decided to investigate and found mom and boyfriend in corpus delecti. Flashing lights and sirens, two half-clothed adults, and a drunken brawl between the boyfriend and the cops highlighted the ensuing drama.
Child Protective Services removed Naleef immediately and placed him in foster care that night. His mother was sent to jail on child abuse charges, and a few warrants for bad checks caught up with her as well. She was still incarcerated several years later when Naleef came to Unity House.
However, prior to arriving at Unity Naleef floundered in foster care, becoming very depressed and withdrawn. Within two weeks of the CPS intervention he was in Worcester State Hospital for Children, a psychiatric facility for kids.
Naleef didn’t fare so well there either, and twice cut his wrists. However, therapy and a stable environment got him functioning eventually, and after two years in the residential psych facility for kids, DSHS felt he was strong enough for a community placement. Unity was the best they could find and Naleef came to us in the spring, just after his thirteenth birthday. Not the most ideal placement perhaps, but Naleef generally did okay with us, especially now that school was in session because Naleef was smart and received a lot of kudos from his teachers, which was fantastic.
Despite his horrific history I saw some real strength in Naleef, most notably his intellect and his strong sense of nobility. He just had a lot of catching up to do, maturity-wise. So, Naleef was down at Grafton Street Middle School and from his teachers’ reports, “hanging in there.”
As the rest of the guys joined Deon and Naleef, TT called the first meeting of the Men of Honor to order. He read the Code and introduction word for word and made it sound like it was his writing. I let it go. I didn’t need a copyright but it would have been nice to have had a little acknowledgment that I was part of the founding. TT gave, but he didn’t share.
One by one the guys read the Code, and TT placed a yellow scarf around each one’s neck when he finished. After the third guy it was getting boring, so I suggested that the guys give their own meaning to the Code, such as “I accept the Code of Honor and this is what it means to me.”
TT just scowled and I knew we needed a Plan B.
“How about the three guys left, Kevin A, Naleef, and Deon, read the Code together,” I suggested. Trey and Willy brightened. They sure didn’t want to listen to three more renditions, especially Naleef’s, which would probably be filled with a litany of, “I can’t do this,” or “I don’t know how to pronounce that word,” or “I don’t know what this means.”
TT still scowled.
“Or, you and I can read with them, TT, with the three guys left, all together. Make it a joint project.” TT went for it, and that’s how we finished. The next question was what to do next.
Instead of unloading Bill’s truck we decided to go into the neighborhood. We figured the food was better off where it was for now, since not only did we not have a lot of freezer space, Bill’s truck was insulated for refrigeration, which gave us at least a week’s worth of storage time before we had to cook the food or pitch it. What seemed more urgent was to launch the Men of Honor.
Chapter Eleven – Day Two, 3 p.m.
TT and I decided to take two small groups into the neighborhood. TT drove his SUV, now christened the “Nuke Mobile” by Willy, and take Trey, Willy and the two K’s to the south along Heywood Street. I took Deon and Naleef north, up to Shannon Street and Dorchester Hill.
Terry and Bill decided to check out St. Vincent’s and see what, if anything, remained of that once glorious hospital. So, they hitched a ride with TT as far as the Abbey, and then organized a scouting party with Brother Mike and the Abbots.
For this adventure, we had to figure out how to suit up.
Bill got us plastic gloves from the SYSCO truck. In fact he had five cases of the suckers, all extra-large.
He also got us plastic garbage-pail liners for our feet, and large plastic garbage bags for ponchos and arm wraps, sealing them with duct tape. I got a couple of paper face-masks from the woodworking shop downstairs, and ran out to my pickup for my paint respirator.
We didn’t have enough masks for every one, so Trey and Willy made Bedouin head wraps out of their yellow scarves. I had to admit they looked pretty sharp – better than my 3-M silicon half-mask.
In fact, by the time the Men of Honor had gotten into the Nuke Mobile all the guys had wrapped their heads like Trey and Willy, and it became the signal look of the Men of Honor for the duration of our time “in the zone,” as Union Hill became known to the world in the next few hours.
At the last second, I asked Bill to come with me and the the little ones, and he seemed glad to be invited. He’s got the touch, I said to myself, and wondered how long he would be able to stay with us. I asked him as we hiked up the short, steep ravine to Shannon Street.
“Oh, I emailed my sister-in-law and got good news. I couldn’t get through directly to my wife, but my sister-in-law lives two blocks away from us and she told me everything’s okay at home. A couple of minutes after the bomb hit, the sirens went off in Canton and Patty knew something was up. She went right to the school and got our son Jason. She didn’t know what was happening until she got to the school. It was a good thing she acted when she did because the traffic jam at the school was crazy. Hundreds of parents showed up within fifteen minutes, but Patty was in the front of the bunch so she was able to get Jason right away. She said the teachers were running around and things looked chaotic. But they’re okay. They’ve more worried about me, and they think I’m safer here until the dust level goes down. So, they know I’m okay, and that I’m gonna stay here for a couple more days.”
“That’s great, Bill,” I said. Deon and Naleef didn’t say anything as we trudged along, which told me they weren’t opposed to the idea of a stranger in the house.
“I want the four of us to go together to the first house,” I said. “I don’t know how people will react to us, so it’s better if we stay together for the first shot.”
“C’mon man, I can go on my own,” argued Deon.
“I know, Deon, and you will. After the first one you are on your own. Okay?”
“Okay, but I can do it on my own right now.”
“Thanks for doing it my way, Deon, I appreciate it.”
We shuffled off en mass to the first house on Shannon. Wrapped in green garbage bags like Plastic Pillsbury Dough Boys we must have looked weird: two strange men in dust masks, pint-sized Lawrenceii of Arabia in scarves, and all of us wearing red berets.
“Are you from the government?” asked the young woman in camo gear who came to the door in two seconds after we rang her bell.
“No, Ma’am,” I said.
“No, we’s from Unity House and we’s here to save you,” said Deon.”
Shit kid, I said under my breath.
“Here lady. Here’s a radiation warning,” Deon said, handing her a flyer. “If ya need anything, call us.”
“We gotta go,” I said.”
“Yeah, we’s only got five minutes in the dust before we die. Bye,” finished Deon.
“Thanks,” said the young woman in an olive drab t-shirt, camo pants, and black army boots. “I’ll try emailin’ ya in a couple of minutes. I’m active duty and I’ve been wondering what to do, but I can’t get through to anybody.”
I waved, and gave her a thumbs-up since I couldn’t say a damn thing clearly with my respirator on. Our first house looked like a success.
“Bill,” I mumbled, “you take Naleef and go next door. Deon and I will go across the street.”
“I’m on my own, man. You said it.”
“That’s right, Deon. You take the next house and I’ll do the one next to yours.”
Deon was off and running, his plastic leggings making a whrosh, whrosh, whrosh sound as he ran. He rang the first bell, but no one answered. Deon waited for five seconds and then stuck a flyer in the door handle. Then, he ran across the yard to the next house.
I wasn’t even to the sidewalk, yet.
Deon kept running, sticking flyers in the door handles and not waiting for anyone to answer. Smart thinking kid, I thought and headed to the next house. Deon beat me to that one too, so I just waved him back and said, “Our five minutes are up Deon, c’mon.” He returned to where I was standing in the street and Bill and Naleef joined us. We only had contacted six houses, but it was a start.
“Mission accomplished, Men of Honor,” I said walking into the portico of the Commons room door, pulling off my respirator, and hanging my plastic garbage bag suit on a nail just outside the door.
“Yeah. We’re heroes,” Deon replied, and high-fived Naleef.
I smiled. I don’t think Naleef has ever been high-fived before.
“Yes, you are Deon,” I said. “You’re a hero. And, you too, Naleef. And, Bill. We’re all heroes.” I poked Bill in the ribs with my elbow. “How do you like being a hero, Bill, you SYSCO Kid?”
Bill smiled, “It’s okay.”
Naleef and Deon went to their showers on the north hallway and Bill and I used the south bathroom. After drying off and putting on “indoor clothes” from the Goodwill Box, TT and the Nuke Mobile drove back through the gardens of the Magdalene Abbey, and I saluted them through the Commons window. From the back seat Trey and Willy returned the salute.
TT showered in the south bathroom after the two K’s, Trey, and Willy. I could only guess how TT was feeling about using bathrooms that had once been the private enclave of our clients. Even with the clear rationale of nuclear war, being naked in our clients’ bathroom was a little freaky. I knew I felt uncomfortable.
Is TT, too? We’ll be processing this in staff meetings for a year. I wonder when we’ll ever get a quiet moment to talk about all of this?
© 2011 Bruce A. Smith