“it’s the enormity of small things”: the open mystery of childhood in richard price’s samaritan

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Remember that day I got caught spray-painting that shit on Eleven Building? Those two cops had me bookended, walked me all the way through Hopewell to the management office, all those little shitheels following us, woofing me out, made me feel like Dumbo leading the circus into town . . . Hands down the worst moment of my life. Well, you were there for that part of things.

Anyways, here’s what you didn’t see. They get me in the management office, one cop goes and calls my mother to come pick me up, then disappears to do the arrest report, right?

The other cop? That white cop? He’s sitting next to me on the lobby bench, we’re waiting for my mother, people coming in and out of the office to pay their rent or whatnot, everybody’s looking at me, knowing what I did.

We’re waiting, waiting . . . That white cop’s reading the Dispatch, not talking all that much, but when he comes to the comics section, he folds it back and passes me the paper, although I was too far gone to get into Li’l Abner just then . . .

Do you know how long I had to wait for my mother to come pick me up? Forty-five minutes. Forty-five motherfucking minutes to make it over from three buildings away. Forty-five minutes of me just sitting there with everybody staring at me like I was the lowest piece of shit on earth. And when she finally came in to get me? I’m talking three o’clock in the afternoon, now—she comes shuffling into the management office in a housecoat. A two-buttons-missing housecoat, got slippers on, her hair’s up in rollers, got a pack of Larks in a vinyl cigarette case in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Comes into the office like that in the middle of the afternoon before, the housing manager . . .” Nerese began ticking off on her fingers, pinky first. “Before, the, the clerks, the cops, the neighbors . . .

I just wanted to curl up and die right on that bench.

Butthen something happened, Ray, something amazing. Something . . .

That white cop sitting next to me? He took a long look at my mother when she came in, just like, absorbed her, and then without even turning to me, he just put his hand on my back, up between my neck and shoulder . . .

And all he did was squeeze. Give me a little squeeze of sympathy, then kind of rubbed that same spot with his palm for maybe two, three seconds, and that was it.

But I swear to you, nobody, in my entire life up to that point had ever touched me with that kind of tenderness. I had never experienced a sympathetic hand like that, and Ray, it felt like lightning.

I mean, the guy did it without thinking, I’m sure. And when dinnertime rolled around he had probably forgotten all about it. Forgot about me, too, for that matter . . . But I didn’t forget.

I didn’t walk around thinking about it nonstop either, but something like seven years later when I was at the community college? The recruiting officer for the PD came on campus for Career Day, and I didn’t really like college all that much to begin with, so I took the test for the academy, scored high, quit school and never looked back.

And usually when I tell people why I became a cop I say because it would keep Butchie and Antoine out of my life, and there’s some truth in that.

But I think the real reason was because that recruiting officer on campus that day reminded me, in some way, you know, conscious or not, of that housing cop who had sat on the bench with me when I was thirteen.

In fact, I don’t think it, I know it. As sure as I’m standing here, I know I became a cop because of him. For him. To be like him. God as my witness Ray, the man put his hand on my back for three seconds and it rerouted my life for the next twenty-nine years.

It’s the enormity of small things . . . Adults, grown-ups, us, we have so much power . . . And sometimes when we find ourselves coming into contact with certain kinds of kids? Needy kids? We have to be ever so careful . . .”

 

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