Letter's Week: A Letter to a Broken Man by Dion Jetson

I knew it had to be me or you.  One of us had to go because both of us couldn’t make it.  A few times in life, I realized this, but one day the light just went off.  I was angry with life.  I carried so much with me, it weighed me down, I was at a point where I could barely express myself through writing, poetry or rap.  The search for answers and reason was constant.  My conversations were laced with venom, healthy relationships were an afterthought.  I was toxic.


It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.  © Frederick Douglas


I hate that quote because I was broken and nothing is ever pieced together the same.  And even when pieced together again, who would I be?  Dion Jones, Dion Banks III or Dion Davis? 

I grew up in a home filled with love, family members loved to have me around in our two flat on 79th street, I was the emperor and that was my castle.  “Big Bubba Ain’t No Trubba” is what my great uncles Willie and Ernest called me.  I felt invincible in that house and on that block, Mom told me not to fight but grandma encouraged me not to be a punk and I wasn’t.  No father figures were around but with a myriad of men as family and family friends, I didn’t miss it at that young age.  Then Alonzo came into my life, via an introduction from my grandmother to my mother. 

I don’t recall ever liking him and even if I did, it was all washed away the first time I knew he hit my mother.  I remember being in a car outside his apartment in Riverdale with my grandfather and my mother going to drop off some of his suits because they were breaking up.  She came out crying saying he hit her.  That moment is like a polaroid, I can drive you to the building right now, even though I haven’t been there in probably 25 years or more.  Somehow, beyond my comprehension, I ended up living with this man and my mother married him.  Physical battles in the house weren constant and my mother was no fighter.  Every time they’d fight, I’d cringe, I thought death was certain for my mother.  At one point, they fought in the basement and me being in 4th or 5th grade at the time went to grab the biggest butcher knife in the house.  Standing in the doorway of my room, he spotted me, came at me, starting punching me; body blows and then he took the knife.  Telling my mom “look what you made him do.”  After that, he took us for dinner at Shakey’s in Calumet City, as if that was a cure-all.  The fighting didn’t stop, one night he was stabbed in the thigh, but we had to tell the hospital it was an accident.  All authority in my life was under question and I respected almost no one.  I was isolated and unable to interact with the people I loved on 79th Street as my grandmother was told she couldn’t call my house and my aunt couldn’t come live with us when she needed us most.  I felt no one knew the hell we were living in, and if they did, why didn’t they come help! 

One day, the abuse in my house turned to me.  On 79th street, you couldn’t whoop me, it was law.  In Dolton this was different, I was hit with pieces of wood, 1x4’s, 2x4’s, a wooden Louisville slugger and even one beating where I was forced to shower first so the leather from the belt could hurt my wet skin. I felt isolated, I used to tell people I raised myself I felt so alone. In 8th grade, I finally felt big enough to fight back and for the rest of my days until 17, we constantly fought, when an attempt was made for me to live at that house (I was constantly shipped to live with my grandmother and aunt).  I would go back and forth to Whitney Young and just be happy to have made it to a safe place, going to class was an afterthought.  Grades were not on my mind either, from the time of my first fight with Alonzo to the end of high school, I don’t think I saw another “A” again.  From National Honor Society, Academic Decathlons to testing into the honors track at Whitney Young to failing grades; and to this day anyone except me has seen my final grades from 8th-grade year.  Later, my mom forced me to go to therapy for my failing grades as if we weren’t living in bedlam.

Once I arrived back to 79th street, it wasn’t the place I remembered.  The happy place with love and family was gone.  Addiction ran in the family and that became the place where I learned what different drugs smelled like being used.  Hardly sleeping, thinking Alonzo would kill my mother nightly, to knowing what freebase smelled like and what a Heroin nod was and what spoons not to use.  It was the place where my grandmother would borrow money from me and write checks (usually $10 for $20 or $20 for $30) that would have me in First National Bank looking like a fool trying to cash them as they bounced.  When I was old enough to drive, she’d have me drive her to her friend’s house to exchange a make-up case with her friend’s son as she’d buy crack right in front of my face. 

At 17, I met my biological father I had hoped to save me and make sense of my crazy life.  I thought missing pieces were whole again, people told me that I was just like him from my temper to my smile.  He was for a short period, the answer.  The thought in my head was, if he had been in my life things would’ve been alright.  Only to get a phone call months later at SIU saying don’t watch the news.  He was the suspect in the murder/carjacking of a woman at Ford City.  A mother killed in front of her sons that he was eventually convicted of and sentenced to death row for.  I sought out those two sons for years, felt like I owed them something, felt like I owed them my mother (Jennifer doesn’t know how much she lifted that burden off me with only a few words).  Suddenly the hole was bigger than before and all those experiences poured into it.  I felt burdened, I felt drained, I was angry, why me?  One of these things I could’ve handled, but all of these things, I didn’t understand; I was broken.  I was the same little boy who loved Beat Street, Prince, and Michael Jackson.  My whole life was unrest and after feeling responsible for the death of my grandmother my belief in everything was gone. 

One day I caught a glimpse of a sermon saying that forgiveness wasn’t for the other people, it was for the person doing the forgiving.  That crashed into me.  I forgave as much as I could, but the memories are still there and still fresh.  Still today, I have nightmares and almost all of them take place at that house in Dolton.  When the quiet times come and I’m alone with my thoughts, I’m often here, searching for answers in my story, replaying the past and doing things differently.  The quiet times may be the most important times in my life because as much as they are about times I wish never happened, I still use that time to find my smile.  The smile I had when my village was building a strong child and the smile I have as a grown man searching for understanding. Realizing that broken men can be repaired to be just as strong as children.   


Dion Jetson