Sorboni Banerjee


Tommy Baxter


Theresa Edo


Erin Jang


Michelle Kearns


Madelyn Rosenberg Lazorchak


Jay Rubin


Sarah Williams

Introductory Essay


By Sarah Williams

My brother thinks he is a thug. He sees his posse of ne’er-do-well friends as a vaguely dangerous band of scofflaws, feared and respected throughout our hometown. He listens to what used to be called gangsta rap and mentally extrapolates his Norfolk, Virginia exploits to a Brooklyn or Los Angeles scale. He chafes under authority, runs into skirmishes with the local police, and is prone to quit jobs at the slightest provocation. He only half-facetiously sometimes refers to himself as Big Steve-dawg.

Being his older sister, I see through this game. Steve is my little brother, 6’2’’ but not yet 20, the kid with the indispensable code of ethics and the almost-obsessive love of Christmas decorations, and tradition, and his dogs, and doing the right thing. There’s some historical reference for the thug mythology, though. Steve stopped going to school in 9th or 10th grade to concentrate more fully on skateboarding and general delinquency; our parents sent him to an intensive behavior modification program / school in Jamaica. They sent him overseas, they said, so he couldn’t run away. (Other such attempts - boarding school near D.C., military school in the Blue Ridge, and so on -- had all resulted in failure as Steve invariably escaped, hitch-hiking or hopping trains to get back home.) And Steve is charismatic and popular, so his time in Jamaica left a definite vacuum in his social circle, and his return was met with great excitement. Now his friends follow him in a ubiquitous zombie-like entourage.

Steve often reminds me of Ollie, our old dog. He was half Rottweiler and half Akita, both breeds associated with fighting and aggression, but Ollie thought he was a lap dog. Like Steve, he had a penchant for inadvertently enraging our mother: Ollie with his innumerable attempts to excavate the back yard or gnaw through the garage; Steve with his irresponsibility and lack of foresight. Ollie used to have a doghouse, to shelter him from the rain outside, but he ate it.

Steve used to have a car, a battered old Honda Civic that nonetheless got great gas mileage and made it to Vegas and back. But he “forgot” - for a year, during which time he drove across the continent - to put oil in the car; the engine cracked, and Steve now relies on our mom for transportation. When his friends are around, Steve talks of racing through the desert, blowing out a tire in an off-road gully, and replacing it with one stolen from another car in a Nevada parking lot. I know, though, both because he’s told me and because I know Steve, that his friends stole the other tire in spite of him, against his explicit advice.

Steve has no shortage of ethics, but he loathes police officers. He would tell you it’s because they harass him, target him unfairly, but even he realizes the fallacy of this argument. Even Steve knows that one ought not skateboard through crowded food courts at shopping malls, such as the Prudential Center, from whence he was evicted in March. (He proudly kept his citation.) Steve’s real problem with law enforcement officers, though, probably has more to do withThanksgiving of 1999, when Ollie was killed by a Norfolk policeman. Ollie was harmless to everyone (except cats), but he was 5’2’’ on two legs, and weighed a solid 75 pounds. He tried to jump a fence, and the officer shot him.

It was a good shot, I am told: Ollie died quickly. But Steve himself was assaulted on another Thanksgiving Day -- he was mugged in ’97 -- and he draws parallels between his and Ollie’s experiences. Steve still thinks of Ollie as his best friend, and still hates police officers.

Our grandmother always thought Steve was a thug, or at least uncivilized. Last year she slipped in her bathtub in September, lost most of her critical faculties in October, and died in her sleep in November. She had never made a particular effort to spend time with Stephen, but he visited her often in her last months. I was there most days, and Steve would come over to read Bible stories or her mail to her. We joked that he was being sent to the Zoo, because he had gotten a job there. (We left out the bit about his “job” being court-ordered community service.) We had a funeral in December, but waited until ground thaw and April, our grandmother’s favorite month, to bury her ashes. Two of our aunts attended neither service, and our uncle and father were both unable to speak a eulogy at the burial. Steve broke down in tears; it wasn’t right, he said, for someone to raise five children and have no words spoken at her interment.