MICHAEL DAVIS: Do Over
The other day I met a young lady at an airport. She looked around 16 or so. I noticed her looking at the comic book I was reading. When I was done I gave it to her. We started talking. She is a young artist who is struggling with her weight. She is being picked on at school and has one real friend. She wants to be a comic artist and is a big fan of Static Shock. She rarely goes outside and says that she sometimes wishes she were not born. She also has a family, which is a little odd. I told her that her family does not define her and that one day what is happening to her will help her. She wished she could start over. Before I could tell her anything else her father noticed we were talking and told her to “Get the **** over here.’
I never got her name, but I hope she remembers the ComicMix information I gave her so she can read this. This is for her…
When I was in grade school I had a terrible reputation. I was known as a punk kid who could not fight. When I was very young I was raised by my mom, my sister and my grandmother. Being raised by three women you tend to get a lot of advice like this,
“You are better than that.”
“Just walk away.”
“Sticks and stones.”
From time to time, my sister would have a different slant on things. Her advice really depended on how she felt that day. I would get, ‘Who cares what he said?’ Or ‘I can’t believe you did not kick his ass!’ That kind of mixed advice is enough to land any kid in therapy.
Living in the projects the last thing you want to known as is a punk. If you are then you better hook up with a group of friends or a gang who can look after you. Either that or you need a family member who was crazy so people would leave you alone for fear of that crazy relative of yours. I actually have a crazy cousin. He murdered four people in a drug-induced state. He was my favorite cousin until he did that. I have not spoken to him in more than 30 years; that’s how long he’s been in jail. I am not one of those people who think that blood is thicker than water.
Nope. Not me, I’m not that guy.
I don’t care who you are, you murder four innocent people to support your drug habit, then you are out of my life, period. Before I get all kinds of comments saying that I am heartless and that family is everything consider this: you may stick by a family member no matter what and I respect that, but I’m not you. As loud as I can get sometimes I am a real simple guy. My simplicity is almost comical to my family and friends. I only need one thing to make me content, that one thing is piece of mind.
If he ever gets out of jail then do I really want him around me? Do I really want to hear him explain why he did it? Do I really want to share holidays with this stranger? Make no mistake, the moment he killed four people he was no longer my favorite cousin, he was a stranger because the cousin I knew would not have done that. Yes, I have forgiven him, but that’s not even the point because the people he needs to forgive him is the family of those kids (yes, kids) he killed.
That family, and God.
For my cousin his life defining moment came when he decided to enter that home looking for something to steal. When he realized that there were people home he chose violence instead of flight. I don’t care if he was on drugs, I don’t care if he was not in his right mind. I don’t care. He chose that path. Nobody chose it for him.
I have as much sympathy for him as I do for the monsters that took my sister and my grandmother. You can’t choose your family but you can certainly choose not to support their horrible behavior.
I know this is harsh and I sometimes wish that could be more compassionate to my cousin. I know that there will be people who say I am hard hearted. I respect that but I ask those people to consider this: what kind of person would I be to give less consideration to the victims and more consideration to the murderer simply because we are related? As I said, I’m not that guy.
Well, I’m sure all of the above has been a real buzz-kill. I realize that was a long way to go to underscore that I have a crazy cousin.
I’m sure that telling people I had a crazy cousin could have got me out of a few ass kickings. Truth be told I was so ashamed that I would have rather taken an ass kicking, and I took a few.
Being known as a punk in the projects made me hate to go outside. In fact, I hated my life. I hated my name. I hated being me. I was in the 6th grade when I realized that I had a chance for redemption. That redemption came in the form of my graduation into Junior High School. I would be going to a brand new school! A brand new school where there would be some people who would not know me! Sure there would be some people from my old school there but the majority of the people in the new school would not know me!
As a kid there is almost magical reward we are sometime granted in play. That reward is known to all kids all over the world. That reward is the DO OVER .
This was a big deal! This was a chance for my very own do over!
I remember the summer before I went into my new school. I worked on my “cool” walk. I stayed inside a lot so as to give the impression that I was “away.” In my neighborhood if you were “away” that usually meant jail or some other incarceration. When those people came back they were always perceived as cooler. The last thing I worked on was my mouth. I was always a talkative kid but noticed all the cool kids never really said much.
So, the first day of school rolls around and … it worked! People who knew me for years seemed to think that I had been sent away. I let them think that by not responding when asked a question, instead I gave them … the stare.
The stare, for all of you who don’t know, is a very potent weapon. It’s simply a look of utter contempt straight into your eyes, pouty lips optional.
You can see the stare in just about any rap video or any skinhead rally. Anyway, I gave the stare as best as I could and it seemed to be all I needed. The next few weeks were great for me. I was not picked on, kids talked to me, I was not beat up once. I was in the midst of a revival of major proportions! Everything was going along fine until I attended a school assembly in which the principal announced a student talent show. This was my chance to not only be liked but, even better, to be cool! The problem is that all the other kids were forming groups and I was not bold enough yet to ask anyone to form join my group. The talent show was a lip sync contest, which meant that all you had to do was learn some dance steps and fake the words. Well I realized that I would not be able to participate and that was OK until…Karl McKenzie.
That name still haunts me. Karl and I were friends, we were comic book trading buddies. In fact Karl was a big reason that I started reading Marvel Comics. Up until then I was a major DC fan (even though my first comic was a Marvel). Karl was my friend even before my transformation. He did not care that I was a “punk” he was really cool with me.
I really liked Karl until I saw him perform at the talent show. He did a dead on Michael Jackson. I mean this kid was fantastic. His group got a standing ovation from kids who had no idea what a standing ovation was. That was just the beginning; the entire school was now talking about Karl. ESPECIALLY the girls!!
The seventh grade is the official time that you get interested in the opposite sex, so this hit home … hard! I should have been content to just live my new life but no I was jealous of my friend Karl. I should have just let it go.
But no, I didn’t. I was determined to get my 15 minutes of fame so when I heard about a group looking for another member I jumped at the chance.
I was asked if I knew the song, I said I did. I didn’t.
I was asked if I could learn the dance steps in 15 minutes. I said I could. I could not.
I was asked if I had ever preformed on stage I said I had. I hadn’t.
So there I was on stage at P.S. 198 in Rockaway Queens waiting for the curtain to go up. This, I was sure would secure my rep! I was now going to be cool!! I had visions of the crowd going wild for me!
The curtain went up and the music started. I was great!!
I was great for about 30 seconds.
After that, when the group went left, I went right. When the group went down, I stayed up. When the group turned around, I tripped. The crowd did go wild … with laughter. One of the band members said to me, “Get off the stage.” So I turned to the crowd and threw my hands up and walked off the stage. Now, I could have saved my rep by simply not giving a hoot. I could have left the stage and said, “Hey I was just messing around.” Or I could have simply gave those laughing – The Stare! I feel that any of these would have protected my new life. What did I do?
I cried. Cried like a little bic-acth. In the span of 30 seconds I had wiped out any hope of being cool at my new school. I was back to being a punk and worst, a crybaby. There is no crying in the hood. None.
Years later I eventually lost the punk emblem when I beat the living crap out of a guy who tried to rob me. He actually cut me with a razor to prove to me he was serious. The mistake he made was I got blood on a brand new white shirt my mom had just brought me. I went Hulk on this guy. People had to pull me off this idiot. That was years later. But when I was sitting in the auditorium still crying long after everyone had gone home, I remember thinking that I would have to come back to school still a punk and everything seemed lost.
After talking to my young friend at the airport and hearing about how she wished she could start over, it occurs to me that most people would like that chance. But as I sat in that auditorium years ago my friend Karl McKenzie came and sat next to me. He told me that the new comics came out that day and he was heading to the store to get some. He never mentioned the performance, he never mentioned me crying. We then went and got some comics. My friend Karl was still my friend.
As horrible as that stage experience was it was that incident that caused me to spend more time in my house reading, drawing and watching TV. Soon I met some people who I wanted to hang out with and who wanted to hang out with me.
I have made a career of those things I did in my house, and I turned out all right. So will the young lady I talked to at the airport.
If you are reading this young lady, I hope it helps. Now call your friend and go get some comics.
Michael Davis is a comics creator and the founder of the Guardian Line series of comics as well as being a television producer and writer. He was a co-founder of Milestone Comics and his artwork has appeared in Wasteland, Green Arrow: Shado, Green Hornet and The Question, among others.