When my mother told me that a man was coming to install bars on her downstairs patio doors and that she would sleep more soundly with them in, I told her good, but not to worry. The kids in this neighborhood, I told her, don’t want some silver-haired woman’s rust-bottomed bird cage, her stump-trimmed rose bush growing in a cheese can, or her dusty pink umbrella, age-holed so you can see the sky through it. And even if they did, these kids are not dangerous. They’ll light fires in metal plates in abandoned buildings, fuel them with empty gas bottles and sticky porn magazines, but they won’t burn your home. They’ll cut a dead cat’s head off, mount it in a white-brick shrine next to the oil lamp and icon of St. Demetrius, but they won’t kill that cat. They’ll scamper over the elementary school fence, scale a pipe to the first open window, elbow the glass above the principal’s office door, slice their fingers on the shatter, all to run away with an old stereo, the one thing they can pretend has value, an object on which to focus their frustration, their tribelessness, their warriorlessness, their leaderlessness; they will huddle around a music box too old to ever use, in the name of anarchy, or fuck the system, or down with the machine, or rage against the sickness; they’ll distill their gathered dog-pack howl into this one thing: stereolessness. They’ve inherited neither struggle nor promise, stranded in a world that neither hates them nor needs them, nor even knows they draw breath. They are the permanent marker’s alcohol scent, the spray paint’s rattling can, the graffiti signature swirled on school walls, overpasses, high voltage power boxes, everywhere they demand their existence to be acknowledged. They are the crack and roll of skateboards on sidewalks, the diaries carved into wrists with razors, the tattoo-sleeves of sharp-toothed dreams they promise themselves are true. So afraid to belong, they’ll do anything to avoid it. So afraid to be loved, they pierce themselves hateful. So afraid to accept the gift of their aliveness—the chanceness of it, the electric possibility of it—they’ll do anything to prove it has no value. And if some of them survive suicide or addiction, maybe they’ll join the Army. And if they survive that, maybe they’ll go back to school; become service-dog trainers, learn carpentry, or teach poetry in prisons, humbled by the fate they stayed one lucky step away from. But, I told my mother, the kids are not dangerous.



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