Young Adult Non-Fiction posted January 17, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
Two trapped teens, caged and uncaged

Wild Animals

by Sis Cat

Howls and growls in the living room keep me awake all night in the bedroom I share with my brother. He is not here because he sleeps in the living room with his best friend, Al Czar, on one of his Saturday night sleepovers.

On an August night, in '79, I lie awake beneath nappy polyester blankets. I wonder what my brother and Al are up to. They sound like a pack of wild animals. I wish I could join them, but I am uninvited. Besides, I am three years older than they and it would not be cool for a teen to hang with preteens.

In the morning we ride my family's station wagon to church. We kids cut quite a sight, as we stroll into Sunday school--a black family with a white, blond, blue eyed kid who adopted us. Al is our white version of Gary Coleman--from the TV show Diff'rent Strokes--short and funny. Al lives upstairs from us, in the same L.A. apartments with his sister, his mother, and his mom's current boyfriend. Al never seems to live at home. He hangs with us, my brother in particular, all the time.

Mom cautions: "Some children are chased out of their homes by their family from the lack of love and go out in the streets in search of love from gangs."

Three days after Valentine's Day, 1980, on a Saturday night, I stay up late with my brother and Al. In the living room, we play card games and card tricks, while we wait for Rock Show and Rock Concert, which alternate twice late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. We missed Rock Show, so we wait thirty minutes until Rock Concert comes on at one-thirty. On it, the Village People sing "Ready for the 80's" and "Sleazy." I bob my head to their songs and wonder why no one plays them on the radio. I fall asleep on the floor next to Al and miss the last half hour of Rock Concert and all of Rock Show which follows.

I awake in the middle of the night. Al's fingers caress me. He squeezes my stomach and props his blond head against it as if it was his pillow. I recoil and fall asleep, but awake again. Al's head now rests on my thigh. My eyes search the dark. Al appears asleep. I detect a faint smile on his face. I am unsure whether or not he is in a dream or is touching me on purpose. He seems to have a subconscious sexual love for me. I want to knock the shit out of Al and tell him to stop, but I do not want to wake him and everybody else up in the apartment. I pretend to sleep. I ignore his invitation in the hope he would stop touching me, but his hands persist.

In the morning, I slap on my Sunday school suit. I try to forget the night's incident. I give Al this look and wait for an answer, an explanation. He says nothing and acts like nothing happened because nothing did. Never again will I sleep on the floor next to him. Now I know why my brother sleeps on the sofa.

Al rides with us to church. I shudder whenever he pinches or pets me in the back seat. He rests his head on my thigh and falls asleep like he did early this morning. I look at my brother for help. He stares out the window. I look at Mom's rearview mirror. She stares at me and Al. I remember her warning about kids whose families chase them out of their homes from the lack of love. I do not want to live on the streets like a wild animal.

When Mom finds things stolen after one of Al's sleepovers she banishes him. The theft gives her another reason to keep him from her teenage sons. Because we could not invite Al back inside, I watch from my bedroom window as he grows older and wilder. He finds a new gang of friends and runs with them.

One day, in May '84, Al brings to my bedroom window a lizard he shot with a BB rifle. He holds the stunned lizard by its tail. It twitches. He lays the lizard out on the basketball court in the hope the sun would revive it.

He grieves, "I feel sorry for shooting the lizard."

I press my face against the window screen, "No, you are not. You guys shoot birds and ground squirrels every day. You catch fish and leave them on the ground."

Al's new best friend, Marc, who received the BB rifle for Christmas, demands, "Give me my gun, Al!" Marc snatches his rifle and puffs his cigarette before he continues, "A lizard ain't nothing. See."

He aims and shoots. Pow! The lizard twitches.

Felix, another new friend of Al's, grabs the rifle, "Hey! Hey! Let me try. Let me try."

He aims and shoots and shoots. Pow! Pow!

"Ha, ha! Look at that lizard twitch!"

The lizard twitches and then stops. Below my window, Felix's foot digs a shallow grave and buries the lizard.

Through the confessional screen of my window, I preach to my former Sunday schoolmate three years my junior, "You did not give that lizard a proper Christian burial."

Al searches the ground and picks up two Popsicle sticks he crosses and lays atop the fresh mound.

Marc blows smoke in my face through the window screen as he holds his rifle again. "Hey, Andre, why don't you come with us to the quarry lake? We're going fishing."

I squirm. "Shouldn't you guys be in school now?"

Marc blows more smoke in my face. "We're playing hooky."

Felix chimes in, "Yeah, Andre, it will be fun."

Al echoes, "Yeah, Andre, it will be fun."

I shrug. "I don't know, guys. People dump toxic chemicals into the quarry all the time."

I do not tell them I made a choice. I had just turned twenty and I do not want police to arrest me with a trio of truant teens armed with a realistic rifle on private property. As the adult in the group, I will be the one police will blame and convict while those juvenile delinquents may get off with a light sentence.

The teens leave to play without me. When they return, Felix kicks the burial mound. I press my face against the screen to look out my window down below at the twisted, dirt-caked dead lizard and Al's de-crucified Popsicle stick crucifix. I close my eyes and reopen them but the dead lizard is still there.

I look up at Al. He still has his Sunday school boy good looks but something else. His armed friends stand half a head taller than him because Al never grows. He stands on his toes, cranes his neck, and tightens his jaw. I look through his tough teen makeover. Like the morning of his sleepover years ago, we say nothing, but our eyes say everything. My eyes shift to Marc and Felix on either side of Al and then glare him this look, "Dude, you ought to know better than to hang with these punks."

Al returns the glance, "I know, but I have no choice."

My eyes plead, "I cannot let you in or go with you. You have to get yourself out of this."

His eyes surrender, "I can't," and then look below at the dead lizard on the ground.

A screen separates our lives and our destinies. I look at him through the screen as if he is an uncaged wild animal on the loose. He returns me this look of pity as if he visited a prison and looked into my cell. I am a twenty year old virgin. I live in Mom's apartment. Either Al or I could push the screen in or out to join the other, but we remain where we are.

"Come on, Al. Let's go," Marc urges.

Al ran with the pack. I want to flee with him, but I remain behind the screen.

In the days to come, the BB-riddled lizard below my window rotted and dried in the sun.

Five months later, in October of '84, Al's family moved to a beachside community. Al seemed lucky. I wished I could join him. I wrote in my diary, "I am glad because maybe now Al can stay out of trouble."

Thirty years passed and I became a storyteller. I searched my old diaries for story material and found entries on Al--his sleepovers, his lizard slaughters. After my Mom died, I returned home to L. A. for a visit and I asked my brother for an update, "Whatever happened to Al?"

My brother answered, "Al is homeless. I was at the bus stop one day when I saw Al living under a freeway, pushing a shopping cart. He recognized me and came over to talk."

My eyes widened. "Did he say anything about how he ended up homeless?"

"No. He seemed happy living that way."

"Well, how did he look?"

"Al is still short but dirty and wild-looking. He lost all of his teeth."

When my brother said this, Al's nocturnal smile ignited in my memory. The smile which shone on me in the darkness, and faded when we grew apart decades ago.

My brother concluded, "I used to run into Al pushing his shopping cart but that was back in the mid-eighties. I haven't seen him since."

My mouth gasped for words. I shook my head. Mom's words haunted me: "Some children go out in the streets in search of love."

I told Al's story at a story slam in San Francisco in May 2014. The story contest theme was "Animals" and the judges gave me the low score of the night. I retreated from the nightclub. I walked in the dark along Fell Street until I turned onto the better lit Upper Market Street. Homeless people slept huddled in doorways amid piles of possessions and blankets. As I walked by, a part of me, the heart of me wanted to wake them and ask, "Excuse me. Have you seen Al? We used to go to Sunday school together. He was a short, white kid with blond hair and blue eyes."

Trapped contest entry


I adapted "Wild Animals" from my thirty-five year old journal entrees on a neighbor boy named Al Czar. I first performed this as a live story at the Moth StorySlam in San Francisco in May 2014 when the storytelling contest theme was "Animals." I adapted my "Wild Animals" script for the FanStory contest "Trapped."

I thank benhar for the "Lizard on a Log" image.
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