It was a couple of weeks after Christmas when I picked up the phone to call my Granny. I had no money, my apartment had just been robbed of everything including the food in my refrigerator. My apartment was roach infested, I had just been laid off from my job at Frito Lay and I had no way of paying the bills.
This went on for about 3 weeks, while I searched for a job from sun up to sun down. Everyday. My pride wouldn’t let me pick up the phone to ask for help during those 3 weeks. I was 19 and in my eyes, I was a grown man.
I received the call from my employer at about 4pm on the day that I received the news, and I knew exactly why they were asking me to come in. My shift wasn’t until midnight, that night.
I was going to Junior College and I didn’t have one credit to show for the year and a half I was enrolled there. The year prior I was in and out of relationships, blowing every penny I had on typical things that an 18-19 year old would have, that just graduated from high school not long ago. I was emotionally bankrupt and empty inside.
I was trying to turn my life around, but it was already too late…
I left the Frito Lay Factory for what would be the last time, with a check of $469. I was hurt, but I knew bright and early the next morning, I would get up and I wouldn’t come home until I got a job interview. I reached for the door knob of my front door when I came home from being laid off. My door swung open as if someone had already came and left.
The back door that led to an alley way behind my apartment was wide open and my refrigerator door was open. All of the food was gone, and the juice I had bought was down to its last drop…but I never opened it. I had been robbed. I rushed to my bed room and every item of clothing, that I blew all of my trust fund money on, was gone…
Everything except the clothing on my body was gone. I had a completely empty apartment. The least they could have did was take the roaches that infested my apartment with them.
Granny you know I’ll do what ever you want me to do but right at this moment in time, its either I sell dope or I join the military…No one is hiring right now and I’ve turned in over 20 job applications and made over 20 call backs over the last 3 weeks. No one is hiring.
The week prior I went over to an ex- girl friends house to drop her off from school. A friend of hers became a very good friend of mine and he had a drug connection in Oakland, the part of town I grew up in. I always knew if I needed some extra money or if I just wanted to quit my job, I would be good.
Baby, your Nana would turn over in her grave if you end up jail like your cousins. Baby, you don’t have a thing to prove…I don’t want to see you dead or locked up in jail. I begged your mother when you were a little boy to let you go stay with your father, to save you from this mess. Paul, I love you honey…I know you make your own decisions and you’re gonna do what you want to do but please join the Navy. For me baby…
Here was my chance to live that “thug life” I had always dreamed of. I left Oakland 10 years prior, to go live with my daddy, and I could still hear the call of the streets. I had suppressed my anger and rage for so many years, and now was my chance to make a name for myself…but I could recall how my Granny told me, that the day I was born, my great grand mother, my Nana, told everybody in the room when she held me in her arms…
This boy is gonna be great some day, God is going to use him to change the world…
This isn’t how my life is going to end. Daddy always taught me that the world was a thinking man’s game. Pulling triggers is fundamental and the “dope game” has an expiration date on it.
I didn’t want to break my Granny’s heart and end up selling the same poison that destroyed my family. My city.
I already had a big cousin locked up for armed robbery in San Quentin. The next day, I went to the recruiter and joined the Navy. The fear in my Granny’s voice brought me to my knees. She knew more of what I was capable of than even I knew, and she spent all the years of my life trying to shield me from that.
I told her I loved her and that we would talk soon, and I dropped the phone to go to a homeless shelter to eat.
I had money, but I had to make it last so I could have gas money. I unwillingly dressed “the part” and parked a few blocks away from the shelter so that the homeless people in the shelter wouldn’t see the 95 BMW that was given to a spoiled suburban kid that failed at life. I had never been so humbled in my life. I was happy. I belonged amongst them.
I had no idea that 11 years later, that day, and that moment at the homeless shelter would point me in the direction of my destiny. People.
I had to taste the bitter cup of unfortunate circumstance to be able to identify with “the least of these”. I am them, I was them and I felt like I belonged. Not because of where I was at that moment, but because I was human, and I’m capable of feeling pain.
“Do you remember that conversation we had when you said, ‘its either I sell dope or join the military?” laughed my Granny. “Yea” I said, “how could I ever forget, and how do you remember that?” I asked. “Because you listened to me, you always listened to me, even as far back as when you were a 3 year old boy, you listened to me” she said.
The difference between you and Mario (my older brother) is that you “listened”. I knew that if you came to live with me, I could save your life, because I knew that you would listen to me if your mother would let me raise you…
I have been very fortunate to watch my father go from being strung out on dope to being a teacher for over 15 years, to being a lobbyist for the California Teacher’s Association. I always listened to him, because he listened to me when I was 3 years old, right around the time when he was about to throw his life away.
I didn’t know any better at the age of 3 on how to instruct a full grown man, but I knew well enough to know to tell my daddy ” I love you, stop doing stupid things daddy…you’ve got to stop doing stupid things daddy”
It was my relationship with him that gave me a reason to fight, to fight the call that was beckoning at my doorstep everyday of my teenage years. I wanted to be respected, I wanted love and I wanted all of that, the wrong way. But he saved me. My grand mothers love saved me in the same way. I listened.
I’ve been in the Navy 10 years now, and I’m about 2 years out from when my contract will end. People ask me, “why don’t you just stay in and do the full 20 and get out and get the lifetime retirement check?” But I’m not listening to them. I tell them, “I have something solid on the outside.” They ask me, “So what are you going to do? Are you going to get out and be a cop? What do you plan to do that’s better than this? You’re already at 10 years. In two more years, you’ll be at 12…what’s 8 more years? You’ll be set for life…”
But I’m not listening…
My Granny always instilled in me the ability to listen to my own voice. She told me that it would be a still small one, and that I must pay attention. If my heart pulls me to it, my mind will formulate the plan. So I learned to listen.
I hear the cries of people. I hear a restlessness. I can feel the vibratory energy of people all across the globe that want more from life but they’ve been subconsciously programmed to fail themselves. They’ve been given a life sentence “pretending” a life that’s not there own and to die with all of their music still inside.
From every area of life, people suffer for different reasons…but since I was a little child, I listened to that still small voice inside of me. All I needed was a taste of what it was like to be at the bottom, and now I understand where it all stems from. My Granny snatched me from a life that called out to me…
Her cries were louder…
“You have a kind heart” she said. I was going to karate class at a YMCA in Oakland and I just bought a twix bar from the machine. I was 7 years old. A little white girl asked me if she could have a piece of my twix. I gave her one of the 2 bars that came in the packet, more than she expected. I was different from the other little black kids at the YMCA. They didn’t speak to the other white kids. But I didn’t see color. I saw a human being deserving of kindness. I was listening to my heart.
I don’t have to justify why I’m getting out of the Navy. I lost my job at Frito Lay in December of 2006 and a month and a half later I was off to basic training in the Navy, right before the recession hit. I call that grace.
I’m currently sitting at my computer typing this post. Its April 23rd on a Sunday, and its 6:52pm in Yokosuka Japan, a whole day before I have to work a night shift. I do Law Enforcement in the Navy. I serve my country but first and foremost…I serve people. As long as this earth has people in it, I will always have a solid job on the “outside”. I can hear needs. I can hear people crying out for answers. And I’m listening.