Monday, December 13, 2010

Families Divided

Technically, Jon, a high school counselor, was at the rec center only to monitor the basketball courts and break up an occasional scuffle between overheated competitors. Yet in Jon's mind, he was here to substitute for the dads who were missing from their lives. He felt sorry for kids like Robert and Jaleen and Kiki who had never met their fathers and for Ari and Manon whose fathers had recently left home for greener marital pastures.

Jon's sympathy was especially acute this spring break, particularly when it came to the breakup of families. The same personal trauma that had left him without a companion just over a year ago had created an unwanted desert of distance between him and his own two children.

Jon took a deep breath, forcing himself to sound cordial but firm. "May I help you guys?" he asked, slowly approaching the gang members, who stood staring him down from near the entrance. He knew he couldn't take them all on, even if by some miracle they were not armed. The thirty or so kids in the gym, now frozen statues of fear, would be of little help and might even be in greater danger if he tried to be a hero.

The reply came from a big African-American kid in a stained, rumpled army trench coat, baggy fatigue pants, green beret and jackboots. Minus some multiple vulgarities, the kid said, "We're here to play some basketball, dude."

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