Prophets and Angels Weeping

John Luckett


I.


Minutes earlier, I’d robbed Rusty’s Stop-n-Go. Heart pounding, mind racing, suffering from a chemical imbalance, my feet slapping the pavement, I ran from Rusty’s, hoping to escape the night. On the run from a double homicide, my goal was to take the stolen money and buy a pound of marijuana to support myself when I relocated in Memphis.


Somewhere a dog was barking, aroused by the smell of fear.


Bright headlights hit me and it had to be Pooh Loc and Blue Jay. Suddenly, I exhaled in hope. The angry dog, still barking, bounded toward me. I aimed my Larson 9mm. The dog was the only thing that stood between me and freedom.


The door on the driver’s side opened.


“Freeze! This is the police. Get on the ground!”


I threw my Larson to the ground along with the sack of cash. Pressed my face and body hard to the ground. Other cops showed up to assist and they were all over me, knees and elbows. A hard combat boot pressed into the center of my back.


“One more move and I’ll blow your motherfucking brains out!”


I didn’t move. I didn’t even want to.


They put me in the back of the police car. When the officer got settled, he looked back at me, eyes wide, sweating, trembling.


“Somebody in heaven must really love you ‘cause I pulled the trigger a long time ago; my intent was to kill you.”


I was sixteen years old.


II.


Imagine yourself as a little child being raised in a living nightmare, who sees what nobody else sees, sensing what nobody else can, not knowing the hand that protects him, would soon withdraw and he would become what he so long feared.


I was this child. What made God seek after me? Why did the devil try to destroy me, mentally, physically, and spiritually? In an early vision, a great red dragon soared across the sky screaming to God that it would soon defeat my purpose.


Coleman Luckett, Sr., my Bubba. The hand that protected me from dreams and dragons. Bubba drank Budweiser and chewed tobacco and had plenty of friends. Sang solos at the Woodbridge Church and brought home junk food from his job at Helena Host Sale. When everybody else was asleep or outdoors, I’d run to the freezer and gorge myself with candy bars and jello. Bubba looked for occasions to be good to us, and he was always nice to my mom.


He sat in the living room with my ten brothers and sisters playing on the floor around him. My baby brother Steven was five, then Kary; I was next at seven years old, all the way up to Coleman Luckett, Jr. who was fourteen. Late one night, an elderly woman drove her small car off the road and got stuck in a ditch. My dad was called to help, and wanting to show off in front of his friends, he grabbed the car by the bumper, with a lot of groaning and straining, pulled the car back on to the street. Did he know how much he hurt his back?


He came home and ran a hot bath. When he closed the bathroom door behind him, it was the last time we saw him alive. His back went out while he lay there, and he sank under the water and couldn’t raise himself. He drowned in the bathtub.


III.


About five of us kids were home from school one day: Michael, my little sister, Nicole, and my two little brothers, Kary and Steven. We were all piled up in a queen-sized bed and they were all asleep. I was playing with a box of incense and a little blue Smurf toy and decided to act out a scene from the Smurf cartoon we watched five days a week. The incense would be my torch and under the bed, a cave. Lighting the torch on the kitchen stove, I placed it in the hand of Papa Smurf and walked him into his cave.


Immediately the bed caught on fire.


Running to the kitchen for water, the more I tried to put out the fire, the bigger it became. Finally, I ran for my mom. Incoherently, I danced and screamed in front of her until she realized something was wrong. She dashed into the bedroom and pulled all of her kids out of the bed. Someone called the fire department. The only damage was to the bed and the plastic light fixture hanging from the ceiling.


Mama had gotten engaged to a man named Sylvester she met at Powerhouse Church. She asked him to come over that day and whip me but he refused. She had me take off my clothes and whipped me naked. When the landlord saw the damage to his property, he made us move.


Despite that modest introduction, Sylvester believed that the thing that my mother’s children needed more than anything was discipline.


IV.


Mama walked down the aisle at Powerhouse Church a year after my dad died wearing a wedding dress borrowed from her sister. There was envy in every feminine eye for my mother and sympathy from the men for Sylvester. Dislike or disgust from the other children for mama’s poorly dressed kids. Sylvester was popular here. His big smile earned him the nickname “Smiley Joe.” He dressed neatly and made a good impression on the women, and they were about to lose him to a woman with eleven snotty nosed kids.


I always felt a spiritual connection to church life. There was something pulling me to the altar even as a boy. Though Sylvester’s discipline was already in high gear, I remember this: I sat alone on the third bench. A new member of the church showed up that morning, bright and shining. Her pretty eight year old daughter, wearing a white dress and white gloves, came over and sat next to me, and before I could say anything, she slipped her hand in mine. Maybe she was too new to notice that I was an outcast. Before the service ended, we fell asleep like that, holding hands. The adults thought we looked cute and Sylvester couldn’t bring himself to whip me for falling asleep in church. The little girl’s name was Jessica.


V.


Sylvester had other ways to punish us. Like boiling water and making us stand on one foot and placing the hot water under the other leg so that if we let that foot down, it would fall into the scalding water.


VI.


The kids in the street were having fun so I put church behind me. Nothing that happened in church kept Sylvester from hitting on us so what did it matter anyway? I wanted some of what the other kids had. One in particular.


I’d always looked up to Five Deuce. He took my side against others and defended me from the neighborhood bullies. For reasons I didn’t understand, he always had my back.


He was three or four years older than me. A player. All the females loved him. He was a pretty boy who knew how to handle himself on the battlefield when the Crips collided with other gangs. Dark skinned, two gold front teeth, ready with a smile, clean haircut. He could get money by any means.


He introduced me to marijuana and drinking forty ounces. It wasn’t long before I would do anything to gain his approval. I ran the streets. I robbed, stole and sold drugs. I got lost for so long that I couldn’t find my way back to civilization. Crippin’ became my thang and I wore the orange and blue bandana like homage to a king.


VII.