Excerpt from Happy
Derrick Taylor was a punk, the kind of kid who felt entitled to everything and anything he wanted just because he was breathing. He was going to be a truck driver and so he didn’t feel the need to do anything in school because, why does a truck driver need to know Social Studies? Plus, why bother learning anything if you were just going to be passed to the next grade anyway? Why bother with rules or social norms? So he pushed back against everything whether it was good for him or not. He had been arrested in a string of small time robberies and vandalism over the last four years.
We could look at the poor neighborhood in the small town of Brantley, where he grew up, and make all sorts of excuses: the high crime rate, the low employment, the high drug use. We could look at his family life and make excuses as well; his alcoholic father beat his mother to death one rainy night because she asked him to take off his shoes as he entered the house. She had just been on her hands and knees cleaning the floor. He took off his steel-tipped boot and beat her with it. And when she was on the ground bleeding and begging for mercy he hit her with a dining room chair until it broke. She was dead long before he stopped beating her and her bright red blood slowly oozed over the clean kitchen floor.
Derrick was home at the time. He hid in the closet until he heard the door slam and the quiet resumed in the small two bedroom house before venturing out. He was the one who found his broken mother. He was the one who called the police. The court appointed psychiatrist thought that the death of his mother and the incarceration of his father might negatively affect his mental state.
For the last four years, he was passed from one relative to the next. Relatives who neither cared for nor offered him emotional help. They offered him meaningless platitudes. “God loves you, if you love him,” or “Your life is a test and the bad events build character”, or “God only gives us what we are capable of handling.” What twelve year old is capable of handling the death of his mother at the hands of his father?
Whatever the reasons that brought the sixteen year old to that confrontation with that police officer on that street in the suburb of that big city was immaterial. He was there with a knife in his hand staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Drop your weapon!” The officer demanded.