As a Family Support Worker, Ben Black Bull’s job that afternoon was to transport his new 11-year-old client to and from Child Guidance. Ben’s caseworker informed him before he picked Lucas up that he came from dysfunction junction. His father and his uncle were bikers who had been asked to leave their small country town when the men had demolished headstones in the town’s cemetery. Ben’s caseworker also informed him that she had received death threats from these same bikers, and her last words to him were, “Watch yourself. Lucas comes with a lot of baggage.”
He sat there in the waiting room calmly reading a book about the Oglala Lakota war chief, Crazy Horse. Most recently, he had been having visions of the great chief and his uncle, Pete He Dog, had suggested he should determine why. Ben had been reading every book ever written about the Strange Man of the Oglala. He was deep in thought, when suddenly, an extremely colorful barrage of words exploded from inside the session room. Next a chair slammed against the wall, the door burst open, and Lucas went racing through the waiting room filled with startled parents. He ran down the hallway and dove into the opening door of an elevator.
By the time Ben reached ground floor, Lucas was already one block ahead of him. Tossing his book in through the open window of his van, he followed Lucas on what turned out to be a six-block chase to the Rampark parking garage in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.
As the two ran, Lucas reminded Ben of a scrawny scarecrow, his long blond hair flopping wildly, his skinny arms flapping, his thin legs pumping madly, his faded jeans and tattered sweatshirt threatening to swallow him whole, his ankle-high Keds making a steady staccato on the sidewalk.
Trying, yet failing, to close the distance, Ben sighed, “This kid can run like a deer!”
When he reached the 6th floor of the open-air garage, Lucas had climbed onto the ledge and was seated facing forward, dangerously close to falling sixth stories to the sidewalk below. He held himself by only the tips of his fingers, his arms extended behind him, his head aimed in the direction of his proposed flight down as he said, “Come any closer and I will jump!”
Ben stayed where he was.
Lucas focused on the Social Services building two blocks away and said, “Do you know what those morons did to me? My dad and my uncle are bikers, and those morons placed me in the foster home of a cop! Do you know what that’s like? Who am I supposed to be loyal to? I just wanna die!”
Ben believed that young Lucas was determined to take the hard way down. “Just listen to me,” he said, badly winded from his run.
Lucas scooted himself to the edge of the ledge. “I don’t wanna listen! I just want to jump!”
His arms stretched behind him, Lucas gripped the ledge with his fingertips and leaned forward. Tears glistening on his cheeks, he spat, “Some kids shoot themselves. Some kids take sleeping pills. Some cut their wrists. I used to think to those kids were stupid! Now I know why they do it.”
Inching his way to his perch on the ledge, Ben froze when he snapped, “They say I can’t go back to my real home for a long, long time. I just can’t take this, so just let me jump!”
Tempted to lunge and latch onto one of his arms, instead Ben said, “So, you’re going to let tunnel-vision push you over the edge, huh? You’re only focusing on one thing, not looking beyond your immediate problem. You might think you’re at the lowest point in your life,
but situations have a mysterious way of getting better.”
Lucas peered down to the hard, unforgiving sidewalk far below. “That’s easy for you to say!”
“No,” Ben said, “it’s not. Because I remember being fourteen and contemplating suicide myself.”
Lucas’s blue eyes slowly focused on Ben. “What made you change your mind?” he asked.
He nearly said, “Because what doesn’t kill you, just makes you stronger.” But it wasn’t the time to quote sappy movie lines that sounded like verses of Scripture ever since Arnold quoted them in Conan. No. He simply said, “Being tough.”
Because toughness meant something to Bikers. Ben knew that. So did Lucas.
So he said, “Guess you ain’t a biker then, right?”
“What?” Lucas snapped. “What do you know about me? What do you know about any of this?”
‘Oh, kid,’ Ben wanted to say, ‘because I grew up wanting to be a biker all of my younger days! I dreamed of becoming a biker up until the day I got a reality check and got locked up in the detention home! Oh yes, I knew all about bikers, kid, long before you were ever born!’
But he didn’t. Instead he said, “Well, one thing Bikers are that you’re not, and that is: Bikers are tough. If you were really that tough, you wouldn’t even think that suicide was an option. No, if you were really that tough, you wouldn’t let them win this one over on you.”
Lucas followed Ben’s gaze to the Social Services building, then refocused on the street far below.
Ben said, “Show them how tough you are, Lucas.”
I looked over the big Indian dude who had escorted me to my weekly anger management class. He had super long black hair and looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Maybe he was a biker like Dad and my Uncle Nate, for he had that rugged look about him, like he took no guff off of anyone. He reminded me a lot of Wind in His Hair AKA Rodney Grant from my favorite movie, Dances with Wolves. Only instead of being cantankerous like Wind in His Hair was, this
guy was nearly talking my ear off there on top of that garage.
“Know why I want to jump?” I said, checking to make sure he wasn’t sneaking up behind me. “My dad is Stone Holland, president of the Elder’s Den. He and Mom had been fighting. Dad hit her and threatened to drown her in a lake. Gypsy, a member of Dad’s club, pulled him off of Mom. Someone reported the fight to the cops, and they decided to remove me from my home, placing me with a stupid cop and his stupid wife! Three months of living with them drove me completely bonkers. They wake me up every day by shooting me with ice cold water from a spray bottle. They measure out my cereal, making sure I only get three ounces, not a bowl full. And it isn’t Trix or Lucky Charms. It’s Bran Flakes or dry Wheat Chex. Sugared cereal is out for me, since some idiot counselor diagnosed me with ADHD.
“They walk me out to the school bus in the mornings, make sure I get on, and then stupidly stand there in their driveway, waving goodbye. If I get into any kind of trouble at school, I’m grounded when I get home, no playing outside, no TV, no Nintendo, and no computer. The Man Cop said ‘Laws and rules are what keep us all in line. We must all abide by these laws and rules in order to survive in society. If you break a law, you are punished. If you break a rule, you suffer a consequence. You, young man, have had no discipline, no proper instructions on how to behave all of your young life, so you need to be retrained, re-programmed in order for you to succeed in life.’
“The Woman Cop said, ‘You were wired wrong. You have several disorders that we need to manage. These disorders, left unchecked will result in you going to detention one day. Eventually, these chaotic disorders will land you in the State Pen, as well. We are your
Guardians of Guidance. We are your Saviors, the only ones who can save you from your mad little self!’”
Twenty long minutes passed as Ben tried to convince me that suicide had nothing to do with “toughness.” I remained fidgety as I clung to the ledge, leaning forward every few seconds to let Ben know I was still serious about taking the hard way down.