Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Son of a gun

The most significant aspect of the 22 years that I have lived is the one that happened 4 years ago. Before this event there were things that led me in that direction. I will start by introducing you that that part of my life.

I grew up in East Oakland with one older brother, a younger sister and a single mother. We were low income, we were pretty much all we had. My mother worked hard to keep food on the table and clothes on our back. My siblings and I were always close but as my brother started growing older he started wanting to do different things.  These things didn’t involve us girls. He wanted to play rough, play sports, box, run around in the street; he wanted to be around males.

We were poor, we lived in apartments. Whenever we would step out we would greet the dope sellers and gang bangers, at that age we didn’t know … we just knew they were our friends and they made us feel protected. My brother started hanging out with these guys. They became the male figures … they were gangbangers, they taught him how to fight, the taught him the game …they taught him how to be a “man”.  My brother quickly got wrapped up in this lifestyle, it happened in a blink of an eye. He started by wearing baggy clothes, next his hair was slicked back and under a hair net, soon he started hanging out some friends and they all had nicknames.

From left to right: my younger sister (age 9) me (13) my older brother (age 15)

My brother was my idol. Of course, he was the only male and he was the oldest. We went to the same school and all of the girls wanted to date him, he was pretty popular. You can say I wanted to be like him. He graduated out of our middle school and started high school.  He dropped out his freshman year, leaving me confused. I was always a scholar and I was two years away from enrolling in high school. In my head I thought high school was great, it was the bridge to college, but my brother had a different agenda for himself.

During this time I was in the works of founding a school. I was the only child on the design team of TCN (think college now) school.  I was recognized for over excelling in my studies by my 1st grade teacher: Mr. Silver. He and I created a mission, vision and goal for TCN and in 2003 our dream was made into reality. TCN became a school in Oakland CA.  It has been nationally recognized and still continues to do so. Besides TCN I was earning good grades at my school and also playing club volleyball. I was called “the crème of the crop” “future Barbara Lee” “future Stanford volleyball player” and many other things. People had high expectations for me and I wasn’t nervous about it, I couldn’t wait to prove to everyone that I was going to be just that. 

Life changed me when I reached 13. My brother was deep into the gangs, he started having problems with the cops, his friends started dying and the smell of marijuana started lingering often in our house. I was living two lives: the Mexican American athletic scholar & the homie’s little sister. I started dating a gangbanger, he would drop me off at volleyball practice and I would do his homework, it was perfect, at least I thought so. It was hard for me to stay focused.

I went on to high school where the volleyball team anxiously waited on my arrival. With the help of my team mate and childhood friend Phoebe Bautista, we led our team to the win the ACCL volleyball championships. I would come home after my games to a house full of gangsters.  It was distracting but at the same time intriguing, it was becoming a lifestyle. I couldn’t hide from this lifestyle even if I wanted to; all my uncles and cousins were involved.

The first event that traumatized me was when I was 15. My brother was 17 and we got invited to a Halloween party. I told him it was a bad idea because the party was going to be at a hall in an area where my brother was not supposed to be in. He had a lot of enemies and this party was going to be full of them. We ended up going on one condition … he would wear a mask. We got to the party and all of the girls ran up to him to greet and hug him. I went my way and he went his, the party was fun people started dancing and drinking. My brother did too; there were a couple of times when he lifted his mask up to drink alcohol or smoke weed. It was then that his enemies recognized him and started plotting. Soon after that my brother said he was leaving with his friends and that he would see me later at home. I gave him a kiss and walked him to the door. I closed the door and took two steps forward.  I heard about 10 gun shots. I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t know how to react. I stood there for one minute; it seemed to be the longest minute. I didn’t know if I should call my mom first, tell the girl whose party it was or call 911. I snapped out of it and my instinct was to run outside and look for my brother, so I did that. I find my brother standing in the middle of the street. He’s yelling at the rival gang members who are standing on the sidewalk … he was scream “ Yall motherfuckers just shot me, wassup run up, yall just shot me how come yall don’t just kill me?! “ there were about 30 of them. I ran to him and begged for him to get in the car; he pushed me off of him and continued yelling and degrading his enemies. One of the guys standing on the sidewalk ran up to us with a gun in his hand. He pushed me out of the way and pistol whipped my brother in the head. The rest of the gang members jumped on top of my brother and started beating him up …in front of me. The guy who had the gun dropped it, so I picked it up and aimed it at them before I knew it I had been kick by one of the guys and was on the floor with my brother. After the chaos cleared up I crawled to my brothers’ side and realized that he had been shot in the head. He survived.

I started smoking a lot of weed that was my way of dealing. I started skipping class, and not answering my teammate’s calls. The chances of me receiving a scholarship to play volleyball in college were starting to become minimal. I didn’t care. I got kicked out of school and got sent to a continuation school. Just when everything in my life seemed to be shit I got the invitation to attend a photo-shoot for a local modeling agency that was becoming popular in the bay, they were called the Bay Area Vixens.

It was one of the best times in my life. I was one of the lead faces; I had popular friends, celebrity friends I was being photographed, appearing in music videos and was an internet sensation on social sites. Although I looked happy in photographs deep inside I was hurting. Going out was a vice, it was another way of forgetting about what we were dealing with at home. At this point I was 16, 17 drinking and hosting the best 21 and over parties in a mini dress and 6 inch heels. I got kicked out of my continuation school.

That was it; I knew I had to straighten my life out. I was one compared to Barbara Lee at the age of 10 , I founded a school at the age of 13 , I was a promising college athlete … I spent a lot of time thinking what happened to that girl? I snapped out of it and advocated for another chance to try continuation school, they accepted me. I drilled down and dedicated myself to the assignments, homework and projects and found myself on the honor roll as a senior. I stopped drinking and cut down on smoking marijuana, I was very proud of myself.

The party girl lifestyle I was living really affected my family. I was very distant to them. I hated my little sister , we never hung out or even talked, my brother was never home he was always on the streets or in jail and my mother was always scolding me so I hated her in fact we used to fight a lot. When I started going to school and straightening up… my relationships with my siblings and mother started getting better.

It was a Thursday and I was getting out of school when I got a call from my mom asking me to help her clean one of the offices she usually cleaned, she said she was tired so if I could please do her that favor, I said yes. I got home kicked my feet up, did my homework and waited for that time. I called a guy friend to ask him for a ride and he said yes. Then I called my best friend and asked her to accompany me. We were 3 in the car… my guy friend in the driver’s seat, me on the passenger side and my best friend in the back seat. We exited on golf links our destination was by the Oakland airport so we drove down 98th avenue. We came to a stop light on San Leandro and 98th avenue. The next thing I felt was shocks …from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way. I react when my friend (the driver) starts yelling “Im shot im shot! “ I looked over to him and saw that he had a big bullet wound on his arm and it was bleeding. I reach over to help and that’s when It hit me … he looked at me in shock and started yelling “Caheri your shot!  Oh my God Caheri!” I felt my heart beating really fast …I touched my face and my hand slumped into it. I sat back and found half of my face on the dashboard…my cheek, my teeth, bones and blood. Immediately I started to fade away, I was losing so much blood it was impossible to keep my eyes open. I made it to the hospital and woke up 5 days later. Hands tied to the hospital bed, half of my face paralyzed, face and chest tubes, screws coming out of my face, no teeth on the right side, a tube pierced into my throat, traumatized and scared. I was hospitalized for a month and 4 days. During my hospitalization I thought about my whole life and I played my childhood and my teen years over and over in my head. I pictured my face how used to be, I looked on the walls and there were modeling pictures of me everywhere. It’s almost like I hated looking at that girl but at the same time I wanted to be her so badly.
I fell into depression quickly and developed PTSD. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was tormented by the nightmares, dark dreams of black lagoons and shootings, loud music and blood, street signs and family members. I lost 30 pounds; I had to cut my hair into a really short men’s style cut. I felt like the ugliest human being, I knew I would never be the same, I felt hopeless.  This event didn’t just affect me it also took a major toll on my family; my injury also brought us closer. I knew I never wanted anyone to ever go through this, ever. I guess that’s when my determination began.

While in the hospital I was connected to an Angel named Tammy Cloud. She basically gave me a ladder and pulled me up. She worked diligently with me on my recovery. She helped me attain my high school diploma and even enroll to college; she would attend my college volleyball games and cheer me on with my family. She would take me to and from my doctor’s appointments and take me out to eat when I didn’t have any money. With the progress I was making she even referred me to her agency and after several interviews I was employed as a Violence Prevention Educator for the prestigious Youth ALIVE!

My life has been so much different or maybe I should say so much fulfilling. Ive accomplished a lot since my recovery. I feel like I am back on that road that I once was when I was a kid founding a school and receiving all kinds of awards. I now teach a several middle schools in the OUSD and I run an afterschool program at Castlemont high. I have the privilege to work with at-risk youth who are walking down that same road that I was once. I teach these youth about the consequence, I tell them my testimony, and they see the scars. I give them alternatives and incentives, I give them a second chance …something that many of us take for granted.

It’s been 4 years since the shooting and I still continue to have regular doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I am now towards the end of my operations the last big project is my teeth. I’ve considered cosmetic surgery to revise my scars and maybe fix my facial deformity but the more I live in my skin the more comfortable I get. The more I accomplish I almost feel like I don’t want to forget how I used to look, how strong I was for waking up and facing this judgmental society with these scars.

The hospital staff played a major role in my recovery. Because of the care that I received at highland hospital I am now going to school to become a Registered Nurse. I will never forget how sensitive and optimistic and knowledgeable my nurses and doctors were. I want to continue giving that care to patient, more than anything because I know how It feels to lay in a hospital bed. I am at a point in my life where I find myself really settled and ready to take on school.

I don’t really have as much friends, I don’t go out often, I don’t smoke weed and I don’t  follow that gangster lifestyle that I once did. Instead I try to help all of those people that remind me of who I once was. Thinking about my past still makes me sad but thinking about my present and future make me ecstatic and proud. I think everything happens for a reason, I think this was meant to happen. The person that shot me was never found but wherever he is I forgive him because he changed my life for the better.