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As if nobody’s watching

There is this middle-aged dude in my dorm. Six-four, probably 240 pounds, mean as a snake and nuttier than squirrel shit. You know those articles in the paper about mentally ill inmates falling through the cracks in the system? This guy is Exhibit A. He rarely speaks, just grunts and mean mugs. Occasionally he’ll howl. But the most noteworthy thing about him is that every day when the mid-day mix comes on the local R&B station, he stands up and begins to dance. Totally oblivious to the cat-calls and laughter from the rest of the dorm, he busts all the old-school moves: the Cabbagepatch, the Wop, the Running Man, even the Roger Rabbit.

While I watch him gyrate from the corner of my eye, a part of me thinks “what a psycho.” I mean, who does that? But deep down, there’s another part of me that kinda respects his crazy, his utter indifference to what anyone thinks about him. A part of me that secretly thinks “I wish I could dance.”

‘Maximum Maternal Velocity’

When I was a little kid, it was a big deal to tie a rope to the seat of a friend’s bike and get pulled around on a skateboard through the potholed back streets of South Miami. Wipeouts were inevitable. I remember coming home with bloody knees and my mom crying as she picked the gravel from my wounds and cleaned them with peroxide. She would beg me not to do it again. Of course, I didn’t listen. I was back at it before the scabs even formed.

When I started skipping school in the seventh grade, she tried everything to get me to stop — threats, punishments, even bribery. I blew her off. She had to work 12-hour days to support our family and I knew she couldn’t be in two places at once. She wept when I landed in juvie for the first time. She told me I wasn’t a bad kid, I was a good kid who sometimes did bad things. Her position never changed, even though I would return again and again.

When I graduated to the adult system at 18, she pleaded with the judge to give me another chance. She told him I was worth saving. Despite her pleas, I was sentenced to nine years in the department of corrections. Over the next decade, she spent most of her weekends on the interstate, headed to one prison or another to visit me. She’d sometimes drive hundreds of miles, only to be informed at the gate that I was in disciplinary confinement and she couldn’t see me. I repeatedly let her down, took her for granted, and manipulated her for money to pay my dope debts (yes, there is dope in prison).

When I was finally released, guess who was waiting in the parking lot, hopping up and down like the next contestant on The Price is Right? She gave me a place to live, bought me job interview clothes, even gave me her old car. And all I did was continue to unravel. The skinned knees of my reckless youth that once made her cry were now ICU visits: punctured lungs, broken ribs, head trauma, brain surgery. As my appetite for chemicals grew voracious, so too did my desperation to get more. Until my brief experiment with freedom came to a screeching halt and I was arrested for armed robbery.

If it was humiliating for Mom, as a county government employee, to have her crackhead son’s face plastered all over the news, she never showed it. She came to every court date, kept telling me that God had a plan for me, kept telling me I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a good kid who sometimes did bad things (even though I was 30 by then). She kept believing in me when everyone else — understandably — washed their hands. I think when my mom looked at me, she didn’t see my rap sheet or my numerous failures and weaknesses, or the 31-year Federal prison sentence I’d just received. She saw her baby.

In Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild, she writes that her mother loved her with “maximum maternal velocity.” I know that feeling. My mom is the Rocky Balboa of mothers. She’s Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree. Most addicts wear down their families and push them away. My mom wore ME down with her unconditional love. Every word in every book I’ve written is typed by her. I get all the credit, but there is no Malcolm Ivey without her. The coolest thing about this writing journey isn’t the new friends (whom I love), or the good reviews (which I appreciate). It’s the thought of my amazing mom handing one of my books to a neighbor, or an old friend, or a former co-worker and saying, “My son wrote this.”

I love you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.