Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christopher Williams, Teen Survivor of Shooting, Expresses it all in Memoir

Former high school football star, Chris Williams, 17, came to Writopia at the end of the summer ready to reflect on and write about the most challenging year of his life: the year he was shot down by 9 bullets, lost a leg, recovered, and returned to school--and even the field. His recovery was so moving and dramatic that the New York Daily News covered his return this past fall. Please help Chris celebrate his recovery and the completion of his powerful memoir by reading his story:

Heaven’s Hospital
A Memoir by Christopher Williams, Age 17

A long, silver .45 millimeter pointed straight at my back and let out nine shots that struck me in my right leg, left shoulder, and my back. This gun let off loud bombs of destruction disturbing my peaceful hallway at 9:36pm, shot from the weapon of a gang member from the Crips clan. There are many acts of violence and gun play in my neighborhood at Clarkson and Bedford Ave in Brooklyn, New York. There are a lot of gang wars that result in the injuries and death of innocent people, bothered for no reason at all.

Weeks before I was shot, my mother had a very serious talk with me. She had screamed, “You have to come in at an earlier time because the street isn’t friendly to people who doesn't know it well, and you have to be careful who you hang out with and who you call your friends!”

I looked up at her with a serious grin. “I know, mommy. I am not getting into any trouble. I am not in any gangs, and I don’t sell drugs, so you don’t have to worry.”
My mom turned around in a quick motion with the look of anger on her face and said,
“Chris, all I am trying to do is prevent you from getting into any problems with those crazy people with no sense in the street, especially at night.”

I looked away in frustration. “Okay, mom. Just know I am not like other kids, and I am not into doing wrong things.”

This was all true. I didn’t get into any of that stuff. I was always a hard working young man who acted how my mother raised me to behave. I was independent. I worked as a security officer at the Merchant mart; I was a full-time student attending Fort Hamilton High School. I was also a part-time family man. I say only part-time since I was always at work, school, church, or football practice. I always thought of myself as someone who valued my religion more than other young teenagers, especially those always looking for trouble. I walked the streets of my neighborhood saying, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” and “Good evening,” as I was taught by my mother to do. I was unlike those kids who run the street shouting, “Yooooooooooo!” or “What’s good, son?” or the most common of all, “What’s poppin’ my nigga?”

But none of this protected me from what was to come.

Just hours before that unfortunate night, I was on the field enjoying my last football practice, and then on my way home.

“Hello!” I shouted into my home with a smile on my face when I arrived at 8:30pm that night. As I dropped the football equipment that I had worn for the last time in my short teenaged life, I asked my mother, “Where’s the food at? I am starving!"

“I am going to work,” she said. “Here is money for you guys to get something to eat. Chris, stay inside, and watch Leilani and Joshua while I am at work, and I will see you guys later.” She came to us, giving each of us kisses on our cheeks. I hadn’t known that this would be the last time I ever stood tall in front of my mother’s face.

After my mother left, I said to my brother and sister, “I am going to take a shower…I’ll be out in a minute.”

As soon as I got out of the shower my little brother Joshua told me that me that my 13-year-old sister, Kharin, called.

Right away I was concerned because we don’t live together, and she hardly ever calls. “Okay,” I said, and called her back in a hurry to see if everything was okay.
I dialed the number.

“Hello?” she asked loudly through sobs.

I screamed into the phone, “What’s wrong?”

She screamed back, “These boys that have blue flags over their faces are bothering me and my two friends. Please Chris, I really need your help. I am so scared, Chris.”

“Tell me where you are. I am coming to get you.” She had no one else older to call who she could count on.

I ran to her location like I never ran before. When I saw her ahead, I screamed her name, and she ran into my arms crying. “I am glad you came, big brother.”

“Where did the guys go?” I screamed. She pointed to a dark and lonely block. I told her, “You’re safe now. I am going to put you and your friends on the bus. Please stay out of trouble, and go straight home.”

My sister replied, “I love you, Chris. Thank you for coming to save me.” She looked into my eyes. Her eyes were wet with tears.

“You’re welcome. I love you too, sis. Goodnight. Call me when you get home.” So she did just that: she called my cell phone a little while later, safe and sound.
In the meanwhile, after we got off the phone, I arrived in front of my apartment building. I saw two guys walk past. They were looking me up and down. I looked around while I took out my keys out. They watched me walk into my apartment building. I said in my mind, I hope these guys aren’t looking for trouble. They were dressed as my sister had described: in blue with blue flags across their faces.

I walked in rushing, trying to get upstairs before something happened. Something felt very wrong.

As soon as I stepped on the second step, I heard a loud voice say, “Yo.” I turned slightly to see who it was. It was then that the three shots were fired, striking me in my legs.

I fell screaming, “Ahhh, Jesus Christ! What’s going on?”

I heard someone laughing. “Get ready to meet your maker!”

I cried out for help as they shot me seven more times in my back. While I was trying to crawl away, I noticed that I couldn’t move my legs; I rolled over on my back thinking, “Lord forgive me for all the wrongs I have done,” and “Lord, please accept me into Heaven’s pearl gates.”

Then I fell out.

When I woke up in the hospital, I thought I was dead. I looked around, expecting to see lights and angels, hoping to find Jesus sitting on his thrown saying, “Chris, welcome home.” But instead I saw the ceiling of the hospital and heard my mom yelling, “My baby, my baby.” I felt her holding my hand. My vision was blurry, but I saw her standing by my side with tears in her eyes. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t doing drugs, that I wasn’t doing wrong things.
That I was out defending Kharin.

But I couldn’t say anything because I had tubes down my throat to help me breathe and absorb nutrition. I heard a small voice from the doctor telling me, “You will be alright. We will take care of you.” I smiled looking up to the ceiling, thinking, “Thank you, Jesus.”

But it didn’t take long for the anger to set in. I lay incapacitated; I couldn’t get out of bed, eat, drink, or talk for at least two weeks because of the tubes blowing air into my lungs and feeding me. I was frustrated that I couldn’t do basic things. I had many visitors, but one person who hadn’t come was my sister, Kharin. Not even a call to say, “I am sorry,” or “Thank you for putting yourself in such danger for me.” However, the people who found time to visit me everyday were the detectives. For 14 days, they showed me pictures of people who hadn’t shot me—which only made me more and more pissed off.

When the officers finally showed me the photo of the guy who did shoot me, my blood pressure rose to a dangerous level; the doctors became scared that I would have a stroke if I didn’t keep calm and manage my anger. It was difficult. I still couldn’t talk, so I couldn’t even scream out my rage. Everyone was at a loss of how to help me calm down. But I soon figured out how: I stared at the patterns of the multi-colored curtains with their blue, red, gray, and white stripes—taking deep breaths in and out. I did this for nine hours a day.

Finally, six weeks after the incident, I was released from the ICU. “You can pull the tube out of your mouth, Chris,” the doctor said firmly and loudly. I couldn’t believe I was about to drink my first glass of water in weeks. I reached slowly for the tube, shaking and scared. I pulled on it and immediately began coughing and gagging, spitting out clots of blood and swallowing, feeling my sore throat for the first time in weeks.

I found that I had lost my voice, but could at least speak in a whisper. I could also begin to eat soft foods. After another couple of weeks, I was able to eat ice cubes; I began to feel like I was coming a long way. I loved the feeling of the ice cube melting in my mouth, rolling down my sore throat. After a few more days, I was able to drink liquids and eat regular food, and soon I got my voice back. During this time, I asked many nurses where my right foot was. “I can feel it, but not see it,” I would tell them. They would look at me and say things like, “You’ll be fine,” or change the subject by asking, “How are you doing today?”

Meanwhile, Dr. Shun was impressed. “It is unbelievable how fast you have recovered, Chris,” he said. “In a little while we are going to transfer you upstairs to the pediatric ward.”

I looked at him with a smile. “That means I’m getting better, right?”
He smiled: “Yes,” as he turned and walked away.

The nurses came to give me my first bath fully awake since the shooting. As they prepared me to move, I saw my left toes, but I didn’t see my right. I asked the nurse, “Is my right leg hanging off the bed or something?”
She looked at me. “Your mother didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”

She looked down the hall and left saying, “I think your mother should explain.”
I was so curious that I pulled the sheet from over my right leg to see what was so hard to say. I had lost part of my right leg; the surgeons could only preserve my thigh. In that moment I couldn’t say a word, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like that much of a big deal. I knew that something had been going on by the way everyone was acting. I had expected much worse at this point. I was actually somewhat relieved to know what was going on.

Finally, the moment I was waiting for came: three doctors came into my room and transferred me upstairs to the pediatric ward. The beeping machines and blood pressure cuff of the last few weeks of my life transformed into a room with a T.V and a big window with classic scenes of tall buildings and glimpses of nature.
But not all was well.

I could not get over the fact that my sister still hadn’t come. Over a month later, Kharin finally paid a visit when I was asleep on pain meds. She woke me up by grabbing my hand. I looked up expecting to see my mother. When I realized it was her, I stared into her eyes and pulled my hand away. Bitch, I thought to myself. I wanted to choke her for calling me out of my peaceful home to save her. I couldn’t believe that she had then had the nerve to take her time to come to the hospital. I was still, staring her in the eyes as she stood over my bed hysterically crying. All I could think was, You think I look bad now? You should have come a few weeks ago when I was all swollen and had all these tubes in my body!

After a total of six weeks of hospitalization, I went off to Mount Sinai for a month of rehabilitation. I needed to relearn how to live independently with my “new legs as wheels.” Soon I was home.

I would have never pictured a 6’7,” 400lbs football player in a wheelchair, but I have to thank God that I am alive. Without the love of Him, being there, guiding all of our sinful souls to success, I don’t know where I would have been. And I have to be grateful to my wise mother to whom God gives strength as well. Without her, I would be another outcast floating through this world, not looking for anything to do with my life.

Instead she taught me strength and gave me direction. Only a couple of days after I got home, I was sitting on my bed feeling angry, asking myself why I put myself out there to save someone I am not even close with. Just then, my mother passed by my room.

“Mommy, can you get me something to drink?” I asked. She came inside my room and sat on the edge of my bed.

“Chris, I understand that you are in a difficult situation, but you have to learn how to do things on your own because people aren’t always going to be there to help you.” My mother always did things for me before I was shot. But I realized that she was afraid that I would fall into a black hole of depression if I didn’t strive for as much independence as possible.

I took her advice and did exactly that: I got into my wheelchair and tried to squeeze through my little doorway. I had to find a way to get out. I didn’t want my mother’s advice to be given in vain. There was a chair beside my door so I pulled it over. I locked my wheelchair and slid onto the regular chair. I folded my wheelchair, pulling it outside the narrow doorway. I set it back up and slid back on it. I felt so uplifted from the fruit of my mother’s advice, and realized that accomplishing that on my own made me feel so much better about myself.

Other family members also helped me gather my strength back. Two weeks later, I was with my Godfather when he decided that it was time for me to transfer into the car on my own. I looked at him as if he were a crazy loon.

“Come on. Let’s get moving, or we’re going to be late for hanging out at Dave & Buster’s Arcade,” he ordered. So I followed his advice and took the leg rest off the wheelchair.

“Ohhh Lord,” I shouted, “What am I getting myself into?”
“He has nothing to do with it,” he laughed. He then turned serious. “Chris, you can do it.”

So I put my leg inside the car and slid slowly into the seat. Before I knew it, I was in the car looking straight at an empty wheelchair seat. After that moment I felt amazed at what I could do for myself. Thoughts came to me that made me smile. I began to feel unstoppable. I eventually returned to school and ended up helping to coach the football team. Recently, I even added new summer and after school activities to my life like acting and memoir writing.

After seven months of taking in all the wisdom around me and finding my new or old self, I came home one day and turned off all the lights and the television.

I started thinking about my sister. I knew that teenagers mostly just want to go out and be with their friends—and I realized that my sister was doing just that the night she called me into the dangerous streets. I knew that when she got scared, she figured she could call me for anything. I knew she meant no harm that night. And I knew that once she realized she had put me in harm’s way she was probably too afraid to face my mom, my aunt, and me. I finally found it in my Christian heart to forgive her. I had not only recovered physically and emotionally, but finally spiritually.


awakeningmoon said...

This is such a personal and touching piece of writing. Thanks for sharing your experience and am glad that you found it in your heart to forgive your sister. Wishing you all the best with the rest of your life. God bless!

Anonymous said...

I don't think the long process of recovering from something as tragic and excrutiating as that has ever been conveyed so well, especially to the younger generation. I really hope he keeps writing, and recovering. Good luck Chris.

Jam said...

That man-- not young man, for he is too wise for his age-- should be aknowledged everywhere. He is in my thoughts and he is definately in my prayers.

Rachel said...

Chris is so strong in spirit as well as strong in body. Thankfully, both he totally survived! Thank you so much for telling your moving and insightful story.

K. Bella said...

Wow, what a compelling and touching story. I am glad to have heard it and I wish Chris the best of luck in the future.

Anonymous said...

Dude, that took some time to read, But what a touching story!!

Wish you guys a brighter future than the past.

Maura Fine said...

Chris your story is complelling and awe inspiringn. Keep writing! You have a gift!
Thankyou so much for sharing your memoir. As you move through life with your amazing courage and wisdom you'll have more memoirs to write.

ledomaine said...

Chris, a wonderful and touching story. At this time of year we often look for reasons to give thanks and to love our fellow man. Reading your story reminded me everyday is a gift. You have chosen to use the gift of your life in a positive, life-affirming way. Bless you, your mom, and all the supportive people you have in your life. Season's Greetings and another successful new year in 2009.

featherhead said...

Thank you for sharing with us such a moving memoir. Please keep us posted with how you are doing in the future.

Barbara said...

Thank you for sharing your journey from darkness to light. By forgiving your sister, you now have the emotional and spiritual freedom to create a new life for yourself. Well done Chris.

Anonymous said...

Your loss and recovery was so powerful when you put it down in writing, and so amazingly conveyed. Thanks for sharing your story and may you continue on your path as a responsible and forgiving person.

SunMie said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story! It made me cry, smile, and thank God for you. Your courage and compassion are inspiring! Bless you and your family!

Leon Basin said...

This is a powerful interview. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you pop. I will always love you.