I am standing in front of the security desk. I am calm. I am clear. I have not shed one tear. I am focused. I am wondering where Var is, why isn’t he here, he was closer, he should have been here by now.
“I’m here to see my son, Vinnie Valentine. He’s been shot.”
The security guard checks the computer, “We don’t have anyone by that name who has been admitted”, he replies matter-of-factly.
“My son was shot and they brought him here. His name is Vincent Valentine II.”
“I’m sorry Ma’am, but nobody by that name has been admitted here. Are you sure they brought him to Children’s Hospital?” he says with a hint of sarcasm. I remember thinking, “If i jump over this counter and choke you I bet you would be a little more helpful and a little less of a smart-ass.” My rational mind kicked in, reminding me to continue to be calm and polite. It is amazing how many things your mind can think, seemingly at once. As I was beginning to ask for the third time, the double doors open and a white woman in non-hospital attire comes out. She hears what I am asking security and asked if I would come in the back with her.
As I begin to walk toward her, my mind is screaming, “Nooooo, why are you taking me in the back where they give you the bad news? Where is Var? Did they tell Var Vin died so he left. How come nobody is here? God, you told me he wasn’t going to die.”
Literally one after another, thought after thought, in rapid fire before I even reach her and walk through the double doors. The woman introduces herself telling me her name, yet all I hear is Social Worker. She takes me into an office and ask that I have a seat. She explains to me Vinnie is there but was admitted under a trauma name. She goes on to say trauma names areroutine in incidents such as this. She continues on stating the other reason the security guard was reluctant to give me any information is because your son’s father had been here earlier and stated that he didn’t know where you were nor was how to get in touch with her.
Again, my mind starts with the less than Christian much less minister response, “What the hell did he mean he doesn’t know where I am or how to get in touch with me. Okay, he may not know how to get in touch with me but he got some damn nerve making it sound like I’m some out of the picture, trifling ass mother.” My thoughts continue, again on rapid fire. “He was here but he left the hospital. Who in the hell leaves their kid in the hospital, in surgery, shot up?” My mind’s rant was interrupted when I realized the Social Worker was still talking to me. “Pardon me, could you please repeat what you just said?”
“Your son’s father was here…”
“I heard that part”, I interrupt.
“You son is in surgery. He has multiple gunshot wounds. They are operating to determine what, if any, internal injuries he has sustained. Right now, it is estimated the surgery will last about 4 more hours, after which he will be in the recovery room. Once your son is out of surgery, recovery and is stabilized, he will be transferred to Highland Hospital. I know it is a lot of information. Do you have any questions?”
“Will I be able to see him when he comes out of surgery? Will I be able to speak with the surgeon?”
“Yes, you should be able to see him before he is transported to Highland. You should be speak with the surgeon at that time, if he has time,”, she is neither warm nor cold, she is matter-of-fact.
“Yes, I would like to speak with the surgeon. What do you mean his father was here but he left?” I ask her, holding back what I really want to say.
“My understanding is he left to go pick up his sister and he’ll be back”, she informs me.
Here go those automatic thoughts again, “His sister, huh? He don’t even like her. Whatever, he left my baby here alone. Who does that?”
The Social Worker says she will escort me back out to the waiting room where I can wait until Vinnie comes out of surgery. I walk through the double doors and the waiting room that was completely empty, was now filled with family & friends, sadness & tears. Although I can envision the sight of the now crowded waiting room, who, exactly, was there is all a blur. I know Tootie, Big Papa and Chels were there (as the story goes, in all of Tootie’s panicking she managed to tell Cameron couldn’t go because he had to stay with Amari). I remember Carolyn and Ebony being there and telling me they hadn’t been able to reach Stix. Var and Naomi were there. I believe Spank was there too. Vincent had returned but I can’t remember who was with him. The scene clear, the people blurred.
As I stand there, gathering my thoughts and my words, a nurse approaches me. Her words to me, “Your son will be in surgery for a few hours. You can go home and we will call you when he is out of surgery.”
“You can call me. I’ll be sitting right over there, in the waiting room, and you can call my name when he’s out of surgery,” clearly Jesus was speaking for me cause in my mind, I’m thinking she must be crazy if she thinks for one second I’m going to leave the hospital with my son on an operating table.
No sooner do I get the words out when she voices what she really wanted to say, her true issue, “There seems to be a large number of people gathering here and we reserve the right to clear the Waiting Room at any time.”
And before I know it, she gets the business, in my perfect, proper, low, you-may-want-to-leave-me-alone-voice, “Look, I don’t know what the problem is, but no one is doing anything wrong. These are all family and friends who are clearly upset at the fact that my son has been shot, another one of their friends has died and we have to wait nearly 4 hours before we know any thing more definitive about my son’s condition. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to tell my family what little information I know”.
At that point, I must have given everyone an update on what little I knew but I don’t remember that either. Var repeated to me what Vinnie had communicated to him when he called him, after being shot. “I’ve been hit. Gook is dead. They’re taking me to Children’s. Meet me there. I love you Man.” Var says that Vin actually called twice, the first time he got voicemail and left the message, when he called back and reached him, he repeated the exact same thing, verbatim. Still no tears.
I remember Petey Crack and Dolla standing outside the doors to the ER entrance. I remember lots of hugs and lots to tears, theirs not mine. I remember DaShawn pulling up in the driveway of the ER entrance with a car full of dudes and who knows what else. To say Vin and Shawny were close doesn’t even come close to describing their relationship. These two were so close I used to ask them, “Are you two people or one?” I knew how DaShane felt about his brother. I knew what was on his mind. I remember telling the boys to deal with him because I could not. To tell him not to bring any drama to the hospital.
After updating everyone as best I could, Vincent and I walked back toward the Social Worker’s office in order for him to speak with her directly. As I walked through those double doors, for the second many times that night, I see Tony Jones. I knew he was OPD but it didn’t click he was there regarding my son’s shooting. He greeted me warmly with a hug and addressed me as “Minister Mitchell”. He asked me what I was doing there. I told him my son had been shot and was there in surgery. What I didn’t know was that Tony had promoted to Sargent and was the “on-duty” homicide investigator that night. He had “caught” the case.
We begin to share information, of which neither of us had much. He asked me what my son’s name was and if I knew what he was doing in the location of the shooting. I told him my son’s name to which he responded, “I’ve never heard of him.”
“Well why would you have heard of him Tony? He’s not out in the streets making a name for himself. In fact, we both work at our church.”
We talked a few more minutes. He confirmed that Ron died at the scene and they (OPD) had thus far been unable to contact his family.
After witnessing, what could be described as warm and friendly, the exchange between Sgt. Jones and myself, “magically” the attitudes of the hospital staff was different. What had been previously matter-of-fact and indifferent became warm and helpful, polite even. The same nurse who was telling me I could go home and wait for a phone call, is now assuring me she will let me know as soon as she hears anything. The Social Worker who was full of “should be able to’s” is now saying she will call the OR nurse to try and get an update for us.
It was not lost on me, that in the moment, when Tony Jones treated me as the mother of a victim of a violent crime and not as the mother of “just-another-young-black-male-shot-in-Oakland-on-a-Friday-night-so-he-had-to-be-doing-something”, the atmosphere, the attitudes, the treatment changed immediately. Because the police officer knew me personally? Because he addressed me as “Minister Mitchell”? Whatever the reason, people who have chosen a career in service have no excuse for treating people in the manner in was I were initially treated. It doesn’t matter how often you’ve seen it. It doesn’t matter how horrific the things you have seen. Because you chose this field, you must choose to see every crime victim’s humanity. No. Excuse.
After nearly 5 hours of waiting and with prompting from the Social Worker, the surgeon finally came down to give us a medical update. He informed Vincent and I that he had to remove part of Vin’s small intestine, repair a nick to liver as it had been struck by a bullet. The surgeon went on to explain leaving bullet fragments in my son’s lungs as it would have been more dangerous to try and remove them; bullets and fragments were also left in other areas of his body, they were not life threatening and some would likely work their way up to the surface, at which time any doctor could remove them at an office visit. The last thing he said, relative to Vinnie’s injuries, was no major organs or arteries were hit or damaged, his spine was not hit and barring any unforeseen complications, such as infections, and because Vinnie is young, he should make a full recovery. He has been shot a lot of times, he’s lucky. At that point he reported Vinnie had been shot approximately 6 or 7 times. That initial report of how many gunshots was wrong. Very, very wrong.
After giving his medical update, for some reason that is beyond me, the doctor, the surgeon, decided to interrogate us about our son’s actions that night, “Oakland can be a very dangerous place at night. Why was your son out there?”
I have a friend name Mara who uses very colorful language in a very skillful way. She also happens to live in Oakland, not far from where Vinnie was shot. Mara is Jewish and she lives in that part of Oakland with her African American husband. A husband who likely goes out. At night. Probably on Friday nights. As I think back on that night, I think how if Mara had been there, before I could even respond to this biased, racist surgeon, she would have given him a New York style tongue lashing with very, very colorful language. Yep, Mara would have definitely cursed that doctor all the way out.
But Mara wasn’t there, and once again I had to make a conscious decision on how I would respond. Ayoola, Minister Mitchell or Ki-Ki? My response was a combination of all three, “It was a Friday night, he just got off work and he was out with his friend because that is what young people do on Friday nights. Or, do you not have kids who go out on Friday night? Frankly, I work in the field of Criminal Justice system and have for the past 25 years, and it case you were unaware, violence occurs everywhere.”
He didn’t stop “Studies have shown that young men who survive gunshot wounds are shot again, often fatally, within 18 months.” Yes, yes he did say that to us, the parents of a young man lying in a recovery room blessed to be alive after being shot multiple times.
“My son is a high school graduate who works full time at our church. In fact, we work full time at our church. He’s a good son and a great father to his 13 month old son,” I responded. Then I reverted to that low, calm, don’t-come-for-my-son-voice, “Every young African American male shot isn’t a thug, drug dealer or doing something wrong. If you are finished, informing me of my son’s medical condition, which is actually your job, I would like to see him now”.
Vincent and I went into the Recovery Room, he stood on one side of the bed and I stood on the other side. Vinnie’s eyes were closed and when I said his name he opened them. He looked at me, he looked at his Dad and he said, “God spared me cause I have work to do.” The. Very. First. Words. He. Spoke.
(When he later spoke of that moment of opening his eyes to his dad and I standing there, he said his automatic thought was, “I must have died and gone to heaven cause I two ain’t never seen you two in the same room.”)
He then began to recall the three details that he would repeat over and over again, “A black truck blocked us off , dude jumped out with the AK and he started shooting”. He kept saying his knee hurt. I informed him what the doctor had reported about his injuries and the prognosis. I told him that he was going to be transferred to Highland Hospital at 7 am which was about 2 hours from then.
He kept repeating God sparing him, the truck, man with the AK and his knee hurt.
He then he asked a question that both caught me off guard and broke my heart. “Mom, where’s Ron? Is he okay?”
He didn’t remember. He didn’t remember seeing Ron dead. He didn’t remember calling Var twice and telling him Ron was dead. He didn’t remember. At that moment, for a split second, I thought about not telling him. A mother’s instinct to protect.
I grabbed his hand, I told him the truth, “Ron didn’t make it Baby. I’m so sorry.”
“No, Mom” his only words. Tears. No sound. Just tears. His.
Next, “The Highland Experience”, stay tuned and thank you for joining me on this journey.
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