The Kid: Challenging and Disconcerting, but Informative
By EmSun on July 27, 2011
I flipped through the last clean-cut pages and asked myself, "How do you even begin to describe The Kid by Sapphire?" Such an innocuous title reminiscent for many of hugs, birthday presents, baseball fields or basketball courts, and the smell of Spaghetti Os. Not this kid. Not Abdul Jamal Louis Jones. Not Jamal Abdul Jones. Not J.J. nor Crazy Horse nor Abdul-Azi Ali nor Arthur. Not one of those personas had that life nor those memories.
Abdul begins his stream-of-conscious narrative around the time his mother, Precious, dies of what he learns was probably AIDS. He is nine years old and his inner dialogue is childish and immediate. We follow Abdul as he experiences his first real abuse when the social worker can't even get his name right on the way to the foster home. A loss of identity, WHAP, right off the bat. "Mohammed?" Then, we start right into the physical abuse. Rape. Beatings. Concussion. Abdul moves on to a private school where the adults and children continue to sexually abuse each other. Abdul is a victim, sure, but he's also a perpetrator.
How, though, can you say he truly feels intent to abuse when he doesn't know it is wrong? He gets pleasure and pain out of his sexual abuse at the hands of the adults he trusts. This story is told over and over throughout America and the world. TODAY. Abdul believes he is giving these children pleasure as he "looks out" for them. In a style such as Cholly Breedlove from Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, Abdul does not make the connections between the abuse he suffers and the abuse he gives. He's trying to show love. He's also twisted sexual release and pleasure on his part with demonstrating love and giving the same to his victims, not realizing what is pleasurable for him isn't to them. Just call him Cholly Jr. He wants to French kiss his mom (pg. 126) and have sex with his little boy. He wants to feel and show love. He's 13.
Abdul is removed from the private school and he is confused as to why. One of the boys stepped forward as a victim, but Abdul doesn't even want to admit to himself if he actually touched the boy. He goes into a fugue-like dream state when he gets his strange; he retreats further into his socially underdeveloped mind.
After Abdul is removed from the private school, he goes through four other moves to the end of the novel, each echoing the sexual dysfunction of the first two. Threads from each of the placements or living arrangements are tangled up in Abdul's mind and his understanding of the situation is muddled and dank. He lies to himself and others and no one really knows who he is; I'm not sure that they ever will. He's broken and discarded. Lost.
Sapphire does an outstanding job of presenting the quickly-shifting thought patterns of an individual on the perpetual defense. Almost a wild animal in their foreign thinking and acting. She evokes the behaviors in Abdul that I've seen many times in children and adults like him. The confusion, deception, anger, and underdeveloped social morals. Yet, she also humanizes him and gives him a voice. Without a pure teacher or guiding force, Abdul flounders and surrenders to his dark well-taught nature. He is lost, even to himself. It is admirable how Sapphire can throw herself into the mind of a nine year old, a thirteen year old, a seventeen year old, and then depict that mind through increasingly mature text and thought/speech patterns.
My hope is that people understand that this fictionalized depiction of the victim of constant, degrading sexual abuse is the reality for many people and I hope those people understand that they can generalize some of Abdul's reaction to the effect of other abuses, neglect, and/or poverty. Maybe it will help them understand how someone can think so different from them. Maybe it will help them to understand the dark twistings of helplessness and shame that sexual abuse survivors can feel. I hope people can learn from this; I hope I can, too.
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