The End of Love Is Death & the End of Death Is Love

A story by Lucille Clifton

My friend. The boy has sat on the poodle and broken his back.

I believe that he stomped that dog—she says. Now I have to spend $30.00 of my money. Me and William was watching TV and he had gone in his own room to look at something else; that’s how he is, you know, never do like to see what everybody else want to see; and we heard all this noise and the dog was screaming. Usually I look for Fifi because he is so little and no bigger than a minute but I thought everything was all right but when me and William heard the little thing cry we looked around and I hollered in there what’s the matter with the dog and nobody said nothing and the dog kept screaming so when the commercial came I got up and went in there and the boy had got him up on the bed some kind of way and sat on him. I had to get a taxi and rush him to the vet cause William’s car is still messed up, you know, and the vet said I could have him put away but I’m so attached to the little thing and I think William is too so that’s $30.00 of my money gone that I work so hard for. But he’s all right now. I’m gonna tell that doctor about it though. You know it ain’t right, for a boy to hurt something like that.

She has an appointment at the clinic. The social worker thinks a doctor ought to look at the boy. He is too tall for nine years old.

My friend. Something about the boy.

The doctor say the boy got the body of a fourteenyear-old boy—she starts out. Yeah, the doctor say he’s at least five years older than himself. You know I always told you about the different things he would say and do even when he was a little baby, all the time. My sister used to tell me. You know I gave him to my sister when he was about a month old. Well, you know my first husband was crazy anyway, I told you about that, and when this baby come and he was gone off and I had to work I just took him up to Albany to my sister and gave him to her. That’s right. I didn’t even see that boy till he was eighteen months old. Well, I was always working, you know. Listen, a person has to work. My sister said though that he used to always say the most intelligent stuff, just like a man. I went to get him when I got lonesome but my sister wanted to keep him, but you know, she had a husband and everything, I didn’t have anything but this one child. I hadn’t ever even heard of William then. He wants me to have another baby; he’d like to have a little girl, he says, but I keep telling him I can’t. I just don’t want any more children. Well, anyhow, when this boy was in kindergarten he was expelled from school for beating up the teacher. You ever hear of anything like that before? He always been big, you know, and they used to kid him about it. Yeah, one day I had to take off from work and go down to the school and finally transfer him to another one. Maybe he couldn’t help it, you know, if he’s five years ahead of himself, maybe it’s just like he was a man only in a little boy’s body. I’ll tell you one thing. I’m locking my door at night. You never know. I’m gonna tell this new doctor all these things and about what he used to say and all.

The social worker and the doctor have recommended a psychologist. The boy is not toilet-trained.

My friend. The boy.

Hi. Well, he’s mental. I was afraid of this. His father was crazy, you know. Didn’t I tell you about the time his father told me he was dying and when I went in the room to see about him and call the doctor he took out this hammer and started nailing up the doors and windows? He kept me nailed up like that for two days. A college graduate too. I was always afraid that this boy would take after him but I thought maybe he would just be a real good liar. Girl, you should have seen him at the doctor, he just sat there grinning. It would break your heart. This psychologist asked him why don’t he go to the bathroom and he just grinned. He wouldn’t answer anything. The man asked him didn’t he know that people who sit there and grin like that and wet their pants all the time and don’t answer the doctor ends up in the crazy house, and do you think he said a word? Not one. I was so embarrassed. I asked him why was he doing it and do you know then he went to crying. What do you think of that, first grinning, then crying. I told the psychologist about the different things he has said and done in the past like what I have told you. Also that when I ask him why does he do these things he says that his mind tells him to do them. Maybe he thinks he should do whatever his mind tells him to. The psychologist told me to go up to the school and ask the principal to see if he can be changed to a colored teacher. The way he wouldn’t talk and went to acting here he thinks the boy must hate white people. He may even get violent with me because I have to work for white people. I’m going to ask this new doctor if that’s possible.

The social worker and the doctor and the psychologist have recommended the head psychologist. Who is black.

My friend.

They’re taking some tests—she says. Then they will know for sure whether or not he ought to be put away. They told me not to hope for too much though. They were all there, you know. He just sat there grinning. The social worker asked me if I could stand it for two more weeks till they get the test results. Well, I’ve stood it for nine years, I guess I can for just two weeks. I’m a nervous wreck though. This head doctor didn’t even try to ask him anything because he knew it wasn’t any use. He had all the reports from the rest of them. He told me that for these two weeks I’m not to let that boy out of my sight even for a minute. Now, how am I going to do that? I have to work. He wanted to know if William would watch him and take him to a ball game or something, but I told that doctor that William is a funny guy. I told you, he tries to be nice to the boy but he don’t like ball and he never talks to me even, much. He’s just that kind of quiet man. Always was. We have gotten this boy everything a child could want though. I told you about his room, his own TV and everything. He really has got everything. Seem like to me he could do just what he always does. I leave him his breakfast on the table and set the alarm

for him and then me and William gets on to work and he gets himself up and goes on to school. Then he comes home and watches TV or something until one of us comes home. Then if he looks like he’s been good we let him go out to play. The one thing is that he goes to that school, you know, where they have shifts so he gets out at one o’clock and William don’t get home usually till five. But they can’t keep him all day there cause I asked. I know it’s a long time but he’s got plenty to play with. One time I tried to see if I could get him in the Big Brothers but they wouldn’t take him because he got William. I was even thinking about taking a city child to be company for him but I can’t do it cause I have to work. Anyway, this head doctor told me not to feel bad cause lots of children have to be taken away from their mothers. Sometimes they feel like hurting their own mother, especially if they love death. They might kill somebody just because they like it, you know. Didn’t I tell you? He is in love with death. I told the doctor about it. Now that I think about it, he always used to giggle and stuff at funerals when I’d take him. And the other morning he brought home a note from his teacher. She said that he came to class and said that he had almost stepped out in front of a car that morning on the way to school. When she asked him why, he said cause he wanted to die. I didn’t even whip him. I’ve stopped beating him because it just ain’t no use. I asked him, boy, why would you say a thing like that? Guess what he said. He don’t know. His mind told him to say it. Oh, he loves it all right. I’ve heard of things like that. Anyway, the doctor said that he’ll probably have to be put away and maybe he won’t ever be well again. He asked me how I feel about it but I’ll tell you the truth, it’s better if it’s got to happen someday for it to be now. That way it won’t be so much worry on me and William. I’ll make it till the tests come back though. Then we’ll just put him on away.

She is going to Albany to visit her sister and to rest her nerves. She thinks I sound like I am crying.

Her. She is calling about the boy.

Guess what. He might be doing better. We took him to Albany with us, you know. We did think he didn’t want to go. I kept asking him and he didn’t say anything. So we was all packed and ready to go get the bus and I told him to pack up and go round to my cousins and stay till we got back and I looked in the room and he was crying. So I asked him what was the matter and he said, Mama, I want to go with you. Well, we took him. See there, he may be five years older than himself but sometimes he act just like a little boy. We had a good time, girl. My sister was happy to see us and she was happy to see him too. I gave him to her once, you know. I told her she should be glad I took him back because of these troubles and this thing we have found out about him being mental, but you know, I bet she don’t believe me because he didn’t wet himself once the whole time we were there. Not even the bed. He found some companion there, a friend of my sister’s that he talked to and everything. The fellow took him riding and to a ball game but I had to break it up. Because the fellow was a grown man thirty-five years old and that ain’t right, you know, for a nine-year-old boy and a grown man to be friends. He might be one of them things, you know. Of course this boy didn’t understand why I told him he couldn’t go see the fellow anymore while we were there and he cried and cried. A child don’t understand things, you know. He cried so much and he said, oh, Mama, I’m so lonesome. You know, maybe he is. Maybe he is. I’ll tell you how the tests come out.

She is meeting with the social worker tomorrow.


Now I can get my nerves together—she says. We got back the tests and it looks like he may not be mental. The social worker says that the head doctor of the clinic seems to think this boy may be extra bright. I told her though that he is a problem child then and me and William both are nervous wrecks, but we can manage. She said that they want to put him in a foster home. They think maybe they ought to separate him from me for a while till I get over all the worry and while I have to work. Of course it may be for a couple of years or even until he’s grown. Quite naturally I cried but she told me not to feel bad because a lot of times boys and their mothers have to be separated. At least I have William and Fifi now and won’t be lonesome. And I won’t have to worry about Fifi. He’ll be going to these people in the morning. I don’t know who they are but I think it’s better not to know so I won’t be worried about it. You want to say good-bye to him for a minute and we can talk about something nice for a change?

I say good luck and I’m glad you’re saved to my friend. And hang up. □