An excellent, sad, and awful story from Bitch, Ph.D., who finds two young American men's roads diverging on a wet slippery night:
Bitch Ph.D. : Mi familia; or, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children: Two stories about two different young men.
1. J. immigrated with his family from Russia. In Russia, his family was wealthy, and after they arrived in the States, they quickly re-established themselves, using their education and business acumen, so that they are now quite comfortably upper middle class. J. was a student of mine and is now a friend to whom I am something of a mentor. I wrote him recommendations for several law schools, and he is now enrolled at one of the better ones in this country.
J. loved car racing and driving fast. For his 16th birthday, his parents leased him a new sporty car. He did some modifications on it and, unknown to them, used the money that was amply provided to him to take racing classes at a local track, and to occasionally race there. He liked to speed, and had an accident (which pissed his parents off), but he generally avoided street races because he did not want to run afoul of the law, since he had aspirations to go to law school.
Just last week, I talked to J. about applying for a research position he really wants. I vetted his application letter, offered some advice, wished him luck. He seems to be doing really well in law school, and he's excited and hopeful about getting this assistantship.
2. The other young man, whose initial is also J., is the illegitimate son of a 16-year old mother, herself the illegitimate daughter of a 15-year old mother. J.'s mother later married a man with whom she had three more children. Her husband was a good guy, but he had a drinking problem and neither he nor J.'s mother had more than a high school education, so that they were poor and sometimes had trouble providing for their family. J.'s step-father died of a sudden heart attack the year before J., the oldest, graduated high school; at the time, the youngest was in fourth grade. Of course, there was no life insurance, and for some time the family lived with J.'s grandmother and her husband (she had married, for the first time, in middle age) in their two-bedroom house before J.'s mother found an affordable rental, also a two-bedroom, across the street. J., the oldest, slept in the living room with his brother; the girls shared one bedroom, and their mother had the other one.
After graduating high school--a huge event, for J.'s extended family: he was lauded with leis, gifts, parties, and a great deal of praise--J. moved back across the street to live in his grandparents' second bedroom, started taking classes at the local community college, and got a job. He and his friends had a lot of free time, and spent it the way 18-year old boys will: partying, trying to pick up girls, doing petty bullshit. J.'s grandfather suspected that J.'s friends were a bad influence--tools had gone missing from J.'s mother's house on more than one occasion--but J.'s mother and grandmother were fiercely protective of J., babied him a bit even, and would hear nothing against him. J.'s grandfather's position was somewhat awkward: a schoolteacher himself, he came from a different class background that J.'s family, and though he and his wife had always been very generous and helpful, their help (or rather, the grandfather's help) was resented, somewhat, as coming from an outsider. The grandfather's concern and aid were patronizing, literally, and his attempts to talk to J., to set rules for J.'s behavior in his house, and to act as an older male figure in J.'s life were generally rejected. Nonetheless, J. was generally a good kid, sweet-natured, respectful, and even a little naive. Over-confident about his prospects and a little aimless, to be sure; but he was bright, likeable, and concerned about his family. Everyone hoped that he would at least get an associate's degree and a decent job.
Like the first J., this J. liked driving fast (what young man doesn't?), but unlike the first J., he didn't have a good car or the money to do it at a race track, and even if he had, he probably would have considered doing that a waste of cash, since you can always race on the street. He didn't street race very often. But he may have done it at least once, after a party, with two of his friends in the car egging him on. It was raining and the speedometer in his car was broken, so no one knows how fast he was going when he lost control and drove into a tree. His two friends were thrown out of the car and killed.
When the police arrived, J., who had consulted with the other teenagers who were at the scene, lied and said that he had been in the car, yes, but hadn't been the one driving. The police interviewed him and let him go. He went home.
The next day, feeling guilty, J. confessed to his family. He denied having been drinking, and with very little encouragement decided to go to the police and admit that he had been the driver.
He was arrested for felony hit-and-run, and for vehicular manslaughter. His family was unable to affford bail. The grandfather offered to post it, but J.'s mother refused; J. had had some chest pains after the accident, the police had put him in a medical facility, he was safe, and the arraignment was in just a few days anyway. In the meantime, the police investigation continued; the authorities began to suspect that J. had been racing, and bail was set at a million dollars. J. was assigned a public defender and told that the maximum sentence he was facing was life in prison.
This second J. is my nephew. His grandfather is my dad. Dad has asked me to write a letter to the court, explaining my relationship with J. and that I think he is a bright and good kid. I am to sign the letter with my title, in the hopes that a letter from a college professor in his support will somehow sway the judge.
I don't know what will happen to J.