By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He will say matter-of-factly that every adult in the outside world has let him down, and in many ways he is right. He ends his manuscript with a retort to them, the "fakers and shakers" of the world.
But he draws no moral from his tale. Edwin Debrow Jr. knew right and wrong, and he chose one and not the other.
His story is no less tragic because of it.
Nothing is there. Edwin Debrow steers his brain toward childhood, straining for memories--the image of a new toy, the feel of a grandmother's thick hand. Nothing. "I do not see anything but blurred visions," he wrote in a letter earlier this month. "Most of the time it's just blank."
His first solid memories are of age 10, and it takes his cousin and childhood running buddy Morris Dwayne Debrow to locate the tracks of that earlier, forgotten life. Dwayne, as he's called, remembers a "hard life, a real hard life." He sees a one-room house on San Antonio's East Side, home of Seletha Ann Chase Debrow. Her husband, Edwin Debrow Sr., is gone; the tiny house is swarming with children, including young Edwin, whom everyone called Li'l Boo. Seletha Debrow would eventually rear seven children, mostly on her own. "There wasn't nobody there for 'em," Dwayne says. "Everybody in the family turned 'em down."
And not without reason. Edwin Debrow Sr. says he left his wife when he found out she was "an intravenous drug user," and, he says, she eventually would surround herself with drunks, druggies and "criminals." In the best of times, Dwayne says, Seletha barely held the edges of her life together. When she was on drugs, the edges would bust apart. Sometimes she was there for her children; sometimes she wasn't. Sometimes she worked; sometimes the children went hungry. When there was food, it was poor-folks' fare: cornbread, beans, lots and lots of beans. Every time Li'l Boo came over to Dwayne's house, he was hungry. Hungry. Dwayne's parents gave him good food and small glimpses of a stable home.
Seletha's environment was nothing like that. Though Seletha Debrow didn't show up for an interview she scheduled with the Dallas Observer, court records and the recollections of other family members fill in the picture. At times, she and the children lived in shelters, and Li'l Boo would tear around in the cheap white tennies the shelter kids wore. Dwayne didn't care that his cousin was dirt-poor, even lived at times in a house without water; he shared all his toys, and they roamed the streets of the East Side together, trolling for excitement. Sometimes it was wholesome stuff: Dwayne played along when Edwin climbed into dumpsters and excavated aluminum cans, which he'd sell. Dwayne didn't need the money, but for Edwin "that was something for the house--bread, meat." He'd also buy snacks for his brothers and sisters, and candy. Edwin loved candy.
At some point, Edwin moved to the East Terrace housing project. There were some good things about the projects. Every Sunday morning, the little kids herded onto what they called the "Joy Joy" bus and bounced along to church, where they were met with a hearty breakfast of biscuits and sausage. That down-home church had a simple take on keeping the kids out of trouble: lock them in at 10 a.m. and let them out after the sun goes down.
Outside, temptation was all around him, in the form of a gang that ruled East Terrace called the Altadena Block Crips.
When Dwayne was 10 and Edwin was about 9, their lives took separate turns. One day Dwayne heard fussing and fighting outside his apartment, and he stepped out to look for his sister. He glanced around and heard gunshots--"I heard boom! boom! I stumbled back and I looked down, and blood was coming everywhere." He didn't realize right away that he'd been shot in the head, caught in the crossfire of a domestic fight. Dwayne spent several weeks in the hospital, and it "slowed me down a lot," pulled him off the streets. To this day, the bullet is still lodged behind his optic nerve, wrapped within muscle "like a fist." This was the heyday of crack cocaine--the crack apocalypse--'91, '92, '93, when cities such as Dallas and San Antonio recorded their most murders ever, many of them drug- and gang-related, and violent crime was at an all-time high. Dwayne's mother kept her son away from it. Her stern voice still rings in his ears, yanking him away from mayhem.