Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney

“How about I trick them? Can I at least do that?” Sister John smiled. “yes, but only if it’s a good trick.”
“I can promise you that one, for sure. See you, Sister!”

WE MET FOR A FEW MORE TIMES, but when school started a few weeks later, Sister John Christian was gone. She had been re-assigned to a school in Michigan after all. It would be forty years before I saw her again. Lots of other things changed, too. In the years after Larry molested me, both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Older guys from the neighborhood were drafted, sent to the other side of the world, and died fighting in a stupid war. The 1968 Democratic Convention and its hippie contingent strode defiantly into Chicago via Stony Island Avenue…and hob- bled back out after Mayor Daley’s police beat them up in front of the whole world on live Tv. And all over my Stony Island neighborhood, For Sale signs bloomed in front yards on every street as whites moved out because blacks were moving in, and more blacks moved in because all the whites were moving out. On Saturdays we kids would sit on the curb and watch as the moving vans loaded up the neighborhood. Just before one of our gang would get into the family station wagon to drive off to a still-white neighborhood, we’d hug each other and vow that somehow we would remain close. The parents would assure us that we’d still find a way to play together, but we quickly realized that wasn’t the case. every time one of my friends moved, a little part of me faded away.
In September 1968, I started ninth grade at Mount Carmel High School at Sixty-third Street and Stony Island. I barely passed the entrance exam and started off in the lowest section of the freshman class. There were several sections of students at Mount Carmel: First Class students, Second Class Students, Average Class Students, and last but not least, The Below Average Class Students. After about twenty minutes of meeting my new Below Average pals, I quickly dubbed us as The No Class Students. Our academic endeavors specialized in ditching school, cheating, lying, and causing general havoc.
The next summer, the Heaneys joined the exodus from Stony Island and moved west to the Beverly neighborhood on the south- west side. The new neighborhood was more than a geographical relocation forty-five minutes west. It was a leap upward in social class as well, from a tough blue-collar, increasingly black neighborhood to a tony upper middle-class white area. As we left Stony Island for the last time, I turned to my brother and said in a Rod Serling voice,
“Jimmy Heaney thinks he can move out of Stony Island and everything in his life will be okay. Little does he know he’s about to enter a new life in…The Twilight Zone.” The high school culture was awash in money and alcohol. Drinking became more than something to do at a weekend party; I started drinking after school on a regular basis. I got in some good fights, made a name for myself and was arrested a couple of times for petty stuff. On the outside, I was a walking crisis. On the inside, I was dying. The people who had been my substitute family—the neighborhood gang and the parish staff who knew my home situation—weren’t part of my life anymore. I didn’t fit in anywhere. And then came November 2, 1969.

“RUN , TOMMY, RUN!” It was Saturday morning, and my three-year-old-brother Tommy and I had gone to play in the park in our new neighborhood.
“Concentrate,” I called.
“If you’re not careful, you’ll stumble for sure.” Tommy giggled and looked up at me. He had pretty good balance for a kid his age. “Come on, let’s go,” I urged him on. He put his head down and ran on a few steps more. This was my chance. I dashed away and disappeared behind a large oak tree. I whistled loudly, waited a few moments, then peeked around the tree. Tommy was looking around, wondering where I’d gone. I was quiet for a few more moments and then noticed his hands starting to shake. His face went from confusion to fear. I sprang out but it was too late; tears were already running down his face.
“I’m right here,” I assured him, feeling awful. I bent over and picked him up, hugging him hard.
“That was a stupid game, Tommy. I promise we won’t play it ever again. you’re a good little brother.” He stopped crying.
“Come on, let’s run to the house. Run, Tommy run!” A dozen years separated us, but we were both going to football games today. He was going to the grade school game with my father, and I was going to the Mount Carmel High school game. Both games started at one o’clock, but I had to wait for my father and Tommy to leave the house so I could slip down into the basement and grab three beers before my friends picked me up. When it was time to go, my father came into the kitchen. “Come on, Tommy let’s go,” he said wearily. Tommy looked at me.
“Aren’t you coming today?”
“No, I’m going to another game,” I said.
“Please come with us. Please, please, please!” Tommy begged. “I can’t. The guys are coming to pick me up,” I said. I hadn’t played with him for a few days and he wanted to continue the fun we’d had at the park. I guess he missed me. Whenever I was grounded we played together, and occasionally I would baby-sit him. We had a close call when he was six months old; he’d rolled off the couch while taking a nap, and I’d been sneaking ice cream in the kitchen instead of watching him. I ran in thinking he might be dead because he didn’t wake up and cry. I sat there on the floor for twenty minutes watching him breathe and wait- ing for him to wake up.

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