Candy Stripes: Rise in the Fall Transcript

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Title: Candy Stripes: Rise in the Fall
Storyteller: Taniki Richard
Episode: Veterans Day 2016: Iraq, Aircraft Carriers & Candy
Originally Aired: 11/8/2016 

My six siblings and I hustled candy for my drug-addicted parents. Everyday coming home from school, I'd drop my backpack and pick up a couple boxes of fruity swirl peppermint sticks to go out and hit the streets.

There were four teams. They got an older one and a younger one. And then the middle child, I mean, he was old enough so he basically, with eyes distance, we would kind of keep an eye on him. Four productive teams. 

I'm 14, the second oldest of seven, but I'm the leader. I know how to get it done. They depended on me to make sure that these boxes got sold. Everyone got three boxes each and, trust and believe, on average we were making about $180 to $250 every couple of days. And life was good because we were able to eat and we had a good scheme going, too. It went something like this, "Excuse me, sir, would you like to buy some candy for our church."

What church? We didn't have any church. It didn't exist. And if they said no then we would say, "Would you like to donate?"

I came up with that idea. You had to maximize the sale, right? That was the type of person I was to get it done, and we did that because if we didn't sell, we didn't eat. And in my mind, because I was afraid of my father, if we didn't sell we might get beat.

So we did that day in day out till about 14. I went from 14 to 15 years old, and then the guilt set in. Why would these people keep giving us this money? They know we come here every day. They say, "God bless you child," and give the money for the donation. And I'm like, God can't be happy with this. We're liars. This is a scam. Why am I doing this? And it would eat at me, tearing like the fibers of my soul apart, and I knew I just couldn't do this anymore.

I came home from school one day and my parents were up, surprisingly, and dressed. I looked in the corner and there were at least 25 boxes of candy waiting on me. One stack had more than the other stacks and I knew that was probably mine. I was the most productive. And I said, while looking down on the ground, the red carpet flat dirty and nasty, I looked down and I said, "Daddy I, I can't do this anymore. I don't want to hustle candy anymore."

And now my mom, she chuckled, and I slowly looked up at my dad's face, and I could see his eyes just squinting at me, with his chapped up, beady, just ashy lips, and in his Caribbean voice he said, "Taniki, you're going to sell the candy. Don't mess with me."

And I knew what that meant, too. It meant - cruise it or bruise it. So I kept selling the candy and we went on like this.

I started to rebel passively. I'd come back and I wouldn't sell the boxes of candy. He would yell at me, spitting, just call me names, pushing me out the door. And even at night he would make me go back out there and sell that candy. 

Now, since I was the leader, my brothers and sisters, they kind of picked up on my rebelliousness. They started to rebel. My sister would throw away perfectly good boxes of candy. My brother would hide the candy money and take it to school for lunch and not turn it into my dad. The teams were falling apart, and my dad knew it and he knew that I was the culprit. He had to get me up out of there. So, he came to me one day and he said, "Taniki, go ahead. You can get a job."

I was like, "Yes! I made it!" I have an opportunity to make my life better. I can relieve myself of this guilt that I felt by hustling these kindhearted people, who were so willingly giving us their money and knowing that we were lying. Knowing that I was a liar. I would be relieved of this and I would have a respectable job.

So within a month, I went and got myself a job as a cashier at the first fast food joint down the street. I was so proud of myself. Three weeks later, I got a check, my first check. So happy. And he shows up at my job and he said, "Taniki, give me the check."

Now, I'm not gonna lie to you. I was disappointed. I handed over the check. I kind of knew, I mean, my parents are crackheads. You really think that I would be making a check and they not going to get it? Come on. I expected that, but what I didn't expect was what he said next, what he would make me do. He said, "Your brother's waiting on you. Go over to the gas station and sell the candy."

The blood in my skin started to boil. I was so angry. "You lied! How could you lie? You said if I got a job I wouldn't have to hustle no more."

But I went, and while I was walking I said, "Can I at least go back home and change my shirt?"

He said, "No."

One day, I got my work clothes on, and I was heading out and he was sending the rest of the teams out, too. Now, because I was working, they weren't as productive as they used to be, and he needed that money right then and right now. So he told me, "Taniki, you're not going to work. You're going to go out there and help them hustle this candy."

And this time instead of looking down on the carpet, I looked him up in his face and I said, "No, no I'm not."

And he's laying down on the little mattress in the living room and he looks up at me and said, "Yes, you are."

And I said, "No, I'm not."

And he jumps up and he blocks the front door. I told him, I said, "You're going to get me fired! I got to go!" And in front of my brothers and my mother and my sisters, I told him, "I'm not hustling for you anymore."

And he slapped me, and I fell to the ground and I started crying. And I screamed, I said, "I'm going to work!" 

He said, "No, you're not."

He grabbed me by the hair and drug me from the living room all the way into the back room, and I'm screaming and crying out in pain. He slams and locks the door. Now I'm sitting there kicking at the door screaming, "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!"

I started looking around. I took my hands and dried my face and I looked around for a solution. I saw the window. Now, it got quiet, so my siblings came in there to check on me. When they found me, they saw the – my hands were hanging over the windowsill. They ran over to the window and was like, "Taniki, you gonna get in trouble! Daddy’s gonna get you! You're going to get in trouble for this! Come back in!"

I said, "No, I'm not. I'm going to work. Let my hands go."

Now, the window ceiling was kind of digging into my palms at this time, but I still had enough energy to pull myself up. I could. But I said you know what, at this point in time, if I'm going to be in trouble for something I'm going to be in trouble for something I stand for what's right. I'm not going to gain the approval for something that's wrong.

And I let go.