“I didn’t care what color your skin was…”
The Spiral Down and the Climb Back Out
Falling down can happen in the blink of an eye, getting back up can take a life time.
David Hickson was born in the spring of 1966 in Worcester, MA. Dave recalls his earliest memories are those of country walls and old barns in the quiet little town of East Douglas, MA where he lived with his mother and older 3 brothers until he was around 4 years old. These faint, childhood memories left an everlasting impression on what life should be like and remains his goal for his children to this very day.
Beginning of the End
After his mother and father split up Dave’s mother moved him and his brothers to a small house in Shrewsbury, MA. where Dave first attended school. In kindergarten his teachers noted that he was a gift child with a talent and love for drawing but, was unable to keep up with other children when it came to reading and writing. They recommended he be held back and subsequently remained behind his peers as they all moved on. Today it would have been diagnosed as being dyslexia or ADHD but even those diagnosis would prove wrong. The following year his new teach realized that David was simply a lefty that was being forced to use his right hand to write with but, he had already fell too far behind to play catch up and remained behind his class. “I believe everything happens for a reason and reason leads to our purpose.”
“Shrewsbury was a wonderful town to live in,” he recalls, ” some of my fondest memories of being a child come from that period of my life.” These memories would be pushed back out of his reality when one, early, cold January morning, his oldest brother Pete returning from his paper route, woke them with shouts of, “The house is on fire! Get up! Get up!” The distinct smell of burning furniture still haunts David to this day. “It was my brother John’s birthday and the house still had all of our new Christmas presents laying around, but we were only able to escape to the snowy driveway in our bare feet. I remember standing there in my underwear watching the firefighters rushing into the burning house then someone wrapped me in a winter coat and escorted me to the neighbors house.” The presents and memories would not be the only things left behind after that horrific experience.
The spiral down came very rapidly for the Hickson’s. Their first move after the fire was into a low income housing project called Plumley Village. Dave recalls, “It was small, only 2 bedrooms for all five of us and we had no beds just the box springs on the floor.” It was a tough move for the whole family. Determined to get her boys out of this situation his mother sent them to live with their father in Maine. Fear, isolation, firearms and alcohol can only add up to complete destruction.
This ain’t Summer Camp
Maine was picturesque from the outside looking in. “My father was very tough. Living with him was like boot camp.” Dave recalls the transformation, “First thing my dad would do is get our heads shaved. “My sons aren’t going to look like a bunch of girls?” My father would tell us.” Dave’s new home was a trailer in the middle of the woods in a small town called Turner Maine. “The nearest neighbors?” Dave says with a laugh, “We had none.”
“It wasn’t all bad,” David recalls, “My father taught us how to shoot a gun and hit a target. We also learnt how to dig an outhouse hole.” Summer in Maine was warm and humid with little escape from the heat. Dave and his brothers would wade in a brook that ran behind their trailer to cool off. “Although refreshing we would always come out with leeches on us.” Dave says. “I guess that sums up Maine pretty well.”
“My father liked to drink Budweisers beer. Every night he would come home with a six pack, sit in recliner in his boxers and watch The Andy Griffin Show. On the weekends, when the six pack was a case of beer, we knew there was gonna be trouble.”
One such weekend ended up terribly bad. “Ya, my dad was strict and he wasn’t afraid to pull off his belt. I am not sure what if anything we did to set him off on his rampage but he had been drinking an awful lot that day.” Dave tells us. “He was yelling and screaming and throwing gasoline on the the trailer.” David recalls his dad entering the trailer and coming out with one of his hunting rifles. “I was about 5 or 6 I think.” Dave says. His dad screamed at Dave, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out!” He through David on to the hood of his pickup truck and pointed the rifle into his face. “All I that ran through my mind was what did I do wrong?” Then the ‘click!’ the gun was empty. “It was like slow motion. Everything around me was moving so fast but I couldn’t move, I was frozen with fear.” “I can’t recall what happened after that. I only remember we were headed home. Back to my mother.”
Hiding in Plain Site
When Dave and his brothers got back to Worcester his mother had a big surprise waiting for them. While the boys were in Maine his mother managed to get them relocated to a new housing project “I think I was around 6 or 7 years old when we moved to Great Brook Valley.” Great Brook Valley (GBV) would be the family’s home for the next 12 or so years.
GBV was originally opened as a project for world war 2 veterans and their families after the war but had since become a low income housing project. It has two sections. In the front of the projects there were the Curtis apartments. They are apartments with shared stair wells that lead to 6 different apartments on three levels. In the back part of the project there are “Blocks” which are made up of adjoining apartments linked side by side. “Living in the back was cool enough because you didn’t live on top of someone else and no one lived under you.” Dave says. The Projects had only one main road that ran through the middle called Tacoma Street. “We lived on a hill at the edge of the Projects. From our backyard the view was of a wooded area.” Dave says. It was the best place in the Valley.
When the HIckson’s first arrived in GBV it the late summer of 1973. “I was happy because everyone else was happy.” Dave says. In 1975 his family moved once again. This time only a few hundred yards but it seems a world away from where they were. “We moved deeper into the valley.” Dave recalls.”It was up on Chino ave.” By this time the ethnic census in GBV was predominantly white but more and more blacks were moving in. “I didn’t care what color someone’s skin was as long as they were my friends.” Dave says.
In 1978 there was an incident between two families that sparked a weekend of violence that ended in a division of the blacks and the whites. “I think these things are a matter of perspective. How a situation is relayed and how it is received can make people crazy I guess.” I had no ill feelings about my friends, they had nothing to do with what had gone down and neither did I but, the adults felt it was safest to stick with your race. My mother wasn’t part of that and didn’t want us to be.” Dave tells us. “but you can’t make people like you.” she would tell us. “That weekend I saw a lot of violence. I saw first hand hate, true hate and what fear can do to people. I watched a man ambush another man. One guy hide around the corner of a block with a pipe and smash another in the face as he came around the corner. It was awful.” I guess if I was older I might have understood more of what was going on around me but I was just a kid.
The following year it got worst, much worst. In 1979 there was a huge increase of latino residents in GBV followed by an influx of drug dealing and gangs. There was a lot of friction between the police and the latinos which set off a 3 day war. “It had something to do with a guy stealing a stove or something.” Dave recalls, “Neither one of them even lived in the Valley and both were puerto ricans.” “One guy was a security cop stationed in the Valley Police department the other guy just had a girlfriend there or something. The guy stealing the stove was driving out of the valley with the stove sticking out of his car when the cop pulled him over. As the cop was taking the guy out of the valley he shot him in the back of the police car while the guy was in handcuffs. All hell broke lose after that. I would love to think that somehow this reaction is justified but it is not.”
The police were pulled out of the Valley later that year.
“I spent summers going back up to Maine to live with my dad and came back down in the winters to attend school. My mother wanted to get me out of there as much as she could. ‘It was not a good place for a kid.’ but neither was Maine to be honest.”
When David began high school the situation had spread to everyone. He had very little interaction with kids from his neighborhood. “It was parents that kept the hate going I think.” David says. “Hate has a way of influencing people’s behavior even to kids.” Dave says. “In the valley I was seen as a white kid with privilege I guess.” The parents of the kids from outside of his neighborhood where just as bad. David says, “The reaction I got when I told people I lived in GBV made me feel dirty and ashamed.”
“There is a lot of pressure on kids to fit in some place at that age. We want to belong somewhere.” Dave explains. “I had my white friends at school but that was it. When school ended I would walk home and just be alone.” David utilized his time with the one true love he had which was drawing. ” I became pretty good for a kid with no art background. I had to teach myself because we had no money for school.” Funding in public schools had been cut so bad that art was reduced to line paper and number 2 pencils. ” I had 4 blocks of art by the time I was a senior in high school but most kids used it as a study hall.” David explains. “I was ok with the fact that I only had friends in school. I felt like I fit in with the other white kids.” But even that was about to change.
Writing on the Wall
David walked about 2 miles to school each morning instead of taking the bus. “It was safer.” He explains. He was a Junior in High School barely maintaining a D average because of a lack of commitment to academics. ” Teachers would hand out a test and I would flip it over and draw a picture. Needless to say this wasn’t going to get me an A. I was actually very smart I just didn’t want anyone else to know it.”
David Got a job working in a Local factory that he could walk to in little over a half an hour. He was going to school and working a full time shift. His job was to cut foam inserts for shipping packages. He had his sites set for getting a car and moving out of the Valley. Then one night while working his shift he had a terrible accident. “My job was to cut a dado 1 inch wide, 1 inch deep miter down the length of a 24 inch piece of foam. There wasn’t much room for error but I was good with power equipment. The table saw I was using malfunctioned several times that night. The issue was a small pin that held a shaft pulley on the saw. That pin slipped out and fell on the floor. Without that pin the motor would still run put the pulley would stop moving the blade. The pulley would spin on the shaft without transferring the rotation to the blade causing the blade to bind up in the foam. I would have to release the foam and shut the saw down to find the pin so the foreman could put it together again. Well the last time the pin slipped out I went to reach for the off switch and the pulley gripped the shaft enough to make the blade spin and kick back the foam I had still been holding with my right hand. My hand fell on top of the blade and ripped it down the middle. It was a mess and I knew I was in trouble. I needed to get someone over to me fast because I couldn’t shut the saw off and I was losing a lot of blood. I shouted across the shop and finally got someone’s attention. They ran to me and rushed me to the hospital. I was there for a week.” David spent the next 4 years in and out of rehab and surgeries to fix his hand.
The school was separated into 2 main groups the smart kids and us. ‘Us’ was everyone else.” David explains. “One day I decide to see how the other half lived so I got a hall pass and ventured out into the other part of the building. I went into ‘their’ bathroom and headed to a stall. There on the wall I read, ‘flush twice BGV is far away’. This crushed me. I knew this had been written by some white kid who thought he was funny but it killed me inside.” I was white, I had hid where I came from to be accepted.” David had promised his mother he would graduate high school and be qualified for college which he did.
In 1985 Dave walked across the stage to receive his High school diploma. Under his rope he wore his leather jacket and jeans.
In 1995 Dave got a degree in graphic design from Becker college. Even though he maintain a GPA of 3.8 he never attended the graduation ceremony.
In 2016 David wrote a children’s book entitled “Oliver Fae – a Dragon’s Tale” about bullying. It attempts to teach kids how to listen. How we should all take the time to learn a little tolerance for each other.It has been read by children around the world and he has spoken at many schools to students on the topic.