Back then the double doors were wooden and green, with big brass Corbin bars you’d push on to open them.

Somewhere about two stories above, a silver bell with the word “Simplex” printed on it would ring and clatter furiously as your Velcro sneakers squeaked down the stairs.

I preferred running away when Robert was on duty. The only thing Robert could ever catch me doing was lying, such as when I’d deny being a homosexual to the other boys.

I had a girlfriend and she was Black as HELL and her name was, um, Aisha!

Robert had started laughing and he asked me what color her eyes were.

I panicked and blurted out “blue!”

“Tell me how you kick your game to Aisha. What do you say to her when you call her up — like hi Aisha, do you want to come over and play? What do you say to Aisha?”

He had me so bad right front of everyone.

Twelve year old me bit my lip, and said very calmly, “Hey Aisha. Let’s get together and fuck sometime!”

That fat bastard dropped his flashlight and fell over on the floor crying and wheezing.

I never heard the end of it from the older Black men after that.

What’s up! You talk to AISHA lately? Gonna get together and fuuuuuck sometime?

I lived for that kind of shit.

Paradise awaited you just outside at the intersection of 89th & Capitol. There was a big and beautiful, if not somewhat foreign world I was a little too impatient to get out there and see for myself at that age.

It was strange out there and it would always remain so.

My freedom was always short-lived and it would always remain so.

If it was cold outside I’d sleep in a little red shed behind the Open Pantry at 27th and Capitol, shivering and huddled up against the compressors blowing hot air into the shed from the beverage coolers inside the store.

I’d ask strangers for bus fare and steal things from the mall.

Malls were heated, nobody asked questions.

I didn’t know about the rocks on the shore of Lake Michigan yet or it’s a sure bet I would have been found there every single time.

I remember being stoned at one of my first NA meetings when they read Step 10 out loud and got to that part about “making amends to the mall.”

I sat there in my chair thinking “Hahaha! Never happening! They tore the mall down!!!!”

I befriended a boy around my own age named Drew, and I don’t know where his family was in all of this but he always had some family to spend the night with. Random strangers taking in a 12 year old with no questions asked. So many people coming and going. I’m not saying that I know shit about the game or about invisible lives and invisible suffering but I’ve seen signs of it.

Drew liked me, he’d do funny things like whipping his dick out and waving it like a puppet and singing along to Mary J Blige’s “Sweet Thing.”

Remember when that album dropped? Whenever I hear “Real Love” on the the radio and those first few opening ticks take me back there, I don’t know about y’all but I loved 1992.

Running away never really worked. You’d get hungry or you’d run out of money or something.

Adulthood turned out to be something along those same lines.

Except now that I’m all grown up, I don’t have St Aemelian’s to come crawling back to.

Off I’d go, back to 8901 W. Capitol.

Until the next time I eyeballed that door and my heart started pounding again as I jonesed for one more push of that beautiful brass bar.

One more clang of that silver Simplex bell.

One more squeak of my sneakers scuffing against that concrete.

One more clack as the doors at the bottom burst open.

One more breath of freshly cut grass in someone’s yard in Wauwatosa.

Never gonna catch me, I’m the Ginger Bread Man.

We’ll do it all over again until the Ginger Bread Man is tired and dirty and hungry again.