By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
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Dr. Geoffrey Manley, the chief of neurotrauma, studied Devron's CT scan during his morning rounds. The bullet had cut through the right frontal lobe and lodged in the left. He pressed Devron's forehead to see if he'd have any reaction to pain, and Devron rustled his hands. That means brain activity.
Still, the doctor reported to Lela that since he'd been brain dead for a period, Devron will probably be a vegetable. She was prepared to do whatever it took to care for him, as long as she didn't have to be another mother following her baby's hearse to Colma.
After a few more days of monitoring, doctors shaved off Devron's front dreads, and cut a question mark into his scalp. Inside, the brain was swelling, and to make way, a piece of the skull must come off, just as is done for traumatic brain injuries on the front lines of Iraq. The bullet stayed in. Fishing it out would have only caused more damage.
In the time between when Devron blacked out from the shooting and started to regain consciousness, he says he experienced heaven, and this is what he saw: Biggie Smalls was playing piano, and Tupac was rapping in the bright light. Devron's deceased grandma, Patricia, embraced him and said, "You're not supposed to be here."
Sometime after the surgery, Devron opened his eyes but could do little else than squeeze people's hands. Lela took a paid leave from work to stay by his side, and she made her two sons sleep at a friend's in Hunters Point, too scared to let them go back to the old neighborhood. Lela says she felt like an emotion-void robot at some moments; at others, she couldn't stop crying. One of the two therapists she started seeing prescribed her anti-anxiety medication to sleep.
Once Devron was transferred to California Pacific Medical Center, hibernating brain cells started to awaken. He first could only say "mmm hmmm," motion at his throat for food, and had to be told to chew and swallow. Days later, he could scribble why he was in the hospital: "Culz I was shot in da head." Soon he could walk, and put on his own clothes. But not all functions would reboot. The brain tissue carved out by the bullet and its radiating blast was destroyed. The frontal lobe acts as the decision-maker, telling which function to act when, solving problems, thinking abstractly, and controlling emotions. Doctors told Devron's parents he'd probably get mad easily, but, for the most part, he wouldn't emote much at all — just about the opposite of the boy Lela says was the "belle of the ball" who attracted people to him like flypaper.
Dante visited each day after school, and finally one day Devron looked at him and asked: "Wazzup with Shak3?" — Dante's nickname. And he remembered the elaborate Maf handshake. He asked how many females had visited him.
"That's when I knew he was cool," Dante recalls.
But doctors said there was one thing he could not do: play football. Further head trauma could be devastating. Devron started to cry.
"He ain't gonna tell me I can't play football no more. The only thing I good at," Devron said later.
Devron says he went to visit a friend's relative, who said he'd met the alleged shooter in jail when the man was picked up later on another charge. The man was from the Sunnydale projects down the street and thought he'd shot at the car's owner — who had dreads the same length as Devron's — and apologized for the mistaken identity. By some skewed logic of the street, Devron accepted that as a reasonable excuse. "It happens in life," Devron says. "Bullets don't got no names on it."
Skull flap replaced, Devron moved out to Sacramento to rehab at his father's house, and he started community college. He thought maybe he could be a physical therapist for football players. Lela and her sons finally tired of crashing at her friend's house and returned to Sunnydale Avenue. Once when Devron came to visit, he ran into B-Low.
B-Low said he'd kept the T-shirt from the night of the shooting with blood on it, making Devron think he really cared. Devron kidded B-Low about being an "OG," an original gangster, since he seemed to carry himself with more maturity than other cats in their late 20s who only seemed concerned about making a quick buck. Devron recalls B-Low's nugget of wisdom as this: Stay away from the neighborhood. Keep studying. "There ain't nothin' over here. For real."
Lela didn't need any convincing. She called the slew of housing authorities outside of San Francisco that she'd applied to years back, but none had openings. With monster hospital bills from Devron's stays, she had no means by which to escape. So Lela returned to work. Tomone joined the basketball team at Wallenberg Traditional High School, and life on Sunnydale returned to its familiar rhythms.
Still, Lela was desperate to get away from the valley. Gone was the old assurance that she could enjoy the neighborhood's good, and close her door on the bad. Her family had been violated by senseless violence once, and Lela couldn't relax until Tomone was inside for fear that it would happen again.