Even I couldn’t believe Jasper Dixson when I first saw him, dancing by the bullet holes.
I was casing the crowd at the daily drug-connected shooting. Some banger with Scarface dreams had put a drum clip of 7.62 into a Grubs house on Law. My job was to scope for faces familiar to my Narco files.
You see a lot of wild shit in a New Orleans crowd, even in a place like Desire where many folks buy their clothes by the pound: Baby dolls on necklaces. Crow feet earrings. Saw a dude sporting an Elks Lodge hat and Saints parka one summer.
What I saw that morning nearly made me drop my eighth coffee.
Next rowhouse down, spitting distance from all that lead and screaming, was this little boy in a shiny cream suit, tap-dancing on his cracked concrete lawn.
Kid had feet like Astaire. He was a blur of angels from ankles down.
When he opened his constant grin to sing, even the forensics humps clapped until their latex gloves bunched up.
At the Fifth District FEMA trailers later, I asked the usual dead-end questions about the rap-sheets I saw in the crowd. I made sure to ask about the kid.
Little Jasper, Andsell told me, was the star of the Ninth Ward’s Baptist church circuit.
God and I hadn’t been on speaking terms since before The Storm. I made an exception that Sunday and dropped by His house on Louisa.
Jasper did his fast-forward tap routine. He sang I’m Going Home. He preached Romans and the Psalms without a prompter.
At all of four feet tall, I doubt six-year-old Jasper could have even seen the screen.
Little Jasper may not have saved my soul, but he gave me second thoughts about heaven.
Even the Dirty-30 clapped for Jasper.
They were that summer’s headline trigger jockeys. Strutted into the rubble after Katrina and started shooting anything that looked at them slantwise. The Grubs were their top targets.
Jasper may’ve lived on Grubs turf, but he was unearthly to see.
Even with kids killing other kids over freebase and baking soda, Jasper got me wondering about gifts we’re granted in life.
His Mama told me after that Sunday he’d memorized the whole Bible. I tested him. Even I didn’t know enough scripture to prove him wrong.
His fuzzy head also held the complete works of Shel Silverstein, Seuss and C. S. Lewis.
I dropped by his house one night for a pick-me-up after a nasty Dirty-30 gang-rape case of a Downs girl.
His Mama had him do backflips on the mangy carpet. He walked on his hands. He did a card trick with his feet.
Jasper told me that why things happened was up to Jesus, but how things happened was left to us.
I ended a sleepless night tracking down a wet-smoking father who’d upended his baby girl into a boiling pot by catching Jasper at Missionary Baptist.
He sang Old Rugged Cross with the tremor of an old man. He sang What A Wonderful World as his Mama held my hand in her glove. He sang How Great Thou Art and she whispered to me as I wept.
“He’s our little miracle.”
She was right. I hadn’t cried since the week after the storm.
I couldn’t even remember ever crying for joy.
I gave them my last 20 and asked them to leave Desire.
“No, Detective, Ma’am,” Jasper told me. “We’re here to bring the Lord’s plan to people who need it.”
“This is me telling you that He needs you somewhere safe.”
Jasper just shook his constant smile, a sweet chariot swinging low that I wouldn’t ever get a ride on.
I rode by their house every night that summer.
I checked in at Jasper’s Middle School. I rolled the corner boys on their street. I kept things clean as I could.
Maybe I’m to blame for what happened.
Push cornered dogs like the Dirty-30 and they push back.
Maybe I made no difference.
Maybe it was God’s plan.
I know this: The odds of bullets hitting in a drive-by are astronomically low. You need to pour a lot of metal in a house to find a warm body.
Jasper’s house took less than a fourth of what the 30 put into his Grubs neighbors on their second try.
Odds or not, the next time I saw Jasper was in Bywater ICU.
His Mama held his paralyzed thigh as the machines kept him breathing.
I dropped by for a week. A week was all I could take.
It wasn’t just having to see Jasper fed through a tube. It was that his visitors pronounced hallelujahs over his meal.
It wasn’t just seeing how his head healed caved in, thinking of all the poems and hymns and sheet music trapped behind a mouth that could only moan. It was hearing the grand Psalms Mama whispered him.
It wasn’t that Jasper wouldn’t walk, wouldn’t speak, would only scream and shit and grow broken.
It was that last night when Mama told me, “The doctors say it was a miracle he pulled through.”
I just had to leave. I’m a mean woman. I’m not cruel enough to tell her that I saw miracles like that every damned day.