StoryCorps
12:17 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Surviving Tragedy: 'It Brought Us Closer'

Originally published on Fri August 9, 2013 11:06 am

One night in 2009, Ondelee Perteet and a friend went to a party in his hometown of Chicago.

"A lot of people, they started throwing gang signs. And, you know, I got into an argument with somebody in the party, and that's when I got shot in the face," Ondelee said during a recent visit to StoryCorps with his mother, Detreena.

He was 14.

"I got to the hospital, and the doctor came back, and he said, 'We're sorry, but he's never going to move his arms and legs again,' " said Detreena, 47. "It just tore me apart."

But rather than give up, Detreena moved into the hospital with her son.

"Seeing you drive a wheelchair with your mouth, and having to change diapers off my 14-year-old was difficult for me," she said.

But while Ondelee knew it was hard for her to see him like that, he said he "felt blessed to have my mama do this for me."

Still, did he ever consider giving up?

"Yeah," said Ondelee, who graduated from high school in June. "At first I didn't see no progress. But now I'm able to move my arms, my legs, it makes me feel good because, you know, I know that I worked hard."

The fear never goes away for Detreena, though.

"Sometimes I'm afraid that it might happen again. And it doesn't necessarily have to be them shooting at you. I'm just like, what if he just happens to be visiting somebody and gets shot? Even though I know I can't let that stop you from living, but I'm still always afraid whenever you're outside," she said.

Ondelee — now 18 and learning how to walk with a cane — is focused on the positives that came out of the situation.

"I'm not really too scared that it will happen again because it made me appreciate life more," he said. "It gave me a second chance to make better decisions. Before I got shot, we really didn't express our feelings to each other that much. We really didn't hang out that much. We didn't talk about everything like we do now, so it brought us closer."

"It's been a tremendous ride, and I'm glad we survived it. And I just want to say, I love you, kid, with all my heart," Detreena said.

Ondelee is enrolled at Malcolm X College in Chicago and plans to start school in January 2014 to study communications, with hopes of becoming a motivational speaker.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. Photographer Carlos Javier Ortiz's work was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and The Chicago Community Trust via Community Media Workshop.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Today, on StoryCorp, a mother and son in Chicago. Chicago has been plagued by gun violence. One weekend last month, nearly a dozen people were shot and killed. Ondelee Perteet and his mom, Detreena, sat down to discuss the day four years ago when a gun changed his life. He was 14 years old and was shot in the face.

ONDELEE PERTEET: Me and my friend went over to a party. A lot of people, they started throwing gang signs. And, you know, I got into an argument with somebody in the party, and that's when I got shot. How did you feel when you saw me for the first time after the shooting?

DETREENA PERTEET: I got to the hospital, and the doctor came back, and he said, we're sorry, but he's never going to move his arms and legs again. It just tore me apart.

PERTEET: But you moved into the hospital with me, wouldn't let me stop. You just were a drill sergeant.

PERTEET: Seeing you drive a wheelchair with your mouth, and having to change diapers off my 14-year-old was difficult for me.

PERTEET: I know it's hard for you to see your son like this, but I felt blessed to have my mama do this for me.

PERTEET: Was there a moment when you wanted to give up?

PERTEET: Yeah. At first I didn't see no progress. But now, I'm able to move my arms, my legs, it makes me feel good because, you know, I know that I worked hard.

PERTEET: Sometimes I'm afraid that it might happen again. You don't hang out in the streets anymore, but I'm still always afraid whenever you're outside. I worry.

PERTEET: I'm not really too scared that it will happen again because it gave me a second chance to make better decisions. You know, before I got shot, we wasn't really - didn't express our feelings to each other that much. We didn't talk about everything like we do now, so it brought us closer.

PERTEET: It's been a tremendous ride, and I'm glad we survived it. And I just want to say I love you, kid, with all my heart.

WERTHEIMER: Ondelee Perteet and his mother Detreena at StoryCorp in Chicago. Ondelee graduated from high school in June and plans to start college over the winter. This is and all StoryCorp interviews will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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