Quan remembers the night everything changed. He’d fallen asleep in front of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and dreamed that the evil Count Olaf looked like Dwight. Suddenly, a big boom jolted Quan awake and terrified him. Police officers poured into the house with guns. Quan heard thuds and Daddy shouting that he wasn’t resisting. Then, all of a sudden, a cop snatched Quan and squeezed him so hard that Quan couldn’t scream. That’s how Quan feels now as he jerks awake at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center. He can’t breathe. He wishes he were back in his big, comfy bed at Daddy’s house. Unable to escape the dream, Quan sees the cops shoving Daddy out the front door. Daddy yelled at the cops to not hurt Quan.
The third-person limited narration in this passage provides an authoritative perspective on what happened the night Daddy was arrested. It makes it clear that the cops treated Daddy and Quan cruelly—especially since, at this point, Quan is only 11, and he’s clearly not resisting or causing trouble. The cop who snatches Quan seems to be under the impression that Quan will cause trouble, which reflects the cop’s implicit biases. It’s also significant in this moment that Quan feels so powerless. As this passage makes clear, Quan is just a kid and his beloved father is being ripped away from him by cruel, violent officers.
The cop whisked Quan outside. It was too cold for Quan to be in just his Iron Man pajamas and the police cars were so terrifying that Quan wet himself. There were dogs and a helicopter. Cops wrestled Daddy into a van. Daddy shouted encouragement to Quan before police knocked him out and shoved him in. Quan screamed and kicked, wanting to believe that it was just a dream. He hoped that Mama would hear him and show up with Dwight, who could take Daddy’s place in the van. Finally, an old woman screamed at the officer to put Quan down and to let her take him. It was Mrs. Pavlostathis, Daddy’s neighbor. She gave the cop a legally binding document that named her Quan’s temporary guardian in the event of Daddy’s arrest.
By including details like the fact that Quan is wearing Iron Man pajamas and that Quan wets himself, Stone drives home that Quan is a child. He’s a little kid who still sleeps in superhero pajamas and loses control of his bodily functions when he’s frightened—and all of this makes the cop’s treatment seem even more inhumane and cruel. Quan’s fantasy of Dwight taking Daddy’s place reiterates Quan’s powerlessness. All he has is his imagination; he doesn’t have the ability to make anything right in the real world. Instead, he has to rely on the kindness and support of others, like Mrs. Pavlostathis.
Mrs. Pavlostathis led Quan into her house, grousing about “the nerve of those whites.” He’d smile under other circumstances—Mrs. Pavlostathis is Greek, not white. She babysat Quan for years while Daddy made “emergency runs,” and she was one of Daddy’s clients too. Quan remembered Mama saying that all the white people in the suburbs would call the cops on Daddy one day. He wondered if that’s what happened and hated Mama for not being there for him. Mrs. Pavlostathis ran Quan a bath. Once in the bath, Quan let himself sink under the water as he thought about Daddy’s arrest. At first, it was easy to let the water envelop him. But then Quan remembered Gabe and Dasia. He shot up out of the tub, just as he shoots up now off of his bed. He knows he won’t die—he can breathe now.
When he considers Mama’s concern that suburban white people would call the cops on Daddy, Quan has to grapple with the fact that nowhere is safe. In Mama’s mind, the suburbs aren’t a safe place—there are people there who wish Black people like Daddy and Quan ill. But Mama’s house isn’t safe either, given the way that Quan has described Dwight’s abuse.