by Mensa Smith
Last night, I had a dream about July 17. It’s pretty hard to forgive yourself for your past when you have to experience it again, but dreaming about it gave me some clarity. You see, there’s no real way to absolve yourself of a murder, but being confronted with the reality of it you helps with the process. You start to sympathize with yourself about how there was very little you could have done in that situation, and tell yourself that you were too young to do better there. After you play it over it your head about one thousand seventeen times, you finally come to grips with the reality of everything that transpired. Running from inner demons just makes them bigger and more cancerous to achieving happiness, but once you face them, they shrink and you realize that you were the only roadblock keeping your mental traffic from flowing freely. I’m glad to have gotten out of my own way, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
So if you have been paying attention, you would know that my homie Dawg from the block told me that it would be wise to keep my eyes on the situation I had from last summer. I’m playing it low like I’ve been doing since the situation, but the streets see and know everything that happens inside its boundaries. People talk, and that as certain as death and taxes. What’s not so certain is who actually listens to who, and who actually knows what. A brother like me has to be well sourced, though, and it was time I checked out one of my sources.
One Saturday afternoon, I went to the basketball court where the game happened last summer. I had no intentions of playing ball, though. Usually you can find the around the way girls hanging around the court scoping out all the niggas with a handle for their next baby momma. I knew one of them because we went to middle school together, and it actually makes me sad that the hood got to her so fast. Her name doesn’t matter right now, but she’s useful whenever I need some information about what’s going on in my neighborhood. And I don’t even have to hit it or give her money. I approach her and we engage in conversation:
“Ivy baby! What’s going on! You know I miss you!” shrieked my informant.
“Hey Milan, it’s been a while. Have you been staying away from these deadbeats?”
“Ivy why you always gotta play me like that! You know I love you and you only!”
“Milan; that is not going to happen. Ever. That doesn’t mean I don’t look out for you when I can, though.”
“Nigga if you wanna look out for me you need to stop playing with me and come get this!”
“I think I’ll pass on that.”
“Whatever, nigga! One day, baby boy. You’re gonna need me, and everything has a price!”
“Let’s not jump the gun, here. I do need to ask you about something, though.”
“Oh really? What’s up?”
“You remember that shit that popped off last summer, and how the ball player nigga kept quiet?”
“Facts, and I heard he’s been a little salty about that recently. One of the niggas I talk to goes to school with him and he said feels like he lost his homie for no reason after he lost his scholarship to Florida State. That nigga might do something crazy, Ivy. You should watch your back.”
“So for fact he’s gonna make a move?”
“You know how niggas be. He won’t do anything if his mans don’t amp him up and force him to be a dickhead. I mean he just broke his knee so how crazy could he possibly get?”
“Facts, facts. But the niggas on his block, have you heard anything about them?”
“Ivy you know them niggas been shiesty. A lot of them got locked up this winter, though, so they’ve been keeping quiet.”
“Cool, thanks for the information. You’ve been really helpful today.”
“Awww, really Ivy? You know I be there for you. Now when you gonna come get this pussy nigga!?”
“I’ll get back to you on that. Imma holla though!”
“NIGGA DON’T JUST WALK AWAY FROM ME LIKE THAT YOU BETTER STOP PLAYING WITH ME!!”
So Milan was helpful despite her, well, lecherous ways. Later that day, I went home to prepare for a concert I had to attend. I took a shower, ironed my clothes, and I even polished my black oxfords to a clean gloss. I felt really good about how things went, so I’m mentally as free as I’ve been since before I went to the park last summer. After my I put on my underwear, I put on my dress socks, then my shirt, and then comes my pants. I usually have to tie my tie twice or three times to get the right knot, but today was different. My first knot was good, so I rocked with it. That night was the night of my first ever solo part in a song, so I was extra excited. Everything just felt right, despite the looming danger in my neighborhood.
I arrive at the concert alone, as usual. My parents didn’t really support my extracurricular activities because they thought ill of them. I forgive them, though, since you can’t really expect somebody to see the potential you see in yourself. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or something else all the other immigrant parents want their children to be. Funnily, immigrant parents never wish happiness on their children, they wish some already achieved form of success for them. Success doesn’t always equal happiness, though, but you can’t expect hardworking immigrants to know that. They’re too busy working hard, you know? Besides, I got really good at those things without the support of my parents. I became a soloist in chorus, the captain of the step team, I choreographed dance routines, and I’m also a pretty good recreational writer. My parents wanted none of that for me, but it didn’t stop me from being passionate about those things.
I chose to live my life the way I wanted, and that led to a mixed bag. I had some successes like the ones previously outlined, and I had some serious mishaps. Sometimes I stop to think what would my life be like if I just listened to my parents? What would life be for me if I wasn’t so interested in the outside world and if I just stayed home all day and studied math like they wanted. Well for one, I wouldn’t have killed somebody’s child last summer. I’d probably be Harvard bound, but I can’t afford to think that way. I have to handle my business according to the life I set up for myself, and most immediately that means delivering a great solo at tonight’s concert.
When I get to the concert, we run the solo a couple times and everything is working fine. My voice is warmed up, I’m hitting the right cadences and inflicting the emotion necessary to really deliver a solid solo. A lot of choral singing is does without emotion and is more focused on just getting the right notes and enunciations, so it’s a change up from what I normally do. They almost beat the black out of your voice, and you have to bring it all back for your solo. Also, I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do in front of my choral instructor because he’ll try to reign me in. I was a senior, though, and I wasn’t about to be denied.
The concert goes as planned, and my solo came out like butter. The rest of the show was cool, too. The show ended around 10:30PM, and most kids stick around with their parents to talk to the choral instructor and be social. My parents don’t show up, and it’s already awkward being the token black guy with big hair, so I leave earlier than most people. I’m heading home from the concert on the train when these three guys get on with me in all black. That’s really suspicious and makes me keep my guard up, but I don’t expect much of anything from this to happen. As fate would have it, the train would stop in between train stations. At this point in time, the only people inside the train car are me, the three guys, and this two unsuspecting Asians who are probably afraid of the four strange black guys on the train car with them. One of the three men approach me to ask a question:
“Aye nigga, you look familiar,” said the man.
“Do I really? I’m not a very popular guy right now,” I replied.
“Nah nigga, I know you from somewhere. You live in The Grass?”
“Yeah I’m from the hood but I’m never around. I try to keep myself busy, feel me?”
“Nah nigga, I don’t feel that. I’m always in the hood.”
“But you can respect a nigga out here tryna get his though, right?”
“Yeah I can respect it. You play ball?”
“Nope, I’ve never been a ball player.”
“You sure? I feel like I’ve seen you play with my little man from the hood.”
“Nah, man. I have never been a baller like that.”
“Iight, man. Cool. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
Halfway through that conversation, I realized who was who and what was what. Those guys are from the kid’s block, and they might have remembered or even noticed my face so I had to act like I’m not who they knew me to be. Luckily the basketball questions were easy ones to duck. The train would eventually begin moving and I would be safe for the moment. My safety would be very short lived, though. As the train pulled into my stop, one of the men approached me violently.
“Aye little nigga! We know you’re the one behind the shooting in the hood last summer! Stop acting and let’s get right!” he boldly claimed as he pulled out a gun.
I saw the gun and ran up the stairs immediately. I hopped over the turnstile and made a left as I ran for my life in those uncomfortable dress shoes. As I get out of the train station, there’s oncoming traffic and I have to weave my way through that if I wanted to live. I turn around and the man who pulled his gun is on the other side of this 2009 Toyota 4Runner that was pulling through the intersection heavy. He sees I’m a little too far and does what anybody else in his situation would do.
“BLAM. BLAM.” He let two shots off in my direction that missed, luckily enough for me. My heart was pounding as I ran up a side street so that they wouldn’t follow me home. As I cut up a block, I realized they weren’t chasing me anymore, but I still ran through the block for good measure. I was a good 3 blocks away from home, and I took an extra cautious route back to my home as to make sure I wasn’t followed. It’s bad enough to have somebody shooting at you. If they know where you live, you’ve officially endangered your family as well.
As I got home, I had to assess the situation. Did I really get shot at? How was it that they recognized me and I didn’t recognize them? Should I take a different route home from now on? Should I retaliate? And most importantly, are my shoes messed up?
I’d never been shot at until that point in my life. It scared me and raised my overall paranoia when it comes to the hood. I stopped coming outside. I started saving my lunch money to take cabs home from school, so I was losing weight noticeably. I felt like all the progress I had been making in life was halted. Like I traded in my collection of rare Nikes for a pair of cement boots. I felt heavy and depressed by my surroundings, but I knew I could get through the beef.
The worst thing about beef is that it doesn’t die, and if you aren’t careful enough, it can start a full fledged war. But Ivan Jones was never pussy, and I also know a few cats that owe me favor. I can’t walk around the hood feeling scared and frail, so do I really want to call in those favors? I understood the magnitude of my decision because I was considering starting a block war. We were going to roll up on their block in the black van and light things up, women and children be damned. So do I push that button, or do I stay as the prey they can’t catch?
We all have to grow up someday, and this is one of the decisions that makes or breaks us. I wanted to stay above the bullshit, and neither decision would get me out of this jam. I was faced with murder or be murdered, so I had to think fast. What’s a man to do when he has to come up with a third option? I had to make my own choices, however unorthodox they seemed. I called up Dawg, explained what happened that night and told him to set me up to meet the basketball player again. We needed to have a talk, and we needed to talk soon.