by Mensa Smith
What if I told you that everything that ever happened in your life was a farce? That you really haven’t been living, and that today was your tenth birthday? I’d like to go back to my tenth birthday. You know, back when bike riding, math workbooks, and Playstation 2 were all I knew. That isn’t the case, though. The reality is I’m an underachieving seventeen year old black kid from The Grass. You know why they call this place The Grass? Because everyone here is either a snake, a field mouse, or an ant just trying to harvest whatever crumbs are left around.
Living in The Grass ain’t so bad, though. I have some good friends, and we’ve had some good times out here. Some of the things we experience are unique in the truest sense of the word. Just as easily you see some shit happen and it’s heartbreaking. You do some heartbreaking shit, too. A lot of living out here is escaping the hell you’re destined for and rejoicing in your newfound mediocrity just because it’s an upgrade from the shit you’re used to. The funny thing about The Grass is outsiders, for one reason or another, want to live here. I guess they get caught up in the swanky atmosphere that rappers always talk about. But you know what someone once said about The Grass right? It’s always greener on the other side.
So how exactly do we overcome the trials, tribulations, illusions, heartbreaks, angst, and defiances to actually make it out of here? Well, how the fuck should I know? I’m still trying to figure that out. What I can do for you is tell you some dope stories about shit that we’ve been through and go through on a daily basis. In fact, I’m pretty decent at telling stories. And luckily for you, you have time to spare.
One of the topics I debate internally is forgiveness. I’m a forgiving individual, but how is it that I forgive myself for actions I’ve already deemed unforgivable? There are some things you should know about me. The first? My name is Ivy Iceberg, but my mom named me Ivan Arsenio Jones. You don’t have the right to call me that, though. The second thing you should know about me is I’m a murderer. That, ladies and gentleman, is what I have so much trouble forgiving myself for. How does one forgive themselves for something they can’t fix? It’s like as much as you try to amend the foul deed, there is no getting that life back. Life isn’t like Pokemon where you get to choose Charmander and decide you want Squirtle so you turn off the Gameboy and redo the whole choice. This world is cruel for no other reason than the regrets she leaves us as coal filled lockboxes when we thought we had diamonds. But in actuality, if the only cruelty is the regret, then life is not cruel. We are the cruel soldiers in a dark army for being short sighted and unlearned but still having the audacity to make decisions. We are the cruel, selfish individuals for allowing our emotions to get the better of us in pivotal moments that change our blue skies to an overcast blanket of slate. So I can’t sit here, claim that I did it for the block, roll a blunt, take a smoke-filled selfie, and blame the world for my problems. My problems belong to me and nobody else. I was the cruel servant of darkness that evaporated all sources of light that day, and I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for becoming that monster I’ve always condemned. If I do forgive myself, I’m a hypocrite for obvious reasons. If I don’t forgive myself, I’ll be self loathing forever. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Where I’m from, they tell you a murderer takes at least two lives; his and his victim’s. You don’t believe that until you kill somebody. It’s hard for me to look in the mirror because if I’m there too long, I start to see my victim’s tear-filled eyes before he died. His last moments here were very remorseful for both of us. We both made the wrong decision that day. The whole situation was fucked up, actually.
My boys and I were hanging out on the block on a summer afternoon in the middle July. July 17th was the date. We got bored, so one of my boys suggested we go run a game of basketball at the park up the block. It was more hot and uncomfortable than sleeping with no air conditioner on a 90 degree night, but we still decided to go run a game. We weren’t all so agreeable though.
“MY NIGGA ARE Y’ALL DEADASS TRYNA BALL SON? IT’S DUMB HOT” exclaimed my bro Dawg
“Yes, fuckboy! Lower your voice and ball up!” responded my bro Homie.
“Wait, I know you not calling me a fuckboy when the last time you got on court, you ‘caught cramps’ and let your man score 10 on you!” Dawg quipped instantly.
“You saying 10 points like that’s a big deal, bro! Niggas really gassing shit!” said a chuckling Homie.
“Brogawd, game was 16! Stop acting unfamiliar!” said Dawg, wearing any one of Kevin Hart’s meme worthy expressions.
“Iight son, I get it. Just come through, son. You don’t have to play, you can just mack with a hood rat and get your dick sucked or something,” replied a humbled Homie.
“Bro, you know that’s not how it works, but whatever. Imma come through just to see you get torched again!” said Dawg in a jokingly serious tone of voice.
“Son, they were cramps!” Homie replied defenselessly.
“Yeah! He was cramping that ass, nigga!” said Dawg.
“IIGHT SON! Why you gotta make everything sound gay nshit? You really some pause ass nigga,” said Homie.
Luckily for everyone, he got the last word and we were to make that trip to the park. I went down the block to my apartment so I could change my shorts. I had on athletic shorts, but I needed to get a pair that had pockets so slick niggas wouldn’t try to take my phone while I’m balling up a storm. I also took my bag with a loaded 9 millimeter pistol in it because hot days mean hot tempers in The Grass. I never had to use it before that day, but having that peace of mind made trips to the park easier for me. That gun gives you more confidence than a bottle of Hennessy.
I come back down the block with my bag, and my boys are playing taps while waiting for me. I get down the block and we start walking to the park. A conversation about the NBA sparks up during the short walk:
“Bro, you think Dwight Howard is gonna come to The Grass? I hear he and D Will were texting each other about teaming up, son,” Dawg asks.
“Nah, my nigga. He’s gonna go be a Laker because that shit is dumb rigged. The Lakers can’t be trash for too long without the NBA stepping in,” I respond.
“Haha! You right! That shit is really crazy!”
We get to the park, and there’s an open court. We start shooting around, and four guys walk on court to run a half-court game with us. That was perfect because it was Dawg, Homie, Me, and my boy Son who went to the park. We ran a game to sixteen, and they beat us in a tight one. The score was 16 to 14, and both parties wanted a rematch. The second game starts, and one player on the other team had to leave. His friend, a high school standout with Division 1 scholarships lined up, took his place. Being from The Grass, me and my boys were up for it. Besides, Homie had some basketball scholarships to some colleges lined up himself. We played a good game, but the superstar kept running his mouth. If he wasn’t boasting about how much we couldn’t guard him or making sound effects with his mouth after every crossover, he was clapping his hands while deep in his defensive stance on ball.
The game progresses, and it’s a close one. The game is tied, 14-14, so we run a standard pick and roll where I was the dive man. This play always works for us because I slip the screen before the defense has a chance to make the switch. I dove, got the ball while heading to the basket, and this bastard superstar ass nigga had the nerve to trip me before I went for the lay-up. I fell forward and caught myself with my hands, but hot asphalt and falls always lead to ripped skin and blood to follow afterwards. I’m not a complainer, so I eat it, but I’m bleeding so I can’t go on. I’m not about to bleed on the basketball, you know? That’s disgusting. But superstar isn’t a rational thinker. He just keeps talking.
“My fault, boy. I ain’t know you were such a bitch and bled so easily!” yelled the ball player.
“Nigga, what? You don’t fuckin know me, boy. Play ball and shut the fuck up. You’re lucky I don’t pop on you for tripping me, you bitch ass nigga. Stick to ball and stay outta the streets,” I responded angrily.
“Boy, watch your mouth before I get you taken care of!” he responds.
“Bro, you really don’t wanna take it there with me. Finish your fuckin game, pussy,” I reply, calm as ever because I know I have the grip on me.
“Iight boy, we gon’ see about that!” he says with a menacing tone of voice.
After I clean myself up, I head over to the park bench and wait for the game to end. It was a quick finish, and my team won. I walk back on court after the game is done so my niggas don’t shoot around for the next hour, or run another game. I was ready to leave after this guy pissed me off so badly. My friends accommodated because they really don’t like the static.
On the way back to the block, I see the ball player walk out the park on his phone. He was looking in my direction, but he didn’t look threatening so I thought nothing of it. Son approaches me about the situation:
“I, you know that nigga?”
“Not at all, boy. He just ran his mouth crazy and I had to check that. Can’t have niggas assuming it’s sweet out here.”
“Bro, you right. Niggas be wild out here, son!”
“Yeah, and sometimes you gotta tame a nigga real quick, feel me?”
“Word, bro. Word.”
Hours pass and me and my boys are hanging out on the block. I went back to my apartment to get out of those sweaty clothes, take a shower, and put on a white t shirt and some jeans. We left the park around 8PM, so it’s around 10:00 now. Dawg ran to the corner store to pick up some Arizonas for everyone, and he came back shaken up.
“Yo bro, those niggas in the park were looking for you, Ivy!”
“Looking for me? Nah, I’m not widdit,” I replied.
I go into my bag and grab my gun and put it on my waist, under the t shirt. I see the same ball player from the park walking down the block with three of his homies. Two I recognized from the park game, but the other one wasn’t familiar. He was a tall, slim, dark-skinned cat with an awkward gait and jeans too tight for him to be from my hood. His presence alone made me feel like everything was sweet. The four guys approach the brownstone steps where we were hanging out.
“Ayo! You the nigga from the park earlier, right?” the ballplayer asked.
“Bitch, I might be,” I replied with my best Gucci Mane impersonation.
“Oh, so now you got jokes? Well I told you I was gonna get you taken care of, my nigga!”
“Look, you a ball player. Niggas know you got scholarships nshit lined up. Stick to ball and get the fuck outta here before you do something stupid.”
“Yo bro, he right. This ain’t something you of all people wanna do, dawg,” said one of his teammates from earlier in the day. He turned to his friend, nodded, and turned back to me.
“Nigga you dumb lucky right now. Niggas were gonna drop yo ass for real for real,” he said.
“Yeah yeah, ball player. Get up outta here,” I replied.
As they leave, the tall, slim kid looked the most relieved. It was apparent he didn’t want to be there, but the fact that he was spoke to his lack of will power. But this night wasn’t over so quickly. I headed to the store shortly after because Dawg’s dumb ass got the wrong Arizona for me. I don’t even drink those shits, I wanted a Vitamin Water. The dragon fruit flavor, or maybe Raspberry Apple. In the store was the skinny kid and the ball player. I walk past the two on my way to the refrigerator and get my Vitamin Waters. I bought both flavors because I can never get just one, and I know I’ll be thirsty later. It’s summertime after all.
On my way to the register, I have to pass them again. It seemed like they were having a quibble of some sort, and it made me laugh. It was like the ballplayer wanted to make a move, but couldn’t because of his future and his friend wouldn’t let him. He was making the right decision, and his ignorance was humoring. I get to the counter and drop off the three dollars, and head back up the block. Leaving the store, I hear a voice:
“Ayo, Ice!” yelled a voice.
“What’s goin on?” I replied.
It was the skinny kid again. I turn around and he’s pointing a handgun at me from 5 yards off, his arms trembling in fear. I drop the bag with Vitamin Waters and immediately raise my hands.
“Now you know you don’t wanna do this, man.”
“Nah! You disrespected my son and now you gotta pay!” he replied, but you could tell those weren’t his thoughts. I knew I could reason with him from there.
“But what that gotta do with you and that gun you holding? Yo this got nothing to do with you, and you know that. Just put the gun down and we can forget this ever happened.”
“Nah boy, this for the fam! You can’t just get away like that, son! You gotta go!” he shrieked with his arm trembling more and more.
“Yo, what are you doing? Shoot this nigga already!” commanded the ball player.
The skinny kid looked away for a moment, and that was my chance. He who hesitates in war is lost. I reach for my waist and pull out my pistol, took it off safety, and fired three shots at that frail boy’s chest, and two at his man. His man ran, so I missed him, but his friend was lost that day. I ran up the block to my crib and hid the gun in one of my two dozen shoe boxes under a pair of old Nikes. That night I took some of the money I had saved up, and had one of my hoes buy me a bus ticket outta town to Virginia. I have an aunt in Newport News, so I stayed out there for the rest of the summer and came back to The Grass a week before my senior year of high school started. I ran into Homie on my way back to my apartment from the bus depot.
“Yo bro, that was fuckin crazy what happened that day!”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Nah, you don’t understand. Dude was going to Cornell in the Fall. He had a scholarship to study neuroscience or some shit like that. He was going to be a brain surgeon, boy! I don’t know what he was doing out here, man! But it’s not your…”
“My nigga I just said I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Iight boy, you got it. But don’t worry, niggas not looking for you. That ballplayer cat is committing to Florida so he keeping quiet and they wasn’t really hood like that in the first place.”
“Iight my nigga, I’m about to head upstairs. Imma catch you some other time.”
“Iight boy, stay up. The Grass was missing you!”
I gave my man a dap and headed upstairs to digest what I just heard. I murdered a future doctor and Ivy League graduate from The Grass. That was the kind of person we needed around here, on some positive shit. But one basketball game led to another which lead to egos flaring and lives being lost. I should have just ran because I know that kid wasn’t gonna shoot me, but the fear and anger you feel when somebody raises a gun at you isn’t an experience you forget. In that moment, it was me or him, and in retrospect I should have chosen him. I ain’t gonna be no fuckin’ doctor, or a lawyer, or any uplifting shit like that. I’m just another teenaged murderer from The Grass.
So how can I forgive myself? How can I look myself in the mirror as if everything is copacetic and July 17th wasn’t the worst night of my life? How do I live knowing that the tall skinny future doctor nigga is dead? Him and his fucking friend, man. He shouldn’t have let his man talk him into holding that gun, he shouldn’t have raised that gun, and I shouldn’t have shot. It was just two squares trying to fit into the round hole of ignorance and lechery that I call home. Hopefully the ballplayer sticks to the court like I told him to that day. Because of that nigga, I gotta live with my sins and his friend can’t live anymore. But again, I can’t blame anyone else for my problems as they are my burden to bear. I guess I’m just another kid from The Grass trying to make it out and live with my evils.