Cove Alpa – The Grass Story 6: We Never Know
By Mensa Smith
It’s two days before my eighteenth birthday. I remember when I was thirteen and I couldn’t wait to turn sixteen. Sixteen came and I wasn’t too excited about it, but I knew for sure I’d be excited for eighteen. Eighteen is in less than 48 hours and I’m not excited. The only thing that makes me happy for my birthday is the cake my girlfriend Madison is getting for me. I’m a little disappointed in myself for not being excited about my birthday. I’m turning eighteen! I beat the government’s expectations because I’m graduating high school, I’m going to college, I’m healthy, and I’ve never been to jail. I have my whole life ahead of me, and turning eighteen is a big reminder of that. At the same time, I’m afraid to be an adult. Being an adult means someday I have to pay bills. It’s just frightening that I have to go from being totally dependent on my parents for everything to being able to provide for myself and still have money to enjoy my life. I refuse to stay trapped in the Grass, and the easiest way to do that is to not keep track of time. Getting older can be scary, but I’ve always been the type of person to embrace challenges. I can still enjoy my birthday, though, right? I’m sure Madison’s cake will make me feel better.
So it’s Thursday and I’m in English class with Madison. April is poetry month, and my teacher wanted us to recite some original pieces as long as he got to clarify it. My relationship with Madison has been kept under wraps for the most part, and that’s because neither of us want to answer questions. People ask us questions about each other all the time, and it usually turns into a “nah man what are you talking about I gotta get to my next class,” so nothing comes from it. Today was my day to recite the poem, and it was an original piece. It was inspired by Madison, but nobody knew that. Not even Madison. When teacher called my name, I took a deep breath, and walked into to the middle of the classroom since we had a fishbowl style seating arrangement.
“Today, I’ll be reciting a poem I wrote myself. It’s called ‘We Never Know.’ I’m a little nervous because it’s my first time reciting a poem I’ve written, and it’s a little uncomfortable for me. Here goes nothing.
‘We Never Know where life takes us.
Some days, we’ll wake up and feel like
Has us beaten our wills to a pulp
And that we cannot persevere
We’ll wake up, and feel
The strength of lions, tigers, and bears
And like there’s nothing we can’t bear
Most days, though, I find my strength
Comes from outside of my body, and
I find myself being uplifted
You’ve become my strength,
My earth, my stars, and my moon
The depth of the ebb and flow
Of my emotional ocean.
The sun shines brighter when I’m with you,
My morning cup of coffee tastes better when
I see you,
And everything in the world that bothers me
Ceases to exist in every moment
But do I love you? I love what you
Do for me.
I love your smile.
I even love your animated ways.
But is this love?
I guess we never know
Until we know.
We never know when
Love chooses us.
We can’t quantify how much love,
or how hard it hits us, or even what
makes us fall in love.
But do you love me?
Probably not, I wouldn’t blame you.
There are more important things to love
than me. Like your favorite sorbet,
or cereal with hot milk, or shoes.
We never know why we aspire
to Love. But honestly?
We’ll fall in love someday.
We just never know when.’”
After I delivered my poem, the class clapped and my teacher opened the floor for questions. Nobody really felt comfortable with asking Ivan Jones a question, but Madison decided she wanted to ask a question or two. Madison raised her hand, and the teacher addressed her.
“Yes! Ms. Davis, you have a question for Mr. Jones?”
“Yes, Mr. Obenstein. I have a question.”
“Well go right ahead and ask him.”
“So the entire poem is based on never knowing when you fall in love, and it’s a really beautiful poem. But are you sure you never know when something like that happens?”
“Well, first off I’ve never been in love so I wouldn’t know. To my understanding, though, love sorta warms up on you like a butt rub or something. Things tend to start off cold, and over time they heat up. The next thing you know you have the hots for somebody and you didn’t even have a chance to catch yourself on the way down. It’s almost like you’ve fainted and awoken in your new condition. It’s a lot to process, but I don’t think anyone can pinpoint the moment where their feelings overwhelm the love threshold of sorts. It’s fun to talk about, though.”
“Sure is. But hmm, that’s interesting. One more question for you; did anyone inspire this piece?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know that? I’m afraid I can’t disclose that information.”
“Ugh, you tried it! No more questions.”
I took my seat afterwards, but class ended two minutes after my presentation. The day went on, and as is standard, I walked Madison to her economics class on the 6th floor before I went to lunch. She wanted to hold my hand today.
“Ivy, give me your hand!”
“Madison, are you sure this is a good idea?”
“I don’t give a damn if it’s a good idea or not, I wanna see something.”
“Okay, Madison. Whatever you want,” I replied as I offered her my hand.
“Oh my goodness, Ivy! Your hands are so cold!”
“Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know why because I don’t feel cold today or anything.”
“Ugh, hold on. I’ll try to warm them for you.”
For the next two minutes, Madison went to work on warming my hands before we got to her economics class. She would fail, but it’s the thought that counts. I got to hold her hand and not raise too much suspicion, so it was a win for me. She cares about me a lot more than she wants to let on, but I see it in the way she looks at me. Madison doesn’t have to speak for you to know how she feels about something, and she will tell you that quality can be both a blessing and a curse. Either way, it’s really nice to have a girlfriend who is genuine like her. Laugh or cry and through thick and thin, she’s there for me. She motivates me and she gives me balance. I know I’m a little young for all of these feelings, but I’m certain in what I have. That certainty gives me comfort with her which in turn brings me happiness. An OG from my neighborhood once told me “Youngblood, all these girls can offer a cat like you is a pretty face and warm pussy, so don’t waste your time tryna fall in love, kid!” Not my Madison, though. She’s different. Yeah yeah, I know everybody thinks their piece of pie is the best slice, but nobody has a slice like mine. That’s good enough for me.
After school was over, I ran into Milan. She was out of the hospital now, but you could tell she was damaged more than her physical appearance let on. She was wearing a black hoody in the middle of the spring and it’s a little too warm for that today. I stopped to see how she was doing.
“Milan, how are you holding up?”
“I’m doing okay since I got out of the hospital.”
“That’s good to hear. Have you been seeing a therapist?”
“Yes! She’s great! She’s been talking to me about my self worth and I leave sessions with her feeling relieved. I didn’t know I was suppressing so much negative thoughts until these sessions. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m sorta glad he…”
“Milan don’t say it. That didn’t need to happen.”
“You’re right, Ivy. As usual.”
“I know. Now speaking of “him,” when was the last time you heard from that guy?”
“Ivy he texts me every day trying to apologize and get back with me.”
“Have you been ignoring him?”
“Yes, but his texts get more and more threatening every day.”
“Get a restraining order or give his number to the cops and show them the messages.”
“Ivy I don’t wanna get him in trouble!”
“After everything he did to you and continues to do, you’re worried about getting him in trouble?”
“No, you don’t understand…”
“Damn right I don’t! Don’t bother explaining either. Milan, that’s some real bullshit you’re talking!”
“Ivy, no! You don’t get it. Not everybody can have an Ivan Jones. Not everyone gets as lucky as Madison did with you and can just have a problem free relationship.”
“Milan, that’s not fair.”
“It doesn’t have to be! All I’m saying is sometimes you have to work with what you got. He’s what I got right now, and I’m working with it.”
“Milan, we’ve been here before and…never mind. Just make sure you don’t let him or any other guy put his hands on you.”
“Ivy, I’m not dumb!”
“I know you aren’t dumb. It’s still worth saying.”
Milan walked away and I went home. As the evening progressed and I finished my homework, my mother wanted me to run to the supermarket for some milk and bananas. She makes this drink for herself when she fasts every now and again, so she sent me for some of the ingredients. As fate would have it, the supermarket closest to me was closed and the next one was across the railway and in the next neighborhood. I love my mother, so I went anyway. I had to head back home first, though. Whenever I walk that way, I have to carry protection. I reopened the shoebox and took out my gun. You can never be too safe going that way, I swear. Somebody gets killed every week over there, and it wasn’t going to be me.
Along the way, I would walk past Pacific Street and I heard screams coming from an abandoned building. The voice was familiar so I had to stop out of both curiosity and concern. As I get closer, I realize who the voices belonged to. It was Milan and her boyfriend, Ray.
“Get away from me, nigga!”
“Bitch stop playing, you know what you came here for! You want this dope to ease that pain, then suck this dick real quick!”
“Ray I’m done with you! You abuse me, you use me for sex, and I can’t stand you anymore!”
“Shut up, bitch! You’re just mad I’m not letting you slide today. Everybody gotta pay for heroin, and if you don’t have the money? You still gotta pay. Now do you want this dope or not?”
“You put me on this shit when we first met, Ray. I need it and you know that!”
“Well I need head! So we can help each other, right?”
“Nigga this is the last time and then afterwards, we’re through!”
“Yeah whatever, bitch. All you got is me and these drugs. You’ve been lying to everyone about those therapy sessions you’ve been blowing off so you could blow me for dope. You think you’re the only bitch I get pussy from for this shit? Bitch, I’m God to you hoes! That last time, I had to teach you a lesson since you didn’t wanna give it up. A good hustler always gets his, now give me mine!”
I was shocked to have heard all of that. Milan’s a junkie. She had been lying to me, and I didn’t know how to feel. She was in an abandoned building turning tricks so she could shoot up heroin. That hurt me so much because I knew her, and at that point I had heard and been through enough. I ran into the building when they stopped arguing and saw what I didn’t want to see. Milan was on her knees with Ray’s whole package in her mouth. She didn’t see me, but he did.
“See, lil nigga? I told you to stay out of this!”
I just shook my head and walked away. My girlfriend told me to never get involved again, and she means more to me than Milan does, even though I feel bad seeing her like that. I continued onto the grocery store and bought my mother her bananas and milk like she asked me for. I got sidetracked because I took a picture of this dairy free ice cream to send to Madison since she’s lactose intolerant. I figured it would make her smile and send me emojis. I wanted to remember who mattered to me at that point and forget about what I had just seen.
On the way back from the supermarket, there were more screams coming from the building. The difference was that I didn’t recognize this lady’s voice.
“Oh my God! Somebody call an ambulance! I think she OD’d on heroin! She’s not waking up!”
I heard that and immediately rushed to the scene. I saw Milan on the floor with a needle in her vein and a belt around her forearm. I checked for her vitals and her pulse wasn’t there nor was she breathing. I told the lady not to worry because she already died. My eyes full of tears, I explained to the woman that she was a close friend of mine and that I would stay with her until help came. When the lady left, I called the police to report a dead body. I left shortly afterwards to drop off my mother’s groceries, but I had to find Ray tonight.
I made a few phone calls, and the next thing I knew I was riding in my uncle’s black van with a blunt in my mouth looking for this guy. I had on a black ski mask, a black hoodie, a pair of Timberlands two sizes too big, and some black cargos my uncle loaned me. After about a half hour, I found him on a street corner with this older man and his woman. The guy was in a Mercedes Benz with his woman in the passenger seat. I figured that Ray was talking to his heroin connect, and that made me snap. I told them to park to van up the block and I would be back soon. I walked up on him casually with my gun in my hoodie, and the exchange was quick.
“Remember me, lil nigga?”
“Wait, who the fuck? HOLLUH…”
I fired two shots into his chest from close range and ran around, in my oversized boots, the block to the van. I got into the van out of breath, and my uncle handed me another blunt to get my mind off what just happened. Filling your lungs with marijuana smoke when you’re out of breath is a terrible idea, but I didn’t care. I just didn’t want to feel anything at that point. He killed Milan and I had to take him out. I didn’t feel any remorse because he was a dope dealer and not an Ivy League bound pre med student. He did things like that to most girls he ran into, so I felt like I was doing society a service. I gave my uncle the gun because I never planned on using it again.
Later that night, I went home and ignored my phone. Madison was texting me, though, so I eventually broke down and spoke to her on FaceTime about Milan’s death. I cried with her that night because Milan, whether I want to admit it or not, was a dear friend of mine. Seeing her dead body on the ground made me feel like I failed her as a friend. I felt like I wasn’t there for her enough and that I couldn’t get her to escape the reality she made for herself. I expressed all of this to Madison, and she just kept reminding me that I can’t save everybody.
“Ivy, I know you want to save the world and help everybody you meet, but the tragedy of some people is that they’re incurable. You can’t let their ways bring you down with them because you’ll never be happy with life. I’m with you because you continue to amaze me every day, and a lot of that is because you’re so helpful. But something like this? You can’t take the blame for it. I tell you all the time you’re too hard on yourself, and now isn’t the time for that to persist. Just calm down and try to enjoy your birthday in two days, okay? Things will get better. We have to make it to Miami, remember?”
“Right. Thanks, Maddy. We’ll talk tomorrow at school. Goodnight, baby mama.”
“Haha, Ivy you’re so crazy! Goodnight, baby daddy!”