Before we go any farther we should talk about something.
I know I’ve maybe alluded to this already, but I just want make it clear now and then we can move on.
I was the only black kid in my class, and one of a few in the entire school.
I don’t want to dwell on this more than I have to, particularly in these early chapters. This fact, being black and being different in general, is something I had a very limited understanding of back then.
The older I get, the more I realize it’s impact on my life and the way I view the world. And also, the way the world views me.
I said something before about liking a different girl every year. My crush in second grade is when the memories change from analog to digital. I remember her well, Jessica was her name. Her complexion was the same as her hair, butterscotch.
Does her being tan represent some sort of racially ambiguous fixation rooted in me due to my surroundings? Perhaps, because this description would become archetypal in my life.
I never told her though. I never told anyone. Having the world know was for some reason my worst fear.
I had a best friend named John. John was what you would’ve called a bad kid. His Dad was what some might call a redneck. They liked me and my Dad though. My dad coached our flag football team. It’s where we all met.
My dad must have learned how to get along with rednecks growing up in creepy West Virginia. I must’ve learned how in St. C. It’s a skill that surprisingly comes in handy sometimes.
Even though my dad was the coach, I rarely got to play. In his defense, I wasn’t very good. He let me know ever chance he got. But it was his fault. He was never there to teach me.
People will make you into something, then resent you for becoming it. This is why you have to create yourself.
On recess John and I were racing. At the finish line stood Jessica. If I could win, it would be an opportunity to impress her.
Our friend Brian yelled go, and we were off!
I ran as fast as I could, keeping my eyes on her the whole time. But in the end it wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t keep up with John who collided directly into her. They both fell to the ground, she was crying hysterically. John had been in trouble several times before and so had I.
The teachers blamed me initially but had to concede it was John, due to the eye-witnesses.
The next thing I knew the teachers were walking him off of the playground.
Soon I found out his dad was taking him to another smaller school, in the hopes of curbing his behavioral issues. As for Jessica, she now associated me as one of the bad kids, so that was the end of my crush.
I was left with no crush and no best friend. No friends at all really, being I was the new kid in school.
Brian who yelled ‘go’ at the race, eventually became my new best friend. His older brother was in the same grade as my cousin Curtis, so we had that in common too. I had my first sleepover at his house and we would go on to wreak havoc on Mrs. Bizzari. It was great.
Having a best friend and ‘older brother’ was vital for success in the game of grade school politics. A friend for companionship, and an older sibling for protection. In the early 90s bullying prevention wasn’t a thing like it is today. No one cared enough to stop it.
It was like the wild west back then. We would settle our differences on the playground or after school. Sometimes one on one. Sometimes five on one. It made no difference.
Because fights were a regular thing, it wasn’t long until me and Brian got into one, over whose dad made the most money. It’s funny to think about this now because both of our fathers were broke.
In any event, the fight ended our friendship. I still know Brian and our relationship has never been the same.
Right around this time cousin Curtis moved back to Virginia with his family. I would be forced to navigate my way through this new terrain, of being the new black kid at the white school, alone.
I started walking home from school with some kids in my neighborhood. Those walks were dangerous, at any time a fight could spontaneously combust.
Of all the fights I had been through, the biggest was just about to happen.
Walking home I found myself getting swung on, ferociously, by some kid I never saw before. I looked to see were my friends were. Not for help, but to make sure they weren’t seeing me get beat up. I didn’t want the embarrassment.
No one back then was really afraid of getting hurt. We were only afraid of losing.
I kept getting hit with blows. The situation was deteriorating and had become such a spectacle my friends couldn’t help but to notice. They came rushing down, presumably to save me, but when they realized who I was fighting with, they didn’t engage.
It was all too chaotic for me to process.
By now my assailant’s mother had taken him into her car and was driving away. My friends tried to stop me but I was too enraged. I yelled at them, laughing like a mad man and crying.
I assumed she would just keep driving off. I was wrong. She stopped her car in the middle of traffic, right in front of the high school. She opens the door and gets out.
She’s calling me a nigger and a bunch of other things I’m sure I’ve mentally blocked out.
A black high schooler overhears everything. He says, “don’t be talking to a child like this, he’s just a kid!”.
She calls him nigger too and finally gets back in the car and leaves.
That maybe saved me.
By now I turn around to my friends, to ask why they didn’t help. They look like they’ve just seen the Tales from the Crypt keeper.
One of them looks pitifully at me and says, “that kid you got in a fight with is Carl, the toughest kid in school!”
Carl hated a lot of kids at school, with a passion. He terrorized even more than he hated. But off all his foes, I had become the number one target.
The older cousin and best friend would’ve been helpful here, but what was more valuable was the understanding.
I would have to make it through life on my own.