Have you ever considered the improbability of being alive?
Think of all the near-death experiences our ancestors must’ve made it through. The earth had to be 93 million miles away from the sun. Every living organism that existed in the 6 billion years between Earth forming and the evolution of man had to make it through unimaginable difficulty, all for your parents to meet.
Mine almost didn’t. When it happened, it was a chance encounter.
My Mom and Aunt Phoebe had plans to visit their friend in Virginia – who ends up ditching them for some random guy; an encounter I can only imagine was as random as my parents’.
Not wanting to waste their vacation, my mom suggests Charleston. While there enjoying the summer day, they notice a group of guys. My mom was way too shy but my Aunt was the opposite.
She walked right over and started talking to one of them, named Curtis.
My father was one of 14 brothers and sisters, born and raised in War, West Virginia – the state’s southern most town. He and his siblings would grow to resent their country upbringing and began moving to New York City when they became of age.
They had family there who they spent their summers with as children. My father went to college however in Charleston.
The summer he graduated he found himself outside at the city fountain, discussing plans to finally move to New York permanently.
It was then when a heavy-set, light-skinned, African-American woman named Phoebe approached him, asking, “What’s there to do around here?”
My dad, noticing her pretty brown skinned 5’1 sister standing quietly in the background, invited them both out. He said he’d be happy to show them around.
They accepted his invitation and for the rest of that weekend they all hung out. Then my mom and dad exchanged numbers.
After a couple years of dating my parents got married. By then my father was living in New York full time, working real estate in Harlem, and trying to get his record label off the ground.
My mother worked for a doctor’s office back in Steubenville, Ohio. My dad eventually enticed her to move to the big city.
Through the lens of history it seems apparent now, but for them at the time, the magnitude of danger in Harlem 1983 wasn’t as obvious. And like the boiling frog, my father would slowly succumb.
He was also in mourning. His father was dying.
Most of the time then, my dad was nowhere to be found. Where he was and what he was doing, we won’t find out until I’m much older. It’s something that would change my family forever.
Fortunately for my mom, her mom who I called ‘Gram’, came to New York to help. Gram was an unapologetically courageous black women, though light enough to pass for white.
It was right around this time my mother became pregnant with her first child, me.
I don’t know much about reincarnation, but once out of curiosity, I googled who died the day I was born. Howard Dietz. We have some eerie similarities.
Because I’m a Leo, I’ve always loved lions. Howard Dietz created the Lion you see at the beginning of every MGM movie. Not only did he die the day I was born, but it was in the same city!
If that’s not enough, he was a writer too. Creepy.
I don’t know much about my paternal grandfather either, other than he died on July 1st, and by the end of that month I’d be born.
You would think losing your father and becoming one, would create some sort of balance. But my father couldn’t handle death. Not even new life could lead him from the depression that followed.
My mother hadn’t seen him in days. Miraculously he came home the morning she gave birth to me.
My parents had an arrangement with their neighbors. They were supposed to drive her to the hospital when it was time. When it actually happened though, they “chickened out” and gave their car to my father to drive instead.
Racing from 127th – 12th street through Manhattan traffic on a hot Saturday night in July, they make it without incident to St. Vincent’s Medical Center (the hospital used first on September 11, 2001).
While my father was parking the car, my mom and grandma were getting into a heated confrontation with the security guard. He’s telling them they have to go in through another entrance.
My grandmother is yelling, “Can’t you see she’s pregnant!? There’s no time! Her husband is parking the car, we can’t lose him!” My mom is thinking that my dad, with his temper, is seriously going to fight this dude.
Just before my dad catches back up with them, the guard recognizes my mom…she works in the same hospital! He let’s all three of them in, just in time. Crises averted.
At 5:38pm on July 30, 1983 I took my first breath in one of the most artistic and open minded places in the world, Greenwich Village. I was handed to my mother and father by a nurse with purple hair. Then it was back to Harlem.
Giving birth made my mom really sick. She was in the hospital for weeks. I owe my life to grandmother being there. My father missing in action.
One night Gram had enough of my father’s disappearance. She went looking for him and started at his Mom’s.
None of us had any idea why my father was hiding or what he was running from, but Gram found him there on Grammy’s couch. He was just sitting there watching TV, as if neglecting your newborn and sick wife was acceptable.
She yelled at them both, telling them how ridiculous it was to be so irresponsible. The ridicule worked because after the berating he came home.
My mother began to feel better and for my family things started to improve. My mom was working, going to school, and learning to navigate the city. My Dad was trying his hardest to be successful with his businesses.
One night after showing an apartment to some potential tenants my father was robbed and pistol whipped for the few hundred dollars he had on him. He came home that night bruised and bloody.
I was still too young to remember, but they told me I could sense the trauma and lifted my little baby arms to his wounds with a cold compress.
That’s when my mom realized the danger in Harlem.
She tried my dad’s way long enough. Now it was her turn. After years of negotiations, she talked my dad into moving to the town she grew up in, St. Clairsville.
We stayed in a small house there where I made my first memories. I can remember my dad’s brother visiting, Uncle Jackie, and me riding on his back.
Next when I was 4 we moved to a nearby town called Martins Ferry where I start to recollect memories. This is where I first learned about the opposite sex, and the opposite race.
The first time I heard the word nigger was from the neighbors across the street.
They were laughing and pointing at me, calling me nigger while I played along. I had no idea what it meant. Later I asked my mom. She said it’s a mean word to call a black person.
My response, “well what’s a mean word to call a white person?”
My father was coming and going. Every morning I’d wake up and ask,
“Is Daddy here?”
“No. I’m sorry sweetheart”.
Could this be where my issues with abandonment stem from?
Possibly. But also maybe Day Care. I’d be there for 10 hours a day sometimes. No one knew it then but now studies now suggest children left at Day Care suffer from abandonment issues later in life.
Back at home there were several children in my neighborhood, most of them were older than me. A few of the girls were my age and that’s who I played with.
One of the kids who called me a nigger, told me a story about a lady on our street. He told me this grown woman let him see her breasts. I was jealous I didn’t get to.
I found myself alone with the woman’s daughter. We both ended up with our pants down.
“Oohh baby I want to kiss you”, I said.
My brain was already starting to be corrupted.
Days later I found myself playing with another one of my girl friends. At this point I assumed pulling your pants down was normal.
“Aren’t you gonna pull your pants down?”
She did not and promptly told her mother.
Her mom yelled at me wildly, saying she would tell my mom. I was terrified. I waited outside on the porch while they talked. That night I waited for the fury of my parents to erupt. I was so ashamed. But that fury never came.
I have no idea if she told my mom. I lived with that guilt throughout my childhood. I’ve since forgiven myself, understanding it was misguided human nature.
I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old but I loved Michael Jackson. His songs laid the foundation for what my musical palette is today. No one will believe this, because of how uncoordinated I am, but back then I could moonwalk. I swear.
I’ll never know how she pulled this off, but one day when she picked me up from Day Care, she had Michael Jackson tickets. Not only that, but when we go home to get ready, my dad was there!
As for the experience of the show, it was horrifying. I was scared the whole time. I guess I was too young for pyrotechnics. But creativity snuck into my subconscious. I would never be the same.
I’m forever grateful for that night. Seeing the greatest performer of all time gave me an appreciation, respect, and curiosity for the arts.
My parents must’ve had fun that night too because a couple months later my mom had a talk with me.
She asked what I thought about having a younger sibling. I told her of course I wanted one. She told me I would in fact be a big brother. I could even pick the name.
We were always in church so I picked a name from the Bible if it was a boy, Joshua.
”Skeletons, found years after their souls left. Kneeling in prayer, clawing their way through the dirt, hopelessly frozen forever.
It was the 1960s and the mines caved in again. These things happen in towns like War, West Virginia. This time it was the work of the Mothman. Just months prior he brought down the Silver Bridge and killed 46 people.”
My father would tell me ghost stories from his childhood in West Virginia. He was a staunch believer in ghosts and thought our house was haunted.
“Daddy tell me just one more!”
“Okay, just one more…”
They say that newborns possess a knowledge and understanding of the unknown, a memory even, of what’s on the other side of life – having just come from there themselves. They say that children forget this divine information as they learn to speak.
As unlikely as this may seem, it’s true we have early experiences we can’t remember. No one remembers their own birth, but we know it happened. If our memories don’t begin were our experience does, where’s the timeline begin?
I don’t think my father had given much thought to these ideas, but I can’t help but to consider them when I reflect on the next story he told me…
When you were very young, Arthur, just beginning to talk, I heard you in the middle of the night in your room. I went to check on you. My heart froze when I saw you standing there. I asked what you were doing. You told me you were talking to the ‘blue man’. I asked where the blue man went. You told me he walked back into the wall. I had chills all over my body because I had already seen things myself in the house. That’s when I knew it had to be haunted.
I slept in my parents’ bed that night, scared to death.
My mother was the opposite of my father and didn’t believe in anything outside of her five senses, unless it was in the Bible.
When I wasn’t being told horrifying ghost stories, I was preparing to become a big brother. I was really excited.
I saw a child psychologist to help me cope with feelings of jealousy that were said to be common with new siblings. But I never felt any of that. I only ever wanted to best for him from the moment I saw him.
The morning he was born, March 10, 1989 – I woke up to an empty house. I found Gram standing in the hallway. I asked where everyone was. She told me they’d gone to the hospital to have the baby. I can still hear her voice, warm with excitement.
I guess because 95% of the people I was around were white, and I was too young to understand genetics, but for some reason I kept thinking my little brother was going to be white.
My dad took me to see him in the hospital and just laughed when I asked.
My father was determined to do better with Josh and for a large part of my brother’s infancy he was a stayed at home. My brother and father would grow to be really close.
It’s the reason Josh loves sports. They would stay home all day together watching any game they could. When I was his age and he wasn’t around, so I grew up hating sports.
I’ve always found sports boring. A bunch of dudes running around in their matching outfits chasing balls, risking neurological damage – to pursue contrived victory.
I never got into it. But to each his own.
That’s only one possible reason I don’t like sports. The first football game I ever went to, I was taken to by my Dad and Uncle Jackie. These Friday night lights happened to be on Friday the 13th.
My Dad took me to the concession stand in between plays. Everything was loud and chaotic. I looked up to tell him I didn’t want ketchup on my hot dog, but he was gone.
The lights, the announcers, the whistles. It all seemed to swirl around my head. What couldn’t have been more than 2 minutes felt like an hour. I was so short people couldn’t see me. They kept bumping into me. Someone burnt me with a cigarette on my cheek. I fell and the crowd didn’t seem to notice. I didn’t cry. I was too disoriented to even think.
Just then a teenage girl rescued me. What had to be the prettiest woman I’d ever laid eyes on, reached down and picked me up, like an angel from heaven. I hugged her like I’d known her forever.
I wish I knew her name and could find her on Facebook. She’s probably still hot. I’d have the best DM dive intro ever, but back to the story.
She took me away from the crowd and towards the fence against the field. She asked me where my parents were. I almost didn’t want to find them. I would have rather stayed with her.
Eventually my Dad and Uncle came looking for me and found me with her. They overlooked how distraught I was and laughed because they found me a pretty girl. They joked and said I did it on purpose. I didn’t see the humor in it, even if there was truth to it.
My dad paid for the girl’s hot dogs and sodas, and thanked her for her help. She smiled and gave me another hug. She said I was the cutest thing she’d ever seen. The feeling she gave me can only be described as love.
When we got back to our seats my Dad still had jokes.
“I didn’t know you liked the white girls” he said.
That was the first time anyone ever gave me that critique, but it wouldn’t be the last.
As bad as I’ve done in school, my entire life, teachers have always told me I’m smart. I’d like to think that maybe I am, but it’s debatable. If there is anything that does set me apart, it’s awareness. I see things others don’t, and I don’t mean the blue man who walked into the wall.
When I talk about ideas like the totalitarian slave state we’re all heading towards, being complicit in our own subjugation by accepting the oppressive conditions we’re living in, most people just call that ‘going to work’. While on one level, they’re not wrong, there’s still something else, deeper, behind the scenes; I think they’re missing it.
I’ve tried discussing how institutions like marriage are not only archaic but actually counterintuitive to what love is supposed to be. I say that love is freedom and contractually obligating your partner to you, is in fact the opposite of what it means to love someone. I explain how a young couple starting a life together could better use those thousands of dollars they’re spending on throwing a pretentious party (wedding) for themselves, for something more important, like food and shelter. They never even have a decent counter argument, they just mumble something about it being tradition. But truth is like light and just like you can’t stop the sun from shinning, most marriages end in divorce.
Miss Lauryn Hill, the famously reclusive R&B singer once said, ”We spend our life in sacrifice to a system for the dead. Are you sure it’s God you’re serving? Obligated to a system, getting less than you’re deserving.”
Is she referring to these systems, created by dead men, that we artificially prop up – to our own detriment?
I dream of a world where we throw off the shackles of the past to forge ahead with a new enlightened, current, and more relevant way of being.
Theres an expression that says if you raise a child in church, he’ll always come back. But really that just means you have to feed nonsense to a child because an adult will never believe the literal interpretation of these superstitions.
Even though my parents tried to raise me with the same arbitrary lessons passed down to them for generations, from who I can only assume were slave masters, somehow I was able to see through it at an early age.
I remember my first ever debate. I overheard a kindergartener describing in great length a conversation he had with the Cookie Monster. He was explaining how the Cookie Monster asked how many cookies would he have left if he started with 5 and then ate 2. Scott proudly shouted, ”three!” at the T.V. The Cookie Monster reassuringly said ”Yes that’s right”.
I interjected the conversation he was having, trying to explain how the cookie monster cannot hear him. I tried to tell him the Cookie Monster wasn’t real at all, just a puppet being controlled by forces off camera. Some things never change.
Needless to say that regardless of how sound my argument was, he wasn’t mentally prepared to accept this truth. It’s not that Scott was dumb, he was a better student than me. What he lacked was awareness. This frustration I had with Scott I still feel today, as I try to explain what I see as obvious truths, hidden in plain sight.
I don’t let it upset me because just like Scott would eventually realize the cookie monster wasn’t real, soon enough you too will realize, neither is anything else.
Kindergarten was the last grade I have fond memories of. My teacher Mrs. Duke was very kind and made each of us feel special. I wasn’t great academically though and would fall behind my classmates in spelling.
First grade was worse. I started getting into trouble. I would talk back and question everything.
Did I mention it was Catholic school? The hate questions. When I questioned a perceived contradiction in a Bible story, Ms. Case lost her mind; screaming at me, telling me I’m nothing like Jesus and I never could be.
He that believeth in me, these works that I do, he shall also do. And even greater works than these
After she recited this verse, I asked her if I could also make miracles. It wasn’t me saying I could, I exclaimed.
Jesus said I can do more than he can! Shouldn’t we take this into consideration? Imagine the implications.
What if instead of thinking we’re born sinners, on our knees begging for forgiveness for our ratchets souls – we were striving to become enlightened and ascend to a higher consciousness?
What might the world look like?
Is our anxiety and depression at least partly rooted in the lie they tell us, that we’re damned from birth?
Of course I’m paraphrasing the argument I made to Ms Case.
I think what actually happened is I spilled my cup of water on the floor, walked across it, and told everyone I was just like Jesus. This garnered hilarious applause from the other children and the fury of Ms. Case.
She was the first in a long line of teachers who seemed determined to stifle my creativity and intellectual curiosity.
Back in Martins Ferry, with 2 children and my father being there, the house became too small. My mom was slowly moving up in her company and with my dad staying at home with Josh, we were able to save a few dollars.
We decided to move back to Saint Clairsville and into the house my mom grew up in, where Gram lived.
By the time I left that Catholic school my behavior had really become a problem. My parents encouraged me to use this new school and city as an opportunity to start over. I even changed my name. I no longer wanted to be called Arthur.
I was A.J. now.
Before classes started I took a tour of my new school with my mom and the principal, Mr Albert. It helped ease the anxiety I was having about switching schools and starting the second grade. He seemed nice and told my mom he thought I’d do well. My mom breathed a breath of relief, hoping she wouldn’t have to deal with me always in a his office – like before.
They were calling me A.J. instead of Arthur which helped reinforce the idea of a new life. I felt good while I was being given the tour, but when I left I felt strange twinge of worry.
I’m not sure where it came from.
Looking back at the school ominously, out the window of my mom’s maroon Grand Am, I thought to myself… at least they’ll be weekends.
That night at home we had a surprise visit from my Uncle Habron, Aunt Rose, and Cousin Curtis.
I had never met any of them but it was cool to be around an older cousin, I thought. Curtis was 13. He was named after my father. My Dad didn’t love the idea of him being named after him though. He always thought they gave out his name prematurely. What if he wanted to give the name to his own child one day?
When I was younger I thought Curtis would’ve been a cooler name than Arthur but as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to embrace it. I’ve always had a weird relationship with my name. Let’s be honest, it’s an old person’s name. The name Arthur is very typecast. When you’re Arthur, your fate is sealed. There’s no way you’re not going to read books and wear glasses.
I’ve always envied people with cool names. Not only is my first name Arthur but my middle name is Whitlow! Can you believe that? Arthur Whitlow. What kind of shit is that? What my parents were thinking will forever be a mystery.
was named after my two grandfathers but still. I mean, you know you would never name your kids Arthur. When I present it like that I usually win the argument, when people try to be nice and tell me my name isn’t peculiar.
Back to our surprise visit.
The biggest surprise of it all was yet to come. Apparently my Aunt and Uncle were having some unidentified problem that required leaving their child. So unbeknownst to my mother, she was now going to have a third child living with her for an unspecified amount of time. It was as if she didn’t get a say in the matter. They essentially left their kid on her doorstep, stork style.
My dad disappeared again. He would literally escape in the middle of the day. One time we found him in the driveway in his car about to take off. He wouldn’t tell anyone he was leaving and be gone for days at least. Even with his wife taking care of essentially 3 of his children.
It was tough on my mom, all of a sudden raising a 13 year old. She had no experience with teenagers, finding condoms, and having to deal with 8th grade melodrama. It was outside of her current realm of parenting at the time.
I couldn’t see how difficult it was for her then. I liked having a ‘big brother’, most of the time.
So here I was, starting at a new school, with a new name, and a new family member…
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 terrified.
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 that I would have to make it through life on my own.
Yes I was failing classes. Yes I had the toughest kid in school after me. Yes my dad was in and out of my life. Yes there were talks of suspending me, something unheard of at the time.
None of that bothered me.
Before smart phones and tablets distracted and addicted young boys, we used to like girls. In the third grade it was Brenda.
I again never told her. I assumed no one would like me since I was different and felt embarrassed because of it.
A classmate of mine liked her too and she liked him back. I took my mom’s earrings to school. I told him to give them to her. I don’t know why. I guess I wanted to be the reason she smiled, even if indirectly.
In Judaism it’s said that one of the highest levels of giving, is when the recipient is unaware of the giver. Love should be altruistic. It’s funny how we understand this intuitively as children, until our modern world suffocates it out of us.
This gives credence to the idea we discussed in chapter 4, that children are in tune with the divine before they arrive.
I was forming something of a double life. I was becoming very active in my church due to my mother. Church was in Wheeling, West Virginia. Because of the slander I gave WV earlier for being so country, you maybe wouldn’t expect Wheeling to be hood.
But East Wheeling is, and that’s where I went to church. It may also seem to you like those rougher elements of the city wouldn’t be imposing on my church going experience.
But you’d be forgetting about one thing. Kids in the hood go to church when they’re young. Today they probably don’t, but in the 90s they definitely did.
Their parents knew what they were up against in those streets, so they tried to keep them in the church as long as they could. It’s how I know that expression about ‘raising a child in church’.
So while I was spending my weekdays with white kids, whose parents were mostly upper middle class. My weekends were spent with black kids, some who would eventually gang bang, others who already were.
I know how hard this is to believe, but surprisingly enough, these city kids didn’t like me.
Saint Clairsville was one town of many, making up the tristate area of what is referred to as The Ohio Valley. The only town there you maybe heard of is Steubenville Ohio. Famous for Dean Martin, The Sopranos, and Wu Tang.
If the Valley was California, East Wheeling was Compton, Steubenville was South Central, and St. C was Beverly Hills.
So here I was, the kid from Beverly Hills (minus the money), around the kids from Compton. Yea, they didn’t love me.
Even though I was fighting as much as I was, even though I was getting in trouble in school, even though I’d end up having my own legal cases to fight, I still wasn’t considered tough enough to get respect from the streets – yet.
Did this juxtaposition of opposing lifestyles help to frame my perspective, cultivating intellectual duality and understanding?
Does that sentence even make sense, and thus, do I even have any of those traits?
All questions I’m not prepared to answer right now, and I definitely wasn’t then.
In the midst of all of this going on, I had moved on to my new 4th grade crush. Roxy.
Not that she liked me back, or had any idea that I liked her. Just the fact that she existed made me feel better. That was enough. That was hope. That was my escape from it all.
Whatever else was going on, I could leave there, just by thinking about her.
With my advanced understanding of the inner workings of the cookie monster, you may have gathered I was watching a lot of TV, and you’d be right.
What I hadn’t realized was the effects programming was having on my subconscious. For example, I always thought that everything would end up okay. While that may not seem negative at first, allow me to expound.
TV shows usually have happy endings. I had come to expect everything was magically predestined to work out.
In order to create change we desire, rational human beings understand; we must exert our energy to coerce the external world – as well as inner. Sometimes we fail and things fall apart. Expecting anything to happen without accepting responsibility for it’s outcome, isn’t only foolish its lazy. And that’s what TV did to me.
I didn’t learned this until Roxy.
I found out she liked someone else, my next door neighbor. This is when, for the first time, I understood that the main character doesn’t always get the girl.
I came into possession of a note she wrote him. It said: “Dear Clayton I think you’re cute but don’t tell anybody”.
I was devastated. I cried. My parents asked what was wrong, I told them I hurt my thumb. My dad found the note and told me to stay out of other people’s business. It was the best advice he had ever given me, up to that point.
Things with Clayton and Roxy wouldn’t work out sadly enough.
Years later we would find out that Clayton was in fact gay. She didn’t see that coming.
My idol, Tupac, once told his friend turned deadly rival Biggie, ”If you want to make money, rap for the bitches. Do not rap for the niggas. The bitches will buy your records.”
Women know what’s popular currently. It’s why they tend to set the tone for pop culture and fashion. In school they like who seems to be the coolest, at that moment. In adulthood, they go after professional athletes and surgeons.
They tend to like their men older, more established. Who can blame them? I can’t. But as with any and everything, there’s good and bad.
The bad side of going after what’s en vouge right now is that it’s short sighted. What if that surgeon is being investigated for insurance fraud and on his way to losing it all?
What if that kid you don’t think is cool now is on his way to becoming a best-selling author?
A big picture strategy is necessary in war, or in this game… of love.
A notebook was like my cellphone when I was a kid. It was my obsessive compulsive distraction. I was constantly staring down at it.
I hope doctors are wrong when they predict we’ll all have neck problems from staring at our phones, because mine will set in early.
My grandmother told me to keep my head up. Who knew that jewel would prove to be prophetic?
If these stories are my confessions then it’s only right I tell you, writing wasn’t my first love, it was music.
I don’t know if it’s due to our innate ability to comprehend sound before written language, but music was where it all started for me.
Wherever I am, and a song I love comes on, it takes me with it. I’ve become one with anyone who’s ever felt like the beat is making me feel. The lyrics prove I’m not the only one to have gone through what I’ve gone through. Not only that, it makes me proud for having gone through it.
It’s a reminder that with all the bullshit I’ve faced, I’m still here and atrophy hasn’t been able fulfill it’s conspiracy against me. Not yet.
Music was the internet before the internet. It connected you. Especially hip-hop, it let you know what was going on in the world.
Embarrassingly, my first favorite rapper was Vanilla Ice. In my defense, I was 7. When you’re that young and you hear that beat drop and Ice Ice Baby Too Cold Too Cold come on, it’s fire.
My next favorite rappers weren’t much better; Kriss Kross. But being a 9 year old listening to albums made by 10 year olds, it’s special. It inspired me. That’s when I started what’s become a life long passion; writing, rhymes specifically.
I can only remember the last line of the first rhyme I wrote…. boy… I’m as tough – as an android! Bars.
In Chapter 1 I talked about my dad having record producer aspirations in New York. He produced at least one album, I know because the vinyl with him on the cover is still in the basement of my mom’s house.
How he had access to a full studio in Wheeling West Virginia though is a mystery. But that’s where he took me, to Fat Cat Studios, when it was time for the 3rd grade talent show.
So my first rap wasn’t just scribbled down somewhere, it was mixed, mastered, and recorded.
After rapping it in front of my class to roaring applause, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Months later Kriss Kross came to Pittsburgh and my dad bought me tickets that came with one caveat. I had to take his best friend’s son, James. He was older than me but this was his first show. I had already seen Michael Jackson so I was basically a concert connoisseur.
I wore my clothes backwards to the show to emulate the rappers, but James just wore a batman tee-shirt tucked into his tight jeans. I clowned him for it then and let’s be honest. The only reason I’m writing about this now, is to clown him for it again.
My father always encouraged me to pursue artistic endeavors. He was cool like that.
He was also in touch with the streets.
James’ family ran Martins Ferry at the time. These family ties would prove valuable in my adolescence. First I would have to go through a slight war with them, perhaps to gain their respect.
But we’ll get to that.
On the last day of school I thought I was going suffer the embarrassment of being held back. I had gotten way too many Fs. No one got Fs in the 4th grade. Except me. I had gotten into fights in the middle of class. I spent more time on punishment than any other kid.
Surely they had to realize holding me back a grade was the only logical thing to do. If not, next came 5th grade, middle school, the same location as the high school! It would be a major transition.
Surely they could see I wasn’t ready. These were respectable, enlightened teachers who were compassionate enough to not just push a kid through so they wouldn’t have to deal with him twice. Right?
Of course not. I’m just fucking with you. They passed me right into the 5th grade. They didn’t give a fuck. They wanted me out of there.
Instead of warning and preparing me for the the mind numbing, soul crushing drudgery that would come from sitting in a cubicle for 40 years – my parents were teaching me that their personal beliefs were facts.
Not just facts but gospel, and if you didn’t believe in what every shred of logic would tell you is impossible, you’d spend an eternity burning. It’s seems crazy I know, but unfortunately this is what they were teaching.
In most of the memories I have of my mother from my childhood, she seems sad. As a kid I couldn’t figure out what was wrong – but as an adult I’m starting to understand must’ve been weighing on her. A lot our parents were battling depression, though without today’s scientific understanding, it went undiagnosed.
They didn’t have the wherewithal to see that this was due in large part to the triviality of their menial day jobs. And why would they? They didn’t see any alternative.
They were systematically taught to be grateful to have a job at all. They were told they’re salvation lies within the church. But there were only lies within the church.
The church said there was valor in poverty, while simultaneously mandating everyone tithe 10% of the little money they had. This is the place they took me, wasting the little bit of free time they were afforded.
If I’m ever able to escape these racing rats and have a child, I want them to strive for more than to spend their lives waiting, waiting for retirement, waiting for heaven.
I want them to know that heaven can exist right now in this present moment, and they’re the only one who can create or prevent it. The church wants you on your knees begging for forgiveness until you die. I want to stand up and take what’s mine right now.
It seems like I’ve been waiting my whole life. Waiting for bells to ring in class. Waiting for 5 o’clock at work, and waiting for church to end as a kid on Sundays. I hated being there and just like everything else, I wasn’t paying attention.
I was too occupied with my own thoughts. I was always chastised for never paying attention. But I ask, am I a bad listener or were they not captivating?
Not only did I have go to church on Sundays but also various weekdays since I was in the youth group.
It wasn’t all bad. The pastor Reverend Stephens was a revered and mysterious man. He would tell the congregation he had literally seen the devil in his kitchen.
He had gotten into trouble with senior ranking members of the church for breaking into their masonic temples, presumably an attempt at exposing their secrets.
He would openly admit to selling and doing drugs in his younger days. I liked him.
The church also gave me reigns to explore my creativity.
I directed a play about a conversations between W.E.B Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. I wrote and performed essays on black history, all to tremendous praise from the church’s many members.
The choir had a performing arts component called ‘Vision’. We’d be dressed as mimes in all black with our faces painted white doing choreography that mimicked the words to gospel songs.
After we did ‘We Shall Behold Him’ by Vickie Winans, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
The lyrics went over my head at the time but now I admit, powerful stuff. Even if the song is all bout how great it’ll be to die.
That’s the church for you, always looking forward to, yet somehow still afraid of, death.
But as you know, the kids there didn’t really like me. The were older and way more experienced coming from the inner city. I learned more about the streets from them than I did about god from the adults. That might have been a good thing.
‘Vision’ took it’s act on the road. This would’ve been an opportunity for the adults to teach entrepreneurship and the importance of making money for ourselves, particularly creatively.
But that’s not what they did. All it meant for me was spending more time cooped up in vans with my headphones on listening to my music, traveling with bullies.
So while church was an escape from all that I had going on back home, I still needed an escape from what I was going through there. To be honest I think I preferred dealing with the static I had back home. My friend to enemy ratio was more in my favor there.
There was one kid in our group who was really nice, her name was Ellicia. She was never mean to me and always seemed to be smiling. Talking to her was a much needed relief from dealing with the other kids.
I didn’t know her too well so I didn’t cry when she died.
She shot herself in the head with a shotgun. She was 13 years old. She was adopted but her birth parents had abused her terribly. I heard they put out lit cigarettes out on her as a baby.
Her foster mother continued to come to church, she always seemed heartbroken yet somehow serene.
Someone who I got along with a lot less was Terrance…
Terrance was ahead of his time, in a bad way. He was 14 going on 40.
I’m reminded of him whenever I’m thinking of taking a risk. He’s someone who at the time I knew him, had more than I could’ve dreamed of. And now, he’s lost more than I can fathom.
Just me being able to tell his story already means mine can’t end as bad as his.
So how dare I be scared, of anything?
I imagine what he might say, and how trivial he would think of the risks I’m afraid to take, with their menial consequences and exaggerated worst case scenarios.
What he wouldn’t give to be here dealing with my so-called problems.
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s in a better place.
But it sure didn’t seem like he wanted to leave, when he was crying from the one eye he still could, the other with a bullet in it.
His mother took him to church, that’s how I knew him. He grew up in the hood but was smart enough to get into private school, all the girls liked him and he was good at sports. It wasn’t enough.
He was advanced in school, advanced in sports, and ominously – advanced in the streets.
Being smart and popular attracted the attention of a the new drug dealer in town, Rafael. Cocaine, marijuana and most dangerously PCP, is what 13 year old Terrance was getting involved with. Raf would front him the work on consignment.
Sometimes you hear stories about kids selling drugs, their parents being addicted and stealing them. But not Terrance’s mom, she was addicted to something much worse, money.
Me and Terrance hated each other.
He hated me would be more accurate. Though I recoiled at the thought of having to spend time with him, there was another part of me that tried to be like him, the cool older kid.
But I still didn’t like him. I can still see his smug face looking down on me, resenting me for being who I was, making fun of my big head. I can still hear his voice, mocking the way I talked and calling me white.
It didn’t help that I was now on a 10 hour van ride to Virginia Beach with him and the entirety of Wayman A.M.E.
After a year full of practices and performances the church decided we needed a vacation. We all piled into rented vans and headed towards Virginia Beach.
Me and a couple boys my age were rooming with Terrance and a few boys his age. My mom was skeptical of the arrangement. She’d heard whispers of what Terrance and them were about. But she didn’t object.
My mom had an interesting parenting approach I hope to emulate one day. She was protective but not smothering. She didn’t want me to run the streets but she didn’t want me to run from them either. She knew she couldn’t hide the cold world from me forever. She wanted me to learn about everything in life, the good and the bad. She must’ve thought this would be a learning experience for me, with her being a few doors down, just in case.
Terrance might’ve been 14 going on 40 but I was 10 going on 11. The older boys smoking weed and sneaking choir girls in and fucking them I while I fake slept, was a pivotal catalyst for when I went astray.
I thought their behavior was normal and what would be expected of me when I was older.
The term toxic masculinity seems to be making it’s way into the public zeitgeist. Usually when a “movement” makes it’s way into the mainstream, I don’t trust it. But this one I feel is important. We as men, particularly black men, valuing ourselves based off of our sexual exploits – debases our self worth and commodifies not only the sacred act of sex itself, but does the same to our partners.
This is where intimacy issues stem from.
While this may be common knowledge now, at the time, the ideology was fuck bitches, get money. And that’s exactly how Terrance was living his life when we got back from the beach, right up until he had the last fight with his family he ever would.
Armed with a .380 tucked in his Karl Kani jeans and high off ‘wet’, a cigarette dipped in embalming fluid, essentially PCP – Terrance came home to find his mother had spent the money he’d stashed.
He confronted her and she became irate and defensive. Conveniently picking then as the time to accuse him of selling drugs. Their fight made it to where his aunts and uncles were talking on the on the porch. Everyone tried to calm Terrance down as he walked out into the yard, screaming and crying. He knew he’d have to face Rafael without the money he owed him, but the PCP had him going in an even darker direction.
The confrontation itself and the embarrassment of being accused in front of his entire family, who only knew him as the star athlete in prep school, was too much to take. His head started to swirl.
The lifelong neglect from his mother, his father who was never there, the 40 years of experiences packed into 14. The energy in the air was electric and dark like the storm clouds above them. It was all catching up to him. He didn’t have the resources to process. The drugs didn’t help.
In the 1990s, especially in West Virginia, there was an outbreak of kids high on PCP hurting themselves. The drug was originally introduced as an anesthetic, it creates a feeling of invincibility.
Terrance thought he couldn’t be touched. Completely out of his mind he took his gun and pointed it at his family. They started screaming. Startled by their scream and shock, he redirected the gun at his face.
He looked his mother in the eyes and pulled the trigger. His life didn’t flash before his eyes then because he didn’t die that day. He died days later in the intensive care with half of his face blown off.
Up until writing this I always thought he was high on acid not PCP. You would’ve thought that would’ve prevented me from trying acid when I was that age, but it didn’t.
They say that when his mom when his made the decision to take him off of life support, he could somehow hear her even though he was in an induced coma. His remaining eye streamed tears until the machine turned off and his heart stopped.
The next morning was my first day of Middle school. I woke up nervous thinking how scary 5th grade would be on the same campus as the high school! I swore I was grown.
I set my alarm and woke up on my own without any help from my mom. I kept that streak going for one whole day, I think. These were my concerns at the time.
I noticed my mom on the phone in her room for what started to seem like too long. I tried to overhear what she was saying…
When she finally got off she had a sad look in her eye, but I already knew she had gotten the call from the church about Terrance. I was able to put pieces together from the little bit I heard.
These are my confessions so the truth is when I heard it I was secretly happy. I felt a strange sense of validation. An enemy had died. He’d killed himself. I had outlasted him. I’d won.
There was a valuable lesson I learned here. Even when someone is seemingly more successful than you, how long will it last? How long will they last? If you can focus on and sustain yourself, often times your enemies will fold from the pressure they’ve put on themselves, from their perceived success.
I’ve never told anyone this, until now. I was secretly happy, yes – but I did feel really bad about feeling like that.
Terrance’s mom, the lady who loved money, won a suit against the state for a million dollars after her son died. Prior to his suicide, Terrance was in rehab for drug abuse. He was let out and according to the family’s attorney, it was too early.
Her newfound wealth would be short lived however, she blew through it just a few years and today struggles to keep her lights on. Terrance’s sister has kids with Rafael.
Researching this story was next to impossible. No one where I’m from even remembers it. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing, to be remembered, because this cautionary tale serves as not only a warning against drug use and the fast life – but also impermanence.
The difficulty in researching these stories is that not only have some of the characters died, but now, some are dead to me.
They’ve turned their backs and are unavailable for comment. They wouldn’t reply my texts, that’s if they hadn’t already been deleted from my phone. It’s a shame really because this would’ve been a good excuse to talk to Alexis. But oh well.
There was an opposite version of me in St. Clairsville and by the 6th grade I had found her and naturally fallen irreparably in love.
I was a boy. She was a girl. I was black, she was white. I spent my school days in a sea of white people, most of her friends were black. I was was young for my grade, she was old for her’s. I was in the 6th grade, she was in the 5th, yet she was older than me. No girls liked me, all the boys loved her. We couldn’t have grown up more different.
I remember the first time I saw her. There was a dairy queen up the street from my house, she was coming in as I was walking out. I froze. I dropped my dilly bar as I tried to raise the kick stand on my bike. I don’t even know if she noticed me.
That school year I was able to socially position myself close enough to her friends on recess. Eventually I got to know her. I’d do my best to always make her laugh. The sound of her voice was my first addiction.
Have you ever liked someone so much that you’d see them when they’re not there? I’d see her face in the clouds. I could see her eyes in headlights of cars, on bumpers I could see her smile.
I’d been afraid to tell a girl how I felt before, but I was so inspired now that it was worth the risk. I had to act, so I enlisted a team. Sean and Jacob, two of my neighbors and best friends were in her grade.
I knew they wouldn’t help me without there being any benefit for them, so I structured a plan that was mutually beneficial for everyone.
I asked them who their crushes were, then gave an MLK style speech telling them our days of not having girlfriends would soon come to an end.
They were immediately on board. The next day we would ask each of our crushes out for one another.
Sean liked a girl named Tara, Jacob asked, she said no. We were discouraged but couldn’t turn back. On my paper route lived Amy, Jacob’s crush. I asked her out for Jacob but she wasn’t feeling him.
I later found out she instead had a crush on her paperboy, me! This would sow seeds of resentment in Jacob that I would one day have to confront.
Alexis was the last girl to be asked. It was our last hope to succeed as a collective. Sean and Jacob were supposed to see her at a birthday party that I couldn’t go to because I was grounded. They would ask her out for me there.
The next day at school, before I would see Sean or Jacob, I kept thinking, what if she said yes? What if I already have a girlfriend? The elusive dream could already have come true.
Something strange happened though. I became afraid, regretful even. What had I gotten myself into? Could I handle to responsibly that would come from dating the prettiest girl in school? Could I handle the jealousy from every other boy who had the same dream of dating her?
I had never had a girlfriend before, I had no idea what would even be the first thing I should say to her. No dream had ever come true. What do you do when you wake up for the first time?
Finally it was recess, the moment of truth. I wanted to get to the playground before anyone else. My thinking was that if I could see everyone before they saw me, I at least wouldn’t be caught off guard with any impending news.
I tried to sneak out just a few moments before the bell rang but a teacher caught me and my punishment was standing in the penalty box. This meant instead of recess, I had to stand facing the building while everyone walked though the double doors right beside me.
How embarrassing. This would be Alexis’ first look at her new boyfriend, in trouble like always, in front of the whole school.
Of all the problems I would have to face, this would not be one of them. Alexis said no.
Sean and Jacob made their way through the double doors and gave me the bad news. I would’ve almost felt relieved until they told me the even worse news. Alexis already had a boyfriend. He was black, so there was somehow hope in that. But he was also an extremely tough 7th grader who had already heard about me asking out his girlfriend.
“Craig is going to kill you” they said simultaneously, like the black version of The Shinning twins. They then laughingly head out to play.
Just then I saw Alexis and Craig walking hand in hand, the last two to come out of the double doors. Ashely shot me a quick pitiful glance while Craig’s glance was one of anger and inevitability.
After school that day I tried to wait in the coat room in the hope of hiding from Craig. The teachers knew what I was doing. They didn’t care and sent me out to the slaughter.
After Craig beat me up, he talked to me almost politically saying, “the only reason I did this was because I had to. I can’t have dudes asking out my girlfriend. It’s okay if you like her but you just can’t talk to her anymore.”
He gave me a deal of sorts.
He knew I was smart and funny and saw value in having me on his team. He knew I had beef with the Carl. It would’ve been suicide beefing with the toughest white kids and the toughest black kids. He knew that aligning myself with his crew would be my only refuge.
School was like prison. Besides from the fact we were forced by law to be there everyday, and they would send police after us if we tried to escape (like they did for the 93’ walkouts), you had to affiliate yourself with a gang to survive.
Craig offered me protection, all I had to do was leave Alexis alone. But to me this meant he saw me as a threat. He was trying to extort me!
If I was smart I maybe would’ve taken his deal, but I was in love. I wasn’t ready to give up on her. So I didn’t.
Alexis’s love would continue to evade me – but not forever. Only for the next 20 years or so, but that’s another story…
My old friend John had come back from reform school and because of the stigma attached, he was always harassed by teachers.
I overheard them in the hall congratulating themselves on being apart of the reason he was given repeated in-school suspensions.
If school was jail, in-school suspensions were solitary confinement. I had been in there too many days to count.
There were two desks in the back of the library, each closed off in a wooden box, no one could see in or out.
The prisoner was forced to sit there alone all day.
When teachers would bring their classes to the library, they could see the prisoner’s legs below the desk/box/cell.
The prisoner could hear everything going on but wasn’t allowed to interact. Usually students would snicker and throw spit balls into the box/cage as if it were a basketball hoop.
One day in between classes, I walked through an eerily empty hallway and headed to my locker. I was frantically scribbling together a forgotten homework assignment that was due.
I witnessed John being verbally accosted by the visibly enraged Principal who assumed no one was around.
I jumped in and said, “Hey Mr. Oglebay, why don’t you chill out? You’re a grown man, how is it even possible a twelve year old is making you that mad?”.
My plan worked, he left John alone. The only problem was he was heading towards me at full speed. I wasn’t afraid.
I stood tall ready to embrace my fate.
Mr. Oglebay made a fist.
A punch to the face from him might’ve killed me, he was a huge white man, at about 6’3 220 lbs. He grabbed me up by my shirt and slam-punched me into the locker. I stared at him dead in the eyes the whole time.
I was furious. I was in pain.
Just then the bell rung and all of the students flooded into the halls. The principal walked off and John came to see if I was okay.
I created a petition that my classmates were afraid to sign and gave speeches that went over their head. I was trying to explain that we deserved a faculty that wouldn’t threaten it’s students with physical abuse.
They didn’t understand what I was doing. They still don’t.
That’s the beauty of pain, it forces you to evolve. When things seem to be going okay, you become soft, ultimately vulnerable.
The captain who’s steered the ship through the storm is going to be more skilled than the captain who only known smooth sailing.
Eventually the whole school knew what happened and by then my parents had found out. Files were charged against the principal so now I had another court date looming. If this wasn’t enough, the school had filed a counter suit against me – claiming behavioral issues.
Their futile attempts to control me were utterly hopeless.
I just wouldn’t shut up. I had too much to say. The world around me was going to either love it or hate it, but they’re were definitely going to hear it.
My Dad always told me, “Arthur, you’re mouth is going to destroy you.”
What didn’t help is that I was always getting into fights. The brawls with Craig over Alexis, the continual altercations with the Carl.
The school saw me as the common denominator.
So let’s recap.
That’s one assault case where I’m the victim. Another where I was the defendant. Luckily the judge threw the case out because of the absurdity of prosecuting a 12 year old over shenanigans.
I had made enemies with every bully on every spectrum of the social ladder.
After court my dad jokingly told me that my next court case would be for murder.
Deep down I believed him.
The male figure looked up and relate to was Tupac. Every time I turned on MTV I would see him in and out of court, just like me. I was assaulted by teachers, he was assaulted by cops.
I wasn’t allowed to listen to him even though years earlier my dad took me, Brian, and even my then baby brother to see Juice. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I didn’t even know who Tupac was then.
Every once in a while I would get a call from my Dad. On the rare occasion he would show up at home, he would bring me cassette tapes that my mom wouldn’t let me listen to. Albums like Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. I’d hide them from my mom and she of course would find and take them.
Having my father there full time would’ve been helpful, considering I had beef with so many students, teachers, and principals.
But we were about to find out what had been taking up his time.
Christmas is a weird time.
It’s cold, it’s dark. The relationships you have, or the lack of, are reflected back at you during the holidays more than ever. Crime rates go up.
With everyone feeling so compelled to consume, it’s no wonder you’re more likely to be robbed. Even the music is kind of sad, Silent Night, White Christmas, those songs don’t exactly make you want to party.
But none of these reasons are why my mom gets sad during Christmas.
December 19, 1994
My Mom: Thanks for calling Healthland. This is Jennifer how may I help you?
Caller: Hello, yes is this Jennifer Johnson I’m speaking with?
My Mom: It is.
Caller: Hello Jennifer there’s something I think you should be made aware of.
My Mom: …
Caller: Your husband and I have a child together. Her name is Monica and she’s 12 years old.
Nuclear fallout came to my family that winter which ultimately lead to my parents’ divorce. But not before the violence. Every time my mother would tell my father she was leaving him, he would react violently.
My mom thought she was safe by picking a public place to serve him with divorce papers. She was wrong. Broad daylight in the middle of an empty Hardees my father grabbed my mother by her throat, choking her until her lifeless eyes began to roll to the back of her head. It was only then when my father released his grip, just in time. I know this story because my mother told it to me the very day it happened. I believe this was her way of retaliating. Letting his first born son know what he did.
The next day my dad gave me a ride on my paper route. It was the first time I saw him cry. He wept uncontrollably. Sobbing hysterically, all I could gather was him saying something about how he couldn’t believe he was losing his family.
He must’ve known this day was coming. He’d been living with the secret my entire life. My whole life had been a lie. I always thought I was the first born, but I had never been an only child.
Not only that, I had a sister somewhere that I never met, I still haven’t. That day was worst day of my life, I remember thinking.
My mom feels a way about Christmas from all of this but I have a strange paranoia when I’m in the shower.
It was the next morning and I was showering getting ready for school. I hear what at first I think is laughter. Then to my horror I realize the sound I’m hearing is actually screaming, my mother’s.
I rush out naked with soap still lathered on me. In front of my parents fighting, I kneel down and ask God to please help my family.
It’s not that I believed God would hear me, it’s that I knew it would guilt my father into stopping, and it did. So who knows, maybe God did hear because my father finally left and accepted his new fate as a divorcee.
I wouldn’t see him again for a long time but my mother was safe.
To this day, if I hear any strange or sudden noises when I’m in the shower I panic. Several times I’ve rushed out only to find I’d forgotten to turn off the television.
I had only been to Virginia one other time, for a funeral then too.
It was when my little cousin died, Amanda, may she rest in peace. In peace; those words are so powerful. May we all be able to find that peace, if not now, then at least when we leave here.
She’s free now. Amanda was only 15 but she had cancer. I spent time with her when I was too young to remember. I saw her picture on the program at her funeral. She was beautiful. I felt guilty for thinking she was so pretty. I thought you weren’t supposed to look at your cousin like that, especially after they’ve died. But she looked like an angel, and now, that’s what she is.
Over a year had passed since my first southern black funeral experience, and I was busy writing.
Mr. Stenger, my English teacher who, and this is no lie, really believed he had psychic powers. He would tell his students this repeatedly. This is what my “teachers” were “teaching”. I never bought it though because I faked sick one time and it worked.
Anyway, he was having a writing contest. Whoever came up with the best story could read it on the morning announcements. The theme was to try and fool the school, the way H.G. Wells 1940s radio show accidentally fooled the world into believing aliens were taking over the planet.
When Mr. Stenger told us how people went crazy, some even killed themselves, all because of a made up story, and that we would get the chance to do something similar – I was enthralled.
This was the first school assignment I actually cared about.
Back in Virginia, my other cousin Alisha, Amanda’s older sister, who was just as beautiful, had just called it quits with her boyfriend. He was begging her to take him back. She knew it was a bad idea. The last year of their relationship had become physically aggressive. Despite this, she missed him, so she decided to go through with seeing him.
I’m not sure what a good or normal relationship is supposed to look like, since I’ve never seen or been in one. But I’m starting to get the feeling, that when you start to get the feeling, you don’t want to be in one anymore, you should take that warning seriously.
Relationships are hard to get into. I know because I spent my whole adolescence trying, to no avail. The kicker however, is they are in fact much harder to get out of. My cousin Alisha was about to find out that sometimes it’s impossible.
He looked so unassuming when she pulled up next to him. He was sitting in his car in the parking lot of their favorite restaurant. She detected a look in his eye that she hadn’t seen before. It gave her pause for a moment. Should I be here? she thought.
It was a familiar struggle she’d been up against for most of her life, the fear of being alone. She was comfortable with him. They’d been together so long, she was secretly horrified of facing the world alone.
At the same time, the mystery of the unknown was intriguing. She never struggled to get attention from men and imagined what else might be out there.
That was a huge part of the reason they weren’t together, his insecurities. A couple months ago he found a number in her purse. Truth be told a man slipped the number in her purse without her knowing. That’s how pretty she was. She couldn’t escape the adoration.
Upon finding the number, Trevor grabbed her by the hair, put her head in the sink, and turned the hot water on until she couldn’t take it. After the assault she cried for hours. He’d been apologizing ever since. She was starting to be able to forgive him, at least she wanted to.
She got out of her car and walked over to Trevor’s. When she put her hand on the car door handle, something told her not to get in, but she went against her instincts.
There’s a fine line between intuition and paranoia.
Once she was inside the car they hugged and the familiarity of the embrace felt warm. Their conversation started normal but before long it devolved into an argument. They hadn’t even gotten out of the car and already they couldn’t even agree on their plans afterwards. She could hear the rage in his voice.
She was suddenly reminded of why they weren’t together. His rage was contagious. She became furious, it was a deep anger than she hadn’t felt in a while. He was yelling at her and she could feel the spit from his screams on her face. That’s all it took.
She tried to escape but he immediately locked the doors. “I’m sorry baby, please don’t go”, he said, conveniently changing his tone from angry to sad the moment he feared she would leave.
It was the same-old cyclical nature of their relationship. She knew she had to get out of there. She felt angrier than she had ever been. “Just let me out of the fucking car, Trevor!” When he still refused she knew that it would take more.
That’s when she told him,
“I’ve been fucking Anthony, and I think I’m in love with him”.
A chilling silence filled the car like poisonous gas. He eerily unlocked the doors without saying a word. She felt a twinge of regret but knew there was no turning back. She looked at him one last time and saw no emotion on his face. Then she left.
Her heart was heavy as she sat back in her car looking for her keys trying to regain composure. She was just about to start crying when she heard what sounded like a metal clank of a knock on her window.
She turned to see it was a Glock 19, held by Trevor. The bullet pierced through her face before she could even hear the window break.
Trevor reached in through the broken window, unlocked her doors, and sat down in the passenger side next to his dead ex-girlfriend. He kissed then held her lifeless hand with his left. With his right hand, he put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.
The detective who first arrived at the crime scene said to his partner in disgust, “stupid fucking niggers”.
The violence was a wake up call for my family. So our beefs were temporarily put on hold so that we could all attend the funeral.
At the time I didn’t understand the gravity of this situation. All I knew was that for the first time I would have to miss a day of school that I actually wanted to attend.
The funeral was the same week I had to turn in my writing project, that I was working so hard to win.
Mr. Stenger said he would give me and extension. So for the whole car ride to the 2nd Virginia funeral that year, I wrote my story on a clipboard with pen and paper.
But when I got back, Mr. Stenger had reneged on his extension and selected someone else, even though he knew I was absent because of a funeral.
I was starting to understand that my life was in a different world than my classmates. It was more dangerous and there was less I could trust. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing. This forced me to ask questions while the others remained content and complacent.
With questioning comes knowledge and with knowledge comes power.
Chasing having a girlfriend had become my white rabbit.
That’s not a pun, but they were almost always white. My parents didn’t hate it but did their best to discourage it. My father ominously told me that liking white girls was the reason I kept getting hurt. He said one day I would understand why. That was the last piece of advice he ever gave me.
Dating a black girl was next to impossible though. There was only one in my grade, and Latoya was crazy.
We made fun of her then but looking back, I understand how tough it must’ve been being the only black girl at that school. It was rough enough being me, and women far too often have it disproportionately harder.
As much as I love women, I thank God I’m not one. It would suck having to like dudes, and again, not a pun.
But I didn’t think it was fair. If dating in St. Clairsville was segregated, the separation wasn’t equal. White boys had way more options. I was slowly starting to realize the world of ‘white love’ was a place they were never going to fully let me into.
Alexis being with Craig was an exception that distorted my reality.
I thought I could have a white girlfriend, no big deal. I didn’t realize yet that most parents would literally disown their daughters if they were to bring me home. So even when I could pull off finding a girl who liked me back, which wasn’t an easy task – I then had to somehow convince her that being with me was worth losing her entire family.
My game was never that good.
The thing about being different than everyone around you is that because you’re looking at the world out of your eyes, you start to forget that you’re different.
You think you’re the same as the people you’re looking at. But they like to remind you, when you get too close, you’re not one of them. Deep down, I know they’ll always view me as lesser, even if they’re not aware of this consciously.
If that’s not enough, I sucked at basketball. I tried out for the team my 7th grade year and was promptly cut. I don’t know why any school would cut any kid from any team.
Like do y’all really care about winning so bad that instead of letting a kid play games with his friends, you’ll leave him to roam the streets and get in trouble? Well, that’s what they did to me.
Being able to have that camaraderie, not to mention exercise, could’ve vastly improved my life. But instead I was forced to just hangout Uptown, where the drug dealers would kick it by the pay phones and wait for clients to page them.
They took a liking to me though and I learned about another type of game, but we’ll get to that.
I would have my revenge on the coach who cut me…
My dad never wanted me to go to the pool because he had a friend that drowned when he was young. He was also disappointed I wasn’t better at sports. Ironically, him keeping me away from water was preventing me from the one sport I would be good at. Luckily I didn’t listen to him, like I never listened to anyone.
I joined the swim team and unsurprisingly was the first black kid to do so. At first I was terrible, just god awful. I could barely swim one lap across the pool. But for some reason I stuck with it. I would go on to win first place in races! Perhaps my crowning competitive athletic achievement.
To this day, I’m the fastest of my friends in the water. It’s still the only sport I’m good at.
There were no try outs, and because of this I was able to stay on the team, which allowed me to improve. Now I have a life-long skill that I still utilize as much as I can. Everyone knows swimming is the best exercise.
The basketball coach who cut me had a daughter a year older than me that was also on the swim team.
She grabbed my ass one day under water. I took that as free reign to touch her back as much as I wanted. That whole summer I felt her up under that cold Allen Pool water. It was my first sexual experience, and it was amazing. So even though they wouldn’t let me into their homes or hearts, I still knew what that ass felt like.
Today, not much has changed.
Jacob found out his crush Amy liked me. I didn’t even know it. All I knew was that my property was being mysteriously vandalized. I should have seen the writing on the wall then, that even when a girl does like you, that’s actually just the beginning of the stress.
Come to find out, Jacob was slashing holes in my bike tires. The last straw was when he stole my pair of fake Ray Bans.
I told his cousins and everyone we knew, that when I saw him, it was on sight. Even my mom overheard my threats, but I guess no one took me seriously, until I caught him walking home from Dairy Queen.
It was the moment I’d been waiting for. I rushed up the hill and without saying a word, shoved him into a fence. To my surprise, he wasn’t shook.
“Just let my set down my slushie and glasses”, he said.
After he did I started swinging. You would think I was trying to kill him. All he could do was whimper in self-defense, and try to mitigate the damage. It was as if I was retaliating for years of being bullied by everyone else.
I saw blood gushing out of his face but I didn’t stop. He was crawling on the ground. I was standing. I cocked back to kick him in the face. It was just how I’d been fantasizing. But something reminded me that he was once my friend, so I stopped. My work was done.
I ran home feeling like Rocky, my clothes covered in his blood. I put my Tupac tape into the cassette deck.
My grandmother came over to see what the commotion was. Shocked, she screamed “Are you losing your mind”. For that moment, I had.
Just then the police showed up. They said they wanted to question me. I told them I was doing their job for them, since they couldn’t apprehend this thief and vandal themselves. I told them I was going to protect my property by any means necessary. I told them there was only one criminal involved in this situation and justice had already been served.
As I waited for them to thank and applaud my heroic vigilantism, they got a call from their dispatch saying Jacob mother did not wish to press charges. Probably because that would also implicate her son criminally. Apparently she was just trying to scare me.
My punishment was that my mother made me spend an entire day with her at her desk job. It was horrible sitting there all day by myself in a cubicle with nothing to do.
What’s crazy is that my punishment then is what I have to do for money to survive now. What’s even crazier but not terribly surprising is that last I heard, Jacob is a cop now.
Let’s pray he never pulls me over. I’ll add that to the list of things I don’t want to think about.
“Fuck peace and the police” -2Pac, ‘Ambitionz Az a Ridah’
I was never allowed to go on any field trip. I had gotten in too much trouble. It broke my heart in the 6th grade when I couldn’t go to Camp Piedmont. I’d been looking forward to that trip for years. The night before, I begged God that somehow I’d be able to go. But when I went to school the next morning, everyone was gone. I just sat there with the other “bad” kids, doing nothing.
It was the 8th grade now which meant there was one last field trip before High School, the big one to Washington D.C. I actually had a shot at being allowed to go.
A few weeks before the trip an older kid tried to fight me again. The whole school formed around us. We stood there surrounded by a colleseum of students, him antagonizing me, everyone laughing. I was running out of time, that crowd wanted blood. I didn’t know what to do.
Teachers finally came and broke it up. I wondered what took them so long. The principal took me in his office, called me a trouble maker, and gave me the only thing worst than in-school suspension – the dreaded Saturday School. He said that if I didn’t show up, I could kiss my D.C. trip goodbye.
They had taken so much from me already. I wasn’t going to beg for their mercy. It was the Friday before I was supposed to go to Saturday School. Friday the 13th, September, 1996.
My mind was made up about not going to Saturday school, or DC.
I had made my peace with. It was my protest. I didn’t do anything wrong and believed it was important to stand for something. Rebelling against the system was the only time I ever found peace. I felt like I was doing God’s work.
I felt like it was Me Against the World and I wanted to be like Tupac.
He had just been shot a week before and was still in the hospital. All I could think about was what he said. “If you can’t find something to live for you better find something to die for.”
The words were resonating with me a lot.
I felt like he was going through so much, so we’d know we could also withstand struggle. I was sure he was going to survive, like he always did.
But later that evening while playing my Nintendo 64, my mom came into my room from watching the news, and told me that my hero had died. Tupac has succumb to his violent, rebellious lifestyle.
The look in her eyes said it all. The next morning I went to Saturday school. Then I went on a field trip to Washington D.C., where I saw the buildings built by slaves, and the people who preached freedom.
Sometimes we’d sneak into and hangout in the church basement to escape the boring services and choir practices.
The phone rang.
I picked it up knowing I shouldn’t, but something told me I needed to.
The voice on the line said something strange,
“free your mind or they’ll poison it”.
I knew right away whose voice it was, Ellicia’s. The only problem was she had been dead for years.
I hung up and my friend Ronnie said, “It looks like you just saw a ghost”.
“Close, I think I heard one”.
Mr. George heard the phone ring and came to see who called. I couldn’t bare to say. I knew how crazy I’d sound. He became curious, demanding I answer, but I couldn’t.
Ellicia was his niece.
He turned to Ronnie. I knew right away he’d fold. “Don’t tell him”, I pleaded, but it was in vain. He told Mr. George, who then just looked at me blankly and walked away. I felt terrible but was more intrigued by the caller’s message.
Back in St. C. my best friend Sean and all of his little brothers had moved to California, and Jacob and I were dead to each other. With High School fast approaching I was heading straight into a new world, once again friendless.
I had no choice but to form alliances. Perhaps we had taken a collective subconscious influence from the east coast/west coast war we saw on TV, because at school a war was brewing.
It was dubbed the Prep vs. Punk war.
The jocks and kids who dressed in Tommy Hilfiger were constantly getting into fights with the grimier kids who listened to Marilyn Manson.
Everyone was forced to pick a side.
Recess was like a prison yard, with what seemed like hundreds of us split down the middle of the blacktop, ready for an all out brawl at any minute.
Tensions were high and even though I technically didn’t fit into any side of their feud, I was happy to be embraced by the Preps. I mean my clothes were hella-fresh.
To be honest it was fun. It gave us something to do and it felt good to be a part of something, even if we were flirting with gang mentality.
I had my first encounter with requited love at the school dance, with a black girl named Eliza. She didn’t go to our school but came to the dance with a friend. We danced to almost every song together and I kinda liked her.
I thought no other girl in school would like me after that. I was afraid they’d think I only liked black girls.
I’m embarrassed to admit this now but I was looked at with such disgust by the white people, I started to have that same disgust implanted in my own heart.
The thing about racist propaganda that unfortunately afflicts so many white people, is that we as Black Americans have to live in the same world, and are therefor not impervious to that same brainwashing.
But because we’re the victims of it, we’re forced to examine why, which can often lead to understanding – but not always.
That was the last I would see of Eliza. We made plans to meet up at the next dance but she didn’t show. The last I heard she’s still in St. C, with 4 kids to two guys.
I’m tempted to be petty and make a joke, blaming that on her standing me up 20 years ago. But knowing how hard it is to escape the pressure that she must’ve been under then, that I’m still up against now, I think I’ll take the compassionate road.
With the church constantly telling me God was always watching and judging me, I began to develop a sort of OCD.
I began hearing a voice in my head that said “I hate god”. It was the last thing I felt I should be thinking, and that’s why I thought it.
For example, try as hard as you can to not think about a baby dancing on a grave…You can’t do it, can you? A baby dancing on a grave just popped in your mind, just because I told you not to. And that’s what would happen to me, off and on for years.
Perhaps it was my subconscious telling me that I should hate the watered down, anthropomorphized, oppressive version of god they invented to control us.
Perhaps it was a true source of divinity telling me to break free from the manipulative, exploitative god that was fed to us at church. I mean I was literally getting otherworldly phone calls at churches telling me to free my mind.
With all of these different things swirling around in my head, I was more confused than you probably are reading this chapter.
But things were happening that fast. Religion, racism, girls, grades, gangs – it was almost too much and it really hasn’t even got started yet.
Little did we know then, but would soon find out, the feds were already watching.
All this, and I hadn’t even started High School. That’s when things really get crazy.
”I hung around with the thugs, and even though they sold drugs, they showed a young brother love.”
The Ohio Valley. If you’re not from there, you’ve never heard of it.
There’s not a lot of opportunity. There maybe could be, if there was some sense of community – but there isn’t. There’s only competition, spite and vengeance, ego and delusion; crabs in buckets.
My parents made a choice. Raise me in Harlem at the height of the crack epidemic, or the seemingly safer Saint Clairsville.
They chose the latter. These are those stories.
When I first got to high school the smart kids took a liking to me. I went to see Titanic with them and partied at their houses. These were my first parties where no one drank or smoke. While atttending one of those parties, some older kids parked down the street. They were smoking and drinking. All the girls dropped what they were doing and ran over to them.
That’s when the devil first seduced me.
Envious, I stood alone, plotting how eventually that would be me with the girls. I realized right away what girls liked, danger. I wasn’t good at sports or school, but danger I could do. Nothing about my life had been safe up to that point. I had no reason to start now.
Someone else took a liking to me too; Seven Sonna, the Pablo Escobar of St. Clairsville.
He had the money and the power. He was one of the leaders of the “Crew”. Everyone feared and respected him. It was no secret he sold drugs. I didn’t even know what drugs were, yet.
He started bringing me around. He cultivated a vibe I knew I could emulate, danger.
I had study hall with my smart friends and Seven Sonna. It was one of those defining moments, a crossroads where I would pick my future.
Whose blueprint would I follow?
My smart friends who would go to college and have respectable day jobs? Or Seven Sonna who’s currently in prison for 10 years?
It wasn’t that simple.
My grades were so bad that me going college might as well have been Atlantis. Girls were the only real goal.
My dad was entirely moved out by this point. He lived in a nearby town called Martins Ferry. I made friends in his neighborhood with another a nerdy black kid my age – Preston. He introduced me to a girl so pretty I still get chills when I think about her.
When I got back home it hit me, Homecoming! Since I wasn’t having any luck with girls in my school, why don’t I ask her to go? I told Preston my plan.
A few days later I get a call.
Preston: AJ, I talked to Theresa. She said she would go to your dance with you. She said you seemed really nice.
Holy shit I thought. I step into the other room so my mom can’t overhear.
Me: Preston are you fucking serious right now?
Preston: (speaking ridiculously casual as if this isn’t the best news anyone’s ever given me.) Yea man – she’s here with me now. Hold on.
Theresa: Hi! AJ?
Me: Uhhhh hi.
Theresa: Preston told me about your dance and I’m happy to go with you.
Me: Are you serious!? -I mean.. that’s cool.
Theresa: Sure. Here’s my number. Just call me when you have more details and I’ll talk to you soon. Bye!
Cloud 9 evaporated quickly when it hit me. How on earth am I going to pay for this?
In study hall later that week, I told Seven my predicament.
“Man don’t even sweat that, my nigga. I got you. I was gonna ask if you wanted put on anyway.”
“What do you mean?”, I asked.
“This dope game” he said. “I can front you some work and you can flip that. You’ll have more than enough money for your little dance.”
That would check off two boxes. Danger? Check. Money? Check. Get the girl? Check. Damn that’s three boxes. He gave me the weekend to think it over.
I had seen the cautionary after-school specials about just saying no and how older kids might try to lure you in. I never thought it would actually happen to me. I was wrong. It was just like the warnings.
Monday back at school, it was first period and I still hadn’t made up my mind. Before I get to study hall where I would see Seven, he found me. He’s motioning for my attention in the hallway while I’m in class. He has his arms up like, what’s it gonna be?
I think about what it would be like taking such a pretty girl to my first Homecoming. It would change my entire perception. Also, I realize if I align myself with Seven, my enemies would be forced to retreat.
I think about how my smart friends wouldn’t like my anymore. I thought about the study groups I wouldn’t get to attend and how my grades would suffer.
After weighing the pros and cons, the decision was easy.
I looked at back at Seven Sonna. The teacher was lecturing on something I wasn’t paying attention to. I silently mouthed two words. No one in the class noticed, but Seven read what I was saying clearly.
Surviving meant High School diversifying. I had to immerse myself within various cliques. The preps, the skaters, even the rednecks. If I learned anything in High School, it’s how to get along with different people. That’s the only thing I learned.
Speaking of different people; DJ was my locker mate every year. He couldn’t have been more opposite. Picture an Abercrombie mannequin come to life.
We were walking back from lunch when I felt a push from behind. PTSD from fighting in grade school must’ve kicked in. I turned around with my fists raised.
When I saw who pushed me, I instantly regretted it. It was Craig, the kid who already hated me for my failed attempts with his girlfriend. Apparently he was just messing with me, but when he saw my fists raised, he took it as an immediate affront.
“Oh so you wanna fight now? I was only playing with your bitch ass”.
I was paralyzed. I couldn’t put my hands down but couldn’t swing either.
I had protection provided by Seven, but Craig was entrenched with the “The Crew” too. The Crew was like a high school Mafia. You had to be “Made” to get away with certain things. Seven and Craig were both made, but at this point I was only affiliated. This meant certain protections, but only from those who weren’t made.
The fight with Craig seemed imminent. I looked to DJ. He wasn’t even affiliated yet. There was nothing he could do.
By now a circle of white kids had formed around the two black kids staring each other down. The crowd wanted a Mandingo fight. Craig was happy to oblige them. He hit me twice and I just took it, too afraid to fight back. Craig’s reputation had preceded him as one of the toughest kids in school. I of course was the opposite.
Me and DJ walked to our lockers in awkward silence.
When we got back, DJ finally spoke. “I thought you guys were friends”.
My feud with Craig was threatening my acceptence into the Crew. If the Crew was forced to pick sides, they wouldn’t choose mine.
This Craig thing was a problem. I had to find some way of dealing with him.
If you were to ask an ex girlfriend, she’d tell you we reason broke up is because I couldn’t stop chasing women.
She’d tell you I was in need of some sort of validation from those women. She’d tell you that even when I had everything, it wouldn’t be enough. She’d tell you the women from my past have “ruined me”. They’d call me detached, that I think I’m better than everyone.
But that’s the defense mechanism you build when the world constantly tries to belittle you. You still need love so you seek attention, but it’s misguided. You mistake sex for affection. And when the sex isn’t fulfilling the void, you keep fucking, hoping the next badder bitch is all that’s missing. But the next badder bitch only makes it worse, because she won’t stay. She can’t stay. No one can. You’ve become so guarded and cynical that you secretly don’t want them to stay. You self sabotage every relationship, healthy or not. Then because your motivations are subconscious, you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing, so you play victim and cry when they leave. But it’s what you were asking for the whole time. As depressed as you get when it happens, you like it that way. Anything to avoid intimacy. Anything to distract from the root cause of the conflict within.
With my father not living with us anymore and my mom always at work, I was alone. My grandma babysat but the streets raised me. What I needed was love.
The power structure of the world, the media, and psychologists hired by their marketing teams, they understand this need in all of us. And they exploit it. They sell us dreams of love being obtained through the material realm, through possessions and physical desires. But we’re being manipulated, and in turn we we’re becoming manipulative.
These ideas I’m discussing, my parents didn’t have the resources to combat. They were too busy paying bills to philosophize freedom. But because I spent so much time alone, I had the luxury to question.
Now I have answers.
I had my own little Squad. They were like me, trying to navigate the treacherous waters of being an underclassmen. Jack, Lou, and Jason. They were all in my grade, and all white boys except for Jason who was Korean.
Me and Jason had been cool for a while. He was the only Korean kid in school, so we bonded because of that. He introduced me to Jack who was the first of us freshman to get his license.
That first freedom from driving without your parents is special. It’s thrilling and dangerous. Driving is unequivocally the most dangerous thing any of us do. Especially because there’s teenagers on those roads. And that was us. Free, smoking, drinking and driving. What could go wrong?
At least we weren’t texting.
We’d drive to football games and to the mall. Sometimes we’d just drive. We got into any trouble we could.
My mom was more strict than most. I wasn’t allowed in cars yet, so I snuck and met my friends up the block. I definitely wasn’t allowed to leave St. Clairsville. After splitting a bottle of Tanqueray Lou stole from his country club job, we went to the football game at Martins Ferry, the next town over. This was my first time being drunk. I loved it. Releasing inhibitions pent up for my entire short lifetime was, well… addictive.
When we walked in the game, my drunkenness didn’t prevent me from seeing my entire family, standing directly in front of me in the ticket line. I had no idea they would be there. I panicked. Without saying I word I take off!
Somehow my parents didn’t see me. But now I had another problem, I was lost. This was way before cellphones. I had to be careful. I couldn’t just stroll back into the game looking for my friends, because my parents were there.
All I can remember is stumbling around outside the stadium.
Lou got arrested, for the first time, for being drunk underage. His parents picked him up from jail and his car was impounded. I remember getting dropped off back in St. Clairsville, but I’m not sure by who.
Give me a break on not remembering the details. It was my first time being drunk, remember? Anyway. I make it through all that, with time to spare before my curfew.
As I’m let out of the mystery car, I notice the lights on in my neighbor’s basement. My neighbor, Sal, had just moved in.
Picture a fat black kid with an afro who’s in and out of juvenile detention. America’s nightmare. He loved to smoke weed, drink 40s, and convince fat girls to give blowjobs. He had no father and was feared in the streets. His mom didn’t care what he did. We’d party in his basement. He had no morals. He’d use anybody for anything. Think Debo from Friday. Fate decided to put this kid next door to me as soon as I started High School.
Before I go home, I stop over to say what’s up. I knew Sal from church in East Wheeling, if you can believe it.
When I stop over, he’s with Craig. I again regret my decision instantly, but it’s too late. I’m drunk so I’m feeling brave. Sal and Craig are drunk too. Craig seems to have already moved on from punching me earlier that week. He’s arguing with Sal about who the hottest girl in school is. Sal is convinced it’s a girl in my grade named Nikki. Craig says it’s either Sarah or Kim, two girls in his grade. I secretly had a crush on Sarah, so I side with Craig.
After another half hour of drinking, it almost seems like Craig doesn’t hate me. I was slowly lowering my enemy’s defenses.
They’re teasing me about my inability to get girls. Craig once had Alexis, the love of my middle school life. There was a lot to learn from him. I actually kind of liked him. I just liked his girlfriend more.
I was forming strategic alliances. It wasn’t that I necessarily liked them. It was that I was tired of having to look over my shoulder.
There is of course an unavoidable downside to becoming friends with your foes. It would be a while before I understood these intricacies. But my education was fast approaching.
One day I went out with some older kids. One of their parents had a .38 special revolver. We shot it in the woods. The loud shots from the gun awoke something dark in my spirit, like Oppenheimer after the first nuclear explosion.
There was no turning back.
As the last person fired shots into the darkness, I watched from the car with the excitement and nervousness you’d expect from watching a gun blast while you’re high at 16.
The person firing that gun was one of the nicest kids in school. Everyone loved him, a truly good guy. He was handsome but not a player. Tough but not a bully. That would be the last time I’d see him. He graduated high school shortly after. In an eerie coincidence, he was mysteriously gunned down some 12 years later, in what police say was a random unsolved attack.
I think about him sometimes. He was an example of doing everything right. He had his master’s degree and a beautiful wife. He played by the rules, and for what? To be murdered outside of a hotel lobby while he walked his dogs, and found by his wife to die in her arms?
Tomorrow isn’t promised.
That’s why I resent the idea of planning for the future. School loves to sell you tomorrow. The only problem is, they don’t have it to give. All these systems imposed on us love selling us a tomorrow.
Every year in school they kept that carrot on a stick. “Next year you’ll be in first grade, then second, then high school, then college. Your happiness is just around the corner”. But never today.
Needless to say I wasn’t doing well in school. At the time I could only assume it as because I wasn’t smart. The teachers were literally calling me a failure by giving me Fs. But they were failing me. I understood intuitively then what I’m fully aware of now. None of the shit I was “learning” mattered.
Their curriculum was doing us a terrible disservice. No education regarding debt, then they were sending us to take on thousands of debt in college. What they were doing is criminal. Sending students away to be debt slaves and indentured servants for the rest of their lives, just so they can have their summers off. It’s disgusting.
But do they understand this truth themselves? Probably not because they’re a product of the same miseducation.
Is this a conspiracy against us, or an accidental oversight? I’ll let you decide. All I know is that a strong emphasis was being placed on material success and it started in school. The desire for material success is a lower frequency emotion, and school seemed to be bringing out the worst in us.
Never once was I taught vital ideas such as mindfulness. Never once was I taught self-love. Never once was I taught compassion for others.
Those ideas could’ve saved me, but I was taught competition. Be better than your classmates and opposing teams. Beat the next town over! Destroy them!
What if instead of trying to be better than everybody, I would’ve accepted my peers for who they were, in spite of their flaws? But we were told to exploit weaknesses in order to penetrate defenses, risking CTE. What if kids from neighboring towns, instead of trying to give each other concussions, were working together on some community goal?
It’s no wonder there’s no sense of community and everyone is out for only themselves. It’s all we were ever taught.
There was a heavy-set girl who struggled with her weight so bad, I heard she cut open her stomach trying to remove the fat. This perceived weakness was exploited. She was giving everyone head. I still had never had a sexual experience. My neighbor Sal took it upon himself to change that.
He told me that if I didn’t let this girl suck my dick, then I would “come to school with bruises on my face” the next day. The choice was simple.
All three of us were in his basement after school. He told her he’d give her weed if she gave me head.
I took her in his basement bathroom and laid a pillow down for her knees. She asked me if he really had any weed. I told her I don’t know. Then I pulled my dick out. As soon as she saw it she started sucking it. I still had never even kissed a girl. I thought to myself, wow there’s a lot of spit on my dick. I didn’t like that part. Just then I started to cum so I stopped her. I don’t know why I did that. I think I felt so guilty about the whole thing. After she finished with me, she gave Sal head twice. I don’t think he ever gave her any weed.
Afterwards me and Sal walked to the freshman football game. I found myself talking to a cheerleader friend of mine. She spoke to me cheerily as she always did. The guilt made feel like Bobby Baccalieri, holding his baby after his first murder, at the end of that Soprano’s episode. The juxtaposition of innocence and evil meant one thing.
There was no turning back.
I found myself at Sal’s after school. It was me, Sal, Seven Sonna, and Byron. What’s ominously prophetic is that everyone I was with would either end up dead or in prison. This would be my first time getting high.
I was just meeting Byron but I liked him. He wasn’t like the other older kids. He didn’t seem to have an ego or be competitive. With a lighthearted humorous demeanor, he told me stories of pulling shotguns on people and the horror on their faces. He talked about hooking me up with his super hot younger sister. I thought he was joking but hoped he wasn’t.
My nerdy ass sitting in a basement with 3 of the most dangerous kids in school smoking blunts.
My lungs felt what it must be like dying from smoke inhalation. I coughed so much I didn’t realize I was high. The trio laughed with promise, knowing what was coming next.
By the time I was able to breathe, I was high – as shit. It felt familiar, like I had somehow been this way before. I was scared but intrigued. So this is what high is, I thought. They welcomed me to their world, as they talked about girls and drugs.
We never talked about the future. The idea of one day being adults – married with cubicle jobs didn’t seem realistic. This was either a premonition or self-fulfilling, because some of us wouldn’t make it. If we would’ve aspired for more than getting girls and high, maybe we could’ve avoided our looming fates. But we were high and all of that was only under the surface. I guess that’s where the paranoia comes from.
We left Sal’s basement and walked to the gas station where they’d use pay phones to call back ‘clients’. Walking the streets with them felt like I was finally apart of something. But there was a catch. We were in my neighborhood so I’d have to walk past by my mom’s house.
My little brother was playing outside and decided to pester and follow us. High and not wanting bothered, I yelled and told him to leave me alone. He couldn’t of known I was high, but the look he gave me, he could tell something was wrong. So he fell back. I still feel bad about that.
We made our way to the gas station where I fumbled over my words and laughed at stupid jokes. The cops drove by and noticed the new little black kid hanging with the drug dealers.
“Hit me up, Harlem” Seven said when they drove away.
Everyone called me Harlem, for being been born there and acting like it’s where I grew up. I loved the nickname but truthfully I barely remembered New York. But because I was born in the biggest city in the world, and was raised in such a small one, New York always fascinated me. I still rep it. NY til I die.
Enough time had passed that I didn’t smell like smoke. So when I went home I was clear of suspicion. My dad was there watching TV. I sat in the chair beside him and fell asleep. When I woke up a few hours later still high, I thought to myself, how long does this last?
I successfully pulled off being high around my parents, without them having any idea. If they would’ve caught me, maybe they could’ve saved me from years of self-medicating. But I was too smart for my own good.
This was just the beginning.
Byron was working late, looking forward to being picked up by Stive, another leader of the Crew . The plan was to buy several large cigars, fill them with weed, and smoke themselves stupid. Just another night in St. Clairsville.
Not wanting their apartment to smell like smoke, they took their 5 blunts outside. It was after midnight in the middle of nowhere. The sky was black but the stars shined through like holes poked in the night. Stive zoned out for a moment, staring at the dog line tied between two trees. The glimmer of the metal in the starlight glistened eerily, until the laughter of his friends brought him back.
They had just smoked 5 blunts between six people. That’s a lot of blunts, even for them. They were really high, as we always were. By now it was after 3 so everyone thought it best to disperse while they were still functional. They told each other goodbye, shook hands and made a few final jokes on their way out. Everything seemed fine.
After dropping everyone off, Stive finally made it home. He was so tired he fell asleep soon as he hit the pillow. It was 430.
At 7 his mom knocks on his door. Barely awake and grumpy, he asks what she wants. “Stive, wake up sweetheart. I’ve got to tell you something.” The tone in her voice was so disturbing that he immediately awoke. “Byron died last night.”
“Impossible” Stive snaps back, “I was just with him.”
(They say) Byron hung himself that night. But if you ask Stive, he doesn’t believe it. There’s no good theory I have for what actually happened so I won’t speculate too wildly. I personally couldn’t imagine hurting myself when I’m that high.
It’s hard to imagine being high and hanging yourself. Do you know how paranoid and scared you are of everything when you’re high? I literally won’t drive faster than 25 mph. He was just laughing with his friends. When Stive heard the news, he refused to believe it.
I also understand what people go through, they don’t always discuss. People can be laughing with their friends while dying inside. Check up on your friends. Make sure they’re okay. Forgive people. Forgive yourself.
We’re all hurting. America is home of the brave because you have to be, to survive this cold capitalist frontier we’re all up against, daily. I know it all too well.
Depending on what mind state a person is in, I’m sure drugs can exacerbate suicidal ideations. Thus lies the danger of self medicating.
Stive was having trouble accepting it for one reason. He thought back to that night, and the metal rope that momentarily mystified him. The same one they said Byron hung himself from. That rope was only 5 feet tall. There was no way he could’ve hung himself from it, he thought.
They say anyone who commits suicide regrets it in their final moments. This has been reported by every survivor of every failed attempt. Why wouldn’t Byron have just stood up? He would’ve had to stayed purposely hunched over, while he slowly and painfully lost consciousness.
And where were his roommates through all this? The mystery only grows when you consider why none of them showed up to his funeral.
His funeral was on my first day of school sophomore year. I walked there with Sal. I had only met Byron once or twice and felt weird going because of that. But Sal said, “you know niggas would be going, if it was you”. So I put on my tan and black dress sweater, with my American Eagle dungaree khaki shorts and went.
Standing in the viewing line I felt out-of-place. My heart bled when I saw his sister sobbing and hugging everyone as they walked towards her. I knew she didn’t think I knew her brother, because I barely did. I feared she thought I was only going there with Sal to try to look cool, which wasn’t the case. I liked her brother a lot. I’d always remember him for being with me the first time I got high.
I was nervous. I didn’t know how this would go. Would she yell at me and tell me to get out? Would she scream and say I had no business being there? Would my tagging along and clout chasing come back to haunt me at the worst time?
After hugging Sal who was standing in front me of, she hugged the person standing behind me. Her ignoring me confirmed my suspicion that she didn’t think I belonged there. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was and that I did know her brother and how I would always remember him.
Clearly it wasn’t the time nor place to tell her I did drugs with him.
I walked home thinking about everything I had seen since starting high school and how I had barely even started my second year.
Then I found out what happened to Seven Sonna.
Seven was my guy. He looked out for me when others would’ve rather seen me destroyed. He was exposed to too much too young though, and like it always does, it caught up to him. He started off slow with the weed and money, but the greed took hold. He starting selling coke, getting high on his own supply, never a good combo – especially when you’re 19.
One night after doing a bunch with a friend, they got into an argument over who knows what. The fight escalated and ended with Seven stabbing the kid nearly to death.
That’s all any of us heard. He went to jail and I was on my own, again.
Rustic Arms is a lower income living facility that somehow all my memories of are at night. It’s on the outskirts of St. Clairsville, like it’s hidden from the richer people in city limits. We spent a lot of time there.
One night me Sal and Craig picked up some alcohol from Sal’s Aunt who lived there. It was getting late. I was the only one who ever had a curfew. It was 11:30 then, and went up a half hour every year until my senior year, when I finally didn’t have one.
I stood in the background while Sal paid his of-age aunt for the 40s we so frequently drank. King Cobra, Old English, and occasionally St. Ides. There seemed to be tension throughout the exchange. There was a random white dude sitting on the couch. I didn’t know why he was there, but something about his energy made us uncomfortable. I was relieved when we left.
We stood in the parking lot and drank our 40s smoking blunts, talking about whatever teenagers talk about in 1998.
I zone out and glance into the dark woods surrounding the projects for just a moment. When I come back to our conversation, all I see is Sal’s Timberlands hanging out the window. He dove in head first after he saw what was going on inside.
Apparently the white dude was paying to eat his Aunt out, if you can believe it. As soon as we left, he went down. Her nephew was not having it. Me and Craig rush in through the front door, but when we get inside it’s too late.
Sal is busting ashtrays and 40 bottles against the guy’s head. Blood is everywhere. The bloody white dude makes eye contact with me, as if sensing I’m the compassionate one, but there’s nothing I can do. I was in shock.
Craig just stood there, continuing to smoke the blunt, watching the violence. I should’ve known then he was a sociopath.
We hop in Craig’s car and hightail it out of there. As we’re leaving, ambulances and police cars speed to the crime scene, passing us on the other side of the road. I thought for sure we were going to jail.
Craig drops me off just before my curfew, gives me his pager number, and tells me to hit him up. This traumatic experience would be the catalyst for our ‘friendship’.
As for what happened to the dude with the busted skull, I never found out. Maybe he’s reading this right now. Too late for him though. The statue of limitations on an assault in Ohio is seven years, plus we were minors. That’s if he didn’t die. In which case, I take this whole story back and it’s entirely fiction. I promise.
I had several friends that were girls. These friendships gave me critical insights into the inner workings of an unexplained enigma; a woman’s mind. I realized early the importance of understanding the mystery of feminine energy.
One of my best friends was Janet. We didn’t hangout outside of class, but we’d talk on the phone after school.
I was talking to her one day when Craig pulled up outside. He couldn’t believe I was talking to a girl.
He rushed down and took the phone from me. It wasn’t long before they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
I lost my friend.
He wouldn’t let her talk to me, or anyone else. He was controlling and abusive, physically and emotionally.
Was it my fault for bringing them together?
She would call me crying, asking if I knew Craig was cheating. I always lied.
Whoever I’m better friends with, I’m siding with.
But if I’m friends with you both, I gotta side with the dude.
Did I feel bad for lying to Janet? Not really. We were forced to turn on each other. She was on her own.
Yes Craig is the worst person I’ve ever met and I hope I never have to see him again. But that’s only part of the story. Granted that part is about 75%. The other 25 was him being really cool.
It’s too bad his narcissism took over his better attributes. His erratic behavior and temper would lead to his destruction and seclusion from his friends -and family, which was every black person in town besides me.
They were all cousins. That’s a little creepy when you consider how small the gene pool is there, but makes sense when you take into account the sociopathic genetic mutation ramifications of incest.
They say narcissists are often popular as children but inept as adults. That’s Craig. Everyone seemed to love him. His manipulation bred within an adolescent mind a misplaced feeling of adoration. In other words he was an asshole who had all the girls. Everybody knows girls love assholes.
As terrible as he was, and we’ll get to it all, there’s much to be learned from every tragic figure.
A Craig story that comes to mind is when he robbed a classmate at gunpoint.
Craig and his friend George would sit beside me in study hall and plot their heist.
I knew their victim and truthfully I liked him, but for some reason they hated him. I was like Biggie the night of Tupac’s Quad Studio shooting, I knew he’d get robbed but couldn’t stop it. Their prey was a charismatic young man by the name of Aubrey. He was a couple years older than me and played varsity golf. He’d always scream my name “Arthurrr” in the hallways. I thought he was cool, but the Crew saw him as a sucker.
Aubrey, like everyone else, sold weed. He sold pounds while the rest of us sold 8th’s. George and Craig’s plan was simple. Ask for a pound, then put a gun in his face.
They picked him up in George’s red S-10 and drove to a vacant cul-de-sac. The gun was just out of sight.
George was nervous. Craig on the other hand was getting impatient. In true sociopathic fashion, he grabbed the gun, cocked it and pointed at Aubrey.
”Give up the shit right now, bitch!”
Shortly after they successfully steal the weed, I hear a car stereo outside my house. It was Craig and George. They’re laughing hysterically about what just happened. I was laughing too. Just 3 teenagers driving around small town St. Clairsville with a pound of weed and a shotgun. No big deal.
That’s how it was back then. That’s how dumb we were. That’s how unconscious and unaware we were. We didn’t think there were repercussions to our actions. But there were.
Aubrey had a sit down with some older members of the Crew. He wanted payback, but there was nothing he could do. He was only affiliated. Craig and George were made, thus untouchable.
It seemed like things were about to get worst for Aubrey. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut. At lunch where fights happen frequent, Craig confronted Aubrey with a haymaker punch to the skull.
Craig’s hand bone shattered and he was rushed to the hospital.
He was in a cast for months. To this day his hand is still scarred and doesn’t open entirely.
That would be the least of Craig’s Karma.
Writing this in 2019, and having things now that I could’ve only dreamed of in High School, I’m reminded of the power of manifestation.
I’ll admit it. Sometimes I want more, most of the time, if I’m being honest. These wants are dreams those around me consider absurd. They might be right. But they told me back then, I wouldn’t have anything now. Yet here I am. Therefore I can’t take them serious, and I shouldn’t have then. But I didn’t know my dreams would come true. I also didn’t know that by the time they did, I’d be too preoccupied with other bigger dreams.
But are these dreams I’ve been chasing really mine? Or have I fallen victim to manipulation and propaganda.
I was blinded by the music, movies, and television “programming”. I wanted the popularity and power. You would’ve thought I learned from seeing what happened to Tupac. Be careful what you wish for.
I can’t explain the alchemical process of turning thoughts into things. It can only be understood intuitively, but it makes more sense assessing situations retroactively. That’s why I tell these stories. Through the process of reverse engineering, I’m able to see how I got to where I’m at. The plan now, is to take it where I want to go.
Girls were slowly starting to notice me. Alexis’s older sister saw me hanging with the Crew and said: “What happened to him? He used to be a nerd!” Everyone laughed but I took it as a compliment. I knew I was evolving.
It was crazy. The only black kid who, wasn’t good at sports or academia, wasn’t liked and always in trouble, never got the girl and couldn’t fight. Yet somehow I was becoming popular. All I had to do was sell my soul.
It was right around then I got over of my childhood crush on Alexis. There were too many other girls in high school. One in particular had my attention, Sarah.
I have a theory. When a dude really likes a girl, she likes him too. Now granted, it may be like a 90/10 split sometimes, but still. There’s something about really wanting something, like really wanting it, that opens a path for you to get it; manifestation. I don’t only mean romantically.
Napoleon Hill’s mind-blowing classic, Think and Grow Rich devotes an entire chapter to the transmutation of sexual energy. This basically explains why dudes get super creative all of a sudden when they’re trying to get laid. That same energy can be directed into anything. But love is where it starts, it’s where we first become aware of it.
Sarah was grade older than me. I never said a word to her. I’d see her in the hallways but didn’t know her name. There was no reason she would’ve known who I was. But somehow, from the few moments I’d steal eye contact, I had this suspicion she liked me back. I didn’t know if it was intuition, wishful thinking, or if there’s a difference – but I felt it.
Maybe she didn’t like me. Maybe I was so radiant and energized by how she made me feel that I was emitting light particles biochemically only she could detect. Maybe the rhythmic nature of the universe was able to sync through these frequencies which compelled her to drift into my orbit. I don’t know how she made it into this story but here she is…
Though I was gaining notoriety, there was a hierarchy among the notorious, and I was at the bottom. At the top of that hierarchy was Rick, Sarah’s boyfriend.
Except for being black, Rick was everything I wasn’t; good at sports, popular with girls, admired by dudes – even I looked up to him. But him dating Sarah put them nail in the coffin of my hopes of dating her. So I thought.
My cousin was getting married. I had one concern. I hoped his wife was pretty. He was my role model, he had different girlfriends all the time. I still feared I never would.
He was my only hope. I thought that if he couldn’t get a pretty girl, there was no way I ever would.
I had no idea what she looked like, had never seen one picture. I prayed she was pretty. It was my only hope.
I don’t know why I put so much stock into what someone else’s wife looked like, completely avoiding if whether or not she was a good person. But I was young and that’s how my dumb mind worked. I was a child of America and that’s how materialistic the culture shaped me.
Then came the moment. I walked up to their house. My mom dad and brother were in front of me waiting to enter. One by one they go in. I heard her voice. Still no visual. Each of them saw her before me. When I finally get in, I can’t believe my eyes.
It’s even worse than I imagined. I panic. I’m in denial. I say to myself, maybe that’s not her. All of us only assumed it was his wife. But maybe it was a friend or sister. Seeing her was making my dream of a beautiful girlfriend evaporate.
These thoughts I kept to myself of course. No one had any idea I was thinking such things. My cousin asked me what was wrong. He told me to cheer up and that the world was mine. I wasn’t so sure.
I walked back to the car with my dad to unpack the trunk, he looked over at me jokingly and said, “Geez I hope that’s not his wife”.
But it was.
I was finished. I thought there was no hope for me.
On the ride home something inside of me shifted. I wasn’t discouraged. My ambition became even more invigorated. I realized I could only count on myself to get what I want. It didn’t matter what anyone else had or didn’t have. I would claim my destiny regardless of fate. I would defy God himself if I had to.
If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way for it to manifest.
Being with the Crew had its perks. I got to party with the hottest girls in school. Girls I only gazed at from afar before, were now getting drunk with me. They were flirting with me. They liked me. It was surreal. They should have never let me get that first taste. The thrill from having a beautiful girl within reach, it changes you. I already had the desire deep-rooted, but now I was almost getting affirmation.
The operative word being almost. They may have been partying with me but I was still a long way from having a girlfriend. I still hadn’t even kissed a girl. Weirdly enough I did get that blowjob a year prior. Weird sequencing I know. But in any event, I felt like I had arrived.
I told Craig I liked Sarah. He said he knew. I’ve always been terrible at hiding how I feel, especially when I like someone. He reminded me who her boyfriend was and that I didn’t have a chance. He didn’t think I had a chance even if she was single.
“AJ, you can’t go from having no girls ever to baddest bitch in school. Start small. Date a random young girl first. Even if somehow you got Sarah, you wouldn’t know what to do with her. She’s too advanced for you.”
His logic made sense but how applicable is logic to a 16-year-old in love?
Sarah was the hottest girl, so of course, girls thought her boyfriend was the hottest guy. That’s tough competition when you’re at the bottom of that scale. At least I felt like I was.
There’s an interesting thing that happens to a dude who peeks young though. It’s often the worst thing, because it gives him a false sense of entitlement. He’ll think because things have always gone his way, they always will. Overconfidence is ironically a weakness. The tortoise and the hare.
Conversely when you start at the bottom, you never expect anything. You work twice as hard. You’re more appreciative for everything you get.
It was 9/9/99. The MTV Video Music Awards were on that night. Chris Rock was hosting.
The show just went off when I got a call from Craig. He said he had news that would change my life. He asked me if I was sitting down. I stood. I had a feeling what he was about to tell me. Sarah told him a secret.
She had a crush on me.
He gave me advice that’s still resonates, “just take it for what it is”. In Rick’s overconfidence he got caught cheating. She said she wasn’t looking for anything serious since she just got out of a relationship. That crucial piece of information went in one ear and out.
Before he hung up he gave me one last piece of advice. Perhaps it was more of a warning. Perhaps he saw writing on the wall. Right before we got off the phone, he said… “don’t fuck it up”.
Knowing Sarah liked me felt like my coronation. It felt clandestine. Deep down I wasn’t surprised. I felt like I deserved it, like I was right where I should be. After the initial thrill wore off a bigger concern crashed down. What do I do now? This was the first time I learned, but far from the last, that getting the girl isn’t where the stress ends. It’s where it starts.
I was completely ill-equipped to handle the situation. Being high all the time didn’t help. The pressure I put on myself didn’t help. My friends waiting for me to fail didn’t help. It was funny to them but heartbreaking to me.
I missed every prior step I needed to experience before I got here. Before you get the Princess, first you have to get the coins, then you have to kill Bowser. I skipped way too many levels.
Craig was right. I was nowhere near advanced enough for a casual relationship with someone like her. I wanted a girlfriend but I was too immature to know what that meant.
She told me these rings on her necklace were for me. What I didn’t know was the three other rings were for three other boys. She saw that I was upset over it, and at a football game pulled me aside.
She said, “Harlem, they were before I met you. I really do like you. Things are complicated right now. I still love Rick. But there’s something about you…”
Just then we were interrupted by someone in the Crew who couldn’t believe he saw me with her. He heard she liked me but had to see it with his own eyes. He was congratulatory though and gave me props.
The disruption put an end to Sarah and I’s conversation. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and flashed me a look that still gives me feels when I think about her eyes. Then she was gone. She disappeared into the crowd and out of my life.
A few weeks later I saw her again, but she was with Rick. It was devastating. Everyone seemed to have forgotten we were even a thing. Because we basically weren’t. I had my chance but because of my inexperience I blew it. My friends made fun of that whenever they could. Rick was being super nice to me at that party, which made me sick to my stomach.
I vowed I would never blow it like that again.
A month later and I’m at a party at Sal’s. We’re having a great time. Some older girls are there. Sal has the ingenious idea to turn the heat up. His plan is brilliant. The girls start taking their clothes off. Everything is lovely.
The party couldn’t have been going any better, then it did.
Sarah and Kim, the other hottest girl in school walk in. I’m not nervous this time. I’d been drinking and I just saw tits. I’m feeling invincible.
An hour later and me and Sarah find each other in the kitchen. She’s staring at me. I’m staring at her. I’m still lost in her eyes. Neither of us are saying a word. We’re just smiling. She’s getting closer. I still don’t pull the trigger.
Kim’s standing behind her. For some benevolent reason she dares Sarah to kiss me. She does.
I know that as soon as her lips leave mine she’ll be gone again, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t say I blew it anymore. I got my first kiss, with my crush, the prettiest girl in school.
I did it
What’s interesting about the story of Jesus is that he’s mysteriously absent from the bible between the ages of 13-30. You hear about him as a child carpenter, then he pops back up 17 years later with Christ consciousness.
Where was he?
Some say he went to Egypt and studied with the ascended masters in the mystery schools. Some say the Great Pyramid was used as a ceremonial initiation chamber–amongst other things. The theory suggests an initiate such as Jesus would meditate in the King’s Chamber until enlightenment is achieved. Many historical figures like Napoleon have laid there and reported having mystical experiences.
It’s not as crazy as you might think. The Bible even says Jesus spent time in Egypt. Not only that but I just googled it and it’s like 8 hours from Bethlehem.
As a kid learning about the Bible in church and Egypt in school, I always wondered why there’s no mention of the Great Pyramid in the Bible. There’s no debate, it existed then. There’s also no debate, some of those stories take place in Egypt. Still no mention of the tallest building on Earth at the time. It’s literally in the exact geographical center of the planet. They must’ve seen it. Still no mention. Why?
Maybe it is mentioned in those Vatican secret archives. Maybe they even discuss how they were built. Maybe the energy source the pyramid builders used would jeopardize the oil monopoly stranglehold on the world. Maybe that’s why the information is hidden…
Wait. I’m on a tangent again. My bad. My friends know I’m obsessed with the Great Pyramid. I’ve been looking for a way to sneak it in my book, and that’s what I came up with. But back to Jesus, or, back to me rather.
My time between the ages of 13-30 was also transcendent!
Where was I?
And why are you seeing me now in my thirties acting like I’m all enlightened?
Well. I maybe wasn’t meditating in the Great Pyramid. However. I was spending a lot of time on back roads, in my own thoughts, for hours at a time, on psychoactive substances having hallucinogenic experiences.
It really was a meditative process. Imagine the insights I was having, reflecting on life and going inward. It was very transformative.
But being high makes you over think. I became way too self aware for my own good. I was like Adam and Eve, and the weed was the serpent. I left the garden of innocence and was now in this new adult world.
Weed was like a plague sweeping though the school. Not only did everyone smoke it, everyone sold it.
I learned what it meant to buy wholesale and sell retail, with great margins. If they would’ve legalized weed back then, we would’ve gotten a deal on Shark Tank. But because it wasn’t, the feds would indict us.
We were kids doing grown up things. Not everyone was built for it. I spent so much time in Middle School getting in trouble, that by the time we were committing actual crimes, I was adept in the art of getting away with things.
Some of my friends wouldn’t be so lucky.
They had me sitting bitch in George’s S-10 per usual. That was better than being in the back. One time I was in the back and they raced a car on the interstate. It didn’t seem that crazy then, but looking back, their lack of concern for my life was chilling. Maybe I shouldn’t take it too personally. They were essentially unconscious human beings.
And so was I.
Luckily George had gotten rid of the shotgun he’d used to rob Aubrey, because the cops were following us. Apparently they’d gotten a call about a red truck driving reckless.
George’s plan was to simply drive to his house. I don’t know why he thought that would protect him. It didn’t. They flashed their lights and pulled us over.
There were two blunt roaches in his ashtray. Craig and I both ate one and washed it down with a swig of a warm Powerade left in the cup holder. Nasty, but it saved George from getting a DUI.
Swallowing those roaches weren’t enough to keep Craig or George completely out of trouble. The cops smelled weed and immediately searched the car, They found some on George. Me and Craig watched it all unfold, nervous as hell. This was before cops killed black people online everyday, so we weren’t that nervous, but still.
They handcuffed George then looked over at us. We told them we lived close enough to walk home. There was one problem. It was past the city’s curfew for juveniles, so they couldn’t let us walk the streets. They had take us to the station. But first they had to frisk us, “for their own safety.”
I had on nike pull-away pants that didn’t have pockets, so they just shook my pants and were done with me. They didn’t even check my socks. I could’ve stashed the roaches there instead of eating them!
I looked over at Craig. For some reason this guy didn’t think to stash the weed from is pocket, if he would’ve, he could’ve gotten away. He shot me a hopeless glance the moment they found it. I felt terrible. It was at that moment I understood, at least subconsciously, that Craig was destined for much worse than me.
They took us all to the station but since I had nothing on me, there were no charges. My fate was perhaps worse. I had to have my mom pick me up from the station.
I sat there high and waited for what felt like forever for her to drive a mile to get me. When I saw her she looked concerned but calm.
The policeman walked my mom and I outside. He told me he wanted to hear it from me, that weed was actually smoked in the car. Because the roaches were inside our stomachs, that was the only thing he couldn’t prove. But he was dumb. Why would I tell on my friends when he didn’t even have a case against me?
I told him he was crazy. I told him marijuana is medicine and he should try it instead of trying to ruin children’s lives because of it. And nope, we weren’t even smoking. Never touch the stuff. Then I walked away. My mom was more mad at me for getting smart with the cop than anything.
A couple days later I was walking through town and ran into Craig. He said said he figured I’d be grounded. But I wasn’t because technically I didn’t do anything. Craig and George both had their license suspended and had court mandated counseling called Drug Court. The program wouldn’t help and the police had been following us for a lot longer than before we got pulled over.
We just didn’t know it yet.
Think of a snitch. It’s usually some petty drug dealer giving up his boss to avoid prosecution. Movies, even common sense, would have you believe that’s how it’s done. Not in this story.
This story is from the top down. That’s how corrupt the cops were in my hometown. Not even corrupt. Corrupt would insinuate there’s some sort of financial gain involved. These cops weren’t that savvy. They destroyed children’s lives for headlines, for ego gratification.
And why? Maybe they were bored. Not much happens in St. Clairsville. Maybe they were just as unconscious as us. We were children. What was their excuse?
Klouds, a friend of mine — a friend of ours, was arguably the most prolific dealer at the time. Most of the weed came from him. Like so many others in this story, he was in too deep. And like I said, this story is from the top down.
Money and respect. We do strange things for it. The town Klouds was from was so small, it made St. Clairsville look like New York. It’s hard to get away with stuff in a place like that. Even harder to orchestrate a robbery. That didn’t stop him from trying.
Drugs aren’t inherently violent. It’s the illegal business surrounding them that breeds violence. The draconian drug war has created more problems than it’s solved. In some countries drug use is a mental health issue–not criminal. But because these substances are illegal here, robberies are frequent. Why wouldn’t they be, when you can’t report stolen drugs to police? This was Klouds logic, and while it may have seemed sound, it was flawed.
He organized the robbery of a large amount of weed. The problem was who he got to do it; two stick up kids with a calling card. Every time they robbed someone, they left their trademark insignia. Think Home Alone when the Wet Bandits left water running. And just like Marv and Harry, it would lead to their destruction.
These assailants, hired by Klouds, for some reason, liked to burn the asses of their victims with hot spoons. Don’t ask me why. This in the eyes of Ohio Law constitutes sexual assault. The victims, fearing for their safety, didn’t want to press charges. But given the nature of the crime, the State Department took it on anyway.
This would be the beginning of the end for the St. Clairsville drug empire.
It wasn’t long before they found out Klouds was responsible. After a short investigation he was apprehended. When he was caught, they found a pound of weed and a gun.
With so many charges against him, he felt he had no choice but to snitch. The cops were elated when Klouds agreed work undercover. There was one problem.
He knew better than to give up any heavy hitters. Instead of giving up his suppliers, he planned to rat out the people he was selling to. The police never should’ve made that deal. They were letting violent criminals stay free. They would instead be indicting juveniles who were selling dime bags to their friends.
Klouds wore a wire. Some of the kids he incriminated were forced to then wear wires themselves.
This went on behind the scenes for months. So not only were we smoking and selling, we were being watched and listened to by police.
Months later and I was in study hall with George Craig and Janet. Every indication made it seem like it was a normal rainy day. We noticed a crowd forming by the windows and looked to see why.
Not even a year after Columbine, and we see a heavily armed SWAT team rushing into our school. We hadn’t heard any gun shots. Were we about to? Was some horrible crime being committed that would require such fire power in a school zone? We could only assume there must be.
No one was being permitted to leave or enter the school. Parents drove by noticing the police presence and feared the worst. The building housed 5th — 12th grade. Small children saw the men with masks and weapons in the halls, and were so scared some peed themselves.
By the time we made it back to our seats, the SWAT team in full combat gear was inside. They asked our Teacher for Craig and George. I watched in disbelief as they handcuffed them both and paraded them through the school at gunpoint.
Me and Janet chased after them but they were gone.
The principal, in disbelief himself, looked on in shock. I screamed at him. What the fuck is going on!?” He said he didn’t know. I told him ”fuck that shit yes you do!” I was blacked out irate. My two best friends had just been taken from me.
A few minutes later at my locker, Sal saw me being hysterical and asked why. My eyes were blurry and my voice was cracking. The hallways were frantic. Everyone stared at my furious tirade, as I tried to explain what I just saw.
I didn’t know it yet but dozens of people had also just been arrested. I also didn’t know that Sal was one of the people who snitched. All of that partying in his mom’s basement caught up. The cops were threatening to take his mom’s house and leave the family homeless, if he didn’t cooperate. We thought of them as snitches, but those kids were victims, collateral damage in an imperialist drug war perpetuated by small-minded small town cops.
That entire exhibition was a farce, conducted only to make it look like they were hot-shot detectives. Articles were written about the excessive force used to apprehend teenage potheads. It was embarrassing for the sheriff’s department, and it still is.
Some of the kids arrested were back in school after the long weekend, which made the bust all the more ridiculous.
They even arrested an entirely wrong person because he had the same name. This poor kid had a SWAT team take him from his house and was placed in jail, all due to mistaken identity. How in-depth can your investigation really be if you don’t realize the person in your custody isn’t the person you’ve been spying on for six months?
Craig and George went to jail a few months later and were on probation for years. The cops claimed they wanted to derail drug use but it didn’t work. The war on drugs continues to be proven ineffective. All it did was make us more paranoid and untrusting. We didn’t know if there’d be another bust, or if our friends were working undercover.
It made me smarter though. Sometime it’s good to be paranoid. I never got in any real trouble in High School. I distanced myself from the dope game, though not entirely. Craig was basically finished. The rest of the Crew would graduate soon as well.
It was time to move on from the Crew. It was time for my Squad to reign supreme and take control of the school. If I could get through that summer, our senior year would be dynastic.
Every once in a while the stars align and a beautiful girl is also promiscuous. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you capitalize. At least that’s how our value system was set up.
Every grade had two or three. If you were lucky, you were able to get a couple under your belt while the window was open. That’s the thing about the beautiful and promiscuous, they don’t stay that way forever. Dudes are desperately dying to save them from themselves, and eventually one will. You have to have to act fast.
Brandy was much older than me. She was so far out of my league that I didn’t even fantasize about her. I didn’t see the point. My fantasies have always been realistic. They’re more vivid that way.
I don’t know what happened in this girls life to make her suddenly want to have sex with everybody, but something must have, because she did.
Imagine one of the hottest girls in your high school wakes up one day and randomly decides to fuck everyone. That’s literally what happened. Actually, she was so much older that she already graduated before I was even a senior. That summer before he went to jail, she was in love with Craig. So in love that she would do whatever he said, including pay for his abortions.
She would even have sex with his friends. She had a thing for virgins. Would my first sexual experience qualify as rape because she was 19 and I was 16? Not in the state of Ohio, I think. But I still wouldn’t suggest any teenagers replicate this experience. Even though at the time, I thought it was awesome.
A group of us had been out drinking on the road we called “The Spot”. Craig said he would set it up. He told me she was down. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t even gotten my first kiss six months ago, now all of a sudden this beautiful older woman was going to let me inside of her.
The whole way back to the house, I thought for sure something would go wrong, like a car crash or she would change her mind. Then our car drunkenly swerved and hit a mailbox. I thought that was it. But the driver laughed and kept going. I was almost there.
Brandy was down. She was going to have sex with us all, one by one. I got to go first.
I found myself sitting alone with her on a couch. We started kissing. I didn’t waste any time. I took her clothes off. I got on top then she did. I had no clue what I was doing. Our friends watched and laughed from outside the window. I didn’t know that at the time.
When I was done I waited outside while two more of them took their turn.
Did my best friends fucking the girl I lost my virginity to-immediately after me-instill some sort of deep rooted detachment, trust issues, and contempt for women that I still struggle with subconsciously today?
Nah, I’m good… I think.
Later that summer I fucked her one more time. We were at the Spot again. She was upset over something Craig said. We were all tripping on acid. Brandy stormed off into the woods. Craig told me to go check on her, assuming she would fuck me. He was right.
I fucked her on the ground in a field, in the middle of the night, tripping on acid. I was 17.
Last I heard Brandy had a stroke at age 35. Was this karma? Is there such a thing as karma? Should her karma even be bad? Wasn’t she just showing love to a young man who otherwise wouldn’t have been shown any? Or was I taken advantage of?
There was a part of me that cared for her. There was a part of me that was attached. She was beautiful and my first. But being who she was I learned early; just because a girl has sex with you–that doesn’t make her yours.
It was the first time I learned that lesson, but it wouldn’t be the last.
As underclassmen we were too busy trying to be seen with the older kids. We thought we needed them but should have been more loyal to each other.
Those older kids were like Mob captains we had give a percentage to. Everything we had, they took a piece. But with their graduation came liberation from that oppression. It was at that ceremony were I first decided to make a change.
Freshman, freshman, sophomore, senior. That was the trajectory of my High School career. I was held back after the first year and didn’t catch up until the last. Before my senior year, the idea of me graduating didn’t seem realistic.
But sitting there watching them graduate, I knew I had to be there next year.
They didn’t have online courses back then, so that summer I took several by mail. I also did community service, which I was given school credit for.
Well okay, I cheated on my community service. The owner of the community center was family friend who lied for me. She said I worked way more hours than I did. I went sometimes but when I did, I just made out in the backroom with other girls who worked there.
I did some actual work but not much community service. I would do my courses by mail there. I completed a whole course in one day. That’s when my suspicions were confirmed. School is bullshit and they were wasting my time. When left to my own device, I was finishing entire classes in a day and acing them.
Since that drug bust happened weed temporarily evaporated. Therefore that summer was very productive. I caught up and when school started I was actually a senior. I’d eventually go on to graduate… miraculously.
I also finally got my driver’s license, something I was a year behind on getting. Plus I wasn’t a virgin anymore.
It was a new me. My Squad was a new squad. The school was ours now.
It started small. Me and this dude we called JarHead would drive around in his 89’ Accord smoking weed listening to Jay Z’s Dynasty album. Between the two of us, we knew everyone, so we went everywhere.
Before we knew it we amassed a following. It spread like religion. We called ourselves the Dynasty, modeled after the Jay album. We had several of the most influential kids in our clique; even the girls, even the hot ones, even the smart ones. We wore our jerseys backwards and our coats half off to signify allegiance. We formed our hands in the shapes of diamonds to throw up our sign. We even had the host of the announcements throwing it up on-air during morning broadcasts.
Of course competing factions arose as well. The ‘Franchise’ for example tried to create their own thing, but they were RC Cola to our Pepsi. We were on top.
Girls would take their clothes off to be in the Dynasty, as part of their initiation. Everything was lovely. Parties were every weekend. Somebody’s parents would always be somewhere, and that’s where we went.
The cops were still up our ass. You’d think they were in love with us. Everywhere we went, they’d follow. It seemed like every weekend one of us was getting an underage consumption or DUI.
We couldn’t let that stop us.
There was this huge party so deep in the woods I couldn’t find it now if I tried. We had no idea how to get home, it didn’t matter. We were too preoccupied with living in the moment. There was no social media, no pictures to post. This chapter is the only evidence it ever happened.
The party was in honor of the kids who got arrested in that bust. They were currently in jail.
I had just started to get really drunk and really flirty with some girl when the cops came and everyone took off. I didn’t ask any questions. I just ran.
Eventually the rest of us who weren’t apprehended congregated and plotted on how to get home. We were miles away in the middle of nowhere with no vehicle, no cellphones, and police were looking for us.
Dozens of us running up a mountain with only moonlight. I saw a girl completely submerged in a pond. She gasped for air then just kept running.
We miraculously found a friend with a truck. He’d already gotten a citation for being there and was leaving. We hopped in the back and he drove us home.
The next day I sat at the kitchen table with my mom who read the paper. She was reading an article about the police raid I just escaped from.
“Did you know all those kids got in trouble last night, Arthur?”
”How bout that. That’s crazy” I replied.
“It sure is…why are your arms scratched up like that?”
She knew but she didn’t. It didn’t matter. My alibi was airtight. There was no way I was snitching on myself. Well, I guess I just did though huh?
Sorry Mom, it’s too late to ground me now.
I’ve never told anybody this, but…
When George was on house arrest he asked me to take his girlfriend to Sadie Hawkins. He thought I was safe.
Was I safe because we were friends, or was I safe because he knew girls didn’t really like me? I can’t be sure. Maybe it was both.
Was my motivation to prove him wrong, or was it because I was wanted his girl? I can’t be sure. Maybe it was both.
But at that dance, I was running all types of game on her. It’s worth noting that George and this girl were in an open relationship, if you can believe it. They were progressive and way head of their time, right? Her other boyfriend back then, is actually her husband now, but I digress.
When she dropped me off, I gave her this line about her body being so nice I wanted to keep it in captivity. It somehow worked because she kissed me. That was like my third kiss ever, again with an older woman. Maybe that’s why I have thing for them. I can’t be sure.
Eventually George found out, at least that I was running game, because he clowned me over that captivity line. I’m not sure if he knew she kissed me. I’ve since learned that women tend to leave out incriminating portions of stories.
I’ve seen that girl a few times in adult life. She always gives me the look, like we’re still sharing an inside joke. Impressions are fascinating. It’s funny how a pivotal moment can forever shape how you feel about something, or someone.
Season 3 Outro
Eventually those older kids who already graduated caught wind of what we were doing. They didn’t understand that the Dynasty was satire. To be fair, they probably still don’t know what satire means. They were secretly but obviously jealous. They made fun of it and tried to sabotage our events. Why they cared when they weren’t even in high school anymore was beyond me. But that was a testament to the power of our movement. Some people loved it and others hated it. We forced you to feel something. That’s always the goal, even now with these chapters. And say what you will about the Dynasty, but everyone around then still remembers it, and I bet they always will. As silly as it was, it’s immortalized.
And you know something? Those were the only friends I ever had.
One of the most memorable parties would come to be known as the Dynasty Party. This was peek Dynasty. Girls would take me in rooms and lift their shirts up to be in the Dynasty. It was everything I’d been waiting for.
It was my moment. I went from being unnoticed to making out with the hottest girls. It’s juvenile maybe, but it’s how I know I can accomplish anything. No one would’ve ever believed I could’ve pulled that off. But there I was, with their tits in my hands.
I wasn’t in complete control of this newfound power though. I was of course, still a sucker for love. I inevitably fell again, for one of the girls who showed me her tits. We’ll call her Maddie.
It’s tough being friends with a beautiful girl, then having a glimpse of what it might be like being more. I wasn’t equipped to blur those lines. I fell deep. I still wasn’t experienced enough. And although I was admired throughout the school, I still wasn’t considered a serious contender for a boyfriend.
Because Maddie was my friend, she told me who she did have a crush on. It was a friend of mine. I was devastated. I wanted to die. I felt so alone in that moment.
I wrote a suicide note and had rat poison in my back pocket. I called Craig and burst into tears.
He told me:
”Nigga stop giving a fuck about these bitches who don’t give a fuck about you. That’s why they don’t give a fuck about you, because you give a fuck about them. As soon as you stop caring, watch them come back around.”
Sound advice, I must admit.
Me liking a girl has been proven to be the biggest deterrent from finding love. Me in love is seemingly the most unattractive characteristic I possess. Women are not into the AJ who likes them.
Now the AJ that doesn’t give a fuck about them, they love that AJ. That’s their favorite AJ. As self-defeating as that may seem, I can’t argue with the results.
Since I’m a student of the game, I learned to play it. Who am I to disagree?
I wonder if it’s just me, or is the whole world is like this? Does every husband not truly like their wife because they can’t? Did those wives pass on who really loved them because his vulnerability turned them off?
I said I played the game, I never said I made the rules. I just report them.
That’s actually why I write. Because 1, I get to speak my mind and you can’t talk back. And 2, I feel like I’ve been given insight into something powerful and unseen. My job is to share what I see with my readers.
It’s not that Paul Revere thought he was special. He just saw something important and wanted to let people know.
His way was screaming on a horse in the middle of the night.
My way is writing a book.
In Season 4, you might say, the redcoats are coming…