Preface

The likelihood of meeting the person you’re destined to be with is a statistical anomaly. That’s if you believe it’s even possible. Be that as it may, my parents almost never met.

My mother was in love with a man named Donald Dayton. In the 1970s when the automotive manufacturing industry was thriving, and before health and safety regulations were what they are today, Donald spent his summers working at a plant in Detroit. It was good money for a black kid at the time, but unfortunately the air he breathed working there was toxic. He developed a then fatal lung disease called sarcoidosis. This would not be the last time my mother would lose the love of her life to the American working environment.

Scientists today have said that sitting is the new smoking. It’s something we all do without the long term health risks being understood. Most of us sit all day staring at screens. Will we look back at our current day jobs through the same lens we look at the inhumane working conditions of the past? My guess? We definitely will.

After Donald’s funeral my mom got in her car and drove for days without any destination. It was the worst thing she had ever been through, up to that point. Unbeknownst to her then, it would also be the catalyst to propel her into the world she knows today. Even more important, for the purposes of our story, I owe my existence to this seemingly horrible event.

There’s this old fable of the wise man,

A boy in a village wanted a bike and finally got one. The people of the village thought it was great. Reserving judgement, the wise man said, ‘we’ll see’. The boy broke his arm riding that bike. The villagers then thought it was bad. The wise man said, ‘we’ll see’. Then war came, but because the boy had a broken arm, he didn’t have to go. The people changed their tune again and thought his arm breaking his arm turned out to be a good thing. The wise man simply stated, ‘we’ll see’…

These stories reflect the importance of non-judgement and non-attachment to any particular outcome. It’s best to stay here in the present moment. We never know where it will take us.

Chapter 1

Have you ever considered the improbability of being alive? Of all the near-death experiences I’ve had, my ancestors made it through just as many, probably more. The earth had to be exactly 93 million miles away from the sun in order to make life on this planet hospitable. 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 in order for your parents to meet.

And like I said, my parents almost never did. When it happened, it was of course a chance encounter.

My Mom and Aunt Phoebe had plans to visit their friend Nancy in Virginia Beach. Nancy ended up meeting a guy at the last minute. An encounter I can only imagine was just as random as my parents’. Because of this, she no longer wanted my mom and aunt to visit, so she basically stood them up.

Not wanting to waste their vacation time, my mom randomly suggested visiting Charleston WV instead. While there enjoying the summer day in front of their hotel, they noticed a group of guys hanging out by a fountain. My mom was way too shy but my Aunt Phoebe 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’d spent their summers with as children. My father went to college however in Charleston, West Virginia. The summer he graduated he found himself outside at the city fountain, discussing his 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 this weekend?” My dad, noticing her pretty brown skinned 5’1 sister standing quietly in the background, invited them both out that evening. He said he’d be happy to show them around, they just needed to pick him up. They accepted his invitation and for the rest of that weekend, the three of them hung out. My mom and dad exchanged phone numbers but she never thought she’d see him again. They ended up keeping in touch and before long they were taking trips to see one another.

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 circa 1983 wasn’t as obvious right away. And like the boiling frog, my father would slowly succumb. He was also in mourning, his father was dying. Most of the time then, he 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’, would soon be forced to visit 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.

Chapter 2

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 is credited with creating the Lion mascot you see at the beginning of every MGM movie. And not only did he die the same day I was born, but it was in the same city! If that’s not enough, he was a writer too. Creepy.

I also 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 that losing your father and becoming one, within such a short time span, 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’d give 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 then 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.

Chapter 3

Giving birth made my mother extremely ill. She was in the hospital for weeks. To this day my mom tells me I owe my life to Gram being there, taking care of me while she was hospitalized. My father was again missing in action.

One night Gram had enough of my father not taking care of his family. So she went looking for him and started her search at his Mom’s.

I don’t know much about my father’s mother who I called ‘Grammy’. I only ever met her a few times. I do know that because of her letting my Dad get away with so much, it’s the reason my mom never let me get away with anything.

None of us had any idea yet 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 a perfectly acceptable thing to do. She yelled at him and his mother, telling them about themselves and how ridiculous it was that she could allow him to be so irresponsible. She told him he should be ashamed, laying around like a kid when he has a child of his own now. I guess the deserved ridicule worked because after that beratement he finally 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 started to get a sense of the danger Harlem had to offer.

Another night after work my mother accidentally left the keys in the door for the entire day. Fortunately the nice neighbors she knew found them and kept them for her. When they gave them back they also gave her a grave warning, intensely stressing that she never ever do anything like that again: “You’ll lose everything at best or at worst someone will take the key, make a copy of it, and kill and rape your entire family.” My mom never felt the same about New York after that and began feeling like it wasn’t the place to raise me.

My father had apartments in Brooklyn so my mother suggested possibly moving there. A few weeks before they were going to move in all of the plumbing was robbed from the house. Apparently older places with copper plumbing are worth a small fortune. Afterwards there was no way my parents felt safe living there and it was the last straw for my mother. She had tried it my dad’s way long enough. Now it was her turn. After about a year of negotiations she talked my dad into moving back to the town she grew up in, St. Clairsville.

We stayed in a small house there where I made my very first memories. All I remember is my dad’s brother visiting, my Uncle Jackie, and me being 3 years old riding on his back. I also remember falling down the stairs and Grammy being there, calling it a “big bad boom”.

Next when I was 4 ,we moved to a nearby town called Martins Ferry where I start to really recollect memories. This is where I first learned about the opposite sex, and the opposite race.

My neighbors across the street were crazy, always getting into fights. One time the police came to their house to break up a scuffle. I was scared and asked if we could drive to Gram’s house, which was a few towns over. My mother told me not to worry and that I would be okay.

The first time I heard the word nigger was from the neighbors across the street. They were laughing and pointing at me, calling me a nigger while I laughingly pulled my shirt up and played along. I had no idea what that meant. Later I asked my mom what a nigger is and she told me it was a mean word to call a black person.

My response, “well whats a mean word I can call a white person?”

“Cracker , she said.

My father was again coming and going as he pleased. Every morning I would wake up and the first thing I would yell into the next room was, “is Daddy here?”No, I’m sorry sweetheart , was always her reply.

I guess this is where my issues with abandonment stem from. And also everyday, my mother was forced to drive an extra twenty minutes before and after work to take me to day care where I would sometimes be at for 10 hours. No one knew it at the time but now there are various studies that suggest children taken to day care suffer from abandonment issues later in life. I don’t mean to complain. My mother was doing the best she could, working everyday to keep food on the table.

The workers at the Day Care showed favoritism to some children but not to me. It was infuriating to see them let a family friends’ kid stay up while the rest of us had nap time. I hated nap time. Other than that they were okay, some were nicer than others. There was a women there named Sonya who I lived in fear of. She was super mean. Ms. Linda was the owner and also the kindest. She did a lot for my mother, providing discounts when financial hardships came to my family. Years later when my mother was more on her feet, she would return the favor, donating money every year to the day care. I was always proud of her for that.

Day care was very lonely but I had one friend that I still have to this day. My stuffed animal, Goofy. One time I forgot him at day care on a Friday and had to wait all the way until Monday before I could see him again and I cried. Time passes so much slower as a child.

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 spent most of my time playing with.

Donny, one of the kids who called me a nigger, told me a story about one of the ladies on our street. He told me that Cindy, a grown woman took him into a room and let him see her breasts. I’ll never know if that story was true or not but judging by the craziness that was going on there then, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Hearing this story though I almost felt jealousy seeping into my psyche. I wanted to have a similar experience with her. I was probably only 4 at the time, weird I know.

I found myself alone with Cindy’s daughter Carrie, playing in a closet. I don’t remember exactly how it happened but we both ended up with our pants all the way down. Just looking at each other.

“Oohh baby I want to kiss you” I said.

My brain was already starting to be corrupted. Perhaps because my father wasn’t around and my mother was at work all the time. I had no guidance. I was left to fend for myself, way too young.

Days later I found myself playing with another one of my girl friends. At this point I was kind of assuming that pulling your pants down was the norm. We again were alone playing in a closet. I said to her, “aren’t you going to pull your pants down?” She did not and promptly told her mother.

Her mom who was babysitting yelled at me wildly, saying she was going to tell my mom as soon as she got there. I was terrified, perhaps more than I’d ever been at that point in my life. I waited outside on the porch while they talked for only a few minutes. That night I waited for the fury of my parents to erupt. I was so ashamed. But that fury never came. To this day I have no idea whether or not she actually told my mom. I lived with that guilt all throughout my childhood years. I’ve since forgiven myself, understanding it was misguided human nature.

I was beginning to formulate my own interests. I became obsessed with music. The first song I fell in love with was Dionne Warwick’s “Thats what friends are for”. Next was “We are the World”, the charitable collaboration of several popular musicians at the time. Of those artists, one would become my favorite and very first idol, Michael Jackson.

I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old but I loved his music. Bad, Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal, these songs laid the foundation for what my musical palette is today. No one will believe this, because of how uncoordinated I am today, but back then I could moonwalk. I swear. I had the whole Michael Jackson dance down. My mom bought me the red zipper jacket and a sparkly glove. She even let me put the S wave in my hair one time. I cried when I saw how I looked in the mirror.

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 for that night in Pittsburgh. Not only that but when we got home to get ready, my father was there! My mom rolled her eyes thinking sarcastically how convenient it was for him to magically appear the day he’d get to see a Michael Jackson concert. Nevertheless we all drove an hour to the city and watched the show together as a family. As for my experience there, it was horrifying. I remember crying and being scared the whole time. I guess I was too young to wrap my head around the concept of pyrotechnics. My parents were maybe ahead of their time taking me to such a show so young. But creativity had snuck into my subconscious. I would never be the same. I’m forever grateful for that night. Allowing me to see the greatest performer and artist, perhaps of all time, cemented in me from an early age, an appreciation, respect, and curiosity for the arts.

Simultaneously I was exploring interests in my first crushes. I’ve heard stories of kids not being interested in the opposite sex until much older, but not me. I’ve been infatuated for as long as I can remember. My first crush was Punky Brewster, followed abruptly by Rudy Huxtable. It wouldn’t be until I started school that I could have real life crushes, which I would, a new one every year, and it’s always been like that – even now.

My life, for a moment, started to resemble normalcy. Both grandmothers would visit and everyone got along. Grammy noticing me walking with my head down gave me one of the only pieces of advice she ever did; “Why are you walking with your head down? Hold your head up when you walk. Be proud of who you are!”I don’t know why but that always stuck with me.

One evening with my father driving me and some cousins to our uncle’s, we got into a car wreck. It was raining and his car lost control and slid into a guard rail. Everyone was ok but we were all terrified. My father did best to console us immediately after, but I was afraid to get in a car with him for months.

Weeks later, after a fight between my parents with me in the middle, my father threatened to leave again but this time take me. He didn’t and left by himself, like he always did. His departure wouldn’t last long however.

My mother sat down to have a talk with me a few nights later. She asked what I thought about having a younger sibling. I told her of course I wanted one. About a week later her and my father sat me down again. They told me I would in fact get the opportunity to be a big brother. They even told me I could pick out the name. I decided on Jessica if it was a girl. We were always in church so I picked a name from the Bible if it was a boy, Joshua.

Chapter 4

”Skeletons, found decades after their souls left. Kneeling in payer, clawing their way through the dirt they were found in, hopelessly, frozen forever. It was the 1960s and the coal mines had 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 the Silver Bridge down and killed 46 people. They even made a movie about it…”

My father would tell me ghost stories from his times in West Virginia. He was a staunch believer in ghosts and even thought our house was haunted, I would soon come to find out.

“Daddy tell me just one more!”, I would plead before bed.

“Okay, just one more…”

They say that newborn children 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 all of this may seem, it is true that we all have early experiences that we can’t remember. No one remembers their own birth for example, but we all still know it happened. If our memories don’t begin were our experience does, who’s to say where the timeline begins?

I don’t think my father had ever given any thought to these types of 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 making some sort of a noise. I went to check on you. My heart froze when I saw you standing in your crib by yourself talking to no one. I asked what you were doing. You told me you were talking to the ‘blue man’. I asked where the blue man went, and you told me he walked back into the wall. I had chills all over my body because I had already seen things myself in this house, and it was then 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 that couldn’t be perceived with the five senses, unless it was written in the Bible. She told me my Dad was crazy and that I shouldn’t believe everything he says. A valuable lesson I would come to realize.

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 among 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 was everyone. She told me they’d gone to the hospital to have the baby. I can still hear her warm voice felt with excitement.

I guess because 95% of the people I was around were white, and at 5 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 about his color.

Chapter 5

My father was determined to do better with Josh and for a large part of my brother’s infancy he was a stay at home dad. Due to this my brother and father would grow to be really close. It’s the reason we all think 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, I grew up hating sports. I’ve always found them extremely boring. Just a bunch of dudes running back and forth, in their matching outfits, risking concussions and permanent neurological damage – to chase some contrived victory. I never really 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 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 any 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 then that people couldn’t see me and kept bumping into me. Someone even burnt me with a cigarette on my cheek. I fell and the crowd didn’t seem to notice. I didn’t cry though. I was too disoriented to even think.

Just then two teenage girls recused me. What had to of been the prettiest woman I’d ever laid eyes on at the point of my life reached down and picked me off the ground like an angel from heaven. I hugged her like I’d known her forever. She was so caring and warm that I wish I knew her name and could find her on Facebook now. She’s probably still hot. I’d have the best DM dive intro ever, but back to the story. Her and her friend took me away from the crowd and towards the fence against the field. They asked me where my parents were. I almost didn’t want to find them. I would have rather just stayed with her.

Eventually my Dad and Uncle came looking for me and found me with the two teenagers. They overlooked how distraught I was and laughed because they found me with two pretty girls. They joked and said I did it on purpose. I didn’t see the humor in, even if there was truth to it. My dad paid for the girls hot dogs and sodas and thanked them for their help. The girl I liked smiled at me again for the last time and gave me another hug. She said I was the cutest thing she’d ever seen. The feeling that 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.

Chapter 6

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 ever have even a remotely decent counter argument, they just mumble something about it being tradition and it’s what’s always been done. But the 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? Where’s the passion in this living? Are you sure it’s God you’re serving? Obligated to a system, getting less than you’re deserving.” I can’t help but to think she was referring to these systems created by now all dead men, that we artificially prop up to our own detriment. I dream of a world where we throw off these shackles of the past and 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.

And even though my parents didn’t know any better and tried to raise me with the same arbitrary lessons passed down from who I can only assume were slaves, somehow I was able to see through it at an early age.

I remember my first ever debate. I overheard a kindergartener by the name of Scott describing in great length a conversation he had with the Cookie Monster, while watching him on television. Scott 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. and the Cookie Monster reassuringly said ”Yes that’s right”. I interjected the conversation he was having, trying to explain that not only can the cookie monster not hear him, but also that the Cookie Monster was in fact not real at all, but a puppet being controlled by someone else 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 that I had with Scott then 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.

Chapter 7

Kindergarten was the last grade of school I have any fond memories of. My teacher Mrs. Duke was very kind and made each of us feel special. I wasn’t good academically though and would often 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? They hated 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 that I never could be.

He that believeth in me, these works that I do, he shall also do. And even greater works than these

John 14:12

After she recited this verse, I asked her if I could also make miracles. It wasn’t me who was 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 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 actually being there, the house became too small for all of us. 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. There was a public school nearby and it would be cheaper than the private Catholic school I was in.

They built and attached a trailer sized apartment to the house itself, where I stayed with my family, Gram moved into the addition. It was a lot smaller than what she was used to but she made the sacrifice for us and it helped tremendously.

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.

Chapter 8

Before classes started I took a tour of my new school with my mom and the principal, Mr Albert. It helped ease some of 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 wasn’t going to have to deal with me being in and out of 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 as I left a strange twinge of worry fell on me. I’m not sure where it came from. Ominously looking back at the school, out the window of my mom’s 1990 maroon Pontiac 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 so clandestine, there’s no way you aren’t going to read books and wear glasses. Now granted, I’ve kind of been able to make it work for me somehow, being the nerdy, intellectual if you will, that I am. But 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 name is that? What my parents were thinking will forever be a mystery. I know I was named after my two grandfathers but still. I mean, you know you would never name your kids after me. 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 my Dad’s brother’s 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.

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this, 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…

Chapter 9

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 around whites, 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 it. And also, the way the world views me.

I said something before about liking a different girl every year. My crush in my second grade class is when the memories begin to change from analog to digital. I remember her well, Jessica G was her name. Her complexion was the same color as her hair, butterscotch. Does her being tan represent some sort 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 come to think of it. Having the world know was for some unknown reason my worst fear.

I had a best friend named Mitch K. Mitch 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 and he let me know any chance he got. I was a lineman and needless to say, you don’t do much as a 7 year old lineman. My dad told me everyone referred to them as ‘dumb line men’.

Retroactively assessing this situation, I must say I’m pissed. Here this guy comes talking shit about me not knowing how to play football, when it’s his fault! He was never around to teach me. What I’ve found is people will make you into something, then resent you for becoming it. This is why you have to create yourself.

On recess Mitch and I were racing and near the finish line stood Jessica G. If I could win it would be an opportunity to impress her. Our friend Brian G 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 Mitch who collided directly into Jessica. They both fell to the ground, she was crying hysterically. Mitch had been in trouble several times before and so had I. The teachers came and blamed me initially but ultimately had to concede it was Mitch, due to the eye-witness accounts. 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 G, 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 G. who yelled ‘go’ at the race, eventually became my new best friend. He was the best friend I’d ever had at that point. 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, our teacher, for the rest of the year. 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 try 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 G and our relationship has never been the same since.

Right around this time cousin Curtis moved back to Virginia with his family. And I would be forced to navigate my way through this new terrain, of being the black kid at the white school, alone.

I was finally allowed to cross Main Street so I started walking home from school with some kids in my neighborhood. Fights would spontaneously combust. There were these two brothers, Chucky and Jonathan. We would beat them so bad that adults driving would pull over to see if they were okay. I was far from a bully though, getting beat up even more than I was doing the beating. Things were crazy then.

One time this kid Matt R called me a nigger and said he was getting diarrhea from looking at me. I politely asked the children standing in my way to excuse me, as I made my way over to punch him in the face repeatedly until Mrs. Krahel pulled me off. I was abruptly sent to the principal’s office.

Of all the fights I had been through up to this point, the biggest was just about to happen.

Walking home after school I found myself getting swung on, ferociously, by some kid I had never seen before. I looked up to see were my friends were. Not so much for help at first, but to make sure they weren’t seeing me getting hit. I didn’t want the embarrassment if I was about to get beat up. See no one back then was 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 notice. They came rushing down, presumably to save me, but when they realized who I was fighting with, they didn’t engage. The scene was too chaotic for me to process why. 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 obscenities at the women and her son, laughing like a mad man and crying. I assumed she would just keep driving off but 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. I freeze. She’s calling me a nigger and a bunch of other things I’m sure I’ve mentally blocked out. A black high schooler named Corey 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. Corey maybe saved me. By now I turn around to my friends to ask why they didn’t help me. They all look like they’ve just seen the Tales from the Crypt keeper. One of them looks pitifully at me and says “that kid you got in a fight with was Jared W, him and his brothers are the toughest kids in school!” What I didn’t know then were the reasons why these brothers were so extraordinarily tough. They were raised by a psychotic kick-boxer father who taught them the craft since they were old enough to walk. No doubt he was abusive to them as well. These were my new mortal enemies.

I went home and told my dad what happened. My mom was at work. My father didn’t have a job because he had been ‘laid off’ which really just meant fired after getting into a fight himself. When my dad heard the story he was furious. He called the police and before I knew it we had a day in court approaching. The W brothers hated a lot of kids at school, with passions. They terrorized even more than they hated. But off all their foes, I had become their number one target. The older cousin and best friend would’ve been helpful here but what was even more valuable was the understanding that I would have to figure out life on my own. I figured out early that when it came down to it, I wouldn’t be able to count on anyone else.

 

Chapter 10

Yes I was failing classes. Yes I had the worst possible nemesis actively harassing me almost daily. Yes my dad was still in and out of my life, even though he knew new bullies were threatening me. Yes there were talks of suspending me from school, something unheard of, there, at that time.

None of that bothered me.

Before smart phones and tablets distracted and addicted children, we had to actually like each other. In the third grade it was Ashley Planes. I again never told her. I had some sort of complex about confessing my love. I assumed no one would like me since I was different and I felt embarrassed because of it. A classmate of mine liked her too and she liked him back. I took some of my mom’s earrings and gave him to give to her. I don’t even 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 some 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. Most hood kids went to church when they’re young. Ok so the hood kids today probably don’t, but the hood kids back in the 90s 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 the ways of the 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 often referred to as The Ohio Valley, or The Valley. The only town you maybe would have ever heard of there is Steubenville, Ohio – famous for the Mafia, Dean Martin, The Sopranos, and the Wu Tang Clan. 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 (but with no 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, besides the assault against me, I still wasn’t considered tough enough to get respect from the streets, yet.

Did this juxtaposition of opposing lifestyles within my early years help to frame my perspective, hopefully 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 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. Rachelle.

Not that she liked me back, or had any idea that I liked her. Just the fact that she existed could make me feel the way I felt, 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. But what I hadn’t come to realize was the effect all of this programming was having on my subconscious. For example, I always thought that everything would end up okay. While that may not seem like a negative at first, allow me to expound. TV shows usually have happy endings. I had come to expect that everything was magically predestined to work out. In order to create the change we desire, rational human beings understand, we must exert our energy to coerce the external world as well as inner. And even then sometimes we fail and things fall apart. Expecting anything to happen without taking responsibility for it’s outcome isn’t only foolish its lazy. And that’s what TV did to me.

I hadn’t learned this though until Rachelle. I found out that she liked someone else instead of me, my next door neighbor of all people. This is when, for the first time, I understood that the main character doesn’t always get the girl. I somehow came into possession of a note she had written for him. It said: “Dear Eddie 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 maybe the best advice he had ever given me, up to that point.

Things with Eddie and Rachelle wouldn’t work out sadly enough. Why? Years later we would find out that Eddie 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.”

In other words, women know what’s popular currently. Which I guess is 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 the professional athletes and doctors. They tend to like their men older, more established. They’re put off by lame dudes, broke dudes. Who can blame them? I can’t. But as with any and everything, there’s good and bad to it. The bad side of going after what’s in right now is that it’s short sighted. What if that doctor 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.

Chapter 11

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.

And while I’ve been tough on my father for most of the story up to this point, he always encouraged me to pursue artistic endeavors. He was really cool when he wanted to be.

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.

Chapter 12

Instead of warning and preparing me for the coming hopelessness and vapidness of becoming an adult – and the mind numbing, soul crushing drudgery that would come from sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours a day 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 afford to 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 sitting and 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 to to church on Sundays but also various weekdays since I was in the youth group and choir.

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 us entrepreneurship and the extreme 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…

Chapter 13

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 that mine can’t end as bad as his. So how dare I be scared, of anything? I imagine what he might say, and how petty he would think these futile chances I consider are, 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 talk 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 other 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 perhaps a pivotal catalyst for when I went astray. I thought there 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 it all and the drugs didn’t help.

Through researching this story I’ve learned that in the 1990s, especially in the Pennsylvania/West Virginia area, 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 with it’s user. 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, fully conscience but with half of his face blown off.

There was a huge write up about him in the paper. They even put a picture of his self inflicted wound in the article. The thinking was that it would scare and prevent other kids from doing the same.

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. Classes were broken into periods for the first time, 7 a day for 9 week grading cycles. 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 in this life. 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.

Chapter 14

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 still compare all gazes I get from women to this feeling. 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. If she did, I don’t remember her being impressed.

That school year I was able to socially position myself close enough to her friends on our recesses. Eventually I had gotten 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. Sam and Justin, 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.

Sam liked a girl named Tara, Justin asked, she said no. We were discouraged but couldn’t turn back. On my paper route lived Amy, Justin’s crush. I asked her out for Justin 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 Justin 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. Sam and Justin 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 Sam or Justin, 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.

Sam and Justin 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 boy version of The Shinning twins. They then laughingly headed out to play.

Just then I saw Ashely 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 W brothers. 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 however but not forever. Only for the next 20 years or so, but that’s another story…

Chapter 15

My old friend Mitch K. 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 tossed 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 Mitch 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 ass man, how is it even possible a twelve year old is making you that mad?”.

My plan had worked, he left Mitch 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 Mitch 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 to them 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 can 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 the fuck 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. I can only recall one piece of advice my father would always give. All he told me was this, “Arthur, you’re mouth is going to destroy you.” . What also didn’t help is that I was always getting into fights. The brawls with Craig over Alexis, the continual altercations with the W brothers, the school saw me as the common denominator.

So let’s recap. That’s 2 assault cases where I’m the victim yet both adults would be found not guilty. Another where I was the defendant but the judge threw the case out because of the absurdity of prosecuting a 12 year old over shenanigans. After court my dad jokingly told me that my next court case would be for murder. Deep down I believed him.

I had made enemies with every bully on every spectrum of the social ladder, and where had my father gone? He left to go to Harlem, where he became addicted to cocaine, or so he said.

The male figure I had to look up and relate to was Tupac. Every time I turned on MTV I would see him in and out of court, just like me. And like I was assaulted by teachers, he was assaulted by cops. I would tweak the lyrics to his songs in my mind. Where Tupac would say ‘crooked cop killing gloc.’ I would hear ‘crooked teacher killing feature’. When Tupac would say ‘running from authorities til they capture me, I would hear ‘running from Will Ogelbay til he captures me. 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. He’d tell me he was bringing me gifts, like Mortal Kombat for SEGA, but never would. 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 have been helpful, considering I had beef with so many students, teachers, and principal.

But we were about to find out what had been taking up his time.

Chapter 16

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

2:31 pm

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 see what type of monster he was.

The next day my dad gave me a ride on my paper route. It was the first time I saw him cry and only time I’ve seen him weep uncontrollably. Sobbing hysterically, all I could gather was him saying something about how he couldn’t believe he was losing his family. But he had to of 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’d never met, that 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 even rushed out only to find I’d forgotten to turn off the television.

Chapter 17

I had only been to Virginia one other time, it was 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. Peace from all the turmoil that life brings. She’s free from that 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 to the whole school. 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 meeting 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 that they are in fact much harder to get out of. My cousin Alisha was about to find 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 when she was out with her girlfriends. 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 for him to finally be done with her. 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 a 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 who had also been dealing with domestic violence. So our beefs we’re temporarily put on hold so that we could all attend the funeral. But 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 only 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.

Chapter 18

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 that 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.

Chapter 19

Justin 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, Justin 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 in his sad cowardly expression 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. I played ‘Ambitionz Az a Ridah’ as loud as it would go, mimicking the lyrics and mannerisms like I was filming the music video. By then 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 Justin’s 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, Justin 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 could’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 and 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. But a few weeks before the trip Jared W 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 than 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. And then on a field trip to Washington D.C. where I saw the buildings built by slaves, and the people who preached freedom.

Chapter 20

Sometimes we’d sneak into and hangout in the church basement to escape the boring services and choir practices. The phone happened to ring on an occasion we were down there. 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 ask 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 Sam and all of his little brothers had moved to California, and Justin 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. Eventually 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, plus Jared W was on the side of the Punks. Since he was my mortal enemy, I didn’t have a choice. 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 Eleni. She didn’t attend our school but came to the dance with a friend of her’s. We danced to almost every song together and I kinda liked her. I thought no other girl in school would like me after that though, because the only girl they ever saw me with was black. I was afraid they would 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 Eleni. 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. I’d rather save all the slander for the girls who did me wrong in the later chapters anyway..


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 or a repetitive thought 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…

Season 3 coming soon.

Chapter 21

When I got to high school I somehow managed to find sanctuary with the smart kids. They accepted me and we began to hangout. I went to see Titanic with them  and partied at their houses. These were my first ever parties where no one drank or smoke. While atttending one of those parties, some older ‘cool’ kids drove over and parked down the street. They were smoking and drinking. All of the girls dropped what they were doing to run over to talk to them. That’s when the devil first seduced me.

Envious, I stood alone looking up at that dark road already plotting how eventually that would be me; with the girls, with the attention. I realized right away what girls liked; danger. I wasn’t good at sports and I wasn’t good at school, but danger I could do. Nothing about my life had been safe up to that point. I had no reason to start now.

The friendship I developed with the smart preppy kids was due in large part to my alliance with them last year in the prep vs. punk war. I had study hall with a lot of them and they thought I was funny. Making people laugh was my first talent. Someone else took a liking to my too, Seven Sonna, the Pablo Escobar of St. Clairsville. At 17 he had already spent a year in juvenile detention for pistol whipping some kid. I remember leaving school one day, seeing the ambulances and hearing some kid got hit with a gun. I wouldn’t connect that my new friend was culprit until much later.

Seven Sonna to me, was the epitome of cool. He wore gold necklaces and gold rings and blue Nike hoodies. He was white but hung around the black kids. After to his incarceration in Cleveland, he literally thought he was black. Crazy in retrospect but in 1997, it somehow made sense. Everyone feared and respected him. It was no secret he sold drugs. I didn’t even know what drugs were, yet.

That study hall was one of those defining moments. It was a crossroad where I would pick my future. Whose blueprint would I follow? My new smart friends who would go on to college and have respectable jobs? Or 7 Sonna who’s currently in prison for the next 10 years? It wasn’t as easy a decision as that. I didn’t have a crystal ball to know all that then. The idea of me going college thn, might as well have been Atlantis. All I wanted was girls. The smart kids had girls but they weren’t necessarily known for dating black guys. I also didn’t love the idea of hanging around nerdy white kids all the time. The black kids were cooler and obviously had girls that liked black guys. Even though he was white, 7 Sonna was the leader of that crew. He had the money and the power. He started bringing me around with him. He cultivated a vibe I knew I could emulate, danger. He didn’t give a fuck about tomorrow. I felt that.

My dad was entirely moved out at this point. He lived in a nearby town called Martins Ferry. It was cool. I made friends in his neighborhood with a kid who was a just like me, a nerdy black kid my age – Preston. Preston introduced me to a girl so pretty I still get chills when I think about her. Matter fact, I’m a go on Instagram right now and like one of her pics, just to shout her out. But Anyway. I met her and was completely blown away. When I got back home something hit me, homecoming! Why don’t I ask her to go? I wasn’t having much luck with the girls in my school. Plus I worried what their parents would think of them taking my black ass to their first homecoming. I might have a shot with Theresa. Her last boyfriend was black and she was a year or two older than me. Historically older women have liked me more. I told Preston my plan.

Few days later I get a call.

Preston: Hey AJ what’s up ummm I talked to Theresa and 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 has ever given me.) Yea man – she’s here with me now – hold on.

Oh shit. I wasn’t mentally prepared to talk to her. I can do anything, given enough time to mentally prepare. I can spend eternity in hell, if you let me know a week in advance. But I’m no good off the cuff.

Theresa: Hi! AJ?

Me:

Theresa: Hello?

Me: Uhhhh hi.

Theresa: Preston told me about your dance and I’d be 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. Then it hit me. How on earth am I going to pay for this? It’s super expensive and I want to make a good impression. This could be my first girlfriend if I play my cards right. She’s prettier than all of the girls at my school! I worried I bit off more than I could chew.

In study hall later that week I told Seven about my predicament. “Man don’t even sweat that, my nigga. I got you. I was gonna ask if you wanted put on anyway.”

“What 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, and whatever else you want!”

That would check off two boxes. Danger? Check. Money? Check. Get the girl? Check. Damn that’s three boxes, shit. I told him to give me the weekend to think about it.

I mulled it over all Saturday and Sunday. I had seen the cautionary after school shows about just saying no and how older kids would try to lure you into the lifestyle. I never thought it would actually happen to me. I was wrong. It was just like the warnings.

Monday at school, 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 all the failed attempts at girls and what it would be like taking such a pretty girl to my first homecoming. It would change my entire perception drastically. If I could align myself with him, all of my enemies would be forced to retreat. I imagine how my smart white friends wouldn’t like my anymore, if they knew who I’d be rolling with. I thought about the study groups I wouldn’t get to be apart of anymore and how my grades would suffer. After weighing the pros and cons, the decision was easy.

I looked at back at Seven Sonna from my desk. The teacher was lecturing 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.

Hell yea.