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.