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.

My father always encouraged me to pursue artistic endeavors. He was cool like that.

He was also in touch with the streets.

James’ family ran Martins Ferry at the time. These family ties would prove valuable in my adolescence. First I would have to go through a slight war with them, perhaps to gain their respect.

But we’ll get to that.

On the last day of school I thought I was going suffer the embarrassment of being held back. I had gotten way too many Fs. No one got Fs in the 4th grade. Except me. I had gotten into fights in the middle of class. I spent more time on punishment than any other kid.

Surely they had to realize holding me back a grade was the only logical thing to do. If not, next came 5th grade, middle school, the same location as the high school! It would be a major transition.

Surely they could see I wasn’t ready. These were respectable, enlightened teachers who were compassionate enough to not just push a kid through so they wouldn’t have to deal with him twice. Right?

Of course not. I’m just fucking with you. They passed me right into the 5th grade. They didn’t give a fuck. They wanted me out of there.

Chapter 12

Instead of warning and preparing me for the the mind numbing, soul crushing drudgery that would come from sitting in a cubicle for 40 years – my parents were teaching me that their personal beliefs were facts.

Not just facts but gospel, and if you didn’t believe in what every shred of logic would tell you is impossible, you’d spend an eternity burning. It’s seems crazy I know, but unfortunately this is what they were teaching.

In most of the memories I have of my mother from my childhood, she seems sad. As a kid I couldn’t figure out what was wrong – but as an adult I’m starting to understand must’ve been weighing on her. A lot our parents were battling depression, though without today’s scientific understanding, it went undiagnosed.

They didn’t have the wherewithal to see that this was due in large part to the triviality of their menial day jobs. And why would they? They didn’t see any alternative.

They were systematically taught to be grateful to have a job at all. They were told they’re salvation lies within the church. But there were only lies within the church.

The church said there was valor in poverty, while simultaneously mandating everyone tithe 10% of the little money they had. This is the place they took me, wasting the little bit of free time they were afforded.

If I’m ever able to escape these racing rats and have a child, I want them to strive for more than to spend their lives waiting, waiting for retirement, waiting for heaven.

I want them to know that heaven can exist right now in this present moment, and they’re the only one who can create or prevent it. The church wants you on your knees begging for forgiveness until you die. I want to stand up and take what’s mine right now.

It seems like I’ve been waiting my whole life. Waiting for bells to ring in class. Waiting for 5 o’clock at work, and waiting for church to end as a kid on Sundays. I hated being there and just like everything else, I wasn’t paying attention.

I was too occupied with my own thoughts. I was always chastised for never paying attention. But I ask, am I a bad listener or were they not captivating?

Not only did I have go to church on Sundays but also various weekdays since I was in the youth group.

It wasn’t all bad. The pastor Reverend Stephens was a revered and mysterious man. He would tell the congregation he had literally seen the devil in his kitchen.

He had gotten into trouble with senior ranking members of the church for breaking into their masonic temples, presumably an attempt at exposing their secrets.

He would openly admit to selling and doing drugs in his younger days. I liked him.

The church also gave me reigns to explore my creativity.

I directed a play about a conversations between W.E.B Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. I wrote and performed essays on black history, all to tremendous praise from the church’s many members.

The choir had a performing arts component called ‘Vision’. We’d be dressed as mimes in all black with our faces painted white doing choreography that mimicked the words to gospel songs.

After we did ‘We Shall Behold Him’ by Vickie Winans, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

The lyrics went over my head at the time but now I admit, powerful stuff. Even if the song is all bout how great it’ll be to die.

That’s the church for you, always looking forward to, yet somehow still afraid of, death.

But as you know, the kids there didn’t really like me. The were older and way more experienced coming from the inner city. I learned more about the streets from them than I did about god from the adults. That might have been a good thing.

‘Vision’ took it’s act on the road. This would’ve been an opportunity for the adults to teach entrepreneurship and the importance of making money for ourselves, particularly creatively.

But that’s not what they did. All it meant for me was spending more time cooped up in vans with my headphones on listening to my music, traveling with bullies.

So while church was an escape from all that I had going on back home, I still needed an escape from what I was going through there. To be honest I think I preferred dealing with the static I had back home. My friend to enemy ratio was more in my favor there.

There was one kid in our group who was really nice, her name was Ellicia. She was never mean to me and always seemed to be smiling. Talking to her was a much needed relief from dealing with the other kids.

I didn’t know her too well so I didn’t cry when she died.

She shot herself in the head with a shotgun. She was 13 years old. She was adopted but her birth parents had abused her terribly. I heard they put out lit cigarettes out on her as a baby.

Her foster mother continued to come to church, she always seemed heartbroken yet somehow serene.

Someone who I got along with a lot less was Terrance…

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 mine can’t end as bad as his.

So how dare I be scared, of anything?

I imagine what he might say, and how trivial he would think of the risks I’m afraid to take, with their menial consequences and exaggerated worst case scenarios.

What he wouldn’t give to be here dealing with my so-called problems.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s in a better place.

But it sure didn’t seem like he wanted to leave, when he was crying from the one eye he still could, the other with a bullet in it.

His mother took him to church, that’s how I knew him. He grew up in the hood but was smart enough to get into private school, all the girls liked him and he was good at sports. It wasn’t enough.

He was advanced in school, advanced in sports, and ominously – advanced in the streets.

Being smart and popular attracted the attention of a the new drug dealer in town, Rafael. Cocaine, marijuana and most dangerously PCP, is what 13 year old Terrance was getting involved with. Raf would front him the work on consignment.

Sometimes you hear stories about kids selling drugs, their parents being addicted and stealing them. But not Terrance’s mom, she was addicted to something much worse, money.

Me and Terrance hated each other.

He hated me would be more accurate. Though I recoiled at the thought of having to spend time with him, there was another part of me that tried to be like him, the cool older kid.

But I still didn’t like him. I can still see his smug face looking down on me, resenting me for being who I was, making fun of my big head. I can still hear his voice, mocking the way I talked and calling me white.

It didn’t help that I was now on a 10 hour van ride to Virginia Beach with him and the entirety of Wayman A.M.E.

After a year full of practices and performances the church decided we needed a vacation. We all piled into rented vans and headed towards Virginia Beach.

Me and a couple boys my age were rooming with Terrance and a few boys his age. My mom was skeptical of the arrangement. She’d heard whispers of what Terrance and them were about. But she didn’t object.

My mom had an interesting parenting approach I hope to emulate one day. She was protective but not smothering. She didn’t want me to run the streets but she didn’t want me to run from them either. She knew she couldn’t hide the cold world from me forever. She wanted me to learn about everything in life, the good and the bad. She must’ve thought this would be a learning experience for me, with her being a few doors down, just in case.

Terrance might’ve been 14 going on 40 but I was 10 going on 11. The older boys smoking weed and sneaking choir girls in and fucking them I while I fake slept, was a pivotal catalyst for when I went astray.

I thought their behavior was normal and what would be expected of me when I was older.

The term toxic masculinity seems to be making it’s way into the public zeitgeist. Usually when a “movement” makes it’s way into the mainstream, I don’t trust it. But this one I feel is important. We as men, particularly black men, valuing ourselves based off of our sexual exploits – debases our self worth and commodifies not only the sacred act of sex itself, but does the same to our partners.

This is where intimacy issues stem from.

While this may be common knowledge now, at the time, the ideology was fuck bitches, get money. And that’s exactly how Terrance was living his life when we got back from the beach, right up until he had the last fight with his family he ever would.

Armed with a .380 tucked in his Karl Kani jeans and high off ‘wet’, a cigarette dipped in embalming fluid, essentially PCP – Terrance came home to find his mother had spent the money he’d stashed.

He confronted her and she became irate and defensive. Conveniently picking then as the time to accuse him of selling drugs. Their fight made it to where his aunts and uncles were talking on the on the porch. Everyone tried to calm Terrance down as he walked out into the yard, screaming and crying. He knew he’d have to face Rafael without the money he owed him, but the PCP had him going in an even darker direction.

The confrontation itself and the embarrassment of being accused in front of his entire family, who only knew him as the star athlete in prep school, was too much to take. His head started to swirl.

The lifelong neglect from his mother, his father who was never there, the 40 years of experiences packed into 14. The energy in the air was electric and dark like the storm clouds above them. It was all catching up to him. He didn’t have the resources to process. The drugs didn’t help.

In the 1990s, especially in West Virginia, there was an outbreak of kids high on PCP hurting themselves. The drug was originally introduced as an anesthetic, it creates a feeling of invincibility.

Terrance thought he couldn’t be touched. Completely out of his mind he took his gun and pointed it at his family. They started screaming. Startled by their scream and shock, he redirected the gun at his face.

He looked his mother in the eyes and pulled the trigger. His life didn’t flash before his eyes then because he didn’t die that day. He died days later in the intensive care with half of his face blown off.

Up until writing this I always thought he was high on acid not PCP. You would’ve thought that would’ve prevented me from trying acid when I was that age, but it didn’t.

They say that when his mom when his made the decision to take him off of life support, he could somehow hear her even though he was in an induced coma. His remaining eye streamed tears until the machine turned off and his heart stopped.

The next morning was my first day of Middle school. I woke up nervous thinking how scary 5th grade would be on the same campus as the high school! I swore I was grown.

I set my alarm and woke up on my own without any help from my mom. I kept that streak going for one whole day, I think. These were my concerns at the time.

I noticed my mom on the phone in her room for what started to seem like too long. I tried to overhear what she was saying…

When she finally got off she had a sad look in her eye, but I already knew she had gotten the call from the church about Terrance. I was able to put pieces together from the little bit I heard.

These are my confessions so the truth is when I heard it I was secretly happy. I felt a strange sense of validation. An enemy had died. He’d killed himself. I had outlasted him. I’d won.

There was a valuable lesson I learned here. Even when someone is seemingly more successful than you, how long will it last? How long will they last? If you can focus on and sustain yourself, often times your enemies will fold from the pressure they’ve put on themselves, from their perceived success.

I’ve never told anyone this, until now. I was secretly happy, yes – but I did feel really bad about feeling like that.

Terrance’s mom, the lady who loved money, won a suit against the state for a million dollars after her son died. Prior to his suicide, Terrance was in rehab for drug abuse. He was let out and according to the family’s attorney, it was too early.

Her newfound wealth would be short lived however, she blew through it just a few years and today struggles to keep her lights on. Terrance’s sister has kids with Rafael.

Researching this story was next to impossible. No one where I’m from even remembers it. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing, to be remembered, because this cautionary tale serves as not only a warning against drug use and the fast life – but also impermanence.

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 dropped my dilly bar as I tried to raise the kick stand on my bike. I don’t even know if she noticed me.

That school year I was able to socially position myself close enough to her friends on recess. Eventually I got to know her. I’d do my best to always make her laugh. The sound of her voice was my first addiction.

Have you ever liked someone so much that you’d see them when they’re not there? I’d see her face in the clouds. I could see her eyes in headlights of cars, on bumpers I could see her smile.

I’d been afraid to tell a girl how I felt before, but I was so inspired now that it was worth the risk. I had to act, so I enlisted a team. Sean and Jacob, two of my neighbors and best friends were in her grade.

I knew they wouldn’t help me without there being any benefit for them, so I structured a plan that was mutually beneficial for everyone.

I asked them who their crushes were, then gave an MLK style speech telling them our days of not having girlfriends would soon come to an end.

They were immediately on board. The next day we would ask each of our crushes out for one another.

Sean liked a girl named Tara, Jacob asked, she said no. We were discouraged but couldn’t turn back. On my paper route lived Amy, Jacob’s crush. I asked her out for Jacob but she wasn’t feeling him.

I later found out she instead had a crush on her paperboy, me! This would sow seeds of resentment in Jacob that I would one day have to confront.

Alexis was the last girl to be asked. It was our last hope to succeed as a collective. Sean and Jacob were supposed to see her at a birthday party that I couldn’t go to because I was grounded. They would ask her out for me there.

The next day at school, before I would see Sean or Jacob, I kept thinking, what if she said yes? What if I already have a girlfriend? The elusive dream could already have come true.

Something strange happened though. I became afraid, regretful even. What had I gotten myself into? Could I handle to responsibly that would come from dating the prettiest girl in school? Could I handle the jealousy from every other boy who had the same dream of dating her?

I had never had a girlfriend before, I had no idea what would even be the first thing I should say to her. No dream had ever come true. What do you do when you wake up for the first time?

Finally it was recess, the moment of truth. I wanted to get to the playground before anyone else. My thinking was that if I could see everyone before they saw me, I at least wouldn’t be caught off guard with any impending news.

I tried to sneak out just a few moments before the bell rang but a teacher caught me and my punishment was standing in the penalty box. This meant instead of recess, I had to stand facing the building while everyone walked though the double doors right beside me.

How embarrassing. This would be Alexis’ first look at her new boyfriend, in trouble like always, in front of the whole school.

Of all the problems I would have to face, this would not be one of them. Alexis said no.

Sean and Jacob made their way through the double doors and gave me the bad news. I would’ve almost felt relieved until they told me the even worse news. Alexis already had a boyfriend. He was black, so there was somehow hope in that. But he was also an extremely tough 7th grader who had already heard about me asking out his girlfriend.

“Craig is going to kill you” they said simultaneously, like the black version of The Shinning twins. They then laughingly head out to play.

Just then I saw Alexis and Craig walking hand in hand, the last two to come out of the double doors. Ashely shot me a quick pitiful glance while Craig’s glance was one of anger and inevitability.

After school that day I tried to wait in the coat room in the hope of hiding from Craig. The teachers knew what I was doing. They didn’t care and sent me out to the slaughter.

After Craig beat me up, he talked to me almost politically saying, “the only reason I did this was because I had to. I can’t have dudes asking out my girlfriend. It’s okay if you like her but you just can’t talk to her anymore.”

He gave me a deal of sorts.

He knew I was smart and funny and saw value in having me on his team. He knew I had beef with the Carl. It would’ve been suicide beefing with the toughest white kids and the toughest black kids. He knew that aligning myself with his crew would be my only refuge.

School was like prison. Besides from the fact we were forced by law to be there everyday, and they would send police after us if we tried to escape (like they did for the 93’ walkouts), you had to affiliate yourself with a gang to survive.

Craig offered me protection, all I had to do was leave Alexis alone. But to me this meant he saw me as a threat. He was trying to extort me!

If I was smart I maybe would’ve taken his deal, but I was in love. I wasn’t ready to give up on her. So I didn’t.

Alexis’s love would continue to evade me however but not forever. Only for the next 20 years or so, but that’s another story…

Chapter 15

My old friend John had come back from reform school and because of the stigma attached, he was always harassed by teachers.

I overheard them in the hall congratulating themselves on being apart of the reason he was given repeated in-school suspensions.

If school was jail, in-school suspensions were solitary confinement. I had been in there too many days to count.

There were two desks in the back of the library, each closed off in a wooden box, no one could see in or out.

The prisoner was forced to sit there alone all day.

When teachers would bring their classes to the library, they could see the prisoner’s legs below the desk/box/cell.

The prisoner could hear everything going on but wasn’t allowed to interact. Usually students would snicker and throw spit balls into the box/cage as if it were a basketball hoop.

One day in between classes, I walked through an eerily empty hallway and headed to my locker. I was frantically scribbling together a forgotten homework assignment that was due.

I witnessed John being verbally accosted by the visibly enraged Principal who assumed no one was around.

I jumped in and said, “Hey Mr. Oglebay, why don’t you chill out? You’re a grown man, how is it even possible a twelve year old is making you that mad?”.

My plan worked, he left John alone. The only problem was he was heading towards me at full speed. I wasn’t afraid.

I stood tall ready to embrace my fate.

Mr. Oglebay made a fist.

A punch to the face from him might’ve killed me, he was a huge white man, at about 6’3 220 lbs. He grabbed me up by my shirt and slam-punched me into the locker. I stared at him dead in the eyes the whole time.

I was furious. I was in pain.

Just then the bell rung and all of the students flooded into the halls. The principal walked off and John came to see if I was okay.

I created a petition that my classmates were afraid to sign and gave speeches that went over their head. I was trying to explain that we deserved a faculty that wouldn’t threaten it’s students with physical abuse.

They didn’t understand what I was doing. They still don’t.

That’s the beauty of pain, it forces you to evolve. When things seem to be going okay, you become soft, ultimately vulnerable.

The captain who’s steered the ship through the storm is going to be more skilled than the captain who only known smooth sailing.

Eventually the whole school knew what happened and by then my parents had found out. Files were charged against the principal so now I had another court date looming. If this wasn’t enough, the school had filed a counter suit against me – claiming behavioral issues.

Their futile attempts to control me were utterly hopeless.

I just wouldn’t shut up. I had too much to say. The world around me was going to either love it or hate it, but they’re were definitely going to hear it.

My Dad always told me, “Arthur, you’re mouth is going to destroy you.”

What didn’t help is that I was always getting into fights. The brawls with Craig over Alexis, the continual altercations with the Carl.

The school saw me as the common denominator.

So let’s recap.

That’s one assault case where I’m the victim. Another where I was the defendant. Luckily the judge threw the case out because of the absurdity of prosecuting a 12 year old over shenanigans.

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? Offto Harlem, addicted to coke, so he said.

The male figure looked up and relate to was Tupac. Every time I turned on MTV I would see him in and out of court, just like me. I was assaulted by teachers, he was assaulted by cops.

I wasn’t allowed to listen to him even though years earlier my dad took me, Brian, and even my then baby brother to see Juice. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I didn’t even know who Tupac was then.

Every once in a while I would get a call from my Dad. On the rare occasion he would show up at home, he would bring me cassette tapes that my mom wouldn’t let me listen to. Albums like Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. I’d hide them from my mom and she of course would find and take them.

Having my father there full time would’ve been helpful, considering I had beef with so many students, teachers, and principals.

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

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 know what he did.

The next day my dad gave me a ride on my paper route. It was the first time I saw him cry. He wept uncontrollably. Sobbing hysterically, all I could gather was him saying something about how he couldn’t believe he was losing his family.

He must’ve known this day was coming. He’d been living with the secret my entire life. My whole life had been a lie. I always thought I was the first born, but I had never been an only child.

Not only that, I had a sister somewhere that I never met, I still haven’t. That day was worst day of my life, I remember thinking.

My mom feels a way about Christmas from all of this but I have a strange paranoia when I’m in the shower.

It was the next morning and I was showering getting ready for school. I hear what at first I think is laughter. Then to my horror I realize the sound I’m hearing is actually screaming, my mother’s.

I rush out naked with soap still lathered on me. In front of my parents fighting, I kneel down and ask God to please help my family.

It’s not that I believed God would hear me, it’s that I knew it would guilt my father into stopping, and it did. So who knows, maybe God did hear because my father finally left and accepted his new fate as a divorcee.

I wouldn’t see him again for a long time but my mother was safe.

To this day, if I hear any strange or sudden noises when I’m in the shower I panic. Several times I’ve rushed out only to find I’d forgotten to turn off the television.

Chapter 17

I had only been to Virginia one other time, for a funeral then too.

It was when my little cousin died, Amanda, may she rest in peace. In peace; those words are so powerful. May we all be able to find that peace, if not now, then at least when we leave here.

She’s free now. Amanda was only 15 but she had cancer. I spent time with her when I was too young to remember. I saw her picture on the program at her funeral. She was beautiful. I felt guilty for thinking she was so pretty. I thought you weren’t supposed to look at your cousin like that, especially after they’ve died. But she looked like an angel, and now, that’s what she is.

Over a year had passed since my first southern black funeral experience, and I was busy writing.

Mr. Stenger, my English teacher who, and this is no lie, really believed he had psychic powers. He would tell his students this repeatedly. This is what my “teachers” were “teaching”. I never bought it though because I faked sick one time and it worked.

Anyway, he was having a writing contest. Whoever came up with the best story could read it on the morning announcements. The theme was to try and fool the school, the way H.G. Wells 1940s radio show accidentally fooled the world into believing aliens were taking over the planet.

When Mr. Stenger told us how people went crazy, some even killed themselves, all because of a made up story, and that we would get the chance to do something similar – I was enthralled.

This was the first school assignment I actually cared about.

Back in Virginia, my other cousin Alisha, Amanda’s older sister, who was just as beautiful, had just called it quits with her boyfriend. He was begging her to take him back. She knew it was a bad idea. The last year of their relationship had become physically aggressive. Despite this, she missed him, so she decided to go through with seeing him.

I’m not sure what a good or normal relationship is supposed to look like, since I’ve never seen or been in one. But I’m starting to get the feeling, that when you start to get the feeling, you don’t want to be in one anymore, you should take that warning seriously.

Relationships are hard to get into. I know because I spent my whole adolescence trying, to no avail. The kicker however, is they are in fact much harder to get out of. My cousin Alisha was about to find out that sometimes it’s impossible.

He looked so unassuming when she pulled up next to him. He was sitting in his car in the parking lot of their favorite restaurant. She detected a look in his eye that she hadn’t seen before. It gave her pause for a moment. Should I be here? she thought.

It was a familiar struggle she’d been up against for most of her life, the fear of being alone. She was comfortable with him. They’d been together so long, she was secretly horrified of facing the world alone.

At the same time, the mystery of the unknown was intriguing. She never struggled to get attention from men and imagined what else might be out there.

That was a huge part of the reason they weren’t together, his insecurities. A couple months ago he found a number in her purse. Truth be told a man slipped the number in her purse without her knowing. That’s how pretty she was. She couldn’t escape the adoration.

Upon finding the number, Trevor grabbed her by the hair, put her head in the sink, and turned the hot water on until she couldn’t take it. After the assault she cried for hours. He’d been apologizing ever since. She was starting to be able to forgive him, at least she wanted to.

She got out of her car and walked over to Trevor’s. When she put her hand on the car door handle, something told her not to get in, but she went against her instincts.

There’s a fine line between intuition and paranoia.

Once she was inside the car they hugged and the familiarity of the embrace felt warm. Their conversation started normal but before long it devolved into an argument. They hadn’t even gotten out of the car and already they couldn’t even agree on their plans afterwards. She could hear the rage in his voice.

She was suddenly reminded of why they weren’t together. His rage was contagious. She became furious, it was a deep anger than she hadn’t felt in a while. He was yelling at her and she could feel the spit from his screams on her face. That’s all it took.

She tried to escape but he immediately locked the doors. “I’m sorry baby, please don’t go”, he said, conveniently changing his tone from angry to sad the moment he feared she would leave.

It was the same-old cyclical nature of their relationship. She knew she had to get out of there. She felt angrier than she had ever been. “Just let me out of the fucking car, Trevor!” When he still refused she knew that it would take more.

That’s when she told him,

“I’ve been fucking Anthony, and I think I’m in love with him”.

A chilling silence filled the car like poisonous gas. He eerily unlocked the doors without saying a word. She felt a twinge of regret but knew there was no turning back. She looked at him one last time and saw no emotion on his face. Then she left.

Her heart was heavy as she sat back in her car looking for her keys trying to regain composure. She was just about to start crying when she heard what sounded like a metal clank of a knock on her window.

She turned to see it was a Glock 19, held by Trevor. The bullet pierced through her face before she could even hear the window break.

Trevor reached in through the broken window, unlocked her doors, and sat down in the passenger side next to his dead ex-girlfriend. He kissed then held her lifeless hand with his left. With his right hand, he put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger.

The detective who first arrived at the crime scene said to his partner in disgust, “stupid fucking niggers”.

The violence was a wake up call for my family. So our beefs were temporarily put on hold so that we could all attend the funeral.

At the time I didn’t understand the gravity of this situation. All I knew was that for the first time I would have to miss a day of school that I actually wanted to attend.

The funeral was the same week I had to turn in my writing project, that I was working so hard to win.

Mr. Stenger said he would give me and extension. So for the whole car ride to the 2nd Virginia funeral that year, I wrote my story on a clipboard with pen and paper.

But when I got back, Mr. Stenger had reneged on his extension and selected someone else, even though he knew I was absent because of a funeral.

I was starting to understand that my life was in a different world than my classmates. It was more dangerous and there was less I could trust. It wasn’t entirely a bad thing. This forced me to ask questions while the others remained content and complacent.

With questioning comes knowledge and with knowledge comes power.

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 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

Jacob found out his crush Amy liked me. I didn’t even know it. All I knew was that my property was being mysteriously vandalized. I should have seen the writing on the wall then, that even when a girl does like you, that’s actually just the beginning of the stress.

Come to find out, Jacob was slashing holes in my bike tires. The last straw was when he stole my pair of fake Ray Bans.

I told his cousins and everyone we knew, that when I saw him, it was on sight. Even my mom overheard my threats, but I guess no one took me seriously, until I caught him walking home from Dairy Queen.

It was the moment I’d been waiting for. I rushed up the hill and without saying a word, shoved him into a fence. To my surprise, he wasn’t shook.

“Just let my set down my slushie and glasses”, he said.

After he did I started swinging. You would think I was trying to kill him. All he could do was whimper in self-defense, and try to mitigate the damage. It was as if I was retaliating for years of being bullied by everyone else.

I saw blood gushing out of his face but I didn’t stop. He was crawling on the ground. I was standing. I cocked back to kick him in the face. It was just how I’d been fantasizing. But something reminded me that he was once my friend, so I stopped. My work was done.

I ran home feeling like Rocky, my clothes covered in his blood. I put my Tupac tape into the cassette deck.

My grandmother came over to see what the commotion was. Shocked, she screamed “Are you losing your mind”. For that moment, I had.

Just then the police showed up. They said they wanted to question me. I told them I was doing their job for them, since they couldn’t apprehend this thief and vandal themselves. I told them I was going to protect my property by any means necessary. I told them there was only one criminal involved in this situation and justice had already been served.

As I waited for them to thank and applaud my heroic vigilantism, they got a call from their dispatch saying Jacob mother did not wish to press charges. Probably because that would also implicate her son criminally. Apparently she was just trying to scare me.

My punishment was that my mother made me spend an entire day with her at her desk job. It was horrible sitting there all day by myself in a cubicle with nothing to do.

What’s crazy is that my punishment then is what I have to do for money to survive now. What’s even crazier but not terribly surprising is that last I heard, Jacob is a cop now.

Let’s pray he never pulls me over. I’ll add that to the list of things I don’t want to think about.

“Fuck peace and the police” -2Pac, ‘Ambitionz Az a Ridah’

I was never allowed to go on any field trip. I had gotten in too much trouble. It broke my heart in the 6th grade when I couldn’t go to Camp Piedmont. I’d been looking forward to that trip for years. The night before, I begged God that somehow I’d be able to go. But when I went to school the next morning, everyone was gone. I just sat there with the other “bad” kids, doing nothing.

It was the 8th grade now which meant there was one last field trip before High School, the big one to Washington D.C. I actually had a shot at being allowed to go.

A few weeks before the trip an older kid tried to fight me again. The whole school formed around us. We stood there surrounded by a colleseum of students, him antagonizing me, everyone laughing. I was running out of time, that crowd wanted blood. I didn’t know what to do.

Teachers finally came and broke it up. I wondered what took them so long. The principal took me in his office, called me a trouble maker, and gave me the only thing worst than in-school suspension – the dreaded Saturday School. He said that if I didn’t show up, I could kiss my D.C. trip goodbye.

They had taken so much from me already. I wasn’t going to beg for their mercy. It was the Friday before I was supposed to go to Saturday School. Friday the 13th, September, 1996.

My mind was made up about not going to Saturday school, or DC.

I had made my peace with. It was my protest. I didn’t do anything wrong and believed it was important to stand for something. Rebelling against the system was the only time I ever found peace. I felt like I was doing God’s work.

I felt like it was Me Against the World and I wanted to be like Tupac.

He had just been shot a week before and was still in the hospital. All I could think about was what he said. “If you can’t find something to live for you better find something to die for.”

The words were resonating with me a lot.

I felt like he was going through so much, so we’d know we could also withstand struggle. I was sure he was going to survive, like he always did.

But later that evening while playing my Nintendo 64, my mom came into my room from watching the news, and told me that my hero had died. Tupac has succumb to his violent, rebellious lifestyle.

The look in her eyes said it all. The next morning I went to Saturday school. Then I went on a field trip to Washington D.C., where I saw the buildings built by slaves, and the people who preached freedom.

Chapter 20

Sometimes we’d sneak into and hangout in the church basement to escape the boring services and choir practices.

The phone rang.

I picked it up knowing I shouldn’t, but something told me I needed to.

The voice on the line said something strange,

“free your mind or they’ll poison it”.

I knew right away whose voice it was, Ellicia’s. The only problem was she had been dead for years.

I hung up and my friend Ronnie said, “It looks like you just saw a ghost”.

“Close, I think I heard one”.

Mr. George heard the phone ring and came to see who called. I couldn’t bare to say. I knew how crazy I’d sound. He became curious, demanding I answer, but I couldn’t.

Ellicia was his niece.

He turned to Ronnie. I knew right away he’d fold. “Don’t tell him”, I pleaded, but it was in vain. He told Mr. George, who then just looked at me blankly and walked away. I felt terrible but was more intrigued by the caller’s message.

Back in St. C. my best friend Sean and all of his little brothers had moved to California, and Jacob and I were dead to each other. With High School fast approaching I was heading straight into a new world, once again friendless.

I had no choice but to form alliances. Perhaps we had taken a collective subconscious influence from the east coast/west coast war we saw on TV, because at school a war was brewing.

It was dubbed the Prep vs. Punk war.

The jocks and kids who dressed in Tommy Hilfiger were constantly getting into fights with the grimier kids who listened to Marilyn Manson.

Everyone was forced to pick a side.

Recess was like a prison yard, with what seemed like hundreds of us split down the middle of the blacktop, ready for an all out brawl at any minute.

Tensions were high and even though I technically didn’t fit into any side of their feud, I was happy to be embraced by the Preps. I mean my clothes were hella-fresh.

To be honest it was fun. It gave us something to do and it felt good to be a part of something, even if we were flirting with gang mentality.

I had my first encounter with requited love at the school dance, with a black girl named Eliza. She didn’t go to our school but came to the dance with a friend. We danced to almost every song together and I kinda liked her.

I thought no other girl in school would like me after that. I was afraid they’d think I only liked black girls.

I’m embarrassed to admit this now but I was looked at with such disgust by the white people, I started to have that same disgust implanted in my own heart.

The thing about racist propaganda that unfortunately afflicts so many white people, is that we as Black Americans have to live in the same world, and are therefor not impervious to that same brainwashing.

But because we’re the victims of it, we’re forced to examine why, which can often lead to understanding – but not always.

That was the last I would see of Eliza. We made plans to meet up at the next dance but she didn’t show. The last I heard she’s still in St. C, with 4 kids to two guys.

I’m tempted to be petty and make a joke, blaming that on her standing me up 20 years ago. But knowing how hard it is to escape the pressure that she must’ve been under then, that I’m still up against now, I think I’ll take the compassionate road.

With the church constantly telling me God was always watching and judging me, I began to develop a sort of OCD.

I began hearing a voice in my head that said “I hate god”. It was the last thing I felt I should be thinking, and that’s why I thought it.

For example, try as hard as you can to not think about a baby dancing on a grave…You can’t do it, can you? A baby dancing on a grave just popped in your mind, just because I told you not to. And that’s what would happen to me, off and on for years.

Perhaps it was my subconscious telling me that I should hate the watered down, anthropomorphized, oppressive version of god they invented to control us.

Perhaps it was a true source of divinity telling me to break free from the manipulative, exploitative god that was fed to us at church. I mean I was literally getting otherworldly phone calls at churches telling me to free my mind.

With all of these different things swirling around in my head, I was more confused than you probably are reading this chapter.

But things were happening that fast. Religion, racism, girls, grades, gangs – it was almost too much and it really hasn’t even got started yet.

Little did we know then, but would soon find out, the feds were already watching.

All this, and I hadn’t even started High School. That’s when things really get crazy.

Season 3 coming soon.