Sunshine; lots of it beamed down on me from my position just outside of the auditorium where the introductory presentation was being held. I placed a hand over my brows, created a visor with my fingers as I stared up towards the sky.
Wished I could blink my eyes and be back at any moment in time that I pleased, but unfortunately for me and anyone else with the same wishes, life didn’t work like that.
I eased off the brick building I’d been leaned against, looked through the four doors to the lobby of the auditorium. An hour earlier it had been full, eager students snatching up pamphlets and information packets that guidance counselors and student advisors handed out.
I ducked extended hands holding papers I was meant to grab, ignored smiles and elbowed my way past thick groups of students to get into the auditorium where I sat myself in the farthest row from the stage for twenty long minutes before the presentation went underway.
First three minutes, my interest faded away.
It was a presentation meant to address what the fifty odd something of us were doing there–Wolverine Camp. Three months of bullshit if anyone asked me; but to others, the jumpstart to success.
Wolverine Camp was a summer program for incoming freshman students. It was an experience, a preview of what college life would be like. Required was maintaining a job on campus, attending three credit hours’ worth of classes, as well as internships located around the university that pertained to ones’ choice of career.
When I’d been admitted to the University of Michigan, I’d been informed that my attendance to Wolverine Camp was purely optional; recommended, but still my choice.
Too bad my parents decided for me.
It was their goal to get me out of Houston, get me in a school that could take me to the next level. I recommended something in state, told them it would be cheaper; they didn’t care. My father said the school had one of the highest graduating rates, one of the best law schools.
So here I was, stuck in a program for three months. Afterwards, I still had an entire four years to put up with, not to mention grad school. I didn’t struggle with school, damn near graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA; but something was off, something was wrong being here.
I could feel it.
Not even ten minutes into the presentation, I dipped out of the auditorium. Place was full of what appeared to be nerds, bunch of lames and overachievers that I couldn’t kick it with.
This had never been the route that I wanted to take, but my parents were down my throat. When it came to them, it was the books or it was nothing. There weren’t any other options besides college.
Told my dad I wanted to ball professionally and dude almost knocked me out.
“That’s not realistic, Christopher.” he always used my full name when he was trying to get a point across. “Do you know what the odds are of making it into the league?”
“Yes, I know.” I answered respectfully because my father was a sensitive man. Even the slightest form of disrespect would set him on fire, and that blaze wasn’t one that you wanted to be caught in.
“Then you know you’re not going to dribble a ball around for the rest of your life. You’re wasting time boy. Get your head in the books and off the court.”
I was the only one who believed in my dreams besides her. She told me I couldn’t be stopped.
“I think you can do anything. All you have to do is believe in yourself the way I do.” she had tossed me the basketball as we sat courtside at the park. I dribbled it thoughtlessly between my legs before I passed it back to her. “Correction–I know you can do anything. You that nigga, Chris.”
She said I could do whatever, said I could go wherever, said I could be whatever. And as long as I had her backing me up, chilling in my corner, I knew that it was possible.
Anything with her was possible.
With her on my team, I threw doubt out of the window. If no one had faith in me, it didn’t matter because she did.
She was really my confidence. One half of the duo, she held me down. When I was with her, I felt like I was invincible and invisible to the bullshit.
Just months ago during my senior year of high school, I took my basketball team to the state championship. It was an experience I’d never forget, one of the worst I’d ever been through.
It had been the final game, fourth quarter.
Ball was in my hand, bouncing up and down alongside my waist.
She, as she normally was, sat in the crowd cheering me on. She was always loud, but that day she really turned it up. Out of all the commotion in the gym, it was her voice that stood out. She was screaming my name, telling me to give my all in the last ten seconds.
Also in the crowd were recruiters from the top ranked universities in college basketball.
Those men held my life in their hands; if I was recruited by their schools, I was on the fast track to the NBA. I could play for a year or two, have scouts from the league looking at me before deciding that I was eligible for the draft.
All that power in the gym but I wasn’t nervous. I knew my prowess on the court was something sick.
I was dribbling the ball before the point guard for the opposing team. My eyes kept shifting from him to the game clock. I had six seconds to make a play. Dude I was going against was taller than me by a few inches. A three wasn’t a good look even if I stepped back, because his block would be higher than my release.
“Tighten up!” I yelled to my other four teammates. If victory was what we had to achieve, we had to work together to make it possible for us to do so.
Man to man post-ups and I could clearly see the lane I needed to drive down. All I had to do was find my way to the hoop.
Take the two and take the win.
After toying with him, I crossed dude over and ran down the path I’d spotted earlier as I dribbled. Defense was falling apart, the opposing team members breaking out of picks and coming for me, but I was already off the court taking my jump-shot.
I touched back on the ground, landed awkwardly on my ankle and couldn’t even move out of the way before one of the other team members was toppling over me. I was so busy trying to move myself out of the way that I didn’t get to see if the ball made it in the hoop.
There was a splitting pain ringing in both my leg and ankle as the same player fell atop both of my legs, causing my ankle to snap.
There was cheering for one of the teams, still igniting me with hope that we’d won. I heard the buzzer ring, looked up to the scoreboard optimistically despite the pain that was killing me.
Us: 98 – Them: 99.
In a matter of seconds I’d managed to break my leg and fracture my ankle.
My parents had been concerned after the reconstructive surgery I went through, but when I asked when I was going to be able to ball again, they lost it.
Moms said if I joined the league I’d probably wind up breaking my leg again or re-fracturing my ankle. With her being a nurse, she knew that my bones were real fragile and more susceptible to injury. I was out of commission for a few months. In the league, it amounted to the length of an entire season.
Star player or not, nobody wanted dead weight on the team. Dead weight didn’t win rings.
Moms asked me what I’d do with myself if this happened to me again, asked me what I’d do if my team let me go because of my injury.
I couldn’t tell her I’d get a job, because where was I going to work? McDonald’s wasn’t bringing in the bank like that and if I was drafted before my four years were up, I doubted I’d play and work towards getting a degree still. With no degree, I had no job.
There was really no Plan B for me. I never thought about it.
“An education is important,” my dad said. “And this is a sign that you need to drop the fantasies and pick up reality. A degree will take you far, boy.”
But it wasn’t going to take me where I wanted to go.
I needed my sun to see me through, light up the dark world I’d twisted myself into. Dark clouds were hanging over me, telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Sun needed to illuminate my world once again, give me courage.
She was gone without a trace.
No belief in myself, I gave into the bullshit my parents fed me. I submitted countless applications to several schools throughout the country. One day mail from the University of Michigan came in. It was an acceptance letter and my parents were more hype than I was.
Months later, I was officially a UofM Wolverine; should have been proud of myself, but I already felt like dropping out.
Rami’s place was everything short of warm and inviting.
It wasn’t home to me, wasn’t even home to him and it was his.
I had three homes; with my parents, with Aunty Kay and Jerm, with Mama Joyce.
I’d been screwing around, fucking up relationships and breaking walls of trust I’d built up. I couldn’t go to the house I’d grown up in and couldn’t go to Mama Joyce’s either for that exact reason.
I wasn’t even sure if I was welcome in Jerm’s house at the moment. After last night, I knew he had to have been pissed off, probably even furious.
But if I chose at any moment to pop up at any three, I knew as soon as I walked in, it would feel like home. It would be comfortable, it would feel loving, it would be home.
That didn’t matter though, because Rami was set on making sure I never disappeared out of his sight again.
In some ways, he reminded me of a jealous boyfriend. He had no reason to be jealous, which I knew he was. Jerm was strictly a best friend, more of a brotherly type than anything. The fact that he despised Jerm didn’t exactly help, either.
I’d stayed with Rami before, for a long time. We’d grown close, him coming on to me way harder than I had him. I flirted occasionally, hinted that I might have wanted him on top of me, but never did really mean any of it.
More than anything, he was just a passageway to drugs and liquor.
I didn’t give a fuck what was in his pants; didn’t want it and wouldn’t take it.
It was apparent that he felt for me in a way that I didn’t, the reason why he’d suckered me into staying with him. He threw Jerm’s name out there, told me if I didn’t, he knew where Jerm lived and he’d leave me regretting my decision.
Blackmail was a sick bitch.
“You’re not staying here for free, anymore.” Rami said as he walked into the freshly cleaned living room. Rami had a few select hoes that worked for him, doing whatever he wanted. Suck dick, spread wide, cook, clean.
They had the house looking like dozens of people hadn’t just run through it last night.
“What do you mean?” I asked warily, sitting up off the couch. He sat next to me and I scooted further down the furniture, still irritated at his actions from last night.
He had a knack for being more overdramatic than a bitch on her period.
“I mean if you’re gonna to stay here, you’re gonna pull your weight.”
I mumbled, “You act like I want to stay here. You didn’t even give me a choice in deciding.”
“I did; you’re just smart and chose the right one.”
“Whatever,” I rolled my eyes. “What you want, for me to go out and find a job?”
He shook his head, “Nope. I got one for you.”
My eyes widened as I looked down the couch at him. He was grinning, his white smile annoying me half way to death. His smile couldn’t have insinuated anything good, not with the wicked tone he used.
“You found me a job?” I questioned suspiciously. Something about the twinkle in his eyes told me it wasn’t anything I could put on my resume.
“You’re the first chick that’s ever been in the Mob,” he started, and I could tell I was in for something that was no good. “Since your title is technically Princess of the Mob, I think it’s time that you live up to that title.”
I twisted my face, wrinkled my nose and turned my lips up as I stared at him.
“Who the fuck refers to me as ‘Princess of the Mob’, first of all?” I challenged him. “I’m not even really in the Mob; I’m just cool with y’all.”
“I do, and you know what I say goes,” Rami retorted.
I ignored him, “Second, what the hell do you mean it’s time I live up to my title? I ain’t doing no dirty shit for you, Rami. I’m not here for that.”
“Did you miss the part where I said, ‘What I say–goes?’” Rami asked me smartly, cocking his head to the side as he stared at me. “Your free ride is up.”
“Fuck you!” I spat, shaking my head as I hopped up angrily from the couch. “First you make me stay here, threatening my best friend’s life. Then you tell me if I want to stay here, I have to pull my weight! I rather leave then work for you!”
Rami stood up, stepped towards me so close that our noses were inches apart. His light brown eyes staring into mine, meaning to be intimidating but failing to faze me. There was a grimace painted on his lips, a raised brow that let me know he was entirely serious.
“If you leave—”
“I know what you’ll do,” I cut him off before he could finish his statement. “I have never met someone as snide as you,” I drilled him. “You’re gonna go after my friend because I’m staying with him? Petty shit, Rami; real petty.”
“But it gets me what I want,” he reasoned.
“What you want doesn’t want you,” I made sure he knew. “It’s a one way street for you.”
He shrugged, “Maybe so, but you care for him, so I know you’ll stay. And since you’ll be staying, you’ll be coming out with us tonight. We have a few runs to make, a few clients that haven’t owned up to their word. You’ll be the one taking care of them; call it your initiation.”
Official initiation into the Mob, welcoming into the gang; welcome to the dark side.
There were young kids in the street, even some old heads, who would kill to be in the Mob. Men who wanted to have all that Ramiro did, men that were members of other gangs that didn’t nearly have as much influence as the Mob.
And I was being forced into it; willing to give my spot to anyone who wanted it, but unable to.
Ramiro inched forward and put his lips on my forehead before I shoved him away, promising to kick his ass if he tried to touch me again. He only laughed, chuckling to himself before he wandered off somewhere in the house.
My parents had always told me to pick and choose my friends wisely. Told me everything that seemed real wasn’t real, simply an illusion. They said there would be fakes, playing the role until they cornered me right to where they wanted me.
I should have paid more attention, realized when I was being cornered.
But I’d been choosing to ignore it, trading the cautionary instincts I had for rides to the sky on my cloud.
Should have listened to Jerm the day before when he scolded me for wanting to come.
Would have killed to be lying in his bed with his smelly big feet in my face, killed to be back in my own room, killed to be in Chris’ room listening to him sing until his voice grew sore.
But I’d destroyed my chances with those hopes.
And before I let it sink in that I had, I’d destroy myself first.
Crush, line, snort; repeat.
Again and again and again and again.
I was living, but hardly alive.