Harding

When I moved on to Harding Middle school I had hope because there were new kids. They seemed old though, like too old to be in middle school, and aside from that I wanted to know why we were sharing a field with the projects next door. At least we had metal detectors. There was a nervousness I’d developed by then. One I knew would never leave me, because I knew that any time I met new people it would turn out poorly. I wanted to see a new school as a chance to start over, no longer be the pissy kid with the crackhead mom and the bad haircuts, but my body wouldn’t allow it. From the time I left in the morning till the time I got home I was trembling and struggling to hide it. My underarms were soaked through all the time and I’d go to the bathroom to reapply deodorant, since I’d learned about the onion arms thing already.

I was terribly anxious, and any time it looked like someone was about to speak to me I’d recoil. But I also genuinely wanted friends and by observation, could tell already who the cooler kids were. There was a black and white kid named Terrell who was their leader. A pretty boy, sort of. Long hair that was sometimes braided, sometimes not. If it wasn’t there would be some girl braiding it during classes while he interrupted the teacher (when there was one) and shot spitballs at people. There was also a rumor that he was sixteen, which wasn’t hard to believe. He’d walk around slapping and grabbing the girl’s asses in the halls all the time, like the older drug dealers always did.

Terrell also had a sister, Tyesha, and she was fine as shit. I would have done anything to touch her ass. I had to be about six feet tall by then and she was almost as tall as me. And thick. All long thick legs in those khaki uniform pants with no back pockets. It was torture to have her walk by me. Her smell was sweet, but subtle like some expensive soaps I couldn’t have named. When her hair slid across my arm I just imagined her lotioning up her whole body after the shower before putting any clothes on like grown women did. Not only was she fine, but I also got the sense that she wasn’t as hood as her brother and therefore safer. I mostly believed that because I didn’t see her talk much. We never had a class together, but of course, I was wrong.

So many times Tyesha passed in the hall and I would open my mouth, starting to speak and she’d keep walking, giggling with her friends. One of those times, her brother noticed and approached me.

“Hey wassup young boul,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand. I returned the gesture. “Syke!” he shouted, pulling his hand back quick to his long hair. The goons around him all laughed. And that’s when I knew I fucked up.

Later that same day, I was sitting in the cafeteria eating my lunch at a table alone. It was one of those boat shaped pizza things, stiff, unseasoned green beans on the side. We had long lunch tables and I was facing away from the lunch line in my seat when a smack came across the back of my head.

“Open neck no respec bitch nigga!” yelled one of Terrell’s goons, Rob a tall dark skin one.

It was everything I feared would happen. I was used to it though; I had practice from Stearne. I’d known I would respond differently though, that I would take a stand. Any plan different from elementary school would have been fine. I took as deep a breath as I could and closed my eyes. I wanted to silence the roars of laughter from the cafeteria. But I couldn’t. I kept my eyes closed because I couldn’t stand to look at any of their faces. But I felt them. The heat of all the kids hovering and moving around me and pointing and laughing and I couldn’t keep it in. Tears squeezed out of my closed eyes as I strained, balling up my face trying to keep them in. And so, the tone was set for my middle school career.

There was a bright side to middle school though; as the kids got older, the bullying became less physical and more verbal. Still, it took me a while long to learn how to take advantage of it. Even though I’d think of witty retorts to all the comments about my lankyness and even the gay jokes, I never said them. I was already boxed in. I thought that keeping quiet and to myself would be most useful, even though it had failed all this time. Talking shit, or bussin, became the ladder one could use to climb the social hierarchy. Even these two fat white kids, the only two I remember being in middle school, Anthony and Billy, rose to excellence by virtue of their diss game.

Anthony, the blonde one who I think was a little fatter, came up with the nickname I would carry all the way to ninth grade: Shitmouth. I had this pitch black cavity right in front of my left canine. I’d never been to a dentist before, nor did I really consider it a thing. No one in the house brushed their teeth or talked about it so it was foreign to me, unlike sweets. I did my best to hide it and keep my mouth closed, but every time I’d talk, there it was. I refused to answer questions in class even when I knew the answers; even adopted a way to say small things with my mouth completely closed. When I smiled though, the tooth was most obvious. So I never did. But Anthony caught me slipping regularly.

We were in gym class and I’d just realized I could dunk. It was pretty monumental, and the other kids seemed impressed, especially the gym teacher. By then I’d started to enjoy sports but I avoided playing most of the time because I hated all the kids. It was gym though, we had to participate. I slammed the ball through the hoop and hung on the rim, triumphant. When I let go I landed on both feet, knees bent, and rose slowly, watching all the proud faces around me, reveling in the “ooooh” and “oh shit”s coming from the crowd. I had never been looked at like that before, I couldn’t help but smile. And Anthony caught me.

“Ill, what the fuck is that, Shitmouth!”

The other kids groaned in disgust, twisting their faces at me.

“Shit look like a black hole!” another kid said.

“Back up, I don’t want to get sucked in!” said Anthony.

They all laughed, wrenching and bending over until our gym teacher had us all go back to our spots. I didn’t cry though. I was done with that. I was so used to shit at home and at school that I assumed I had no tears left. In gym class, we sat on these little colored dots on the floor. We were all maybe five feet away from each other, and I could hear the whispers all around me, the kids continuing to make jokes and point. And I didn’t cry, but I grew hot. Anthony was sitting on the dot in front of mine.

“What the fuck is that? Shit is nasty right?” he said to another kid.

He was not gonna let it go. It made me tremble. But I kept quiet and tried to stay calm. The gym teacher was in the closet getting dodgeballs when Anthony turned back to look at me.

“You know that shit is triflin right? Why don’t you fix that?” he said. A bunch of kids snickered a little louder.

Why don’t I fix it? I had no understanding of how to fix anything. I’d never had a doctor or dentist or even a toothbrush. I rarely had clean clothes. How would I go about fixing it? I’d asked a social worker before about emancipation and she asked my grandfather why I’d ask that; I got my ass beat when I came home. I was more concerned with having food that didn’t have roaches in it. Why don’t I fix it? I hadn’t been so angry in a long time, and Anthony was smiling and laughing so hard. I stood up.

“What you doin Shitmouth?” he said. Then he turned forward like nothing happened, still laughing.

I walked up to the side of him quietly with my fist tight and swung on him with my whole body. My fist smacked onto his right cheek and the sound rung out through the gym. The flubber on his face rolled like a wave, and kept jiggling for a few seconds even after I drew my hand back. The crowd went wild.

“Oh shit, that nigga socked the shit out you!”

“Yoooo,” others said.

I was still furious but my hand hurt so bad I wasn’t gonna to do it again. And Anthony? He just sat there, and I went right back to my dot and sat down, trying not to let my rage show, and even much less, the fact that my hand hurt. Anthony’s cheek was bright red and he started to cry, loudly. The sobs drew the attention of the gym teacher who was drawing more equipment from the closet.

“What’s going on out here?” she asked.

Nobody said a word. No snitchin. But Anthony was obviously crying. Then, I started to cry too. I wished I didn’t have to deal with any of it. I would have preferred to have friends, but that’s not how it worked. In order for people to respect me, I’d have to dominate them, mistreat them. By punching Anthony in the face and making him cry, I’d earned respect: the only social capital that mattered. I was crying louder than Anthony, which made me ever more furious, lapping up snot as it ran down my face. I couldn’t unknot my fists no matter how hard I tried. We both just sat there, crying.

That was the first time I got suspended. When I came home with the pink slip, I told my grandfather I had defended myself. He called me a dumb faggot and said I better not fuck up in school anymore. Then he kept grumbling obscenities into his room, fuckin dummy, if that boy had a brain, he’d be dangerous.

 

Just a Couple of Unpopular Opinions that are also True

American Football is real life, professional Mandingo fighting and I’ve never been interested in watching it, nor have I ever gone out of my way to participate, or observe a peaceful protest. I was also not excited at the headlines stating that one of the sport’s few Black quarterbacks was kneeling to protest police violence. Symbolic victories were, and continue to be lost on me. I was a little confused, although I shouldn’t have been, when the kneeling somehow began to mean disrespecting the troops…? I’m still a tad confuzzled about the correlation, but a flag is a piece of cloth, just like the clothes I’m wearing right now, albeit less useful. And at least half the soldiers I’ve served with are rapey racists, but some of them are folks of color and women who give even fewer fucks than I do about supporting symbolic patriotism, with its long-standing romance with White supremacy. And the national anthem that soldiers readily flee from on every base I’ve ever been to, was written by a White racist, for other White racists, and some of those White racists are on our money and we have to worship and memorialize them like gods forever and ever. And when White people yip and holler “fire em!” (football players) for not doing their “jobs”–in this regard, not standing for the anthem, while still actually playing the blood sport for their White owners immense profit and America’s entertainment–the entire point of something I didn’t really care much about to begin with, is missed, or rather avoided so much that I can’t help but get violently angry and defend the damn football players who I wasn’t paying that much attention to to begin with. But taken altogether, I end up even more pessimistic, and sad, and ashamed than when I started.

 

Eminem’s verse was trash truck juice with a swig of the White mediocrity we’ve all grown to know and love. No bars. None. And he didn’t say a single innovative, clever, subversive, or bold thing about 45 in support of any kind of resistance, which is doubly disappointing, given his position as not only a rapper, but one of the widely accepted “G.O.A.T.”s who has casually eviscerated niggas like Benzino, Ja Rule, Cannabis and countless others for minor beef; trashed, degraded and bullied female celebrities like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera for existing; and made whole albums about literally killing his own mother, and the mother of his child. Compared to this, and taken alongside other rapper’s beefs with each other (“Ether,” “Hit Em Up”, Takeover,” etc.), or even RTJ’s anti-45 rhetoric, and after all of the gay bashing Eminem has done, the “egg shells” that he “came to stomp,” are much less a fuck you to the administration, but more of a coded love letter penned by another emotionally stunted man-child.

And Aesop Rock is the best White rapper anyway.

When I grow up, I want to write an essay about Facebook and complicated relationships

Not long after I left high school, say, 2007, it became cool to talk shit about Facebook. It’s implicitly disingenuous. The people who use it are disingenuous. Capitalism. It’s distracting. Trolls. Cyber bullying. Identify theft. Advertisements. It’s problematic. Zuckerberg is problematic. I’m too cool for it. I’m not cool enough for it. Employers see it. Capitalism. And so forth.

I am not unfamiliar with holding some these opinions simultaneously.

But.

More obviously Facebook reminds, rather it forces me to communicate with people all over the world. Even the ones that are “meh” humans, because fuck it, why not. Facebook has prevented meaningful relationships from dissolving into the obscure necessity of capitalism and loneliness. It reminds me why those relationships were meaningful to begin with.

I tend to burn bridges, but I’m a terrible engineer.

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” The quote doesn’t mean shit on its own, but it otherwise admits that nearly all diasporic peoples, and all queer folks who survive in majority society are geniuses by circumstance. David Shields makes a point to say that Fitzgerald’s unnecessary comma itself, is problematic in its divisiveness.

A friend on Facebook talked to me about her failed suicide attempt while I sat in my car with a gun my lap. She’s still alive, and I sold the gun shortly after.

Roxane Gay has spoken volumes to such truths: the complexity in her own feminism, lavishing in the ability to be wrong sometimes, to be contradictory, to be human. To listen or dance to the Yin Yang Twins as they demand that you to get low.

Facebook was where I learned “It’s Complicated.”

Zadie Smith does not use social media because it would prevent her from writing. “I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it.” Staying off the web “protects her right to be wrong.” But not really, since wrongness never exists in a vacuum. Though more selfishly I’m interested in reading and hearing what Zadie Smith has to say anyway. And if I had the profile of a Zadie Smith I would not want to be constantly badgered by a citizenry desperately waiting for me to slip up so that they could attack me with their twitter fingers. I also don’t think everyone’s right to be wrong should be treated equally, as wrong thoughts are a large category of things ranging from the cute and fluffy to the sharp and murdery.

I wrote about my own politics being trash because they are, but aren’t. I don’t really think that, but I do.

Facebook reminds me that I’m very often code switching in my own head and that I should stop because I’m at home alone heating up leftovers.

I don’t really have a crush on Valerie from Riverdale because she’s a teenager in a small town, though Hayley Law was born in 1992, which is probably still too young for me. But technically, legally it’s not. And it doesn’t matter anyway because she’s an actress, and assuming she would be interested becomes more problematic than the crush itself. Plus thinking of a twenty-four-year old as too young for me at twenty nine is pretentious too, still, when I was eighteen she was thirteen. What to do?

Facebook has the news: People are taking knees and no one agrees.

Some close friends of mine are cops, but them niggas are also Black.

My Facebook friends inhabit different worlds, even when they live in the same cities.

I found out about one of my favorite magazines, The Offing, because Kiese Laymon posted about it on Facebook. Eventually, they published a piece of mine that I’m still I’m quite proud of.

 

Facebook reminds me of my own conflicting ideas, dogmas and ideologies. Sometimes it allows me to read people better, not because I think a Facebook persona is a genuine articulation of any human being, but more because I think the fiction [see persona] an individual chooses to display says more than they’re ready to tell.

 

The Facebook logo is blue.

 

I was talking with a friend about why some people–myself included–feel like fiction is more revealing and personal than essay or memoir and I look at my own stories and think: You could have said anything, and you wrote this? And about Achy Obejas’ stories, We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this? As I get older, I feel less ashamed or apologetic about who I am, or was, but the fidelity of what I could choose to be, to create, if anything [fiction] is much more contentious, more emotionally fraught. Probably why there’s so little fiction here.