Sitting on the couch eating a chicken cheesesteak and a regular cheesesteak at the same time because I was starving and they only cost three dollars each, I joked with my mother, brother and sister. I was supposed to be recording things about the past with them, for the memoir I’m supposed to be finished by now as an MFA thesis.
“Yo, y’all remember the time that nigga my dad dropped by while I was in Iraq?” I asked.
“Yooo,” Julian said. “I remember that. This nigga followed me to school and everything. This when I was going down the street to Hardin.”
“God I fucking hated Harding,” I said. “But wait, why that nigga follow you to school?”
Nika was dying from laughter. “Y’all trippin,” she said.
My mother lay on the couch opposite me, looking at my chicken cheesesteak.
“I don’t even know. He was this weird short boul with braids and he had a grill in.”
I shook my head, chuckling.
Julian changed his voice to dramatize the situation. He sounded weak, sickly almost. “He was like: ‘hey I’m looking for my son, Joseph’” He was hunched over and slit eyed.
We all laughed.
“But I’m like thirty now. Niggas are so outta control,” I said. “Prolly wanted money.”
A cockroach skittered up on my scarf and I shook it off and kept eating. It was cold inside the house, so I kept my jacket on. Julian had gotten a small heater from his room upstairs and put it in front of his two-year-old daughter Aubrey. Nika was braiding her hair and eating a cheeseburger. My mother kept looking at my chicken cheesesteak, then up at me.
“You ain’t remember that Joey? I told you.”
“Yeah I remember he came,” I said. “I called that number he left, but shocker, his mother answered and no one ever called back. Wasn’t he like ten years older than you anyway? And you were thirteen. He been a rapist, somebody shoulda killed that nigga. I guess I called out of morbid curiosity. You know how like, when everybody is about to get killed by the Xenomorph, but you really want to see the whole Xenomorph first?”
Everyone stared at me, silent for a second.
“What,” Nika said.
“Six years older,” my mother said.
“Rapist,” I said. “We should kill him. You know his last name?”
I thought about the R. Kelly photos on my grandmother’s wall a few months ago, and how she proudly recounted going to his concert in Jersey to me. She was drunk cause she drinks a lot, but she’s a jolly, albeit, way too hype drunk so it’s usually fine if I have the energy. I had no real right to chastise her, even though I’d done so before. All I did was cut her off by saying I can’t fuck with R. Kelly. I watched my kids slide across the kitchen floor and wrestle with Cassie instead of arguing.
My mother was still eyeing the chicken cheesesteak. “I’m sorry Joey but you gonna eat that?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t take that jawn when I went to the bathroom,” I said.
“I was bein polite,” she said.
I took one more bite of the chicken cheesesteak before handing it over.
Julian came alive again, standing by the front door like he was guarding it. He had a long slimy onion in his beard from a burger. His daughter looked way up to him from her tiny chair, since he’s even taller than me. “Daddy,” she said with a frown, pointing at her tight braids.
“It’s okay Aubrey,” Julian said. “Joey, you said you called em before, why don’t you try and call em again?”
I searched for the number while making faces at Aubrey. It was saved under alleged father. When I hit dial we all got quiet for a few seconds in suspense. It rang six times and then an older black woman picked up the phone. “Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” I said, in my best imitation of the white voice from Sorry to Bother You. “I’m looking for a man named Tyrone Gulledge.”
“You got the wrong number,” she said. Then I deleted the number.
“Why don’t you try lookin for em on Facebook,” my mother said.
I do a quick Facebook search and find several Tyrone Gulledges, showing them to my mother and brother in succession. None of them matched.
“Guess not,” I said. Then I decided to just google the name. The first hit was the mugshot of a thin black man with braids named Tyrone Emanuel Gulledge. TEG. I showed the picture to my mother from the opposite couch. Her mouth was full of chicken cheesesteak, but she squinted. Nika and Julian saw it too.
“Yo that look like a mugshot,” Julian said.
“Of course it is,” I said.
My mother snatched the phone from my hand. “Yup, that’s him,” she said.
Julian started laughing. “Yeah Joey I coulda told you that. That’s just how that nigga looked when he followed me to school.”
We all laughed and laughed. Nika smiled harder and laughed quieter than the rest of us, focusing on Aubrey’s hair.
I wasn’t surprised at all, but I thought about how the only information I could ever truly get about family members was the listing of their criminal record. Ganny, Popop, my mother etc. And that used to make me angry, but now I’m not sure what to think about it, other than the anxiety. The incessant paranoia which keeps me encouraging my brother and sister and kids to stay off the list and simultaneously guard against people who are on the list but who are also family. It makes me feel mean. I’m just tryna stay honest. And be nice. And spend time with people. But we’re all already on some list, in one form or another.
Later, I send the image to an activist friend of mine who likes to look up info about people.
“They all say I look like him,” I text.
“Wow you look nothing like the dude,” she replies. But, “the records are uhhh many.”
There’s a pause while she writes. “Well, you both got tiny ears I guess.”
There’s a screenshot which captures a fraction of the man’s life and the chunks of other people’s lives he’s taken away.
Rape of Child.
Agg. Ind. Assault W/O Consent.
Unlawful Contact With Minor – Sexual Offenses
“He’s currently in Frackville,” my friend types.
Where the fuck is that, I think and type simultaneously. I google Frackville and find it’s one of the Pennsylvania dump sites west of Philadelphia, primarily littered with confederate flags, military bases and–
“Maximum security state prison,” my friend says.
Maybe the ears, I think. Maybe somebody will kill him.