Happy Anniversary

26 01 2008

Wednesday January 26, 2000

1:42 pm:

Inside the liberal arts building (Tucker Hall) on the Florida A&M University campus in an auditorium style classroom that held approximately 40 students, something magical was about to happen.

The class was creative writing, and the teacher, Ms. Azevedo, had just laid down her latest challenge: she wanted each student to write based on sensory memory of an experience in church or at a funeral. The students fidgeted with nervous energy as she explained this assignment was designed to tap into the subconscious brain center which is the womb where golden literary eggs are molded. This would not be a take home assignment. She wanted the students to use the remaining hour of class to write, stream of consciousness style.

I was seated on the fourth row, just behind the pretty brown skinned girl with the hazel eyes and cinnamon-sweet perfume I was crushing on, but my mind was far from her at that moment. I was focused on that seemingly endless stretch of white page before me. She wanted us to write prose? I didn’t write prose. I was a poet for god’s sake. The only reason I had even enrolled in the class was to find out if my newly discovered poetry talent was any good or not.

Besides that, I didn’t really have any church memories to report on, being that I had been raised in an Islamic household, and didn’t necessarily want the entire class in my business. So that meant, either make something up, or write of another sensory based experience. The white page mocked me. I looked around.

Most everyone else was writing or trying to write. I saw thirty-nine hunched over, mostly right handed, young men and women pouring their thoughts out onto paper. I caught Ms Azevedo’s eye. She looked at me as if to say, don’t look at me, I can’t help you get what’s in your head out onto that paper. I nodded. I know, I know.

An image began forming in my head of something that had happened to me a couple of year’s earlier back home in Lake Charles, Lousiana. But I couldn’t write about that, could I? That was completely off the reservation. No. Better to make something up.

I started to write a story about a kid who falls asleep at a wake, and awakens hours later, forgotten only to find himself alone with his belated uncle. It was crap. Only twenty minutes until pencils down. Time to start over. Screw it, I would write the damn Lake City story.

My hand shook just at the thought of going back to that moment. But I dove back in.

I remembered how my homeboy Jay had shown up at my house that morning. How nervous he’d been acting. He was a known hoodlum in the hood and could not be trusted, but we were cool. He just wanted to go to the park and shoot some hoops. Everyone in our area knew that I would wake up at 3:00 am to play b-ball.

I remembered the heat. It was only 9:00 am but the sun was blazing something fierce. We took off down my street to the park. Jay was a lot shorter than I was, but he more than made up for it in bravado. We were complete opposites, he was the habitual summer school attendee due to poor grades while I was the honors student. But we had grown up together.

We’re at the park about twenty minutes when Jay suddenly stops his jump shot, mid-jump. His eyes widened with fear and I looked over his shoulder to see a silver Nissan Maxima turn the corner.

“What’s up, Jay?” I asked.

He didn’t reply. Just took off running in the opposite direction from where the car was coming from. Tires screeched. And I turned from watching Jay’s back to look at the car. The driver’s side back window rolled down smoothly and a twin barrel shotgun poked its nose out. The basketball Jay had been holding bounced into my arms and I stood there frozen as the car approached at a rapid rate.

The shotgun breathed fire and I heard an enormously loud blast. There was an explosion of air on my right side and I collapsed to the hardtop. The smell of gunpowder mixed with burnt tires and engine exhaust was sharp and acrid in the air. The pavement was hot and burnt my face, but I wasn’t raising my head for anything. For all I knew, I was dead. That’s why I wasn’t feeling any pain.

It was over so fast. I heard the Maxima turn the corner and speed off. Then the regular neighborhood sounds returned, but I could barely hear them over my own hoarse breathing. I rolled over onto my back, basketball still clutched in the crook of my right arm. Something was wrong.

I looked down at what was left of the basketball. It has been obliterated by the speeding bullet’s impact only inches from my abdomen.

It took me a long while to stand again.

Pencils down. I looked up from the pages in a daze. What the hell just happened?

“Wow,” Brown-skinned girl said, nodding with approval. I followed her gaze and saw her looking at the nearly six full pages of my scribbled handwriting. “I only got like two.”

At home, later, I re-read over what I had written again and again. It felt like magic, but it was completely different from the poems. It felt like I had awakened something old and wise and a bit dangerous in myself. But that wasn’t the only thing. There was an idea so big growing in my head, that I could hardly contain it.

That incident growing up had been completely atypical for my all black middle-class neighborhood. There were no gangs where I lived. None of my friends were into drugs, and yet I was nearly gunned down in a drive-by just the same. Because sometimes trouble finds you whether you’re looking for it or not.

This story would later be incorporated into my novel One Blood, that began that afternoon in Ms. Azevedo’s creative writing class. As of this writing, I’m nearly complete with my final edits. We’ll talk about the editing process in another blog I’m sure.

For those of you that read my posting about the origins of my poetry, my novels have come to me the same way. Like they were always there, just waiting for me to dig a hole deep enough to find the treasure chest below. I did not choose to become a writer, I was chosen, and God am I grateful.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.”
-Douglas Adams




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