I’ve had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I’ve helped many folks say yes to life but I’ve definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun.***
I’m 17, five years younger than Rekia Boyd will be when she is shot in the head by an off duty police officer in Chicago. It’s the summer after I graduated high school and my teammate, Troy, is back in Jackson, Mississippi. Troy, who plays college ball in Florida, asks me if I want to go to McDonald’s on I-55.
As Troy, Cleta, Leighton and I walk out of McDonald’s, that Filet-o-Fish grease straight cradling my lips, I hold the door for open for a tiny, scruffy-faced white man with a green John Deere hat on.
“Thanks, partner,” he says.
A few minutes later, we’re driving down I-55 when John Deere drives up and rolls his window down. I figure that he wants to say something funny since we’d had a cordial moment at McDonald’s. As soon as I roll my window down, the man screams, “Nigger lovers!” and speeds off.
On I-55, we pull up beside John Deere and I’m throwing finger-signs, calling John Deere all kinds of clever “motherfuckers.” The dude slows down and gets behind us. I turn around, hoping he pulls over.
John Deere pulls out a police siren and places it on top of his car. Troy is cussing my ass out and frantically trying to drive his Mama’s Lincoln away from John Deere. My heart is pounding out of my chest, not out of fear, but because I want a chance to choke the shit out of John Deere. I can’t think of any other way of making him feel what we felt.
Troy drives into his apartment complex and parks his Mama’s long Lincoln under some kind of shed. Everyone in the car is slumped down at this point. Around 20 seconds after we park, here comes the red, white and blue of the siren.
We hear a car door slam, then a loud knock on the back window. John Deere has a gun in one hand and a badge in the other. He’s telling me to get out of the car. My lips still smell like Filet-o-Fish.
“Only you,” he says to me. “You going to jail tonight.” He’s got the gun to my chest.
“Fuck you,” I tell him and suck my teeth. “I ain’t going nowhere.” I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
Cleta is up front trying to reason with the man through her window when all of a sudden, in a scene straight out of Boyz n the Hood, a black cop approaches the car and accuses us of doing something wrong. Minutes later, a white cop tells us that John Deere has been drinking too much and he lets us go.
16 months later, I’m 18, three years older than Edward Evans will be when he is shot in the head behind an abandoned home in Jackson.
Shonda and I are walking from Subway back to Millsaps College with two of her white friends. It’s nighttime. We turn off of North State Street and walk halfway past the cemetery when a red Corolla filled with brothers stops in front of us. All of the brothers have blue rags covering their noses and mouths. One of the brothers, a kid at least two years younger than me with the birdest of bird chests, gets out of the car clutching a shiny silver gun.
He comes towards Shonda and me.
“Me,” I say to him. “Me. Me.” I hold my hands up encouraging him to do whatever he needs to do. If he shoots me, well, I guess bullets enter and hopefully exist my chest, but if the young Nigga thinks I’m getting pistol whupped in front of a cemetery and my girlfriend off of State Street, I’m convinced I’m going to take the gun and beat him into a burnt cinnamon roll.
The boy places his gun on my chest and keeps looking back and forth to the car.
I feel a strange calm, an uncanny resolve. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. He’s patting me down for money that I don’t have since we hadn’t gotten our work-study checks yet and I just spent my last little money on two veggie subs from Subway and two of those large Chocolate Chip cookies.
The young brother keeps looking back to the car, unsure what he’s supposed to do. Shonda and her friends are screaming when he takes the gun off my chest and trots goofily back to the car.
Kiese Laymon is currently an Associate Professor of English and the co-director of Africana Studies at Vassar College. This essay was originally published on his blog, Cold Drank, and was republished with permission. It is an excerpt from Laymon’s forthcoming book, On Parole: An Autobiographical Antidote to Post-Blackness. Laymon is also the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division, which will be released in early 2013.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
seriously, take the time to read the whole thing. It’s so, so well done.