Wat Do U C?
When you look at me you instantly judge me because I'm an African American man, so you think my father's a deadbeat dad that ran off when I was born, or you think I sell drugs, or I'm a rapper, or play ball. Well, you must think you got me figured out, but naw you don't.
Everything I do is not optional at all. It’s because I need to do it to survive or become better in life, or to support my family. My life has been a roller coaster 24/7 but at the end of the day I can only be happy that I'm still here, because where I come from tomorrow is not promised. Every day I go outside I am nervous that I won't make it back home at night. I'm just tryna be that one kid out of the whole group who makes it and does something with his life.
I've been through so much to get where I am, but no one notices it—not my friends, not my mom, or my siblings; like they don't have the fears I have every day, the worries I have every day. They think I'm the same kid I was from a couple years ago, but naw that kid’s been gone.
Every day I strive to do better. They don't know that sometimes I just need a “good job,” a “congratulations,” or “how are you feeling today?” I don't get none of that and still I work harder and harder every day; I go to school and bust my work out averaging a 3.5 GPA. I also work hard on the football field so I can get a scholarship to college so my mother doesn’t have to pay for me to go to college. I know that day would come, but I only have one question, when you look at me wat do u c?
In sixth grade when I first had crew, similar to homeroom, I was not a leader. I was an agitator and did not care either. I was put on the right path many times but I did not want to listen. For example, when we were at North Bay, a wilderness camp, we had to work together as a unit to accomplish a common goal. North Bay was a bond building experience. As a team, we had to cross an imaginary swamp using only three 2x4s and three small platforms. It was difficult and everybody wanted to give up. I did not want to keep trying either because I believed that if it was hard the first time I tried, it was going to be hard all the time. I joined the quitters while others kept trying hard. I was not very good at persevering.
Since, I have learned that it does not matter how many times you fail. It matters how many times you get back up and how many times you try again. I have experienced times when I should have persevered but did not. I had given up and as a result, so did my crew.
The best example of when I persevered is when I was at Outward Bound, another camping trip similar to North Bay. That was a challenge too because it was very cold. When I get cold I stop caring. It was raining and I wanted to give up every time I got wet. I had to keep hanging my clothes to dry. I was so cold I could not feel my toes. Still, I persevered through by not thinking about it. I told myself that being cold is a mindset. “If I distract my mind from how my body feels, I can make myself believe that it is not cold.”
That day, some of my teammates saw me and tried it as well. When they did, it started a chain reaction throughout the group.
People are not supposed to give up; people are supposed to fight; they are supposed to keep trying. That is how they grow.
The Struggle to Learn
In 5th grade the guidance counselor would come to get me out of class. I thought I was special because I knew I was getting out everyday at the same time. Sometimes I would watch the clock and wait on her to come get me. We talked about my feelings. She taught me to find context clues. I couldn't even regurgitate a story because I couldn’t read it. I just stared at the words and made up my own. I used this trick all through school, but suddenly something changed when I hit high school.
I would try to use context clues but my vision would go blurry and I wouldn't be able to understand some letters. So I stopped reading. I didn't read at all in high school and my grades dropped so fast my teacher decided to have a conversation with me.
"Sweetie, I want you to take a test for me just to see where you are," she said.
The following day I took the placement test. We received the results right away and my reading score was at 3rd grade level, but my math was very advanced. My teacher said, "O'Shéa, we're going to test you on something else." I said OK and took another test.After she graded it, she looked at me and said "Ahh, I see the problem YOU’RE DYSLEXIC."
I began to cry and asked “what?”
She said it's going to be OK.
At the end of the day when the bell rang, I was very eager to tell my mom the awful news. I rushed home through the front door and said, “Ma, I'm dyslexic!”
"I know Hon, your teacher called.” She said, “I knew since you were tested in middle school.”
So, now that I'm aware that I have a learning disability I can work with different teachers to get the help I need to help me better my reading. All of my family and friends are very supportive about it. Also, my brother recently discovered that he has the same learning disability so now he and I can work together to better ourselves as readers.
It all started on February 20, 2012. It was a cold winter night and my mother, my annoying little cousin, and I were preparing for my little brothers birthday party the next day. My mother was rushing around trying to make sure that everything was perfect; his favorite food, his favorite characters, his cake, his presents, everything that he had ever wished for. She had to make it perfect. This had to be something that he would never forget. Even though she couldn’t afford to do anything over the top, she vowed to my cousin and I that she would make this day as special as she could.
So that’s how we got here, Wal-Mart, the place I dreaded the most, only because my mom would take hours in this store. She always went in for one thing but came out with sixty more things, and she never got the thing that she initially came for. Tonight we had to come here because we needed the food for my brothers’ party and also the chips for my science fair project. Surprisingly, we were out of the store in less than twenty minutes and to make things even more bizarre my annoying little cousin was being less annoying than usual. This had me a little on edge but it calmed me as well.
We put the groceries in the trunk of our white Chevy Impala (oh god, I loved that car). Ten minutes after we arrived home, my aunt and her youngest two children came over. I loved my aunt to death but I couldn’t stand her demonic children. They were like mini Tasmanian devils. They destroyed everything they touched. After a while, my mom left to go pick up my brother from his cousin’s house. He had been staying there for the weekend while Mommy gathered party items. When she left my aunt went into the living room to take a nap leaving me to watch her children. I attempted to keep them under control but failed when they yelled for a snack. I gave them some of the chips from my project to keep them quiet.
They were eating, but my annoying little cousin was standoffish. I offered her more chips and asked her many times what was wrong. She only ignored me. I gave up and continued to work on my science fair project. A couple minutes later, my annoying cousin announced that she was going upstairs to shower. I nodded my head, yes so she would know that I heard her.
Minutes later, I heard something coming down the steps sounding like a herd of cattle. My head shot towards the steps and when the walking ceased my cousin appeared, out of breath, and sweaty. I brushed off her edgy appearance and quickly got back to work. However, minutes later, the smoke detector went off.
I mentally cursed at myself because that thing went off all the time and it was always a hassle to get it to stop. As I walked up the steps to press the button like usual I noticed a flickering light on the wall. I thought that the bulb was going out in my room but as I turned the corner a burst of hot air burned my face and I saw it. It had very unique colors. It was a mix of red, yellow, and orange. It was an amazing orange blaze that could hypnotize you into touching it, but I just didn’t understand. How? Where did it come from? Why here? Why now?
I ran downstairs screaming my aunt’s name. I shook her profusely to wake her up. When she woke up she looked at me as if I had four heads.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I couldn’t get it out. It was as if I didn’t know how to speak. I could only utter one word: fire.
My Brand New Toys
I had toys but I didn’t play with them. I had X-Men characters, cars and trucks the usual toys in a young boy's arsenal. I would draw my characters on paper and cut the images out. I would create a village then have my Iron-Man action figure. I also would use household items mostly cup straws, pencils and packets of ketchup or soy sauce stored in the cabinet from years of take-out to create my own little world. This would become the foundation of my creativeness.
I was a problem child in elementary school. I got suspended a lot, literally a lot of times. My mother would of course find out and I would get punished more every time I was suspended. Once, she was so fed up with my numerous problems in school she grounded me for the entire summer!
But, being me, I found use for all of that time I had alone in my room, with all of my store bought toys taken and withheld from me. I had to make use of my time by reading hoping I could maintain my sanity trapped in that prison called my room for the whole summer break.
Looking outside my window seeing the neighborhood children enjoying the beginning of a good summer, I was fed up. So, I stole paper from my brother’s room and drew up characters from popular cartoon shows I would watch to create my own show. I then started to use objects from around my room and played with them. When I was finally able to have my old toys back I would add them to my collection of brand new toys.
Bacon Mac and Cheese Stuffed
Grilled Cheese Lasagna
I watch an enormous amount of Buzzfeed Food videos on Facebook in my day to day life. I tell myself that because the time lapsed cooking instructions are normally sixty seconds or less, they aren’t a waste of time. I’ve noticed that sixty seconds here and there quickly adds up though. Coming home from a long day at school, I remove my pants and plop onto to my bed. Like clockwork, I open Facebook at 5 and scroll through my tutorial infested timeline. I watch video after video on how to make recipes that in actuality, I will never attempt to create.
Watching a set of ambiguous looking hands combine over glorified ingredients to make appealing looking meals and desserts like Oreo Churro Ice Cream Bowls or some strange Bacon Mac and Cheese Stuffed Grilled Cheese Lasagna, is in no way benefiting me in the grand scheme of things. Even though I understand that the videos aren’t doing anything that will help me later in life and the fact that I don’t eat pork in general, I still watch tutorials on bacon centered dishes. Aware of the incredible insignificance of the short clips, I tell myself that watching such videos will teach me culinary skills I could use in the future.
As someone who has been spoiled by my parents in the food department throughout my life, cooking anything more than a fried egg has been unnecessary and unwarranted. Coming up with a solid reason for dedicating so much of my night to Facebook videos temporarily convinces me that I am using my time wisely, and that putting off my more pressing tasks, like doing homework or making art for my college portfolio, seems just as important. The truth is that I have never made anything Buzzfeed has concocted on camera and have no intention to, but I love to waste time, so I watch.
My Forever Angel
When I was sixteen years old my whole world turned upside down. My great-grandmother on my father's side passed away. She was one of my most favorite people in the world.
I first heard about her passing by my mom. My father called and told her and she told me. She came into my room and sat down.
“Jhaiyah, Mama just passed,” she said. I was shocked because I never knew she was sick or even in the hospital. The best part about her was that she was a great cook. The last time I saw her she was so happy and healthy. I think no one told me she was sick because they didn’t want me to worry.
She was there for me my whole life down to changing my pampers, taking me places, going to church every Sunday, holidays, birthdays. She was very active in my life. As I got older she was all I knew. She was the one I turned to when I felt like I had no one else. I told her everything. She was the reason I smiled.
Ever since she left, I never really found my happiness or myself. When I found out she passed, I didn’t cry at her funeral or at the burial because I still thought it was all unreal. I didn’t think someone so loving, caring, and healthy could just pass away. Now I cry almost everyday because I think about all the good times we had down to selling M&M’s at every car dealership. She always told me, “Girl, I want you to grow up and be somebody in life. I have faith in you.”
So, from that day she passed, I made her that promise. I promised to keep it so she could live through me.
What makes me happy is making everyone around me happy. Such as family, friends, and my girlfriend. I’m really a loving person who cares about others more than I care about myself. In my mind, I will be forever straight but I cannot say the same for everyone around me. So I do my best to help them whatsoever.
But when someone tries to make me feel obligated to do things for them, that’s where they lose me. There is a difference between helping someone who needs it because I chose to do so and being taken advantage of. So, my question is why take advantage of the one who’s trying to help you?! Is it because you know they care about you? Is it because you know they are willing to do anything to make sure you are good, make sure you keep your head above the water?
I used to give the local homeless man five dollars every day when I went on my lunch break. There were times when I didn’t have money to give him and he would look at me like “where’s my money at?” as if I owed him. I gave to him because I wanted to not because I had to.
A Lesson from the Big Apple
It was a cold February day. Me and my best friend were on the Peter Pan bus on our way to New York City for our birthday week. We were turning 16. Well, she was already 16 and my birthday was going to be the following week. The ride to New York was long and I was tired of sitting. We kept going to sleep and hoping when we woke up we would be there.
Finally, we arrived in New York. We were the first to get off because we were sitting in front. When we got off all we could do is look around before getting our bags and calling our cousin who lived in New Jersey.
I hated having to walk because people in New York were either walking fast or running.
In order for us to get to New Jersey we had to catch a train because New York was too busy to drive in and the train was easier for our cousin to come get us on time. When we boarded the train, it was confusing than the trains in Baltimore. But in a way, it was better than Baltimore trains because they had food spots. People were singing and dancing for money too.
When we got off the train, we had to walk a block to get to my cousin’s car. Then it took thirty minutes to get to her house.
New York and New Jersey were totally different. The town was peaceful and when we got to the house it was big and pretty. Our cousin, Bessa who had the back of the house shared it with someone. First, we had to go down the steps, which made us think it was the basement, but when we went in, it was like an apartment. It was a pretty surprise.
We put our things away then took showers and talked about what we were going to do that night. We decided to go to a movie theater that was just built.
We were on the highway singing to Katy Perry with the wind blowing in our hair. We drove past a lot of malls and restaurants. When we arrived at the movies, we were going to see Dope but, the movie didn’t allow 18 and under because they sold alcoholic drinks and you had to be 21 and over for that.
That was upsetting! So, we had to try another movie theater. We changed our mind about Dope we went to go see Max. We all were iffy about seeing that too because we wanted to see something funny and wasn’t sure about the photo of a dog on the poster.
We got our tickets to see Max. When we went to find a seat, it was also different from Baltimore. They had chairs that leaned back and we had to push a button that would call waiters so you could order food and snacks.
At the end, the movies were so good we were crying and laughing. We all were happy that we chose to see Max that night. On our trip to the Big Apple, we learned that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. We were iffy about going to see Max only because of a dog on the poster, but it turned out to be a good movie.
A New Skin
This was the kid who played the baritone horn, the closest you could get to a fart noise with it still being considered music. The large brassy sound would come, haltingly, jolting, from the living room, the giant mouth of it visible from the stairs, the dining room, the yard. He made up the base of the band, a low constant with trumpets and sharper, more glamorous instruments coming to the forefront. “I wanted to play the trombone, but Mr. Allen told me my arms weren’t long enough. At the time it felt like my role wasn’t in the spotlight enough. I always wanted, like, to be a trumpet player, what everyone heard,” he said, slumped against the couch, eyes darting back to the piano to his left.
My brother seemed to take to music effortlessly. He earned the affection of the chilly band teacher and traversed concert and jazz band with ease, coming home with stories of band room antics. “Being in band was very neutral. You had a lot of weirdos in band, and you had a lot of cool people. And some people were just straight bad eggs,” he said, “but I made a lot of friends there.” He could hold notes for much longer than the other horn players, he was always called in when there was a concert. The designated performance clothes were washed on schedule, constantly ready for a new concert. His baritone skills were a necessity for any major performance, though he was barely visible in the back of the middle school band, the giant horn obscuring his face and upper body. But the baritone horn didn’t have many solo parts. It was rare, almost unheard of, when he stepped forward for a jazz solo, nowhere near the glamor of the smaller brass instruments– the trumpet, the flute–hell, even the percussion. It looked and sounded, if one wasn’t careful, extremely clumsy.
He was drafted to Poly, where he brought his baritone with him. Now, not only was he dwarfed by his instrument, he was dwarfed by everyone else, a mere freshmen in a band full of much older, much more experienced players. The band teacher who had looked at him with such fondness was left behind at middle school.
Then the “Call of Duty wave” started. The video game consumed his life for close to two years, eliciting fights with our parents over how long he could stay up and halting his baritone career. He dropped out of band after freshmen year, returning the baritone to the school. “I felt nothing. It was just like a chore, and now there was one less chore to do,” he told me, “Back then I didn’t really know what music was, I just played it.” He didn’t pick up an instrument for the rest of high school. Sounds of fake explosions and indiscriminate yelling replaced the deep rumbling that was produced from his practicing. The performance clothes got dusty.
He was accepted into the University of Maryland, his first choice school. At this point, he never mentioned his baritone days. He didn’t even bring an acoustic guitar to college– a staple among eighteen-year-olds trying to look cool and deep. Then things got kind of fishy.
He started to ask my dad about music more and more– different instruments and musicians. He asked for my dad’s old guitar to be delivered to his apartment, and it was, with some suspicion. He mentioned practicing on our weekly calls with him, but I don’t think we truly understood it until he came home for the winter break. He could play it with some fluency and moved to the electric guitar, asking for a new amplifier for Christmas. That seemed to be but a stepping-stone though, for piano soon dominated the house.
He only knew part of one song, but he played it over and over again. My mother tried to correct his technique, tried to recommend some scales, but he was hell-bent on playing actual songs. Or just the one. Every spare moment was spent glued to the bench, hunched over in concentration. Soon he could play it all the way through. This pattern continued– he would fixate on a song and play it part by part all day until his fingers knew it. The piano has persisted through Spring and into Summer with more complex pieces, ranging from classical to ragtime. “Second semester I was learning all these rules and things about how music works, but now I figure I should just play other people’s songs– I was originally very hesitant to play other people’s songs, I just wanted to make my own right off the bat. I’m trying to prove my sense of rhythm.”
When he wakes up in the morning, he plays a couple of minutes before he goes off to work, the gentle sounds traveling up the stairs to my room. Whenever he passes the piano, his fingers trail across the keys. Right now he’s stuck on “The Entertainer,” the first minute of which he’s mastered, the bars coming quickly, fluently. Whenever he gets to the second part, however, discordant notes collapse on top of each other, and he starts from the beginning without pause. When he was younger, he spoke of living up north, in Canada maybe, where it’s isolated and cold. Now, when I asked him on our weekly walk, he said that he wanted to go to Los Angeles, to check out the music scene.
It’s still bizarre to see him by the piano so often, where he used to practice baritone so many years ago; weird to see him concentrate on something that seemed to end when I wasn’t even a teenager. It’s this new side of him that I haven’t really pinned down yet, sometimes he turns a certain way, or makes an offhand comment and he seems to be a different man. Like light moving across a room, or plants growing, he seems to change when you blink—he sheds his skin between notes on the piano.