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No matter how hard I tried to enjoy myself on graduation night, I couldn't party the way I wanted to. I walked across the stage, heard my name called on the loudspeaker, shook the principal's hand, got my diploma, turned my tassels and threw my cap in the air. I even took pictures with my family afterward. Yet a small part of me still felt like a failure.
Maybe sitting at the kitchen table guzzling shots of Hennessey with my boy T-Spoon had something to do with my moment of introspection. But for some reason, I just wasn't in the the end of the line. Just getting a high school diploma was the biggest accomplishment they would ever know. T-Spoon was a fifth-year senior who bounced around four different high schools before finally giving up and getting his GED a couple just to have his GED, especially since he had a baby on the way. I've known T-Spoon since elementary school, and I must admit, I never even thought he would go for his GED. He was one of my boys who I'd grown up with, but knew to keep at a distance, because he was a live wire. With T-Spoon you never knew what to expect. Although we hadn't talked much over the last couple months, I knew that for T-Spoon, getting his GED was equiv the more his sentences were filled with a hopeless hood mentality all too common where I'm from.
"You know you my nigga, right?" he asked in a drunken slur as he tore the plastic off a Swisher Sweet cigar wrapper. "I bet you never thought your boy would've graduated, huh?"
By "graduated" I took it he meant got his GED. Instead of asking for clarification, I just flowed with it.
"You're doing your thing, blood," I said, taking another swallow of Hen.
"Doing my thing, huh?" he asked. "Man, what's up with you tonight? You seem like you're somewhere else, blood."
"I'm just tripping on how fast time is flying, bro," I said. "I'm looking around at cats we done played Little League with, football withthey're grown men now. Breezies we used to play hide-and-get-it with at recess are walking around pregnant."
"I guess so," I said.
"But that's called life," he said, as he split the cigar in half and dumped its tobacco in the garbage can. "And I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying mine. A nigga just came up on a quarter pound of some of that purp we robbed from the white boys out in Vallejo last weekend."
"Y'all hit 'em up for a quarter pound?"
"And got out of there like a thief in the night, pimpin'. But like I was sayin', I'm figna make a couple dumps, get this money and smoke like Bob Marley. If I get all this weed off in the next week, I'll have enough to go up on a half pound by myself, and still have enough to throw some dubs on the Caprice."
"What you mean, then what?"
"Say you get off all that fire in a week, you get your half a powwow and you hook up your car. Then what?"
"Then I do it all over again," he said as he whipped a fat dime sack out of his pocket and began to break down the weed on the kitchen table. "You know a nigga got a seed on the way, so I gotta grind."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about, blood," I said. "I didn't sit through all these classes for four years just to grind. And neither did you. A nigga's tired of trying to make ends meet slangin' these dope sacks. There's gotta be more to life than this."
"For some people there is," he mumbled as he licked the blunt and rolled it to give it an airtight seal. "That's why I got my GED, so I'll have something to fall back on. But last time I checked, Microsoft ain't hiring people with GEDs. So until they start, I'm hustling, blood. But you got your diploma. You should be straight. That's your ticket."
"You would think so, right?"
"You ain't got into college yet?" he asked as he cuffed his hand around the lighter and sparked his blunt.
"I ain't got accepted to no real schools," I said, downing another shot. "It's to the point where you would think a high school diploma ain't good enough to get in college no more."
"What you mean real school?" he asked.
"Schools outside of Cali."
"What!" he asked excitedly, exhaling a large cloud of smoke.
"Don't tell me my nigga is trying to leave the Town! You ain't never even been no further than L.A., and you're trying to leave Cali?"
"Who's trying to leave Cali?" a familiar voice asked. When I turned around to see who it was, my boy Todd had already extended his hand to give me our hood handshake. After gripping me up, then T-Spoon, he asked again, "So, who's bouncing?"
"Go ahead and tell him, blood," T-Spoon said, taking a long pull of the blunt before passing it to me. "Tell him about your plan to go to a real college."
"Oh!" Todd yelled. "My nigga got into a college!"
"Nah, blood," I said, taking a slow drag. "You know how T-Spoon be jumping to conclusions."
"So, what happened?" Todd asked.
"Nothing," I said as I damn near coughed up a lung. "We were just talking about life, and how niggas gotta make some grown-man decisions right about now."
"It's one thing to make a grown-man decision," T-Spoon said, gulping down another shot of Hen. "But leave Oakland? I don't know about that one, blood."
"I mean, why not?" I asked. "Don't get me wrong. You know I've got love for the Town. But I ain't never left California in my life, blood."
"Me neither," T-Spoon said. "You say that to say what?"
"I don't know," I said. "I mean, if you're content with being stuck in the Town your whole life, then I guess that's cool for you. But I just feel like there's got to be something else out here for me. It's time for me to see some new shit."
"I can dig it," Todd said, reaching for the blunt. "I don't know about y'all, but I'm gone."
"You too?" T-Spoon asked.
"Your boy got accepted to Crampton last week," Todd said.
"I'm outta here."
"I applied there too," I said.
"How come you didn't get in?" T-Spoon asked.
"Probably because he waited until the very last second to send in his application," Todd said. "You know J.D. is good for waiting to do everything."
"Hey, you know I do my best work with my back against the wall," I said.
"I don't know about all that," T-Spoon said between laughs.
"I still remember the first time me and my mom came by your crib to pick you up for our first football game."
"Ahh, shit, here you go," I said.
"We were already running hella late," T-Spoon continued.
"And when we got there, he was just waking up, trying to figure out how to put his pads in his pants. He tried to grab all of his stuff and rush out of the house. But he forgot to bring "
"One cleat and one thigh pad," I said, cutting him off.
"Hold on," Todd said, laughing even harder. "I remember that game. You forgot your helmet too, nigga."
"You sure did," T-Spoon said. "Man, we had some fun growing up. I can't believe y'all are talking about bouncing. Where is Crampton anyway?"
"It's an historically black college in Virginia," Todd said.
"Now, that's what's crackin'!" I said.
"I don't know nothin' about no historically black college," T-Spoon said, picking up the fifth of Hen, leaning his head back and downing the last couple of swigs. "But there's some historically fat asses in that party downstairs. I don't know about y'all, but I'm tryin' to get behind one of 'em."
"I'm feeling that," Todd said as he held the dwindling remains of the blunt in between his fingers, trying to get one last pull. "Ah, I almost burnt my finger trying to smoke with y'all. C'mon, blood." He grabbed me by my shoulder. "Don't even trip on that school shit. You'll be straight."
"Oh yeah, blood, I almost forgot," T-Spoon said, stumbling back into the kitchen. "When you get into that real college and you will be getting in do something I never did."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Don't bullshit, man. Take it serious. Finish."
"If I get in, I got you," I said.
"You mean, when you get in, right?" Todd asked.
"Yeah, blood," I said, still sounding unsure. "When I get in."
The floor was sticky and the walls were dripping with perspiration. The small red lightbulb hanging from the ceiling vibrated with every thud of the bass. Smoke clouded the room, Girls were bent over with hands on their knees, backing it up on guys who stood their ground behind them, bouncing to the beat while holding their hands high in the air, as if they were being robbed. The shoulder-to-shoulder crowd had to have exceeded fire code regulations hours ago, but no one cared. What was supposed to be an invitation-only, postgraduation get-together in my homeboy Jerrell's basement had turned into the most crackin' party of the year. It was almost too good to be true. Parties in Oakland never lasted long. I was just waiting for a fight to break out, or the rollers to swing through and shut the joint down.
It didn't take long for my intuition to materialize.
Just when I spotted my girlfriend, Keisha, in the mix, and was on my way to dance with her, some stocky, dark-skinned dude with dreads, trying to smoke a blunt and get low at the same time, accidentally bumped into me while he was dancing, charring the sleeve of my fresh white T with the ashes. Obviously he was too drunk to know that he'd almost burned a hole through my shirt, so I let it slide. But when he stumbled on T-Spoon's brand-new white-on-white Air Force Ones, I knew he'd gone too far. Within seconds, T-Spoon, who'd probably had one too many himself, pushed the guy so hard he tripped over someone else and fell flat on his back. If the fall wasn't embarrassing enough, everyone in the party laughed so loud they drowned out Tupac's "Ambitionz of a Ridah" blaring through the speakers. T-Spoon, wearing a drunken grin from ear to ear, bent down, picked the guy's blunt up off the floor, took a puff and waved it high in the air.
"This fool is crazy, blood," Todd said, laughing.
"I could've told you that," I said as I downed the last of my Hennessey.
Suddenly, a shot rang out, shattering the lightbulb dangling overhead. Complete darkness sent a chill through the room. It resumed with three more shots, aimed in my direction. I felt the second shot drill a hole through the wall just beside me, and grabbed my ear in agony as the third bullet whistled by. After the last shot, I heard a groan, then felt a hand try to grasp my shoulder, only to slide away limply. the floor, landing at my feet. In the midst of the stampede for the stairs, I could hear loud cries and shrieks echoing from the stairwell. But I just crouched down, holding my boy T-Spoon, in silence.