gunfire. This was like the suburbs. I could hear the got-damn crickets, and the stars were so bright they kept me up at night.
I was at CVS at the time, Chicago Vocational High School, over on 87th and Jeffrey. Thatâs another thing my mother had arranged. She didnât want me going to Parker, and I couldnât get into CVS without taking a test. So I took the test and passed. Thatâs what they told me, anyway. But to this day I know I couldnât havepassed. I didnât even finish the test. I gave up in the middle. So itâs clear my mama pulled some strings to get me in.
After school and on weekends I usually hung with Billy Staples. He lived one block over, and he was so good looking that the girls were always following us around. Weâd play sports, mostly, with the girls watching Billy from the sidelines, and maybe go to the lake for a soda after. From time to time Billy would pull out a joint, but he knew I didnât like it. We used to fight about that shit, but we fought with love. Billy was like a brother to me, a real brother.
We had another friend back then, James Spann, couple of years older, liked living on the edge. He was slick and smooth, kind of pimpy, and he kept me around because I was solid: six feet and almost 180. You didnât want to be messing with Bernie Mac, believe me.
Spann knew people. Heâd take us to parties and stuff. Weâd swing by Billyâs place and pick him up and off weâd go. And the minute we walked in the door, the women were all over Billy. Itâs like Spann planned it that way. Iâd be standing there with my drink and Spann would come over and tell me that he had to run an errand, and weâd leave Billy to his women and go off for a short ride. I was pretty naÃ¯ve back then, a gullible kid, but I knew Spann was dealing drugs; I knew he was only dragging me along because I was big and scary looking, and because I could look mean if I had to.
Still, I started getting uncomfortable with these little side trips.
âI ainât getting out of the car,â Iâd say. âThis is bullshit.â
âThatâs cool,â he said. âI know youâll come if I holler.â
âDonât be so sure,â I said.
He was slick, that Spann. It was always âa little stop on the way to Billyâsââonly the little stop was three miles in the wrong direction.
One night we pulled up outside this badass building. I told Spann he shouldnât go in. âI have a bad feeling about this place,â I said.
âYou one of those people can see into the future now?â he said. He was grinning his big grin.
âNo,â I said. âI just donât like it.â
Spann ignored me. He reached under the seat and handed me a gun.
âWhat the fuck you givinâ me that for?â I asked.
âJust hold it,â he said. âAnd if thereâs any trouble, use it.â
âI ainât using that got-damn gun, Spann,â I said. But he was already out of the car and heading for the building. I picked up the gun. Felt its weight in my hand.
A moment later, WHOOSH! Spannâs coming out of the building, running for his got-damn life. He jumps behind the wheel and starts the car and pulls out, and two guys burst onto the sidewalk, shooting. POP POP, POP POP POP.
Spannâs yelling at me to shoot back, and I didnât want to. But I turned in my seat and fired twice into the air. I didnât hit no one, of course. I wasnât aiming. If Iâd hit anyone, I probably wouldnât be here today.
âMotherfuckers!â Spann was saying. âCanât trust nobody nowadays!â
I looked over at Spann and didnât say nothing. But at that moment I knew something for damn sure: It was over between us.
Takes a strong man to find the right path and follow it.
I was going down the wrong path. I didnât need friends like Spann. No hard feelings,