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around my way


By Maddy A -

February 2005

Aunt Mickey was right when she said that the Newark that I thought I knew wouldn't be the Newark that I remembered. The part we moved to was nothing like the neighborhood that I use to leave in. All my assumptions of Newark being one big ghetto were proved wrong. Our block was no suburbia but it was lined with nice homes and manicured lawns. A far cry from the projects that I had envisioned us moving to. I was amazed that such a nice area remained. Newark had at one time been a thriving community filled with nice homes and businesses but sometime during the 1960's rioting occurred leaving the city in almost ruin. Now, over thirty years later some parts still remained dilapidated but others, such as my neighborhood, had long recovered.

It was now mid July and I was bored out of my mind. I didn't know anyone so I had nothing to do. Mickey had been busy with her new assignment so I rarely saw her. She would often be gone before I awoke in the mornings and wouldn't return until after I had gone to bed. I didn't think that taking pictures could be so time consuming and I wondered if she was really "working" all those hours that she was gone. I suspected that she might have been dating someone because she would dress nice and took a little longer than usual to do her hair when she was supposedly "working".

Mickey's best friend Tammy had leased us her house because she was moving and thought we would like it. This house was HUGE. It was almost like a mansion. There was way too much room for just the two of us but I wasn't complaining. We had been living there for almost a month and my days were spent reading books. I loved to read horror books and modern fiction. I would have loved to read books dealing with my sexual orientation but I was always afraid to be seen purchasing a book of that nature. On one exceedingly blistering afternoon, when I grew tired of reading, I decided to explore my new neighborhood. Despite living there for almost a month, I had yet to go beyond the limits of my street.

My neighborhood was predominately Hispanic and Black. Mostly populated by Puerto Ricans. I made my way over to the next street and I noticed that the further away from my block I got, the worse the areas became. As I passed a group of girls I noticed them watching me. It was four of them and three were rough looking black girls. One girl caught my eye though. Now I am not into girls but she was beautiful. She stood out amongst the others. The other girls faces were covered with scowls and the look of having hard lives etched into their eyes but this one girls face wore a pleasant calmness on it. She looked black but you could tell she had to be mixed with something else. Most likely Hispanic I thought. She was a slightly shorter than me and about two shades darker. She had long hair that flowed down her back in wavy cascades. Her hair was the color that only midnight could capture. She was on the chubby side but would not be considered fat by anyone's standards. As I walked passed her she gave me a slight smile and I returned it. One of her scowl ridden friends made a comment about hating pretty boys. I personally would never consider myself a "pretty boy" but that seems to be the insult that people used when trying demean me. I guess it had something to do with my light skin and the fact that I was on the short side. I ignored their comments and made my way into the bodega that I saw. Bodegas are small grocery stores that seem to be on every corner on every street around there.

As I walked into the store the sound of Spanish music filled my ears. This place was small with cramped isles but were filled with foods and an assortment of other amenities. I was hungry so I went to the back of the store where they made sandwiches and ordered a sub. The man who prepared it was a handsome man with a big smile. His eyes were crystal blue and he had light brown hair that was a mass of short curls and a small beard and mustache to match. I would have thought that he was a white if he didn't have the slight trace of an accent. It was a faint presence but still detectable. As I was bringing my food to the counter I roughly bumped into someone. They fell down as I stumbled backwards. I was preparing to help them up but their words stopped me.

"Shit you fucking ASSHOLE why don't you watch where DA FUCK YOU GOING!" I was stunned by his out burst. He was still on the floor with his head down looking at nothing in particular. I could address him in the same manner that he did to me but today I wasn't in the mood to.

"Sorry it was an accident man." I said, unapologetically but still sincere.

"Accident...huh? You better watch were your go-." He cut himself off as he looked at me. As he got up and we made eye contact I was rendered speechless. He was the most beautiful person that I ever saw. He had to be about six or seven inches taller than me. He looked to be about my age or maybe one or two years older. I could tell that he was lean but he didn't seem to be very skinny. His baggy white T-shirt and baggy denim shorts hide his true physique. He had light crystal colored blue eyes that shined like glass and his curly light brown hair was a mass of soft gentle waves that ran slowly down his neck. It wasn't short or medium length but some where in between in the style that a lot of the white boys from New Jersey wore their hair. His skin was creamy white and smooth just like fresh milk. I felt an instant attraction. For a second he paused and looked into my eyes, not saying anything either. If I didn't know any better I would swear that he was feeling what I was but I knew better. I could see from his clothes and the way that he carried himself that he was a thug and everyone knows that there is no such things as "gay thugs". We stood there staring at each other for a few seconds before I heard the man who made my sandwich address the mystery boy.

"Mijo what are you doing? Don't be so rude to the customers." The sandwhich maker said to the mystery guy. Whatever moment I shared with him was over. He took one last look at me and walked to the back to speak to the man. He turned to look back at me as he walked. My stomach got jittery as my eyes met his and he looked away. I noticed that they resembled each other remarkably and had to have been father and son. Our eyes met again as I watched him talk to his father. Our eyes locked for a moment but he turned away. I turned back around and almost bumped into someone else. Instead of being cursed out, this time I was greeted with a smile. It was the same pretty girl that I saw outside.

"Hi. I'm Amanda but everyone calls me Mandy. You new around here?" She asked me cheerfully. Her voice was friendly and her smile was bright and white. I was instantly drawn to her. Maybe it was her out going personality.

"Yeah we moved here about a month ago from South Jersey. I'm Chris." I responded with the same smile.

"South Jersey? How da hell you wind up here?" She asked.

"My Aunt's job". I told her. We stood around and talked for a couple of minutes about nothing in particular. She was so funny. She kept me filled with laughter with every other word that came out her mouth. This girl had to be one of the funniest people that I had ever met. I paid for my food and we were getting ready to leave the store when the guy I bumped passed us. He and Mandy exchanged a cautious glance and looked around the store before greeting each other with a hug and smile.

"What's up dude! I haven't seen you all summer where you been at?" Amanda said the mystery guy.

"Dad made me go to Cuba to stay with family. I wasn't supposed to be back until August but I couldn't take it down there. Its MAD BORING YO! Nothing but old people." Amanda and him shared a laugh. He glanced down at me but didn't introduce himself. I stood there unsure if I should leave or introduce myself. I was just about to introduce myself when a tall light brown skin boy walked in. A look of fear washed over Amanda's face and the mystery boys face hardened. The light brown skin boy walked over to us and I immediately became intimidated as he spoke. Something in his deep baritone voice made me uneasy.

"YO! AMANDA. WHERE YOU BEEN?" He yelled down at Amanda. He towered over her by almost a foot. Amanda's cool presences became anxious. It was easy to see that she was on edge as she addressed him.

"Hey...hey Baby. I just been chilling with the girls." She timidly responded.

"What girls was you wit." He yelled.

"Just Pasha, Amelia and Kristi."

"Well tell them bye cause we gotta bounce." He demanded.

"Okay baby." She said goodbye to me and the two of them began to walk away. When they got to the door the brown skin boy turned around and shot an evil glare at the mystery guy. He threw up some sort of hand sign that looked like a W and whispered to the mystery guy.

"Westie Mutha Fucker!" The light brown skin boy said. The mystery boy's face twisted into a contortion of revulsion and he heatedly countered.

"Naw! Eastie's BITCH!" He yelled as he threw up his own hand sign that looked like an E. The brown skin boy was about to walk back towards him but Amanda whispered something in his ear and he left smiling, giving that same hand sign to the mystery guy. Amanda throwing an apologetic look our way followed. Before I could say anything to the mystery guy his father called him back again and they had a heated conversation in Spanish. I decided to just go back home.

That night I couldn't fall asleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his eyes. Just imagining him left me with this incessant need to find release. After the pressure had left, I slept peacefully with visions of crystal blue eyes filling my dreams. It had been almost two weeks since I saw Amanda or the mystery boy. I went into the bodega a couple of times in hopes of just a glimpse of him but he was never there. I was taking out the garbage one afternoon when Amanda came up behind me starling me. She had a small dark bluish bruise at the bottom of her eye.

"Hey girl how have you been? What happened to your eye?" I asked her. She became flustered as she tried to find the right words to say to me. I could tell that the next words she were about to say were going to be lies.

"Oh this?? I got into an argument with my sister and she throws you know. But hey, how the hell are you?" She replied, quickly trying to change the subject.

"I'm good. You want to come in"? I asked her and we made ourselves comfortable in my living room. It usually takes me a while before I become comfortable around someone but with Amanda it came easy. She was going to be a junior at East High School that fall just like I was. I told her that I wasn't sure if I would still be living here in the fall but if I was I would be going there to. I was amazed to find out that she was taking four college prep courses. There was no doubt in my mind that if I attended East High we would share a couple of classes.

"So do you want to watch a movie or go for a walk?" I asked her.

"Well its hot as hell out there, what movies do you have?" She responded. I was somewhat reluctant to admit to her what was in my movie collection but I felt so at ease with her I decided to take the chance of her pegging me as a complete loser.

"Well don't laugh but I just got "Willow" and "The Gooneys" on DVD". I told her, preparing myself for the inevitable string of jokes that I was sure she would throw my way.

"GOONEYS! I love that movie. It's my all time favorite movie! She practically yelled in my ear as she bumped her shoulders into mine sending me practically falling off the couch.

"Yeah I know its like the BEST MOVIE EVER! You are the first person who didn't call me a geek for loving that movie." I told her after I recovered from my fall. She just laughed at me.

"I understand you exactly. No one appreciates the finer points of that movie or the questions you have to ask yourself after you watch it." She said.

"What questions?" As excited as I was to find a fellow Gooney , I had no idea where this conversation was going.

"Well I personally think, that movie speaks in volumes about the quality of our prison system and terms. It also raises questions regarding mental health, obesity and ethics." How she maintained a straight face while stating all of this remained a mystery to me. I, on the other hand couldn't contain the humor that I found in her statement and laughed hysterically.

"Oh yeah? How so?" I asked her.

"Well lets look at the Fratelli's. It's obvious that our prison system failed them. I am sure that Momma Fratelli had a hard life and probably had to raise her boys on her own. Not having enough money to survive with, she turned to a life of crime. Here, this sweet little Italian woman, just trying to make a way for kids and give them a good life, gets sentenced to prison for probably stealing food for her poor starving children-." I had to interject.

"Actually, she wasn't the one in prison. They busted out one of her sons." She shot me a mock hatred glare and playfully screamed.

"WHO ASKED YOU ANY WAY! DO THE CHUNK SHUFFLE!" She bellowed. We both fell back on the couch. Our stomachs burning from the laughter we shared. I knew in that moment she was going to be a great friend. I wanted to ask her about the mystery boy but I didn't want her to question me as to why I was asking. So I opted for putting on the DVD. As the weeks went by Amanda and I grew closer. It was safe to say that we had become best friends. She introduced me around to her family and a few of her friends. Her mother is Black and her father was Cuban. He died when she was six but she doesn't like to talk about it. When I met her friends I was scared shitless to put it mildly. Her friends looked like hard core gang bangers. I got the feeling she didn't want me to meet them but during a surprise visit to her house, I did.

She lived in an apartment building that from the outside looked a little rundown. But her apartment was far from it. Her mother decorated it with a Victorian theme. Something I did not expect to find in a tenement apartment in the middle of East Newark. We were watching television in her house when a knock came at the door. As she opened it I could see her body tense and I could sense her nervousness. She glanced at me and back to the door and her shoulders slumped in defeat.

As they walked in I recognized one guy as being her boyfriend and two of the scowl ridden girls that I saw with her the day we met. Her boyfriend was attractive. He was well over six feet tall, a medium light brown complexion that matched his medium brown eyes. He wore his hear in tight intricate cornrows that formed a swirl pattern. His face was as smooth as river water. Despite his attractiveness he made me uneasy. I did't know what it was about him but something about him just screamed trouble. I had met him on two previous occasions but he ignored my presence both times which was fine by me. He had a friend with him who was a dark skin Spanish guy who looked more on the Asian side. He was attractive too. He was a little taller than me with a faded shaved head. A tattoo of Jesus adorned the side of his neck. His arms were a sea of dark blue and red ink. He had too many tattoos on his arms for me to figure out what they all were. Despite his hard-core exterior his face maintained a boyish charm to it that was accentuated by a small diamond piercing in his left ear. The nervous feeling he gave me was just as intense as the one Nate gave me. With the two of them together the only word that came to mind was trouble. TROUBLE, TROUBLE AND MORE TROUBLE...

They all shot me suspicious looks as they sat down. Nate and his friend sat on either side of me, leaving me sandwiched in between the two of them. This made me uneasy. Although I am not an emotional person, I do a horrible job trying to mask what I feel, despite how hard I may try. They must have sensed my nervousness and decided to pray on it. Nate roughly shook my shoulder causing me to jump a little. He and his friend laughed at my reaction. My first thought was to just run out of there but looking over at Amanda's pleading face I stayed.

"Chill Nigga. Why the fuck you so jumpy you making me nervous." Nate said through a sneer. " This my boy Jay. Jay this Mandy's friend Chris." Jay stuck out his hand to give the what's up hand shake. I knew that I would fail at it so I gave a wave instead. This caused them to laugh at me again. The two scowl ridden girls were introduced as Pasha and Kristi. I would have thought that they were sisters if I hadn't known that they weren't. They both were dark cocoa complexioned and had streaks of green through out their hair. They looked to be your typical "hood rat" girls ( tacky girls with bad attitudes and personalities). As a matter of fact all four were wearing green bandanas wrapped around their wrists. They shared in on the laughter. Amanda sensing my discomfort offered me an out.

"Hey C don't you gotta bounce and take care da shit you was stressing today?" She said to me. I was caught off guard with the way she spoke. She never talked like that around me. And what was up with the "C" thing? If I hadn't been in a hurry to leave I would have asked.

"Yeah. You right Amanda I gotta go. I'll call you later." I replied.

"Aye yo Nasty. You gonna let another Nigga call your girl and shit?" Jay said in between obnoxious chuckles. Nate shot me a smile that held a hidden meaning that I couldn't decipher. All I knew is that it sent chills down my spine.

"Naw it's cool. "C" is cool. He REAL cool. Ain't dat right bro?" Nate addressed me. The way he stated "real cool" made my body go cold. I would have to watch my back around him. I gave him a hesitant response.

"Yeah sure. Uh Amanda I got to go. Bye." I said. She gave me smile as if to say sorry and walked me to the door. As we were walking Nate called out to me again.

"Hey C why you call Mandy, Amanda?" He asked. in more of a demand than a question.

"Because that's her name." I responded. The aggravation my words caused him were noticed in his response.

"Well Nigga we all call her Mandy, So your pretty boy ass need to call her dat too. Shit son you ain't special." He said. My fear of him took over and I made sure he heard my next words.

"UM I'll talk to you later MANDY.... Bye." I left her apartment knowing three things. One, I didn't like her friends very much. Two, she acted like another person around them and I had to wonder just which one was the real Amanda. And three, steer clear of Jay and Nate but more importantly stay away from Nate. Something about him just wasn't right. I felt anxious and nervous around him. I hadn't felt like that around someone since I was five...

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