I was in 5th grade when my first classmate was shot to death. He was a year younger than me and had the grave misfortune of discovering his parents’ handgun. Playing with it, he mistakenly shot himself in the head and died instantly.
The school response met with a few tears shed from teachers while they thought the students weren’t looking, but none more than that. There was no candle light vigil for the poor Mexican kid from a rock bottom-income& government neglected neighborhood. We, the students simply went on about our lunch.
Benny was his name. I’ll never fucking forget it.
Years later, I’m fifteen sitting on a bus bench outside of Riverside Plaza waiting to be taken home by the city bus on a hot summer afternoon. I began recollecting Benny for some strange reason. The moment sufficed it, or rather demanded it. I simply submitted to it. Sometimes I can negate a thought or memory at will, but in this state, it just seemed like the right time to think about him.
A drunk East African kid swung wildly at the air while talking with his friends, emulating a past fight where he had knocked someone out. They passed around a 40 in a brown bag, notoriously intoxicated during the day- if they had been white, this close to campus, you would’ve thought the Gophers had won something. Alas, it was the side of campus the middle-class has begrudgingly titled the “crackstacks” or the “ghetto in the sky” where no Gopher victory would warrant the toss of a single piece of confetti.
An old friend, B, crept from the right side of the bus stop accompanied by an older gentlemen wearing a tank top. I hadn’t seen this friend in about a year, but he had somehow grown several inches within the lapse of time. The older gentlemen next to him looked to be on something and severely agitated to a steaming repressed anger.
“B, I don’t like the way these niggas is lookin’ at me” the older man said to B. He was referencing the drunk East African kids on the bus bench.
“My brotha, my nigga, you got somethin’ for me to drink my nigga?” the braggadocio leader of the drunkards asked B and the older gentleman.
The older gentleman with the tank top postured himself slowly- ever so slightly leaning back like a serpent. He lifts his shirt to reveal a large pistol tucked into his already sagging pants. How this man was able to even walk halfway down the block without grabbing a hold of the damn contraption, is beyond me.
The sun gleamed off of the pistol handle. It seemed to nearly inch past his belly in size, giving evidence that the damn thing could fire off a bullet the size of a bowling ball.
I froze. My head reeling from what would actually happen if this man were to air out these East African kids in broad daylight. Surely, he’d have to kill all the witnesses (me) and make a break for it. The equations and possible scenarios sped through my mind, until… I stood up, held my breath, and sat down on the curb closer to Palmer’s Bar, still in sight of the bus if it came.
I began to cry. My psyche buckled under my own mortality and that of everyone else within shooting range. Wiping my tears from my 15 year-old face, I began to shame myself for emoting such a response. I thought myself into a pep talk of “toughen up you pussy!” and other motivational phrases you’d possibly hear from an alcoholic football coach.
The bus arrived. I hopped on, sat down, and stared out the window ruminating of what I’d do with the rest of my time.
Years later, at a party on the south side, I ran into a childhood friend of mine named Carmont. I hadn’t seen him in what felt like four-plus years, although it had most likely been one year, we commiserated on life after high-school over keg beer in a basement.
Chatting for awhile, Carmont divulged that he’d come into a sizeable amount of cash after running drugs over the summer. “Isn’t that dangerous?” I naively asked.
Carmont grinned ear to ear, “Na, nigga. All I’d have to do is post up on said corner and deliver. Simple.”
I immediately began to fathom a summer of drug running, and the potential thousands of dollars I could make. Silly 19 year-old Toussaint.
“But… “ Carmont interrupted my moment, “One night, I saw a nigga get fuckin’ shot in the face”.
My dreamscape faded to reality, “Wait, what?!?!” I replied. “How the hell did that happen?”
“Was on the corner one night. Niggas rolled up with the window down and just pop pop pop! Was all I heard, and this nigga went down…
… It’s funny though, cos’ when you hear a gun go off that close to you, it dudn’t sound like it does in the movies. Sounds like muffled cannon, you know like the ones at Fort Snelling.”
Whatever small notions or presumptions I’ve had about guns throughout my life have all been grave underestimates. And I accept that I’ll never understand the need to wield one.