Wrong Side of Town

Before we begin, I need you to know that I don’t make it out of this alive. I don’t mean that in a “I’m gonna build the tension and make you wonder” kind of way. I mean I’m telling you the story of how I died. I want someone, anyone, to know what it was like; I need someone to see my side of things. All the world is going to hear about is the circumstances and the people responsible; the headlines will fade, and my life will be forgotten the moment my body hits the pavement…

It’s not a long story; we only moved here a few months ago. My mom got a new job in a new town, so we had to move. We’re not very well off, so the places we could afford to live were limited. I mean, we’re not super poor or anything, we’re just not doing so great these days, you know?

Anyway, so we moved into this neighborhood that didn’t seem so bad. In all actuality, it’s not a bad place to live, it just happens to be a little closer to the bad side of own than we would have liked. That meant that we lived just barely far enough away from the “good” high school that I was out of district, whatever that means. So I wound up going to Central; let’s just say the student body there was made up of a more surely crowd…

This didn’t bother me too much, since I didn’t plan on being too involved anyway. I had one year left of high school, and then I was off to Berkeley. I’d be halfway across the country and living the college life before these people even had time to remember my name.

For the first semester and a half, things went according to plan. I made a couple friends, kids like me who wanted nothing to do with the whole high school experience, and we would hang out occasionally, but for the most part, I kept to myself. Every once in a while, we would meet up at each other’s houses to chill. We never did anything crazy; we’d smoke some bud, game for a while, raid the fridge, and then when the munchies wore off, we’d all go home. We had our routine, and it was kind of nice.

Towards the end of the school year, when the weather was getting warm again and the trees started growing leaves, things got a little scary. Given the fact that we went to Central, we were surrounded by gang culture. Everywhere you looked, there were tags on the walls and prospects walking the halls. Every one of them had something to prove; like a pack of wild dogs, each fighting for dominance and respect.

It was almost kind of a joke that as soon as things warmed up, the gangbangers crawled out of hibernation and started shooting people again. The facts didn’t lie; during the winter, they tended to lay low, and as soon as spring came, they went back to war. It was a dangerous situation, but all we could do about it was avoid them as much as possible and try to laugh it off.

There came a point where we couldn’t laugh it off anymore. When springtime came, they amped everything up to a new level. Drive-bys, gang fights, stabbings and shootings…they were on the news every night. People were dying, and it seemed like no one would, or could, do anything to stop it. We simply had to endure it and hope to survive it; not that we were all that worried about it. I mean, c’mon, we were seventeen. We saw what was going on around us, but never imagined that it would actually affect us in a big way.

I was over at Shawn’s house one day, hanging like we usually did, and it was a normal afternoon. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and everything seemed peaceful. Shawn lived on the bad side of town, but his neighbors were mostly old people, so his block wasn’t bad. They were nice people, and the gangs typically left them alone. There was no reason to put any pressure on them, so it was pretty safe, all things considered. Or at least that’s what we all thought.

What we didn’t realize was that at the end of the street, about four houses down, a new family had moved in, and they had ties to some of the crap that was going on around town. The oldest two boys in the family were a part of one gang that was fighting with another. Apparently, some of the members of the opposing gang found out that they had moved to that block, and had been talking about teaching them a lesson when they least expected it. Now, I’ve always thought talk like that was just plain stupid; if you don’t want someone to expect something, why talk about it at all?

Anyway, so me and Shawn decided to walk down to the corner store that was across the street from this new family. Like I said, it was a nice day, so we didn’t feel like hopping in the car just to drive half a block to get something to drink. We should have taken the car.

We were laughing and joking about something stupid, and from down the street, we could hear an engine revving up and driving our direction. That’s not an uncommon sound around here, since everybody and their grandma drives an old hoopdie with a big V8 engine under the hood. We didn’t really pay too much attention to it. As we got close to the house, this ’87 Cutlass with big chrome rims and blacked out windows pulled up and slowed way down. In an instant, Shawn and I both knew what was going on, and time seemed to slow to a crawl.

The windows of the Cutlass rolled down and out popped three hands holding automatic weapons. I shoved Shawn to the sidewalk, and gunblasts ripped the quiet afternoon to shreds. The front porch exploded as bullets pummeled it over and over again. The shots slowly crept closer and closer to where we were, and I dove to the ground.

I wasn’t quite fast enough, and as they drove by, they gave me the same treatment they gave that family’s front porch. I hit the sidewalk and rolled into the grass. Shawn covered his head, and the Cutlass sped off. I could hear the passengers yelling and howling as they tore down the street.

The pain was unbelievable. I don’t know how many times I’d been hit; ultimately, I guess it didn’t really matter. I could feel my skin burning as blood spewed from the holes in my body and onto the dirt. I couldn’t breathe, and it felt like someone had poured a cup of boiling water straight into my lungs. I tried to cough, but couldn’t get anything to come up; I tried to roll over, but I couldn’t move.

My eyes started to go dark, and I saw someone run over to me. I could hear Shawn yelling for help. He grabbed my shoulder and shook me; god, that hurt like hell. I could hear him telling me to hold on, that everything was going to be okay, but it was like I was underwater; everything was muffled and garbled.

After what felt like hours, the pain started to go away. I felt really warm and tired. I closed my eyes, and I was gone.

You know, that family wasn’t even home. Those idiots shot up an empty house, didn’t even accomplish what they set out to do in the first place. I was dead as a doornail, though. The stereotype holds up; gangbangers never hit what they’re really aiming at. Those two guys who lived that life, the ones who were supposed to be the target? Yeah, they were fine. Those guys who shot me? Yeah, they got away. Me? I bled out in the front lawn of a stranger’s house, all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was supposed to be somebody, man. I was gonna go to Berkeley, get an education, and live as far away from that mess as I possibly could. I was gonna go somewhere I could make something of myself. Two weeks before graduation, I got gunned down for no reason whatsoever. I had nothing to do with that gang war. I never picked up a gun, flashed a sign, or tried to rep a corner. Yet, here I am, cold as ice and six feet under.

We should have taken the damn car.

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