One of my most vivid memories of my life in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Projects is my friend Travis and me walking through a grassy field and finding a huge ZipLoc bag of crack cocaine. There had to be at least 300 rocks in there.
Up until this point, I had seen plenty of crack transactions. I was only nine or ten, but this was a way of life where I lived. But still, seeing crack without a dealer sent a raw fear through me. I felt like I would go to jail just from being around it. If the cops came, they would charge Travis and me with having it.
“Damn,” said Travis, picking up the bag. “We’re rich.”
“We need to leave that alone,” I said, stepping away.
“What? You scared? You a punk?”
After a brief argument, we decided to take it to my uncle. I knew he smoked crack and I thought he would know what to do with it. In his bedroom, my uncle interviewed us.
“Did you still this from your brother?” he asked Travis, since his brother was a well-known dealer.
“No,” Travis said.
“And don’t nobody know y’all got this?” he asked us.
After my uncle confirmed our story, he promised to sell it and give us some of the profit. Needless to say, we never saw a dime. Travis was mad. I wasn’t. We should have known not to give crack to a crack head. But I did not want anything to do with it anyhow. I realized then that I was not a drug dealer.
This is a true story.
When I was little, my favorite place to explore was my uncle’s bedroom. Although he was a die-hard crack addict who kept bottles of piss in his room, he had a plethora of things: magnifying glasses, telescopes, knives, swords and a host of other things.
One day, my cousin, sister and me were playing in my uncle’s room. We had with us our infant niece. We came across a bunch of large bullets and a hammer. In our young minds, it was a great idea to bang a bullet with a hammer.
After dozens of hits, the bullet was damaged but was sturdy. My cousin slammed the hammer so many times and my sister couldn’t get the job done. That’s where I came in.
“It’s my turn,” I said, handing my niece to my sister and taking the hammer.
I beat the bullet senseless but nothing happened. When I took my final swing, the bullet exploded. The heavy gun powder choked all of us. The explosion deafened me. I thought I had been shot.
“What the fuck are y’all doing?” my mother said, rushing into the room. She smelled the gun powder, saw the shell casing and the hammer. She saw my baby niece.
Needless to say, we all tried to shift the blame and minimize our involvement. My mother was the judge, jury and ass whipper. Who knew years later, a bullet would change my life forever.
Since I could remember, I’ve had an affinity for cats. My love for them lies in their mysteriousness. They are quiet, gentle and affectionate. If a person rubs them the wrong way, cats can be pure buttholes. It seems they have a sense for who they should and should not trust.
As I’ve said, I grew up in the Robert Taylor projects on the Southside of Chicago. These buildings were huge high rises, able to hold up to 160 families. The pissy hallways were always dank and disgusting. For reasons unknown, my sister Precious and my cousin Shaday loved to play in them.
One day, I caught them in the act of dangling a cat from the 8th floor hallway window. My heart dropped with an anchor of fear. Before I could stop them, they dropped the cat. I was equal parts dumbfounded and enraged.
“Why did y’all do that?” I said, my voice ricocheting off the hallway walls.
“Because cats always land on their feet,” they said in unison.
I have always been in disbelief of how the myth of cats always landing on their feet leads to so much animal cruelty against them. Just because cats can land on their feet, it doesn’t mean they’ll survive a toss from a window.
So, I punched my sister and cousin both in their arms. Of course, they cried to my mother. And yes, I got my ass whipped. Should a boy ever hit a girl? No. Not unless he’s avenging a cat.
There is an image seared into my brain of my sister running through the house screaming as she clutches her three-month-old dead baby. This image is so clear, I can pull it up and see everything exactly as it happened.
The death of three-month-old Jennifer had a huge impact on my family. Since then, my family has been plagued with drug-addiction, alcoholism and huge feuds. When she passed away, I was only eight years old. Yet I understood my own mortality. It was at this very age that I understood that I could die and no one could prevent it.
Jennifer did not get to live a percentage of her life. Everyday, I think of her, wonder how she would have laughed or cried, wonder what her favorite color would have been, what career she would have pursued. I wonder who I would have been if I would have been able to be the uncle she needed.
If you ask me who I am, I will tell you that I am a mercenary from a far away country who has come to America on a secret mission to rattle things up. And if I happen to ask you rather you believe me and you in fact do, then I have done my duty of being the greatest storyteller on the planet.
My name is J Reed, coming from Chicago, the Windy City, home of Al Capone. None of what I have told you so far truly defines who I am. But isn’t “Who are you?” a loaded question? Who really can sum up in words who he is? What I am saying is that I am a day-by-day work in progress, so I who I am today is not necessarily who I was last year or who I will be ten years from now.
Because of that, I can tell you only that I am a father of two beautiful little girls, ages 6 and 8. I live in Chicago, write stories, am a college graduate and that I have experienced many hardships in my life. I also run the devilshornet2.wordpress.com blog. I was raised in the notorious Robert Taylor Projects where drug addicts were the talk of the day. Somehow, I lived throughout it all.
Have you ever seen your niece die? Been accused of shooting your best friend? Been afraid of where you sleep? I have. It is those things that made me who I am today. I am Jermaine Reed, whatever that means.