Read Part 1 here.
When the density of the jungle is too thick, you have two options--cut through or take a shortcut. Most people say I was born with a machete in my hand.
In my 11th grade year, I was going through it. My father had moved us up the mountain to 29 Palms, a small military town on top of a pointed hill with the base straight ahead. The population of young Black people was slim, and we stuck together like it was the 60s and 70s.
There was only one other Black kid that rode my bus. His name was Rabbit, and he was wild and loud. I didn't try to befriend him, but he gravitated to me. The town had was a lot of two-story quadplexes. We stayed in a unit that faced a hill with a basketball court on top. In order to catch the bus, I'd go all the way down the hill to the park, where the stop was.
I had to pass Rabbit's house on the way, so if I left early I'd stop at his house and wait on him. After school, I'd stop at his house before going home. One day we were making our way home when 7 white kids cut us off. They confronted Rabbit, then commenced to beat the hell out of him. They never acknowledged me. I knew this wasn't my fight, but I was with the dude, so I thought, I gotta do something, right?
Right or wrong, I couldn't let Rabbit get jumped by seven kids, so I grabbed the closest dude and started to put multiple fists into his face. He was big but size has nothing to do with fighting. He tried to slam me, but in in junior high I was on the wrestling team. I reversed his move, and slammed him instead. Once he was on the ground, I could pick my shots. He started screaming, and four guys came over to help him. Since we were in the desert, all of this movement was kicking up dust from the sand. Visibility was minimal, so I rolled with the guy and put him on top of me so that when his friends came to help him, they ended up beating the hell out of their friend. He screamed for them to stop.
Before they started to stomp I escaped and went over the fence to Rabbit's house. I went into the garage to look for a weapon and found a hammer. I came over the fence swinging like I was Thor, and they ran away.The fight was reported to the school, who suspended me and Rabbit. The seven white kids were the jocks of the school, so nothing happened to them. The explanation the school gave, however, was that since the jocks had gone home first, they were no longer within the school’s jurisdiction, as Rabbit and myself were.
These seven jocks would later become my teammates, and the one I grabbed was my quarterback. I caught every ball he threw at me. I say “at” me because the passes were never to me--the kid had an arm like Brett Farve. Since I was catching all his passes, he was upset and took it out on the other receivers, breaking one of their hands. I laughed, which made him mad, too. I was the fastest kid on the team, and this made him even madder.
He easily overthrew everybody but me. Once, he almost had me when I did a stop and go and he threw the ball early, but I accelerated and, at the last second, dove. The ball hit my fingertips, and I flicked it back to me. After practice, the leader of their little gang told me that they didn't hold a grudge, that what happened had nothing to do with me, but rather Rabbit. He also told the quarterback to chill, since I was a player that would help them win a championship. Since I was the fastest kid on the field, I was the starting receiver, the free safety, the kickoff returner, punt returner, and the gunner. I never left the field except for a timeout and halftime.
That season almost ended before it began. We were going to have our first game on the Friday of the first week of school. That Monday, the coach called me into his office and told me I was ineligible because I had failed 10th grade. I told the coach that was impossible because I was taking 11th grade classes. He said I failed because of the attendance rule, missing more than 13 days in each class. He told me to go to my guidance counselor and find out what might be possible.
I ran to the guidance counselor's office and she gave me a print out of the days I missed. I knew I had missed about 30 days for first period. Not only did I really not like this school, but I had often missed the bus, leaving me no choice but to walk to school, which took me about 45 minutes. I had made that time up in summer school, so when looked at the other courses, there were too many inconsistencies. I never cut class because there was nothing to do. If a teacher said my name wrong, however, then I wouldn't answer. Reading it, you’d probably say it wrong, too. It's pronounced E-bay, and this was way before the world wide web.
Luckily, I had kept my work since I'm a very organized individual, and my notes were dated. I showed each teacher that where they had marked me absent, I was actually present. They checked their lesson plans and saw that I had submitted the work so I must have been in class. They gave me credit for the days. I was still one day short, though, so on Wednesday I took off from school, rode my bike to the base, went to the hospital for a check-up, and got the doctor to sign me an excuse. The next day at school, I brought everything to the guidance counselor who processed everything, and from that point on I had officially passed the 10th grade.
Unfortunately, I still wasn't eligible to play for reasons I didn't understand.
Every football player had a 7th period PE where we’d normally stretch and mess around before practice. Since I wasn’t even practicing, nevermind playing, I didn’t dress in uniform. On Thursday coach gave everybody else their jersey, but when he got to me just looked and shook his head. On Friday everybody got their stuff together to catch the bus to the junior high where we played. I wasn't with them. Instead, I was sitting in front my locker. When the coach came in asking me why I didn't go to the junior high, I told him since I wasn’t playing, it made no sense to do that. He told me I passed and was clear to play, and to get my stuff. I went to the junior high with the coach, and when I walked into the locker room, it got real quiet. Then the leader of the little jock gang asked if I was going to play. I said yeah, and the locker room exploded.
I was on a whole other level this game. I wanted to show the haters that I was the real deal. The first quarter I caught my first high school touchdown on a post route. I had one of those unreal moments where I just looked at the ball, then looked where I was, and couldn’t believe it. The referee kept asking for the ball, but I didn't hear him--all I could hear was my heart beating fast. When my team came to congratulate me I snapped out of it. I also caught my first high school interception. I was on a roll.
Late in the first quarter, I was given a fly route. I lined up against the defender, who I had burnt numerous times during the game. I started up the field running, knowing the ball was coming to because quarterback told me where he was going to put it. About forty yards down the field I looked up and put my hands up. The ball was right there. It fell right into my hands, and I raced to the touchdown.
After the game my mom jumped on me like she was a cheerleader. She asked me if I heard her, and I told her no. She said she thought I was going to miss that last pass because I never looked back for the ball. To say she was surprised is an understatement, since all she remembered was my 9th grade season when I had told her I was good, and she had just said okay. What parent want to crush their child's dream? After that game my name went from zero to 100 real quick. Everybody knew Eyba. I was getting so many calls from girls that my mom used to take the phone off the hook. This was a new experience for me. Normally, I had a girlfriend and was cool and content with that. Now, I was single and had the prettiest girls in school checking for me. My school was diverse because it's a military town, so Black, white, Latina, and Asian girls were calling. One night, I went to a house party and left with a chick I'd known since I moved to 29 Palms. We went to one of my friend’s house since his mom was always gone. She had a boyfriend who was a Marine, and when he found out that she had left the party with me, he called and threatened me. I guess he thought I was just a football player, and would be scared.
One night when my mom, dad, and little sister went to the drive thru that showed double features, he called. He told me he knew where I stayed and was going to kill me. I told him to come get some. Then I called my friend, who knew what time it was. When my came in, he had a baseball bat, which told me he didn’t really know what time it was. My dad was a Marine, though, so he had guns. I got the 9mm and gave my friend the shotgun. He was a year younger than me, and I asked him if he was ready for this. He had been in Detriot before coming to 29 Palms, so he was battle-tested.
When the doorknob turned I thought it was the Marine, but as soon as I heard the key I knew it wasn’t, so I quickly grabbed the guns and hid them behind the sofa. My mom and dad came in carrying my little sister and walked straight up the stairs, then said hey. A second later my mom called me upstairs to their room. My dad had seen the guns and my mom was going ballistic. I had to tell them what was going on, because if somebody came to the house, they'd be in the crossfire.
I guess that was the last straw. After that, I was on the next plane going back to Louisiana. In a teenager's quest for popularity, they'd do absolutely anything to be on that list. I didn't do anything to get on that list but catch a football and be in the newspaper. When I was a nobody I didn't have people trying to kill me.
This part of the jungle is hard to navigate because it's not on the map, but when you have mo popularity, you have mo problems.
This is the fifth contribution to our new, bi-weekly blog post featuring creative content made by currently or formerly incarcerated people! If you or someone you know is a currently or formerly incarcerated person with creative content to offer, please submit your materials to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be in touch! We'll share the content on social media and always give credit to the artist(s) involved. Any type of submission--whether stories, poems, illustrations, music, videos or something else--are welcome! Today, we're sharing the first in a multi-part story written by Eyba Brown, who is currently incarcerated at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center.