There was a long time of great turbulence and conflict for my family and me when we lived on 79th & Hillside in East Oakland. There seemed to be an air of hostility that saturated the environment. Even when we were not directly involved in the violence, someone we knew was, and if not them, then those who lived around us.
Constant fist fights, stabbings, and shootings felt so common place that as a child that is what constituted “normal” for me. People being hurt, and hurting others was a daily reality. Looking back I frequently feel bad for my older siblings because they had to constantly wade through turmoil on nearly a daily basis. However, I realize tears for the past are wasted.
My two brothers found themselves running afoul of one particular group of local troublemakers who were used to bullying the surrounding neighborhoods. So, when they attempted to do the same to my second-oldest brothers, the would-be aggressor found himself on the end of sweet chin music, promptly followed by a stomping-good sonata, that left him embarrassed and indignant.
Of course this led to him gathering his side. This resulted in my brothers having to do the same. A string of violent encounters eventually accumulated to the very brazen act of our home being on the receiving end of numerous gunshots one night. We were forced to dive to the floor as bullets tore through the plaster of our walls, and shattered more than one window. No one was hurt. But as if to truly bring home just how terrible the entire event was, we later found a bullet hole directly through my youngest sister’s crib.
A line had been crossed that night. Up until that point the incidents were numerous skirmishes fought with fists. Now, like almost every conflict ever fought by us hairless, psychotic primates on this planet, it was just going to escalate much further.
Perhaps they felt emboldened by the earlier strike. Three young men from the opposing side confronted my second-oldest brother one early evening as he stood on the corner outside our home. It was only him and I at the time. I recall it was the sort of overcast day that turns the sky into one big, dull gray sheet. As they argued and threatened one another, I remember being frightened the three would attack him at once.
I was 12 at most and I was no fighter. Not in the sense that I had not been taught how to take care of myself but in the sense that I just did not like fighting. But in my fear I grabbed a metal bat and watched from the front porch. I was uncertain to what I could do but despite the panic I felt, I knew I would have to try to do something if they started fighting.
The arguing only grew more volatile. An intense garble of sharp, loud words coming out as dares, threats and swears. Both young men inched closer as if they were waiting for some sign of fear or weakness but my brother stood his ground. I have no doubt if he backed down, if even a little, such would have emboldened them, and all three would have been on him before you could say “emergency room”.
Just when it was at its worst, just when I knew things were about to get extremely ugly, I heard the familiar sounds of a swiftly approaching engine. It was my older cousin’s Cutlass. It was a modified, sleek and aggressive vehicle that announced itself a block away with the constantly growling engine.
Apparently he was coming for a visit but caught sight of what was transpiring, causing him to floor-it from down the street. The sight of his car filled me with such a sense of relief. I knew without a doubt he would help. Close to the house my cousin recklessly drove up onto the sidewalk, slammed on his breaks, and jumped out of the car.
“What the fuck is this shit?” He demanded angrily as he walked from around the vehicle.
“Fuck you, nigga. Nobody is scared of you.” The lead instigator, a tall skinny kid, announced boldly as he stepped ahead of his two friends. “You can have some too if you want it.”
“Is that right?” My cousin suddenly produced a handgun. After so much shooting it would seem he was taking no chances. One of the young men instantly took his chances bolting, leaving his two friends to whatever fate was about to lay upon them.
“I don’t have anything! I don’t have anything!” The instigator yelled fearfully with his hands at his sides.
“That’s your stupid ass fault!” My cousin strode pass my brother as he switched his aim between both young men. “You thought you would come over here and just beat the shit out of my cousin with two of your boys?”
“No-- come on. I told you-- I told you I’m not carrying!” The instigator replied as he took a step back.
“Get the fuck out of here before I give you what he’s about to get!” My cousin smacked the second guy across the head with his weapon so hard he stumbled right holding his jaw with a cry of pain. He instantly followed orders and fled.
“Come on, man-- fuck. It doesn’t have to go down like this.” The instigator half pleaded and reasoned. “I will go--”
“Did I ask you a fucking question?” My cousin suddenly pressed the gun to the side of his head as he partially turned away.
It is one thing to understand the eventual inevitably that we will die someday. But it is a totally different thing to see death abruptly swooping in like a bird of prey with talons ready. I can still clearly recall the way the instigator lowered his head, and slouched his shoulders. The expression on his face was at once defeated, petrified and almost ill. This young man believed he was about to die quite violently.
In his growing desperation the instigator attempted to begin slowly slinking away. My cousin was having none of that. As if to firmly reiterate his point he pressed the gun more firmly against the young man’s skull, causing him to first flinch and then immediately freeze.
“Funny. Now you suddenly don’t have shit to say?” My cousin demanded.
“I’m sorry!” The instigator mumbled submissively with his eyes closed.
“Fuck your sorry.” My cousin replied coldly.
“It’s cool! I’m leaving!” The instigator pleaded.
“Why shouldn’t I just blast you right now?” My cousin swiftly inquired. “Why the fuck shouldn’t I just blow your head off right here?”
“Don’t.” The instigator whimpered and it appeared his legs would give out beneath him at any moment. “Don’t. I’ll go. I’ll leave. Just-- fuck-- don’t.”
“And let you come back later?” My cousin replied with what appeared to be some serious consideration. “No. You will just come back later with some of your people to hurt my family. It would be fucking stupid to let you leave. I’m getting rid of you right now.”
“I won’t! I won’t!” The instigator pleaded more desperately with a quivering voice. He attempted to take another step away. “I swear! Don’t. Don’t. I won’t ever come back!”
“Shut fuck up!” My cousin smacked him across the head with his gun causing the young man to slouch further with a groan of pain. “If ever see you again, anywhere, I don’t give shit where,” He angrily pushed the gun against the back of his skull once more. “I’ll blast you. Do you hear me? If I ever catch you again I won't hesitate to blow your head off!”
“I won’t! I won’t! Just-- just don’t. I’ll leave.” The instigator pleaded.
“Good. Now get the fuck out of here.” My cousin ordered before letting him take a couple more steps, then kicking him in the ass causing the young man to stumble forward. His first few steps away from the brink of death were hesitant as if he did not want to risk making a sudden move that would change his would-be executioner’s mind. Or maybe his tentative pace was weighed by the immense disbelief of what happened. When it became clear to the instigator that he was truly free only then did he run away. I wonder what was going through that young man's mind after coming so close to dying.
“I’m so sick of these muthafuckas.” My brother said angrily as he watched the instigator hurrying off.
“They’re just a bunch of goddamn cowards.” My cousin stated as he put his gun away. “Don’t start shit you can’t finish. If I was scandalous I could have killed him and his boys.”
“Yeah.” My brother admitted thoughtfully. “But it’s good you didn’t. Not because I give a damn about any of them, but because none of those assholes are worth that.”
“Yeah. I know.” My cousin laughed as he began calming down. “All this shit is so stupid.”