Tough to Remember

Tough to Remember

A Story by Allen Skip

I caught myself slipping into a reverie yet again.

 

It always happened when it was dark outside, and the memories would seem particularly vivid if I stared out of my apartment window, which occurred often. Most of them would make me think about Will. I shook my head feverishly at that moment, wondering if the little fantasies I’d conjure up would ever come to life had he managed to stay. I might never get to see him again, and that belief, no matter how wonderful the recollection, would forever hit the final note, the closing tune to the last remnants of our unforgettable friendship.

 

Sometimes I’d try to venture back as far as possible to remember how I met him. Was it that one day after class, when I dropped one of the books I was carrying while on my way to the school bus and he picked them up for me? Or perhaps it was that time during lunch when a couple of bullies decided to screw me over for my food, and Will stepped in to offer me his leftovers? Or it could've been that blistering summer afternoon when I walked past the local park where Will was busy playing basketball with the rest of his friends, and he still found the time to invite me into the group?  

 

Will and I used to play ball together ‘til our legs felt like rubber. Most days his cousin came along, a result of my incessant nagging; I’d be begging him to alter his work schedule so he could hang out with us and help me get better at the game. He was one of the assistant coaches for our varsity basketball team. I had just started playing around my 7th year in middle-school, whereas Will played like he had damned near perfected the sport since his days as a toddler. During his freshman year, he had already become one of the biggest high-school players in our state, and I was sure that if he ever got out of Brooklyn, he’d be breaking ankles all over the NBA.

 

To us, it never really mattered if the sun was scorching hot, or if too many people were playing, or if we had tons of homework to worry about. Basketball was our daily ritual, our ceremonious cleansing period. Many awful days and painful memories had been buried deep under the hard courts. One day in particular kept flicking back the pages of time, for no genuine reason besides that it was easier to remember than the others. 

 

“Just cut back when you see him switch stance!”

 

Will defended me closely that afternoon while his cousin looked over, making sure I couldn’t drive to the left towards the basket. The drill was supposed to force me into crossing over to my right, except I couldn’t keep my handle intact long enough to make the play.

 

“Shield your dribblin’ side with your off-arm, force him off you!”

 

Will let out a muffled grunt as our shoulders clashed; I used my left arm to shield the ball just like his cousin had instructed and drove to the hoop. My lay-up attempt rolled around the lip of the rim and popped out; I swore loudly.

 

“Take it easy, fam. You ain’t supposed to be movin’ that fast.”

“This s**t just don’t feel right!”

“What don’t?”

“My right hand. Feel like I got a lot less grip than my left.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you ain’t used to it yet. It takes time, just keep at it.”

“How come Will doin’ it real slick?”

“’Cause he done it for years, man.”

 

I glanced at Will, who smiled back sheepishly. The sun loomed overhead in the horizon behind him, with no clouds to keep it company, and the warm swirling breeze only added further to the suffocating atmosphere.  Sweat rolled down his dark-skinned forehead, drenching the front of his t-shirt. He was an inch or two taller than me, lankier too, blessed with an enormous wing-span and the stride of a gazelle. Though to be fair, it wasn’t his athleticism that separated him from the rest of the pack. Will, as I so happened to notice the day that I met him, had an incredibly sharp-witted mind, and he put it to great use whenever he’d venture away from home.

 

“Don’t be lookin’ so tense, dude.”

 

My head quickly swiveled around to catch a concerned look on Will’s face. We were just walking around aimlessly one evening chatting about random stuff when a couple of drunken hoodlums stepped out of a nearby bar. They yelled profusely in crude slang, spewing profanities back and forth at each other as if they were in a verbal tennis match. It didn’t take a sociologist to realize that they were looking for trouble. Normally when I would witness a commotion such as this I’d stiffen up immediately, but Will had taught me a much more practical approach that helped me stay out of trouble.

 

“Just act as if you seen s**t like that before.”

 

I forced myself to calm down, attempting to relax all of the muscles in my body. It was hard work. 

 

“Don’t look at ‘em neither, that’s just askin’ for a whoopin’.”

 

Will’s streets-smarts took some getting used to, as they would constantly clash with my perceptive responses to violence. Emotional logic never seemed to get you anywhere around these parts. Say, you see someone walking towards you with a knife, your terror skyrockets, begging you to start running in the opposite direction. What Will would propose is to make yourself believe that this was an everyday matter. “Thugs are like sharks”, he’d say, “They sense your presence only if you bleedin’ fear all over the place. Just mind ya own business and keep walkin’ straight. There’s a good chance they do the same. They might start thinkin’ heavy you know, somethin’ like, ‘This cat walkin’ like he got a piece on him, or ‘Dude look like he know somebody ‘round the hood.’ This s**t f***s with their minds, see. They’d rather not mess with anybody that look calm under pressure.” Then he’d announce the staggering revelation that became my blueprint for survival long after Will was gone: “To survive these crooks, you gotta start pretendin’ like you one of ‘em too.”

 

Will himself never got to make good on his own advice. He was a rising star, a high-school basketball phenom, and his reputation as a highly talented shooting guard brought much attention not from the inhabitants of the cold hard streets, but other players from rival teams, college scouts, and even professors, who’d marvel at how he juggled schoolwork with team practices so well. Still, with all the attention he earned he’d never fail to hang out with me every day, and I would forever be grateful for that. Whenever his grandma saw us together, she’d frequently use the phrase, “Siamese twins, ‘cause you know damn well you ain’t catchin’ one brat without the other.” With help from Will and his cousin, I too became decent enough at basketball, and he convinced me to try out for the point-guard position. I worked incredibly hard for this opportunity, because I knew it would mean even more time spent with him. Eventually, I got onto the varsity team, and it wasn’t long before we started to make a name for ourselves as a great back-court.

 

Never could I have guessed that Will would leave me the way he did, during that one evening when we spent a couple extra hours after practice to work on our shooting. After we were finally done, he told me to hang out near the school entrance while he got his car out of the parking lot. And so there I was, minding my own business, when a black Mercedes SUV rolled through the front gates of the school, moving at a snail’s pace. I figured it must’ve been someone who’d lost track of where they were. Suddenly, the SUV revved its engine and made a beeline straight for Will as he was walking towards his car, and I realized, oh too little too late, what was going to happen. The memory becomes blurry at this point, not because I can’t remember it well, but because no sane man who ever had someone like Will to share his life with would want to. Flashes of grief accompany the next few frames: the look in his mother’s eyes as I muttered my condolences, the long walk after the funeral service, the moonlit night outside of my window as I gazed into nothingness, lost in the sort of thoughts only a broken man who was missing his better half would delve in…

 

Sometimes I’ll sit here and remember the days we used to ride our bikes into the sunset, soaring against the wind. We’d ride past the rowdy bars where you wouldn’t be allowed to leave unscathed without a fight under your belt, past the shady alleyways where stick-up kids would be patiently waiting around the corner for whoever was dumb enough to take a 'shortcut', past the seedy crack-houses overflowing with fiends who’d shoot up their veins in broad daylight. We’d peddle along pleasantly, not uttering a single word to each other, until it felt like all of our troubles were behind us for good.

 

If only.

© 2013 Allen Skip


Author's Note

Allen Skip
This is dedicated to my best friend, the only man who truly understood me for who I am. R.I.P William Jackson, you will forever be missed.

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Added on December 19, 2012
Last Updated on June 19, 2013

Author

Allen Skip
Allen Skip

Brooklyn, NY



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