As sudden as a pop-up thunderstorm spoiling a summer pool party or as rogue and abrupt as the first cold front of fall, that fair weather life was reaching its end. The seemingly difficult and trial-laden issues I had to contend with then were a breeze compared to the vicious gale that’d soon splinter so much of the physical and emblematic parts of our lives.
That naive, overly ambitious, self-indulgent teen didn’t know how just how good he had it then. With me being more worried about chasing skirts, upholding some pathetic, artificial thugged-out image he’d seen in the rap videos, getting chiseled abs and a six pack, and trying to find the quickest way to making 50K a year were the extent of that young man’s troubles back then.
My joint bank account, the one Mom opened for me before I moved from Texas, had a balance of $5,000. It was accumulated by the checks I received monthly from Dad’s social security. I had a decent paying job at the time, with my only bills being the $20 I dropped in the gas tank every 2 weeks and the occasional basic maintenance on my ’91 Geo Prism.
And, even with that, my mom’s boyfriend found it and paid for it with his own money so it could be my starter car. And if ever something went wrong on the car, Mom knew a guy personally that did auto maintenance, and I could take any problem to him to be fixed for next to nothing.
My job at Winn-Dixie as a grocery stocker was less than a 3 miles away. And even when the store closed down because of downsizing, they transferred me to the one in Bay St. Louis which still was roughly, only 6 to 7 miles away—so there was very wear and tear on the car.
I was staying with Mom, who was supplying food, water, electricity, shelter, etc. All I did was fill up my drawer with loose bills, from the checks I’d cash from work. When money was low, I’d scoop out a wad of cash, stuff it in my pocket and go on about my business. To me it was the “made” life like how Henry Hill described, in the last scene of “Goodfellas”, when he was ratting out all of his former mob associates to the jury. I didn’t have a “sugar bowl full of coke” in the kitchen or a “draw full of jewels by the bed.” But, I could scoop out that wad of cash whenever I wanted.
And, on top of all that, I was in some of the best physical shape of my life, even though I wasn’t in organized sports at the time. Organized sports, with the exception of martial arts, were just something I steered clear of. That was especially true with football. The politics and egotism associated with the sport couldn’t coexist with my code of ethics. I saw me not playing sports as taking a stand against some type of great social injustice—typical, teeny, self-righteous, ideals.
Most dudes get into sports at that age just to get in shape. And, the main reason they want to get in shape is because of girls. As a rite of passage and for the hopes of getting a scholarship as well, yes. But, the primary reason is girls all along. I figured that I mine as well cut that one unneeded step out of the process. Compared to the post-Katrina version of myself, the “pre-Katrina me” was a drastically different creature. It is so much so that that version of myself can be spoken of in the third person as if it were an entirely different person.
The once “winter bud” was now blossoming and finding a forte in which he felt useful and wanted. Genuine respect from his peers was something he’d never felt until this point. It was also a time which he’d learn just how many in his age group shared similar perspectives and outlooks, that he assumed were so personal to him, about the world, and how he was not alone in his uncertainties of certain life aspects.
He was learning to give up putting energy into being someone else for acceptance, and instead, learned to be comfortable in the skin God gave him. He found a niche and a rhythm between the culture of his current surroundings and his “Texas boy” ways, which were woven into the fiber of his very being.
His relationship with God was improving, without the hustle and bustle of the city to interfere. The Bible was starting to make more sense and becoming more pertinent to him, with each day. The presence and interference of God in his life was subtly becoming more evident, through personal experiences and global events of the world. The true meaning and purpose of his existence was being revealed to him in the tranquility of the beach and of the deep woods of Mississippi.
However, the environment was not distraction free. Those discreetly, mind fouling television networks, MTV, VH1, BET, were doing their part in filling his brain with alluring and glamorous lifestyles with their music videos and reality shows—lifestyles that were so unrealistically attainable. Even though he was maturing, a small part of him still sought to strive for the superficial things of life. Instead of just purely East Coast and Texas Hip Hop, he started sampling tastes of the Bible Belt and West Coast lyricists.
Not only that, but, the interest of Classic Rock, 80’s pop, Classic R&B, and Old School Hip Hop were beginning to leak onto his palate. His newly found affinity of reading literature and of creating it, was in its most subtle period of infancy. He was losing himself, for hours, in Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, for hours at a time in his room.
The evolution of the teen was progressing in a way which he was fully aware of and that he could profoundly measure. One of the biggest advances in his maturity was the confession, to himself, of having a small but very real feeling of prejudice. Even if it wasn’t full-fledged hatred, it was still something he couldn’t live with and that he recognized would manifest into the very thing our country’s forefathers, who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, stood against.
He admitted it and did away with it, allowing him to mingle with other walks of life, to meet genuine friends he might not have met otherwise, and to connect with other more profoundly. But as with anyone with a decent stint of life’s tutelage under their belt knows, your progression is not always brought about by heartwarming and pleasurable circumstances.
In other words, the summer of August 2005, had very uncomfortable and disruptive elements of my evolution barreling towards me like the angry engines of the that Gulf Coast freight line—the one I heard echo that frantic wail between the Mississippi pines and, for those 4 years. And, this type of conditioning wasn’t solely reserved for the likes of me. The whole country would soon be forced to evolve and look at its true image in the mirror.
It’d have its arm twisted behind its back until it squealed of its own crimes–the crimes of kicking God out of everything, political wickedness, its intolerance of its fellow man, its underlying racism, and its widespread neglect of the urban community. But also, stories of the hope, selflessness, sacrifice, and resolve of mankind would be put on a global stage to inspire change for the betterment.
Those 125 mph winds of change were coming to decimate that sun-kissed living, and to bring the worst and the best of mankind to the surface. In the immense wilderness of life, my family and I would soon learn to question more intensely—metaphorically and physically—where we were choosing to build our shelters and just how we were choosing to build them.
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