Youth are so remarkable. This is not to say that I ever sleep on a generation. I mean when I think of all that they dumped on the Gen-X Hip Hop Nation, it’s a miracle that any of us made anything happen at all. Right after college, as I sat in my first apartment as an adult, I found myself drawn to telling a story about the dudes I left behind, all the young Black Men who didn’t choose higher education, who were trapped between the 9-to-5 life and their boys in the streets, unable to make a choice. My parents made that choice for me, and I’m thankful to them for it. I thought that the book that became Dark, my first bestselling novel, was about other men and me telling stories. But after I read the book from start to finish to my students last summer I saw all kinds of pieces of myself that I hadn’t recognized before. I saw people and places, foreshadows of a future I didn’t see coming, that like most of us, I just couldn’t have.
After reading two chapters to this new class, my loudest and most brazen student, a half blonde, half black weave-wearing student with her tats, mid-riff showing and her determination to do things her way, heard my words and saw a truth within them that I couldn’t see clearly until she mentioned it today. The book, which chronicles the story of Thai Williams, a 19 year-old kid from DC who walks in on his girl with another guy on top of her and the murder the subsequently forces him to leave town for the first time in his life to lay low in an apartment in Charlotte, wasn’t so much about the streets, or Black-on-Black violence, the golden age of hip hop, or anything else. It was really about my fear, my fear of murdering a boy who betrayed my trust, someone who even now thinks that I didn’t know. I just didn’t want to believe. I wouldn’t care about it so much if he’d ever copped to it. But he’s always assumed I was either too stupid or too loyal to call him out.
Time and distance are a funny thing. As I’m not the 25 year-old I was when the book dropped, my current perspective clearly explains many things about the path of our friendship then and since. Because the truth, overwhelmingly, was that he’d saved my life through his selfish betrayal. That bullet I dodged would have surely killed me slowly as it wound through my gut, tearing me apart from the inside. And the one with his name on it never left my chamber. God stepped in to make sure that didn’t happen.
Until today, Dark has been the first child I never felt like I raised right. I wanted to be Baldwin or Mosley or some literary archetype for the macho male when I was alpha enough as it was. But I had to figure that out too. Through all my books I was leaving this trail of breadcrumbs for my lower self to follow, for me to under why it went the way it went and to know that I most definitely wasn’t the loser in that particular triangle. More importantly I’m glad that almost 20 years later it’s message and characters still say so much to so many.
To you, my dude, you are forgiven. She was a mess you could’ve taken off my hands full-time. I was worth more, and though it took me a long time to figure that out the lesson is worth it’s weight in platinum. I’m happy to see so much promise in this new batch of students and to wonder what other mysteries within they might help me unlock.