Long ago there was a New Year’s when I kissed my love on a dance floor below the Mason-Dixon, balloons cascading all around us. Time’s cup was overflowing. Another year I wandered from Harlem to Brooklyn fueled by rum and Belvedere and drunken interactions and seven-digit gateway that hit the wall of nowhere post-hangover. On two others I made chili at the Grand Lodge in Bed-Stuy for the close to 100 people who packed my apartment, moving to the sounds of a six-hour mix and the smells of turkey, tomato and garlic. On one I ground against the perfect dernier for an hour straight, then whisper a sweet blade into her ear. We finished out the night watching The Twilight Zone marathon. I always wanted to bring the year in with a bang. Do the masks and tuxes and champagne, tossing dollars in the air grabbed caught by either a lengthy glossy heel, or the open case of the axe player on a Georgetown Street. I was always so excited about the beginnings, that I forgot the foresight I had to see until the end.
Tonight I walked out of my apartment armed with nothing but my phone, a point-and-shoot and a craving for fifteen second of fame on Instagram. I didn’t do it to prove that I could do. I was doing it to prove that I could do it again. In youth I had mapped my favorite parts of Chocolate City on film one frame at a time, wandering far beyond the boundaries of my zone to see how the others lived: the white folks, the private school kids, the Uptowners who had never been to Iverson Mall or Crystal Skate in their lives. I felt safe in those foreign spaces, knowing that they were ripe positions for me to avoid the bullets, trapping and intrigue that were a sign of the times. I knew there was something more for me than guns and hand-to-hands on the darkening corners surrounding my parents’ estate. But those times are long gone. These kids now only know guns from screen big and small and overgrown stories about times that were worst regarded at best. Those of us who survived have had to learn how to tell to the truth.
I found myself at a breaking point earlier in the day, fueled by a something that turned me into the exploding man I’ve been trying to leave underneath the avalanche where I buried him. Each year there are more good days than bad in that respect. Once upon a time I was Denzel’s Bleek Gilliam in the final act of Mo’ Better Blues, addicted to making music but afraid of maintaining anything else. When his musical gift was lost Bleek had to find his way through life without it; the X-Men’s Storm without her weather powers. I had to come home. I had to watch the woman who birthed my mother die right in front of me, peacefully, but still tragically. The costumes my elders used to wear got shredded by Fate as dry cleaner. And I was all alone. This is Year One.
In year one you go back to the small apartment that your friends don’t want to visit because there’s nothing there that turns up in the Arts and Lifestyle section. In year one, you build your own tools, mark your own territory and choose your own targets. You forgive but you do not forget. You keep your distance from the Russell Edgington’s bent on consuming all they can swallow because it what they eat that defines them. In year one you learn to say ‘no’ a whole lot more than you ever say yes, regardless of who you’re talking to. In Year One you make the complicated decision to live life as a person and not as a machine bent on doing it all for everybody but yourself. And you learn how to tell the right people to go fuck themselves.
I thought I was too old for another first year, for another age when I would have to crawl before I could walk. But when I see my father, fresh off of knee replacement surgery and a veteran of pain in the years before it, have to savor each step as it’s a struggle when he once had the patience of an eight year-old with ADD, I understand that you never stop learning. Once you do it automatically starts the clock on your demise. I’m going to try and remember that in this new year. I think you should too.