The red Blazer screams off into the darkness and I still can't believe this is happening. Not to me, not on Valentine's Day, not on my front porch. I look up and I see Devante screaming and screaming. What just happened? Not that long ago, we was just chillin' on my porch. So what if it's dark and cold outside? It's Valentine's Day and Devante wanted to make it a happy one for me. He brought me all these roses and this big white bear and I was just so excited I just stood right here on the front porch with no coat on. And then the Blazer just pulls up outta nowhere with no lights on and I know that I shoulda known it was gonna happen and I know that I shoulda known not to be out here. I knew it was a gangsta car, low-riding down the street with gold trim, fat tires, license plate covers, and windows tinted so black that you can’t see the fools inside. But Devante, well you can't expect him to know nothing about that cuz he just moved in here from his boozhy neighborhood where they don’t never get drive-bys. And I still don't want to believe that those were real bullets flyin' at us, and I still don't want to believe that some of them hit me. I just hope Devante okay. And the bear he gave me, its covered in blood! I'm screaming his name but he can't hear me.
“Monica! Monica, you’re gonna be all right. The ambulance is coming!” Devante all frantic now.
I ain't never seen him look so scared in my life. And maybe he can't hear me. He's got blood on him, too! I told him to duck. But since he wasn’t listening, I pushed him down to the ground and fell right on top of him. I just couldn’t let something like this happen to him. And I'm feeling this pain now, but I know this ain't happening. I’ll wake up, and tomorrow I’ll be going to Student Council and track practice. I’ll wake up, and none of this will have happened, I want to tell myself. It's cold, so cold that I think my blood is gonna freeze on the sidewalk. My blood! It can't be real! It can' t be. Okay, Monica, look down. You're just dreaming. Them bullets, they wasn't real. Ain't none of this real. But that's real blood! Oh, God please tell me these bullet holes ain't real! I'm gonna die!
They say your whole life flashes before you, but all I see is what I never did. Like how I never told Devante that I like him. I wonder if he even knows? I remember that day when we stopped at Marshall Field's. We was ‘posed to be heading home from school on the El train, but of course Devante wasn't trying to hear that. And I remember the look on his face when I tried on that long, slinky dress with the skanky slit up the side that I knew Momma would never approve of. But that look on his face. . . never in my life has a brother looked at me that way. And he bought that black and silver Nautica jacket even though I told him not to, not just because it was $150 (can you believe he fifteen and got a credit card?) but because Shorty from up the street, he's got one just like it. And then he bought the new Jordans, too, even though I told him that Shorty got a pair just like 'em. And word on the street is they been looking for Shorty. They think he's been keeping some of that drug money to himself. Devante be trying so hard to fit in with these other brothers, so maybe me telling him about Shorty only made him want the jacket and shoes more. I'm looking up at Devante now, and I see it would be real hard to tell him from Shorty from the back.
And here comes Momma now, just crying. And I want to tell her that it's alright, even though it's not. Kinda like that one Black girl in the play Devante and his momma took me to see about the French people that was having a revolution. They were shooting too, only not over drug money, and ole girl was just caught in the middle. But she told her man not to worry. She didn't feel no pain, and rain would make the flowers grow. . .
Feels like I’ve been layin’ here for twenty years. I keep coming in and out, hearing voices warning Devante not to move me. And I'm just like, where's the ambulance at? If I could talk, I'd remind Devante that 911 is a joke. Poor thing. He never did understand that music video. Maybe now he can.
But it ain't his fault that he just moved here to be with his Grandma since she had a stroke. He coulda gone to live downtown with his father in a fancy apartment, but he said that living here was more fun. Yeah, if you can call living with burglar bars and four locks on the door "fun."
But it used to be fun to live here. Maybe that’s why the old people, like Devante’s grandma, don’t want to move away. They say that the neighborhood has changed a lot since 20 years ago, and I even think that it was different seven years ago when me and Devante was little. I remember when we used to sit here on this porch when we was little kids, drinking Kool-Aid and eating corn chips with hot sauce on ‘em. Every day after school he and his big brother would be at his grandmother’s house, and I liked coming over there to see him. Sometimes we played in his grandmother’s backyard. When it’s warm outside, she got so many sweet potato vines and elephant ears back there that me and Devante played like we was living in a jungle. I wonder if he remember that. But things were changing, even then. One of his parents would roll up in a shiny black Mercedes to pick him up, and he never saw what it was like being here at night. Devante didn’t know about the drug dealers who started hanging out on the corners. He had no idea that by the time they was in sixth grade, a lot of the little boys he used to play with already had rap sheets. Somehow, in the back of his mind Devante thinking that he still living in a boozhy little neighborhood. I guess all them signs that say “Warning: We Call Police” that are up in everybody’s windows never made him realize that.
I still remember they day he moved in here. I saw him out front, cutting his grandma’s grass without a shirt on. He almost had some muscles, with his tall, skinny self. And looking so fine. I think maybe some of the other boys are jealous of him, especially since he got such nice curly hair. But anyway, there he was. And as soon as he saw me coming, he cut off the lawnmower.
“Monica, is that you?” We hadn’t seen each other for a long time. And I guess he was expecting to see me with braids and barrettes in my hair, not like it is now, in a bob that’s stacked in the back. I was surprised to see him, too.
“Devante? What you doing here?”
And that was when he told me all about the divorce and his grandma having a stroke and his momma not wanting to put her away in a home. For a second, I almost thought I saw a tear in his eye. But then he changed the subject. That boy asked me if I wanted to ride bikes with him around the neighborhood. And I told him I’d have to be crazy to do that.
“Why not?” He asked. “I used to ride my bike all the time when I was at my old house.”
“Well, this ain’t your old house!”
And I don’t think I got a chance to finish telling him about how it’s changed around here because his momma came outside after that. Mine did, too. They just kept going on and on about how much older we both looked and how cute we was when we was little kids. It was embarrassing. And then they started talking about how the two of us was just about to start high school, how fast we grew up. I was ready to leave. And just then, Devante momma said something that surprised me: we was both going to the same school. Me and Momma both looked at her funny. And she said it was the best public high school in the city, so of course she’d send him there. Maybe we could carpool, she said.
But my momma’s idea of “carpooling” is for me and Devante to take the CTA buses and El trains together. That was when I realized that if Devante had a lot to learn about the world. The first few times, that goofy boy forgot to get himself a transfer. And he wanted to take his Discman on the train! I told him to hide it inside his coat so that all people could see was his headphones and not the CD player. And I guess I thought he learned.
We spent a lot of time after school together. He plays the piano, and when he plays, when them long, skinny fingers of his touch the keys, it’s like he’s saying something to you that can’t be put in words. His grandma likes listening to Nat King Cole. She used to be a ballroom dancer, but since she can’t do that no more, she just sits and listens. Sometimes Devante be trying to play the songs by ear. And one day, I started singing along. He liked my voice. So, I sang a little louder, but since I’m an alto, I can’t hit really high notes.
“Do you want me to play it in another key?” He asked me.
I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“That’s the difference between singers and musicians. All you guys have to do is just jump up on a stage and go ‘la la la’ and you don’t even know about sharps and flats and major and minor keys!”
But he taught me all that stuff. He’s really good about that. Just like his momma. She grew up here, and always be giving me history lessons on the neighborhood, telling me about the politicians and movie stars and football players who used to live down the street or around the corner. Seems to me like they oughtta come back and see what’s happened since then. And she told me about how all these houses on the block are Chicago style bungalows, that you can find them anywhere in the city. She’s right. I started noticing that on the way to school. Houses just like mine all over the place, but some people still look at this and call it the ghetto.
I remember standing here on the porch the night we had went out to see that play about the French people. Devante and his momma always going to plays and operas and things like that, and every time, he remembers to invite me. I never really got the feeling that they do it because they felt sorry for me or thought they were doing some kinda mission work or doing me a favor.
“I just like being with you, Monica.” Devante said. “And I just want you to see what it’s like on the other side.”
That was when I knew he liked me. And for the whole play, I kept looking at him. I guess somehow I kinda thought he was gonna kiss me, like in a movie or something. And I remember there was this one Black girl in the play, the one who got shot. And I turned to Devante and said, “One day that’s gonna be me!” But I didn’t mean like this.
It's getting colder now. I never thought it would be this way, dying I mean. Actually, I never really knew what it would be like. They never taught us about that kinda thing in school, just like they never taught us what to do if you live where I live. And I don't wanna die. Sometimes, I used to feel like if I died nobody would care at all, but here they all are— Devante and his mother and grandma (she came out here with her walker!) and my parents. And I don't want to do this, but something's pulling me away from them. And I want to tell Devante about the song I wrote for him that I left in my dresser drawer underneath the CD that he bought me. It's the soundtrack to the musical about the French people having a revolution. And I want to tell Momma and Daddy that I'm sorry about all the times I fought with them over stupid stuff like how loud I can play my music. And I want to thank Mrs. Lewis (that's Devante's grandma) for all the times she baked us sweet potato pies and let me and Devante listen to her Nat King Cole records. And I want to thank Ms Lewis for all the plays and operas she took me to see. But most of all I want to thank Devante for just being Devante. Because he played the piano while I sang, because we took the bus to school together sometimes, and because I don't wanna go out like this. And I can't stand to see his face all twisted up in fear.
So now I'm gonna try to sing Devante one last song. They all look so scared, but I ain't scared no more. If I could just get my voice back. . . it's really hard to even breathe now. I'm gon’ try. . . just like that one Black girl in the play . . .
"A little . . .fall of rain . . . can hardly . . .hurt me. . . now. "
Blood all spurting out my mouth. And I hope that he knows what I'm saying. I hope they all know.
"And rain. . . will make the flowers—"
©1997 Tiffany Gholar