Time. Time waits for no man is something that I’ve always heard growing up. Being a sophomore in college now, the idea of time and that quote that always seems to be attached to it now is so important to me. In all actuality, time isn’t as important to me as it is prominent and scary.
I’ve told my girlfriend, who I’ve known for a little under half of the 20 years that I’ve been alive and have been officially dating for over a year now. I once told her that I wasn’t afraid of anything. She then shared with me that she had an extensive fear of being raped, and urged me to come up with something.
“You’ve gotta be afraid of something,” she told me. “So tell me.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’m afraid of the unknown.”
Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that I still guess that I am afraid of the unknown, but going through my second year in college, I’ve learned that I am afraid of so much more.
The end of the school year is slowly approaching me, and I can’t help but feel nervous and afraid. I’m afraid that I’m not going to do so well on my upcoming final projects. I’m afraid that I’m not going to end the school year on a high note, which is a goal that I told myself that I would accomplish. I’m scared that I’m going to get bad grades, and then not be able to apply for certain scholarships that I desperately need next school year. I’m making little mistakes now, which are fine I guess, but I’m afraid that if I make too many mistakes on my journey, then I’m not only going to be a disappointment to myself, but to my parents, my family and the community that raised me. I’m afraid that I’m going to finally get my English degree in two years, and then struggle to find a stable income that comes from a job that I actually enjoy, or even worse, not even pursue a career in writing anymore. I’m afraid of time, for sure, but I know that all of these fears ultimately come down to one thing: my legacy.
One Friday afternoon, I was lying on a couch in the main lobby of the Freshman dorms. At the time, I was the Resident Assistant for Second North Tower, so I’m pretty much always there. On this particular day, I had just finished playing an hour and a half long session of ping pong (yeah, we go hard when it comes to the pong) with a buddy of mine named Nkem, who was also an RA. He was kicking my ass that day, but it’s okay. I’m kind of unstoppable to him now.
Anyway, I was so tired once we had finally finished, that I decided to just chill in the lobby till I caught my wind.
I don’t know how he got in (I never asked either), but in walked Dwayne from just outside the main lobby.
“Dwayne, Wayne,” I shouted from across the lobby. “Is that you?”
He just grinned and quickly made his way to me. He was wearing an off-white thermal underneath a navy blue t-shirt. He had on some plain blue jeans with brown boots. There was a trash bag full of something that he was lugging around too.
When he finally got to me, we slapped hands and said our “what’s ups.”
“What the hell you doing here Wayne?”
He grinned again, and then shook his head. “Man, it’s a long story.”
Of course, I insisted that he tell me, partly because I was interested and maybe even a little nosy, but also, because Dwayne was one of my floormates that I had interacted with a lot my freshman year of college. He had left towards the end of the first semester to go back home to Chicago because he accidentally shot a BB gun at a restaurant window. I say accidentally because that’s the story that Dwayne and his cousin Armon told everybody. Armon goes to ESU as well, and believe it or not, he seemed to be more of a troublemaker than Dwayne. As a matter of fact, Armon seemed to be the one who came up with most of the schemes, he was just smart enough not to get caught.
Though I don’t partake in such mischievous acts myself, it was easy for me to sort of befriend Dwayne, and more so, to relate to him. He reminded me of my cousins back home in Kansas City. They all have a lot of potential and promise, but they can’t seem to ever make the right decisions during some of the toughest tests in life. This is what sets me apart from the likes of Dwayne, and especially the likes of my cousins, but Dwayne and I had things in common. And sure, they were pretty obvious things like being black boys and growing up in the ghetto, but that was all that we needed to understand that we were sort of on the same journey. We were the golden boys in our family that would eventually buy our mothers new houses, and make our families proud.
“So what’s up Dwayne? Who are you here with?”
He motioned me to the back of the lobby so that our conversation wouldn’t be overheard. We sat on this weird armless couch. I was a bit nervous, but I wasn’t too concerned because 1. Dwayne really is a harmless soul that’s misunderstood. I know this because he revealed to the floor last year that he listens to Taylor Swift and loves One Direction. 2. I’m just that calm and collected.
“Man, it’s a long story,” he started. “You the first person I’m telling this to…”
I felt honored, and a little horrible at the same time. I was not worth being the first one told about the past seven months of Dwayne’s life.
“You heard about the BB gun thing and the probation didn’t you?”
“Alright well, I ended up going back to Chicago, but I was still being supervised by the people in Topeka ‘cause that’s where it happened. I went out with my friend one night–he was driving his car–and we ended up getting pulled over by the cops because they said that the car we were in had been reported stolen. I didn’t even know he had stole the car, but because I was already on probation, I still got in trouble.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe that Dwayne had gotten in trouble again. It was as if he hadn’t learned his lesson the first time. “See that’s why you gotta watch who you hanging out with, man.”
“Yeah, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway because I didn’t know.”
This was true. It could happen to me the next time I get in the car with one of my friends. It could happen to anyone.
“But because of that,” Dwayne continued. “I ended up having to go to jail. And that’s where I’ve been for the past seven months. I have to go to Topeka for my hearing next week, but until then, they paid for a cab for me, and sent me here–”
“Hold on,” I interrupted. “So who are you staying with? Armon?”
“Nah, Armon not here. He still in Chicago.”
“Are you sure? I just saw him like two or three days ago.”
I really had seen Armon a few days ago, but I had more evidence that Armon was on campus that I didn’t really feel like sharing. Coincidentally, while Nkem and I were playing ping pong earlier, Nkem had mentioned seeing Armon earlier that day at The Rec. I thought about sharing this information with Dwayne, but he seemed convinced enough already.
“Forreal?” Dwayne’s eyes lit up. “Do you have him on FaceBook?”
He was happy to know someone in Emporia that would actually help him and not just be nosey, like me. I mean, I hoped Dwayne made it through this next week alright, but I wasn’t the brotha that was going to be his keeper. Hell, I was having trouble enough trying to keep myself sane through the rest of this school year. No. Armon would play good cousin. Afterall, Dwayne did take the fall for the BB gun fiasco.
I wasn’t friends with Armon on FaceBook, but I was still able to send him a message on Dwayne’s behalf. I told him that Dwayne was looking for him, and that he was going to be in Emporia for a week. I also sent him the address to the shelter just in case he wanted to reach him there. Dwayne was hopeful, and I was just happy that I actually made myself useful to his unfortunate predicament.
“How did I look when you saw me?” Dwayne asked. He was grinning again. “Did it look like I just got out of jail or something?”
He was asking me, but I knew he was really asking if I thought anyone else would notice that he had just gotten out of jail.
“I mean, I knew you looked like you had just gotten out of something, but that’s just because I already know what somebody fresh out of jail looks like, but nobody else’ll notice. They’re too caught up in their own stuff to notice anything else anyway.”
Dwayne was satisfied. We started talking about our floor from last year, and how only five were attending ESU, and only about six were even in college still. Some of them had dropped out to join the Airforce or the Army or something, and some just dropped out because they couldn’t handle college any longer.
I told Dwayne that at least two people that he hung out with while he was here last school were living in Morse, and so he left and went to hang out with them. I assured him that I would let Armon know that he was here in case I saw him in person, and he thanked me before scampering out the door.
After Dwayne left, I walked to my room, and just sat there for awhile. I started thinking about my cousins who had been to jail or done something stupid enough to be guilty of jail time. Two of them are around my age. We grew up together, but for some strange reason, I’m in college while one of them has been shot, and the other has a baby now. They both were involved in gangs, or maybe they still are, but talking to Dwayne just then, I couldn’t help but see my cousins in him.
We were all supposed to make it. And by it, I mean graduate college and become financially stable like my Uncle Tramaine.
My Uncle Tramaine is who I look to as the Golden Boy of his era. He, my mother and about four other brothers and sisters grew up together in the same household, and fought the same demons on their journey to success. Now, out of all five of my grandmother’s children, Uncle Tramaine was her only child to graduate from college, and actually become a somewhat financially stable business man. I say somewhat because he now has four kids, and well, kids can be expensive, especially when you actually love them.
Excuse my French, but why the fuck is Uncle Tramaine the only one to seemingly make it out alive?
I know my mother’s story because I’ve heard it from her first-hand, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters to me is why did the mistakes keep happening? And how is it that Uncle Tramaine was able to stay focused on the goal that all of them were instilled with growing up, while his siblings faltered.
I sat in my bed and seriously thought about this in silence, and I figured out why it was important to me. There seemed to be this cycle of Golden Children in my family–meaning only two or three of us make it to college and out of the ghetto per generation. My uncle wasn’t the only one in the entire family to make it through college, and obtain great jobs. There were two or three others, but if they were all raised in the same environment, why didn’t they all make it out the same?
I wrestled with this question for another ten minutes. Eventually, I just concluded that people will do what they want and obtain what they desire even if it harms them in the long-run. I then concluded that this was a deadly fact for all of humanity, and that there was nothing I could really do about people exercising their free will, even if I were God.
A few weeks before I ran into Dwayne at the Towers Lobby, I spoke with Uncle Tramaine over the phone. He’s a real conversationalist, but my cousins just think he talks too much because he’s always trying to teach the younger generation something or “drop knowledge” as he liked to put it. He’s also an Alpha, so that obviously says a lot about his priorities as a man in general. He heavily recruited me for the Alpha Chapter once I graduated from high school, but of course, ESU doesn’t even have a chapter on campus. It’s because there aren’t enough black men attending ESU, but whatever diversity and inclusion.
The day I spoke with Uncle Tramaine on the phone, I was really going through some shit in school.
Uncle Tramaine asked how everything was going with classes, and I almost didn’t tell him the whole truth, but then I thought to myself “fuck it.”
“Man, I’m just trying to get through the rest of this semester,” I told him. “This stuff can be real stressful.”
He laughed, which actually didn’t bother me at all.
“I know what you mean, man,” he said.
I had forgotten the fact that I wasn’t talking to my mother or my father. They hadn’t gone to college so when I told them that I was stressed or just trying to get through the rest of the semester, I knew that they didn’t fully understand. Literally, my mother’s response to things like that are always something along the lines of “just stay focused” (which is actually good advice if you haven’t heard it two years in a row) or even something more in your face like “I just need you to finish, and then start making that money so that I can retire already.”
I know. It sounds bad, but I honestly can’t blame her. My mother raised my sister and I on her own for awhile when she was like 22 or something, and she has been working her butt off to support her family ever since then. My mother and father have invested their lives into me, and they deserve to receive the residuals from that monumental investment, but I feel as if time is a help and a hinder to me at this point in my life.
Time is very helpful to me for the simple fact that it is allowing me to still be able to soak up information while I am young and strong and healthy, but I am also a slave to time in a sense because I know that nothing happens overnight, and even if I have the next bestselling novel somewhere working in my brain right now, it may not come out until years or even decades from now.
Why must I be a slave to this human idea of time?
“Have you seen The Godfather Epic?” Uncle Tramaine asked.
“Dawg.” He says “dawg” a lot. Sometimes he’s not even calling me “dawg.” It seems to work more as his segue into his next sentence. “You have to watch The Godfather Epic. A lot of stuff happens in it, but at the end of the day, it’s all about loyalty and family.”
“Is it on Netflix or something?”
“Agh, I don’t know.” Uncle Tramaine is never one to trifle with such little questions. “I watched it on HBO the other day, but Vell, I need you to watch The Godfather Epic in the next couple of days and get back to me, and tell me what you think.”
I chuckled at his passion and assured him that I would.
If there’s one thing that Uncle Tramaine is is passionate. If you’re having a conversation with him about something, he will literally talk to you about it passionately for long-drawn out times. Again, Uncle Tramaine is talkative. This is why my cousins steer clear from him during every single Holiday dinner. This is why I steer towards him. Sometimes I talk, but I always watch, and I always listen.
“What’s your major, again? Psychology?”
“Nah, I changed it to English.”
“Oh, okay. So what do you plan to do with that after you graduate?”
By this time in my college career, I was already acclimated with answering these sort of questions. They were almost second nature to me because I’ve been smart enough to plan things out before I actually decide to go through with them.
I told my uncle about my career plan.
The plan is to graduate and move somewhere on either coast. I was sure that the job market for writers would be more open there. Though I never said that I would do this, Uncle Tramaine insisted that I make a decision to move somewhere that is best for me, and to not compromise my options for no one. He was referring to my girlfriend. I then told him about getting more involved with journalism, and trying to find a job at a publishing house.
“Sounds like you have it planned out,” he said.
“Yep. I just have to make sure I stay focused and get through college. I just want them to give me the degree already.”
We both laughed. I was sure that he must’ve felt the same way when he was in college.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m about to give you some game, Lil’ Vell. What you need to do is find your niche, and start to build your brand. Once you do that, everything else will come with it–you’ll have the game and be gone with it then. Do you know what a podcast is?”
“Yeah, but I don’t really know how they work exactly.”
“Well,” he was on a roll now with the advice. “Now that I’ve brought it to your attention, you need to Google podcast on the internet, and figure out how it works. You have to try out everything so that you can know out what your niche is.”
“Alright. I’ll try to check it out sometime this week.”
“Yeah, you don’t have to do it now, but just make sure you check it out…” There were some muffled sounds, and then he came back. “Alright Lil’ Vell, I’m going to leave with this, and then I gotta go.”
“Remember,” he said. “The two most important things in life is family, and legacy. Everything else will come with it. That’s some game for you Lil’ Vell. I gotta go. Love you, boy.”
“Alright, Uncle Tramaine. Love you too.”
The phone hung up, and my first thought was “Did I just say I love you?” Those words never come out of my mouth, and it’s almost always reserved for my mother and father on occasion, and for my girlfriend. This whole talk on family and legacy with my uncle left me all lovey dovey and hopeful. No, more than hopeful–inspired.
Somehow, I summed up the energy to finish up some projects that I had for some of my classes, and I couldn’t help but think about my necklace.
I pulled on it a bit just before I went to sleep that night.
This necklace is a symbol for the legacy that I have envisioned to leave in my family’s name after I die. The countless number of memorable novels and other works of literature. The legacy of intellect, love, passion, vision, art and most importantly, family.
Sometimes I still have my fear of the unknown and of time itself, but at the end of the day, I know that none of that stuff matters. I have no control over what I couldn’t possibly know, or of this made-up idea called time. However, I do have control over what I do next. And just as I always have, I will plan the things that need to be planned in order to obtain stability for my family and my legacy.
I will perfect my craft. My technique will be crisp. And by all means, I will not falter.