Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How MK Asante Saved My Life with “Buck”

Okay, okay. My title is little dramatic. I like dramatic titles, sue me. But honestly, I read an advanced copy of “Buck” by M.K. Asante while at my job. I always rummage through the mock library for new literature. I never really look for anything in particular, just something that catches my eye. This particular book stood out to me: it had no cover artwork. It just said:

BUCK

A Memoir

MK Asante

And other less important book sale date jargon.

There was no forward. No epilogue. No opening dedication. No author bio. At this time, I had NO idea who this Asante fellow was. Everything was just TK (which is “to come” in editor lingo). What in the absolute hell is this book about? All I know is that I have an affinity for memoirs and books about urban life. “MK Asante” sounded pretty ethnic to me, so the book seemed like a win/win. So I grabbed the book off the shelf, flipped to the first page of the first chapter and skimmed. I couldn't even make it past the first two sentences: “The fall in Killadelphia. Outside is the color of cornbread and blood.” Yup. Definitely ethnic. Corn bread?? I was in love immediately. I had to close the book, stuff it in my bag and jet to the train station. I had to be seated and comfortable before diving in, because I knew I would quickly be enveloped in its pages. My commute out of the city is almost two hours. Perfect.

I don’t remember what page I got up to by the time I got off at my stop, but it wasn't very far. I had to force myself to stop. Not because it was bad. Not because I was disinterested or distracted. I was far from it. I needed to wait until I got a highlighter. The language he used in just the first chapter had me creasing pages to remember every point I saw awesome verbiage. I had a lot of creases. And it’s funny. I used to shake my head at people who wrote in their books. For me, anything as permanent as a book should not be defaced. It lowers the value. The book should remain intact, as if it were never even touched. Or so I thought until “Buck.” Now I know how much value it gave my reading experience. I never expected to be getting more intimate with a book and a highlighter than with a man (the struggle is real).



Asante made it so that all my senses were engaged while reading. You realize just how observant he probably is. And just how much time he probably spends in his mind; quiet, watching and thinking. Here are a handful of things I highlighted:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Rain Has Never Been a Friend


I've never been a fan of the rain.

As is the story of many black girls, my initial disdain with precipitation came with the responsibility of maintaining a fresh perm. Hued women of all ages would turn into Usain Bolt to avoid having their slick tresses make contact with H20, and no one was above making a bonnet out of a corner store plastic bag. As my days of creamy crack fizzled away with age, so did most of my efforts to shield my curls, but my hate for storm clouds hasn't lessened in the slightest. Now, many of my young adult counterparts equate a passing storm with prime time for cuffing. For me, it's a bad luck omen. A vacuum for news of death, to be specific.

I still remember the first day I noticed the trend. I was walking from a tutoring session in Washington, D.C.'s Adams Morgan. The air was chilly and I had a strong craving for a hot chocolate from Starbucks to warm my stomach. As I waited for the light to change, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my friend Shadae. "Shamar Olivas died." Blank stare. "How?" I replied. "In his sleep." Although Shamar and I weren't the best of friends, I remember the sadness sweeping over me, memories of him sharing poetry in our middle school classes flooded my mind. And the rain continued to pelt on my head, as if it didn't give a damn about my feelings.

The second time was one I'll never forget. I was in the engineering building getting ready to take a communications law midterm. Although I did study, I was having pre exam jitters. This class was a hard one and I didn't have time for anything less than a B. My phone buzzed. It was Shadae. I woefully looked back towards the rain streaked windows in the lobby behind me and felt my stomach drop. "Yanique Bailey was killed." The message didn't didn't compute. Killed? Not died, but killed? "Her father shot her, her younger sister and her mother in the head while they were asleep," she continued. "Then he shot himself." I lost every fiber of my mind at that moment, including all of the study materials I had been reviewing hours before. Fighting back the hot tears that wanted to fall was a task. While I still had a few minutes before the teacher arrived and began handing out the test packets, I hurried out of the auditorium row and plopped down in the lobby. I needed to talk to my mother. "Mom. My friend is dead." She could hear the panic in my voice as I rehashed all the details Shadae provided. "You have to calm down," she insisted as comfortingly as possible. "Can you still take your test?" In my heart I knew my mind wasn't in the right place, but I didn't have another option. Upon hanging up with her five minutes later, I tip-toed back into the auditorium, grabbed an exam and took my seat. I'd eventually pass the test, but at the time I felt like I'd bombed it and didn't even care. All my mind could replay was Yanique's probable last moments. I shuddered inside at the thought of a father so viciously and selfishly taking his family's life. My bright-eyed friend's life.

I needed to let it all out, but my off campus room was too far to reach. I had to cry right then and there. My friend Crystal usually left her suite door open in the Annex, so I pushed through the raindrops and made my way down the hill, cursing every bead of water as it fell. I zipped right past the idle-minded front desk attendant up to her empty room, took off my wet jacket, plopped onto her bed, buried my face in my hands and bawled. Loudly. I couldn't control my rage. Before Crystal came home to a more subdued sob, her suite mate had to come check on me because she was so startled by the wailing through the walls. I wish I could remember the girl's name, but I was so lost in my depression. My stinging eyes crying with the same intensity of the skies.

Since then, the rain still has not been good to me. Dane Freeman from junior high. Shot at a barbecue. Heard the news in the rain. Ms. Alfa Choice, an awesome teacher from my high school. Jumped off the Tappanzee Bridge. Heard the news in the rain. Ifeanyi Mba. In the rain. Ms. Medlin. In the rain. And then this morning as I grudgingly opened my umbrella on the doorstep, prepping to trek to the bus stop in 90% precipitation: "Aunt Blossom died," my dad said to me, with a phone full of bad news pressed to his ear. I looked up at the sky in disappointment. The clouds cried for me. "I'm sorry, Dad."

They're right: when it rains, it pours.