The Terrors of Team 7B – The Middle School Days
By Rock Tennie
In 7th Grade…I wasn’t a good person. All of middle school was a jungle, but 7th Grade was the worse. In 2010, I discovered “Worst,” a manga about a fictional high school filled with delinquents who liked to fight. I think the reason why I was so drawn to those stories was because it reminded me of my own middle school. It felt like my entire class was a gang and honestly…it was ridiculous.
In 7th grade, I cultivated a reputation that I’m not exactly proud of…and yet it served me well. I barely passed, and the main skills I learned was to lie, cheat, and get my way. It was fun at first. But then, it got terrifying. Heads up…I use profanity in this one and this is a long read. Might want to bookmark.
So let’s back it up for a second. Let me take you all the way back to 1999. Think Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” or Juvenile’s “Back that Azz Up” and you got it. In 1999, I was living in a place called Augusta, Georgia. This is like Atlanta’s more down-south distant cousin, spread out with a lot of woods, flannel, 3XL shirts, and its own state of mind. Here, the culture wasn’t dictated so much by New York or Los Angeles, but by South Park, Power 107 and Y105. This was the true Dirty South. And they were proud. This song was our 7th Grade Anthem.
And the racism…Don’t worry, this isn’t to complain. I don’t know about the other kids, but at thirteen, I never knew the racism was racism. Is self-segregation racist? Because that’s more or less what happened. It’s like if you were born in the sweltering heat of Africa before you knew what air conditioning was. You just accept it as a way of life. We didn’t complain. We truly co-existed. Some blacks were racists against whites. And some white kids were racists against blacks. I had two white kids throw a big ass rock that almost hit me in the back of my head, but instead banged against the dumpster. Almost like a prison, in fact, a lot like a prison, everyone seemed to stick to their own.
Except if you were in my class. The arrow is pointing at me.I’m not kidding. If there was any racism from my classmates, none of us showed it. The blacks got along with whites and vice versa. Like I said, we were like our own gang and we took care of our own. I think that’s one of the reasons why we had so much fun. Team 7B’s Ms. Thompson’s class was the place to be. Even other kids were trying to get transferred to ours.
You see, middle school was a place where money doesn’t matter. No one was driving cars. No one had a job. You’d think this’d give us room to focus on things like grades and studying…but for us guys, all we cared about was our reputation. Whether you were a punk, whether you were cool, a baller, a wanna be gangster…or whether you could fight.
Alright, enough of the prologue. Let’s get in it.
One of the main reasons why my class was the so notorious was because we arguably had three of the top fighters in the school. Allow me to introduce them.
Javon was probably the strongest most athletic kid in the entire school. It’s a tossup between him and this other 7th grader named Dane. Javon had built up a fearsome reputation because he’d attack anyone for “seemingly” no reason at all. Hahaha! I know that sounds bad, but listen to me. Notice how I put “seemingly” in quotes. I know why he attacked…because Javon was my best friend.
In 7th grade, Javon and I hit it off early in the school year. I remember we were in class one time, and I helped him out by either giving him a pencil or helping him out on an assignment, and just like that, he literally said, “Thanks Reggie, you’re a good friend.”
That might sound insignificant or trivial, but I don’t think I remember anyone ever calling me a good friend before. I barely knew Javon at that point, but the fact that he saw me as a “good friend” instantly instilled in me a sense of loyalty. We’d have each other’s backs.
I’d look out for him and he’d look out for me. So when I saw Javon lashing out at people, I knew those kids had it coming. They had either talked shit about one of us or we vendettas to settle. The scary factor came from the fact that Javon usually gave no warning before he attacked. He didn’t approach, bumpin them gums, talking all kinds of crap about what he was gonna do. He just did it.
I remember one day, we were lined up on the gym basketball court ready to leave PE for the day and Javon, with his hyperactive self, went and ran the entire length of the gym for a headstart and came charging at an unsuspecting kid named Jamie H. BOOM! He shoulder-checked Jamie into the wall.
I laughed soooo hard! You see, Jamie H had crossed me the year before on the bus ride home. It was one of those situations where he punked me out and I was so green at the time that I didn’t realize it. (this happened a lot with me. Where people insulted me and I was too naïve to realize they were making fun) Also, Jamie H was no slouch. He was popular a white kid, a pretty boy, who had his own rep. One time, Jamie sucker-punched this kid, dropping him with a single hit right in front of me. Jamie even gave me this look, like “yeah, now you know what’s up.”
I swear, I had no idea why Jamie had it out for me. So, to see him get knocked on his ass like that, yeah, I wasn’t shy about laughing my ass off.
Javon and I shared this Martin Lawrence type humor. For instance, I remember in art class once day, we had to color some picture and Javon asked this overweight girl if he could borrow one of her crayons because she had that 64-pack. And she was like, “No. I’m using all of them.”
Then Javon said, “You gon’ give me some of them crayons!” and snatched a few. I know that sounds mean but I thought it was fucking hilarious. Half the class erupted with laughter and even the girl didn’t seem to take it too seriously. I always sensed that there was something going on with Javon in his home life. He never liked to talk about it. But when he was with the class, he seemed happy.
JOSH T –
The next top fighter was another best friend named Josh T. He and I were partners-in-crime in 6th grade so when I saw he was in my class for 7th, I already knew this year was gonna be off the chain. Josh spent some time up in New York, which he like to swag about in his mannerisms. But also, he had taken karate classes for a number of years. The kid was short, but crazy strong. I remember he pushed me once, and it felt like someone had just slapped a baseball bat across my chest. It was ridiculous. I looked at him like, “what the fuck are you…”
Josh T had a way of goading you to fight him before he beat the living snot out of you. His formula was always the same. If you started talking crap, he’d come up to you and give you one of his signature chest-slapping shoves. At this point, you should have just walked away. Because if you touch him once, regardless how light of brush it was…he’d go from zero to 100 like that. And it really was terrifying.
Probably due to his karate lessons, every single strike Josh made, it landed and it landed well. You could hear it. I’d almost immediately feel bad for his opponents. And it’s like…if you know what he’s capable of, why would you even try him?
The answer is because this is 1999 in Georgia. Back then we didn’t have movements where celebrities and singers took to Twitter with hashtags like, “don’t bully!” Nope…back then, kids literally had to stand up for themselves. And make no mistake about it…to some, we were bullies. I don’t deny it.
It’s not like in the movies where we bullied because we were getting abused at home. And I don’t consider getting revenge on those who attacked us to be bullying. But the innocent ones, those who were just minding their own business but ended up on the wrong end of our pranks and teasing, that was bullying. We didn’t do it to deliberately cause hurt or pain, we just saw the comedy in it. Like throwing paper balls or performing standup by teasing another kid. We did it because we were stupid and thought it was hilarious, oblivious to the feelings of others.
I swear it wasn’t mean-spirited. Meaning, we never took it so far as to make anyone cry, or kept harassing the kid after they told us to stop. Well…Javon and I wasn’t like that. Josh however…I’ll let you be the judge. Which brings me to the one time I was actually glad the victim took it to Josh.
I can’t remember this white kid’s name, but it was in the electives hall after PE. Josh was targeting this poor kid who was just minding his own business to get to his next class. And the kid turned around and said, “fuck you, Josh!”
Josh then kicked this kid’s backpack so that it bounced up and down on his back and the kid turned around and punched Josh in the face with a loud smack that seemed to silence all sounds. My reaction matched the following:
Then, Josh did what Josh does. He calmly caught up with the kid at the other end of the hallway and commenced the beatdown.
Then…there was me. To be perfectly honest, I’m reluctant to say I’m one of the “top three” fighters in the school…because there were other hotshots in other classes with a stronger rep. Like this kid named Andy, who was one of the few Latinos in our school and already looked like he was 16. Or another kid named Jamie B., who was the first person to get in a fight the year before. Or another kid named Bobby who I saw fight two kids and handle his own like he was trained properly. Or another kid named Matt H, who was actually in a real gang and even had racial slurs painted in the bathrooms about him.
Truth was, deep down, I was just a goofy gentle giant. While Javon and Josh would fight on the drop of a dime, whoopin’ ass wasn’t exactly my default action. However, I confess, I did have a powerful temper. It was one of those things where I didn’t snap often, but when I did, you were in for a show.
Also, fighting has always been one of those things I was naturally good at. Ever since I was a kid, I loved martial arts and when we used to go to Youth Centers, I’d stand in front of the Street Fighter arcade machine just watching the automatic gameplay before practicing the moves at home. I’m not lying. My spinning back-heel kick was nothing to scoff at. My classmates used to tease me and say, “Are you some kind of Power Ranger!” And they really were teasing. MMA wasn’t so cool back then.
I only had a single one-on-one fight that year. I fought three more the year before but no contenders worth bragging about. The rest were either one-hitter quitters or a display of force to let a motherfucker know I ain’t the one. That was the key with me, my image and the threat of possibilities. Put me in with the likes of Javon and Josh T and I was damn near fearsome.
My only one-on-one fight was with this kid named Allen. It was in the same hallway where Josh T. got clocked earlier.
Basically, after PE, Josh and I were fooling around and pretending to be hall monitors. Most of the kids played along. We stood by the water fountain and would count how long a kid could take to drink water before telling them to move it along. A lot of kids, I think, actually appreciated this, in case one was taking too long.
However, Allen decided today would be the day. I told him to move it along and he responded with, “Nah-uh! I’mma get me some more!”
Josh looked at me like, “You gonna take that?”
I wasn’t angry. It started out as one of those situations where I could care less whether I got in trouble or not. So I grabbed Allen and slung him away from the water fountain. To Allen’s credit, he got up and pushed me. Taking a page out of Josh’s book, that’s all I needed to fight. I punched him so hard that his backpack fell off.
He literally said, “Ah, you dun’ did it now.”
When I say I’m naturally good at fighting…It’s like…Effortless. Easy. My body instinctively knew what to do. This kid didn’t land a single strike and I was a hefty 7th grader. I beat him in front of a lot of people. Even when I got to high school, classmates were still giving me props for it.
However, I think my real reputation was much more despicable than fighting. I was a master instigator, a manipulative bastard. For my own personal amusement, I could take two individuals and hype them up enough to get them to either fight each other or accomplish a dare that usually got them in trouble. Pretty much, like Satan. With Josh T. by my side, we’d build up the tension and it was ridiculous.
The worse instance of this was between two of our associates. One was a Brooklyn kid named Jamel and another kid whose name escapes me. We were in the gym and one made a joke about the other and that’s all I needed to latch on and be like, “Ooooh shit! Jamel said you ugly as sin, son! You gonna take that?”
Then Josh T would laugh and be like, “hahahaha! That shit funny as hell!”
“I don’t know, Josh. Sounds like some shit that would piss me off. Maybe this other dude don’t got it in him. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to fight Jamel either.”
You could see the flames growing by the intensifying glare in their eyes. The other kid would then insult Jamel. I’d be the devil on Jamel’s shoulders, going back and forth until eventually they’d get in each other’s face.
“Ah shit! He got in your face, nigga! Damn! He said, ‘do somethin’ nigga! He said you ain’t shit, punk nigga.”
And they went off. It was a brutal fight right in front of me. I had instigated fights before, but that was the first time I realized…they really didn’t want to fight each other. I was that peer pressure those after-school specials talked about. Moreover, these associates were supposed to be friends of ours. After they fought and got separated, they had to sit on other sides of the gym and I remember the looks on their faces. They were hurt, inside and out. It wasn’t right.
I would say I learned my lesson, but I didn’t. When you’re surrounded by others who like that kind of entertainment and you’re capable of providing it…it’s hard not to give into that temptation. To provide entertainment.
That was the three of us. Javon. Josh T. And Me. Reggie. We owned the first half of our 7th Grade year. The only time we came close to clashing that year was during a figurative pissing contest in between class changes.
For some reason, Javon decided to test Josh T with a shove and the two started wrestling to see who was the strongest. Javon won and pinned him down. Josh looked pissed but couldn’t do anything about it. And of course, I just started laughing. Josh then had the nerve to say, “Alright, Reggie. Your turn!”
I was like, “Forget that! That looked painful.” (Besides, I’m striker, not a grappler)
“Man, you a buster!” He’d say.
“Yeah, alright. I’ll be a buster, then.” I said with laughter, bringing the two together again.
For the first half of our 7th grade year, we’d did whatever the hell we wanted. Our homeroom teacher, Ms. Thompson, had some kind of medical problem so we had more substitutes than we saw of Ms. Thompson. Which allowed us to get away with anything. Because every day was like a blank slate with a new teacher who wasn’t wise to our acts. Sometimes we come in and wouldn’t have a teacher at all, coordination issues with the substitutes. We used to throw staplers and tape dispensers like it was nothing. We’d sneak out of class by going out the window to get to the buses early.
And one of the dumbest yet funniest things we used to do was say “UUGGGGGH!!!!” in the middle of the class out loud, as if someone was trying to push us out of a window against our will. Hahahaha! You had to hear it to believe it. It’d be a contest between not just us trio, but even our normal guys and girls would be in on it. Other classrooms could hear it and sometimes they’d do it too. It was so dumb. Teachers would come in and be like, “what the fuck is that?” And no one would tell on anyone. So as soon as they left, we kept doing it.
SPEAKING OF GIRLS
As hardcore as us guys are with our reputation, the girls had their own hierarchy as well. Again, this is Augusta, Georgia, not Beverly Hills. The most popular girls weren’t the ones with the flashiest looks. The girls were no joke. While us guys were fighting for our own unofficial pecking order, I saw girls getting down the same way. And they weren’t cat-fights like you see on Youtube, where they’re swinging wildly and rolling around on the ground. They fought just like guys. I saw this one girl get clocked like damn. And when she got clocked, she was still talkin shit. Those two fought right in the middle of the cafeteria and me and the guys were like…impressive.
I remember, for the hell of it, I broke up two 6th grade girls from fighting in the Commons Area. This was the big covered area where all the students got off the bus and waited for the bell to come inside. The real jungle. I was walking with my crew and a crowd of little girls were in our way. Two were in each other’s face like they were about to throw down, and I just put a hand on both of their shoulders, smiling as I separated them.
One of those girls would grow up to be a “popular girl” and she thanked me later for that. Funny thing is, I didn’t know any of them. They were just in my way and I needed them to move. Not to mention, they were so small, like 4th graders. A contest between them wouldn’t have been entertaining. But hey! You’re welcome.
We didn’t need a “MeToo Movement” where I’m from. If there were “victims,” I didn’t hear of it. And I would’ve. The girls in my classroom were the biggest gossipers and jive-talkers you’d ever meet. Their teasing could cut you down and crush your soul. Sometimes other girls would sneak into our class just to talk and gossip with our girls. From what I saw, if you messed with a girl, they were more than capable of handling their own shit. Sassy. Bold. They had the true essence of strength, it came from within.
Once, in Home Ed, a girl named Ur*** sat at the other end of the table and, locking eyes with me, reached through the top of her shirt and pumped one of her titties at me. That caught me off guard and I didn’t particularly find her attractive…so contrary to what you might think, it was a horrifying episode for me.
I once lied about going out with a girl named Tomorrow. And when she found out, she caught me in the hallway and told me off in front of all of the guys. Like, screamed all kinds of cursed words in my face. I got clowned for days about that. It was brutal. I once messed with another girl named Elizabeth. I can’t remember what I did to her, all I know is that I tried to run away and she caught me and slapped my back with a nerve-burning sting that lasted for hours. If I was white, I’m sure the handprint would’ve shown up.
In our class, there was girl named Tiffany who was bigger than other girls but so fucking cool. She kept it real all the time. She’d crack jokes and tease you, but you could tell she and the others were good natured, trying to look out for you. I remember one time, I snitched and when I went back to class, she was like, “Reggie, you told on us?”
I was like, “Yep!”
And she just looked at me with this soul crushing disappointment. Like, she was smirking, but disappointed like, “You son of a bitch…”
Honestly, I had so much respect for women. I feared them. I loved them.
WHEN IT CAME TO LOVE INTERESTS –
Javon and Josh T. had better luck than me. I remember Javon and another top fighter from another class named Robert, both going after this girl named Candice. I’m not sure how I got wrapped up in that drama. I just know Javon ended up being with her and there was about to be an all-out war between classes because of this little Helen of Troy.
Josh T. was a straight up player with his light skin and hazel-colored eyes. Almost every black girl I had a crush on, they had a crush on Josh. And because Josh was always with me, I had to put up with their attitudes, them blaming me for getting Josh in trouble. As if Josh wasn’t capable of that all on his own. And if they saw Josh as the most desirable male, they treated me as a scrub that TLC sang about. They’d call me lame and a scrub. And then they wondered I liked white girls. Could it be that I went with a culture where I was accepted? No!? It’s all about color, right?
One time, I had a crush on this black girl named Stephanie H, but Josh was talking to her. Apparently some other black girls had a crush on me and sent emissaries on their behalf to ask me if I would go out with anyone else. They never said who. And I didn’t know they had a crush on me, at the time. All of this was new to me. I’m not a natural born player. I didn’t know how to handle any of that. So word spread that I only liked white girls because that’s all anyone ever saw me flirting with. And for a black boy to only like white girls is pretty much tantamount to wearing the Scarlet Letter where I’m from.
Which is bullshit. I’m attracted to all races and I flirt with girls who are comfortable talking to me. It’s as simple as that. For instance, Tiffany was black and I talked to her. So give me a fuckin’ break. And get this. When I did make my attraction known for another black girl named Jamie O, I was told, “Oh, You only like her because she got white girl features!” So yeah…I couldn’t win.
The girl who slapped me, Elizabeth, we flirted so much that I did develop feelings for her. There was a new girl named Rebekah that I had drawn close to. Some flings from 6th grade started to rekindle. But none struck me like my biggest crush, Ashlyn.
I had a crush on her ever since my family moved to Georgia in 5th grade. We’d end up riding the same bus in middle school and I think that’s where my rivalry with Jamie H began. Remember him? The kid Javon checked into the wall? Jamie H. and Ashlyn were all in the same circle of preppy friends. White kids who dressed like they were on the set of MTV’s TRL Live…yet, all of them were tough as nails and way more mature than any of the other kids in our grade.
Once, Ashlyn popped me in the back of the head for jumping into a vacant seat in front of her on the bus. Our bus was packed. Some of us sat three to a seat. So when a seat opened up, I jumped into it. She wanted her friend to sit there and so…hit me.
I was pissed. I remember rearing up and was like “Why’d you do that!?”
She glared at me for a second…but then, she started to smile as if she thought my frown was so comical.
And of course, I’ll never forget the living nightmare when she found out I actually had a crush on her. One day, on the bus ride home. Friggin Jamel…the Brooklyn kid who I instigated a fight with…we were just talking about girls we had crushes on. And I told him.
“I’ve always had a crush on one girl.”
“Who?” Jamel asked.
I threw a quick point to the girl across the aisle. There, Ashyln was sitting in a seat all to herself, looking as stunning as ever with the afternoon sun behind her. Unbeknownst to me, Jamel was some kind of buddies with Ashlyn.
“I know her! Let me talk to you for her?”
“No. Please don’t do that!”
“Hey Ashlyn!” Jamel says, turning me into a solid rock with my eyes facing forward.
“Ashlyn, what would think about going out with my friend here? You know Reggie. Right?”
I hear nothing. Slowly, I turned to look across the aisle, and there Ashyln was just staring at me like, “You ugly motherfucker. You really think you have the audacity to even dream of being my boyfriend you piece of shit!”
I’m sure Ashlyn is a great person. Nice and sweet. Actually, we’d become buddies our freshman year in high school. But in 7th grade, she must have had a bad day because she just scowled at me with this blazing stare. She never said anything. She just kept staring at me as I looked forward again.
“Sorry bro.” Jamel said.
Sorry he said…it may have explained my later instigation. Who knows?
ASIDE FROM FIGHTING…
My brothers used to tease me as being the con-artist of the family. That’s kind of a brag. I was really clever and creative about getting my way. Like setting up a camera to catch my mom putting in the code to unlock TV channels. And if I ever got in trouble, unlike other kids, I knew I deserved it and accepted the punishment. That’s what I can’t stand about some criminals. It’s like…you did it. Own it. Should’ve never got caught. So if you’re so mad, don’t be mad at society, be mad at yourself.
For instance, that one fight I got in with Allen. I got suspended for three days. It was the first time I ever got suspended. I used to get whipped by my parents for far less, so I was prepared for the worse. I was ready for it. But all they made me do was go outside and pick weeds from the yards with my barehands.
Another time…this was so dumb…I drew “FUCK” on this girl, Laura’s progress report. It was one of those carbon copy progress reports where if you dragged your fingernail on the top page, the words would bleed into the bottom copy. Laura told on me. She had to. She even apologized for telling on me and I did my utmost to assure her, it wasn’t her fault. I got in-house suspension for that. My Army sergeant of a step-dad stop by on one of those days and yelled in my face. And I just took it. It was stupid it. I deserved what I got.
But that was…pretty much it. Everything else, I got away with.
For instance…this yearbook. The same yearbook I still have in my possession, I stole it from a kid named Aaron from the next class over. I knew we’d get searched if he told on us, so I hid the yearbook on the top cabinet in the corner of the classroom. Sure enough, the police checked our bags. I waited two days and retrieved it before bringing it home.
I once brought a blank VHS tape to school so a kid could bootleg me a copy of “Star Wars Phantom Menace”. While in in-house suspension, the cop did a random search of our backpack and found the tape, thinking it was porn. She checked it. It was blank, thank God. But she was like “I’ll be watching you…”
And she really was. Between my association and reputation, this cop seemed to think I had the scoop on other gangs and ongoings. Honestly, she pulled me into the library and interrogated me about what the other classes were up to, who was in which gang, what drugs were being sold, and what was going down. I thought it was funny, because she thought I was lying when I was really telling the truth. But I did it in such a way just to mess with her.
For instance, I’d be like, “Really. I don’t know what’s going on, officer. Not a clue.” with a grin on my face. It’d be the truth, but I’d have a coy attitude that would have her believing I was lying. Thus, wasting her time.
After the suspension for writing obscenities on a progress report, I had to meet with the vice-principle about my behavior. After a lengthy lecture, I remember asking her if I could leave. She didn’t answer. So I got up and left.
I was halfway down the main hall, passing a whole bunch of 6th graders when they Vice Principle shouts from the other end of the hall, “Reggie! Get your black behind back in my office!”
I started laughing, “I thought you said I could leave!” winning the approval of 6th graders.
Perhaps my greatest feat was that amount of days I skipped school. The maximum amount allowed before we’d have to get held back was 24 days. I had missed 23.
“So what, Rock. Anyone can skip school!”
Nah son…I didn’t have the money, tech, or gullible parents of Feris Bueller. I made skipping school an art. At first, it was as simple as hiding in my little brother’s closet when they left for elementary school. My parents would still be in their bedroom and I’d need only say, “Bye Mom and Mr. Alvin!” before opening the door and closing it. As long as they didn’t see me, I’d stealthily go and hide, listening to my walkman until they left.
Then, it got more advance. Sometimes, I’d hide in the backyard and jump over the fence when I saw my step-dad drive away. Sometimes, I’d steal a key and hid in the family van no one used until they left. And because my parents kept the internet and computer in their bedroom with the door locked, I’d have to plan my skipping days in advance. I left their window unlocked the day before. And the next day, while skipping school, I cut through the screen, jar open the window and sneak in that way.
What was really masterful was the many times I almost got caught. You see, my step-dad sometimes came home during his lunch. I think he only caught me one time, because I accidentally left printed Britney Spears pictures in the printer, which was embarrassing. But all other 23 times, I was like Snake from Metal Gear solid the way I avoided detection. Sometimes we’d be in the same room just on the other side of the kitchen counter.
Why did I want to skip school when I was having so much fun? Well…the answer to that is pretty selfish but makes sense if I told you how religiously strict my parents were. But more than that, it got to a point where school stopped being fun.
THE BREAKUP OF THE SQUAD
The trio of Javon, Josh, and I dissolved after the winter break. Something was going down with Javon in his personal life where he stopped coming to school so much. Leaving the duo of just Josh and I. While Josh was a fun friend to have around, I dare say, at some point I started to see him as more meanspirited in his jokes and bullying. Like I said, I didn’t tease to cause harm, it was just the comedy of it. But Josh seemed to get off on the pain of others who weren’t his friends.
Around this time, I started hanging out one of the geeks. I say that, not as an insult, but…just a regular kid who didn’t stand out and would talk about trivial stuff. His name was Michael and we’d call him “Mr. Bean” because he reminded us of Mr. Bean. He had the same sense of humor as Javon and I, but not Josh. And when I saw Michael get jumped…that was the last straw.
Getting jumped…it’s not the same as a one-on-one fight. I hate…and I can’t understate this enough…I absolutely hate any and everyone who’s involved in jumping a single person. You motherfuckers are cowards and if I ever…let me stop. Let me back up.
After the winter break, my class got a new transfer student who was coming from alternative school. Alternative school was, from my understanding, a school for juvenile delinquents until they serve a sentence or showed that they can exist with regular kids.
This kid’s name was Giovanni. I heard he had gotten sent to alternative school because he brought a knife to school and tried to stab someone. Sounds dangerous right? A lot of kids were scared of him because of that reputation. The Columbine shooting had happened the year before. But most of us were fighters. Brawlers. We used our hands. Anyone intent on stabbing or shooting someone doesn’t care about their future, let alone the future of those around them. And when I first saw Giovanni, he looked exactly how I expected. Think of Snoop Dogg’s character from Baby Boy and you’ll have him.
When Giovanni entered our class, the vibe changed. Javon was hardly present to be our rock, hold us altogether. The top picture of my entire class smiling, that dissipated. It’s like happiness and smiling were things Giovanni frowned on. And since everyone was scared of someone capable of bringing a knife to school, they cowed down to Giovanni. I won’t go so far as to say Josh was included in the cowing down part, but more so, Giovanni really catered to Josh’s darkness.
And me…I’m sorry. I’m just a rebel. If I feel like smiling, I’m gonna fuckin’ smile. I don’t give a damn if you or all of hip hop culture thinks its soft. You can think I’m soft if you want to. Bite this cookie and it’ll end up breaking your fuckin’ teeth. I saw Giovanni as a threat. And deep down, I think its my baser instinct to eliminate threats rather than hope for the best. I made no attempt to hide my contempt for him, nor he for me. He’d call me a buster and a punk and I just took it. Josh would try to instigate a fight between us two, but you couldn’t play my own tricks against me. The only way I’d fight someone is if they put hands on me. And even Giovanni wasn’t that crazy.
I don’t know why I needed someone to touch me first. Maybe it was some stupid code. But it’s more likely that I simply needed it to unchain the lion. Fighting based on name-calling alone…if the guy looked like he could beat me, it was a risk. And unlike Josh or other hot shots, I didn’t care about proving to be the strongest or ranking higher in rep. I’m naturally good at fighting, but fighting can still be painful. I don’t like pain. Maybe deep down, I was a little bitch and I just needed a mechanism to throw caution to the wind.
Because…if you put your hands on me, I don’t care if you’re Mike Tyson, you’re getting fucked up. Whether I win or lose, you’re gonna remember you’ve been in a fight with me. Because when the monster’s unleashed, sad to say, I have no fear. Not of pain, police, punishment or losing. Just a blind relentless rage to exert myself on the object of my animosity.
I wouldn’t truly acknowledge this about myself until 10th grade (age 16). Arguably the biggest bully in the school, a huge 11th grader named Calvin C. was messing with me and shoved my head down so that I almost toppled out of my seat. When that happened, the beast was unleashed. Calvin could have very well won that fight, but I chased his fatass out of the class and would’ve tore into him if Coach Gamble wasn’t right outside. I’m not lying. Calvin later challenged me to meet him at the gas station after school, no doubt embarrassed for running like a little bitch. It didn’t make sense why I didn’t accept that challenge. But now I know why. By then I had calmed down. I was no longer the Hulk, but docile Bruce Banner again.
These might just sound like words. It might even sound cool or scary. But I know what I’m capable of. Which is why I’ve been able to avoid fighting as an adult, and a prison record for 33 years. 😊
The worse Giovanni did…I know it was him…
One day, I was helping a blonde special ed student in our class on the computer. It was at the end of the day right before the bell to go to the buses, then… “Wham!”
Someone legit threw a big ass textbook that hit me in the back of my head. I heard laughter for a split second before I turned around to see who the fuck it was. Then, all went silent. The lion was unleashed. I was ready to tear into any and everyone. Giovanni sat acting like nothing had happened. He was at a table surrounded by all the hot shots, guys and girls, who were all cool with me just months earlier. One of them, being my own best bud…Josh.
“Who did it? Who threw a book at the back of my head.” I said.
No one said anything. I was staring at his Giovanni in his fucking face. He kept his eyes averted.
“No one’s gonna say anything?” I asked.
I turned to Josh. “Josh, who did it?”
“Man, I ain’t see nothing.”
That was the beginning of the end between Josh and I. My hatred was cemented with Giovanni. And the class…to hell with the class.
Somehow, it became a popular trend to just randomly jump people with Giovanni initiating most of the attacks. For those who don’t know, “jumping” is a sudden surprise attack, usually one sided where it’s a group of people against one person. It pissed me off to no end, yet I did nothing to stop them. That’s what happened to my buddy, Michael “Mr. Bean.”
We were outside in the commons area. Giovanni, Josh, and a group of other black boys just started randomly targeting people to jump. I saw them coming at me and I just stood there, eyeing them all down. Ready.
But they bypassed me and targeted Michael. I’ll never forget it. I’m so ashamed. There are those who run to the defense of others…and then there was me. One who just stands there frozen by the shock of it. I don’t know why I was like that. I wish I wasn’t.
They jumped Michael right in front of me, and I saw with my own eyes, Giovanni kicking Michael in his chest with those Timberland boots while Michael was down. He approached me. I stared at him. Giovanni didn’t touch me. He and Josh and the other fuckers just kept walking. Later that same day, I apologized to Michael in tech class and I don’t think he accepted it. He didn’t respond at all. I failed him.
Soon after, I asked to get transferred out of the class. I was called a punk and a coward for doing so. Even some from other teams were like, “What? Why? That’s the class everyone wants to get into. I heard it’s so much fun!”
It was fun. It was.
In so transferring…I learned the biggest lesson of the year. The people around you really do have an impact on how you behave. That’s not to say I regret hanging out with Javon or Josh. They were cool. But I don’t think we were good for each other. Even years later as Freshmen in high school, I almost got Javon in trouble by instigating a fight between him and another kid.
I was like “Sweep the leg! Sweep the leg!”
And just then, Ofc. Joyner was passing by and taunted “Sweet the leg! Sweep the leg!”
Javon didn’t get in trouble, but he could’ve and it would’ve been my fault. Friends are supposed to look out for each other. To help each other succeed. I don’t think I was a good friend.
When I transferred into a different class, I was surrounded by a calmer crowd. My new friend, Dominique was more chill. We still laughed and had fun but it didn’t involve making others feel like crap or whoopin ass. There was this tall dorky girl named Johni. In a lot of ways, she was just like me. Black, but not exactly hip hop oriented.
Again, this was Augusta, Georgia. Juvenile, Jay-Z, Limp Bizkit, Outkast, and Eminem was on the rise. I didn’t like any of them. I was into boy bands and Britney Spears. My favorite group was the Backstreet Boys. To find another black person who was also an “Oreo” by ignorant black folk standards, it was refreshing. I could talk about things I couldn’t talk about in my last class. Lol, like Disney movies such as Johnny Tsunami and Zenon. She even dubbed me a tape of the Inspector Gadget soundtrack.
Being in a more chill, peaceful class prompted me to be more peaceful and chill. I still laughed and had fun when I could, but seeing how others took their grades seriously, prompted me to take my grades more seriously. That’s why people have such contradicting descriptions when they talk about how I used to be. I used to be everything. Good, bad, popular, tough, lame, funny, mean, manipulative, sweet, and evil all depending where I was and who I was surrounded by.
Looking back at it all…I really do consider myself most fortunate. I’m sure my perspective of middle school is so different from others. What prompted me to write this little memoir was an episode of “I Am a Killer” where the killer is a black woman serving time for murder, who claims she was raped in 7th grade by another student. She cried about how these things happened to her and nothing happened to the perpetrator.
That’s not hard to believe. I’m sure all of us have seen things in middle school that’s downright criminal, especially when it came to young ladies being taken advantage of. And some ladies who wanted to be taken advantage of. Middle school was a jungle. When I have children, my deepest trepidation will be when my children enter those grades. I was lucky. I was born taller, bigger than others with the mere appearance of a grizzly bear in a forest of wolves, jackals, and deer.
However…if you somehow manage to survive those turbulent years, I really do think…I dunno. I want to say you come out stronger or better. But the lessons I learned in middle school, I think I was a late bloomer. They may have come to me in middle school, but it would take years later for it all to sink in.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER 7TH GRADE?
8th Grade was different. I still had a lot of growing up to do but I didn’t get in any fights. My classmates, the ones I hung out with were good and innocent. They didn’t seem to care about my reputation or wanting to see what I was capable of. I was able to be my goofy self and they seemed to accept me, prefer me that way.
Javon seemed to have a better year too. He was in a different class on another team and one of the few times I saw him in the hallway, other students called me out. I was so ashamed. Because for some reason I lied about beating Javon in a fight.
“Hey, Javon! Reggie said he beat you in a fight! Is that true?” They asked.
And Javon looked at me. Smiled. And said, “Yep. It’s true. He did beat me.”
Javon…I really do owe him so much. I wish I knew what was going on with him in his home life. I wished there was a way I could help him instead of always leading him astray. After 7th grade, he seemed cool, but he seemed alone. The dudes he hanged around, it wasn’t like our trio in 7th grade where we were laughing and smiling. He seemed more cold. No jokes, but mostly business.
When we got to high school, it appears Javon was still looking out for me. By then, my reputation was still following me around in some circles, because I remember joining him at his lunch table and some random black kid was like, “I can beat Reggie in a fight. Ain’t no way he can beat me.”
I didn’t know the student. I didn’t want to fight anyone. I just came to enjoy lunch with my fellow black peers. So….what the fuck?
The student turned to Javon and was like, “Right? You think I can beat Reggie in a fight?”
And Javon said, “Nigga, Reggie will fuck you up! Are you crazy?” And that was that.
Later, when Javon and I were walking in the hallway together, a bigger black upperclassman named “Big Rob” had bumped into Javon’s shoulders. Javon turned around and barked, “Nigga, you better watch where you goin’!”
That was strange, because the Javon I knew wouldn’t have barked first. He would’ve bit. Leading me to believe Big Rob was dangerous. And he was. Apparently, he was part of a neighborhood gang and Javon had clashed with them at some house party. All of that…I wasn’t part of that world. My friendship with Javon in high school, wasn’t so much a friendship where we were tight like 7th grade, but more so, brief reunions where we hoped we were doing well. I hope he’s doing well. To this day…I still feel like I owe him.
Josh on the other hand…
After 7th Grade, Josh and I became frenemies. I didn’t know where Giovanni was. Probably back in alternative school. But the change in Josh’s behavior seemed permanent from Giovanni’s influence. He was still trying to prove himself stronger than others. And I tolerated it to an extent. He never tried me…until I put my foot down when it came to my little brother hanging out with him.
You see, by the time I got to 8th grade, I had two little brothers coming into 6th grade. I guess they had heard about our reputation and, Josh was my best friend for a time, so my little brother thought it’d be a good idea to have Josh take him under his wing. I was against this. Josh got offended. And so, called me out.
He really did punk me out that year. I remember him talking all kinds of shit, daring me, goading me into putting hands on him the way so many others have time and time again. I remember being in gym class and this little shit was on the other side of the gym for all of 8th grade to see. He had his hands up, calling me out, daring me to stand up and come at him. Everyone was watching. And I silently remained seated, glaring at him. Almost with angry tears. It was embarrassing. But we never fought.
After 8th grade, we ended up going to separate high schools, thank God. I wouldn’t hear from him again until….just by mere coincidence, it was the summer before the start of my senior year.
My first job was working as a cook for KFC. I started during spring break of 2004 at the age of 17. And I was there when Josh T. applied for the summer. Looking back, I don’t think he was too happy to see me at first. Hahaha! But honestly, I had long since forgiven him for our middle school antics. It was cool to see him again. I showed him the ropes.
In catching up with Josh, it seemed he still had a lot of his old habits from middle school. Still a player. Still a fighter. Still one who judged a person’s merit by how far they were willing to go in a dare. But by then, I was so far removed from the person I used to be that none of that mattered. So it didn’t bother me when he called me lame or a buster. I’d just smile at the nostalgia of it all.