A year after my senior year in high school I deejayed this one house party for an acquaintance of mine. Acquaintance for the fact that back in high school, she just happened to know me from sharing a few classes with her, yet too cool enough to not want to get to know me any better past that. Cheerleader, popular, pretty – you know the deal. The function was hardly worth mentioning, though, put together in what seemed to be a matter of minutes by her popular girl friends and her wanna-be “homeboys” just dripping in Roc-A-Wear and Sean John. These were a group of kids that didn’t know much about anything which of course, was one of the major reasons they brought me out and paid me too much. Blame it on the sheltered suburban lifestyle or point the finger at the sheer ignorance to what lay beyond it – take your pick.
The city smelled of suburbia inside and out, too many post-8 Mile white kids trying to embrace a life of hip-hop that they would never understand. I was picked up in a Lincoln Navigator and watched BET on a TV in the dash that was larger than the TV in my room. As I sat quietly, the kid driving the car screamed into his cell phone the entire trip. I figured it for a typical spat between two lovers. Later I found out that that’s just how he spoke to his mom.
In the company of such kids, I told jokes. I told stories. I charmed them. You know, ya boy had to sell himself for the sake of business. It took some time but they eventually shed their faux outer layers, puffy jackets, fake rapper accents and egos – drawn to my experiences because they really seemed lost and I did my part in helping them find their way.
“You guys choose hip-hop as a direction for your life because why? ‘Cause it’s always about a struggle?”
A scattered collective of “Word” from the kids indicated that not getting to borrow daddy’s Lexus for prom last year must have been the cross they had to bear.
“Everything the culture is about is about fighting your way to the top, in turn, just surviving,” I told them. I guess you could chalk it up as a little pow-wow while I was setting my equipment up. “Don’t mistake the blessings that you have – money, the fact that all your folks are still together and the good looks y’all seem to flaunt – for advantages you have over others. What you put into your life is what you get out of it. And your automatic privilege, whether you choose to admit it or not, is something you’ll constantly have to deal with if you do decide to shed it.”
They nodded their heads in unison, this dude’s a trip, was what the main consensus must have been of me. I kept talking, letting them know that life is more than just MTV reality shows and hooking up with anybody and everybody for the sake of bodily fluids co-mingling. (Though in this era, it may have been for the sake of a prime Snapchat opportunity.)
The party was held in this stately mansion at the top of the hills and was packed by 10pm. By the end of the night, it was another successful bash that would be talked about amongst ‘the popular kids’ for the next few weeks. I was paid 500 bucks and for some reason it was something I didn’t care too much for. I probably spent it on clothes and more records; gone within a month. One of the aforementioned “it” girl’s guy friends pulled me aside and thanked me personally – for deejaying, for coming out, for talking to his ‘boys.’ “No big deal, I would have done it for anyone,” is what I told them.
“Where do you want your check?” The cheerleader held it up, seemingly admiring the check she just wrote as if she knew that spending 500 dollars is like losing a quarter to her.
“Uh, you can put that into my bag, thanks.” She unzipped the large pocket and tucked it away. A moment later my cell phone went off. “Oh can you get that for me, too, please?”
She grabbed it. “Your homie Alden is calling you.”
“Don’t answer it.” I said without hesitation. My old friend Alden was hitting me up. I hadn’t spoken to him in a minute. We had a pretty rough falling out and I was in too high spirits to go anywhere near a bad memory.
“Yo, you have nine missed calls, man. Someone’s blowin’ you up.”
I grabbed the phone from her hand and double-checked, all were from Alden.
“He must really want to tell you something. Anyways, I gotta go grab the last of the Red Bull before someone steals it!”
The cheerleader left me to my thoughts. What in the world could Alden want? Probably just to tell me what a punk I am. Well forget him, I didn’t need that. If anything, he wants another loan that he won’t pay back or some clothes that he’ll never return. 100% guaranteed that’s what he is probably calling for. I wasn’t going to let his problems ruin my good mood. He probably wouldn’t even care that I just deejayed for the most popular chick back in high school – a victory as hollow as his infamous promises. We both started at the same time spinning records together and practicing at each other’s houses.
‘What’s his freakin’ deal?’ I seethed inside then.
After five more missed calls from him, I did the only thing I could do. I turned my phone off.
An hour later, as I’m packing and preparing to leave, I turned my cell back on so I could call my ride. As soon as the welcome logo disappeared, it began ringing. The number was unfamiliar. “Hello?”
“Rich? Is this Richard?” A woman’s voice asked.
“Yeah this is him.”
“Richard, it’s me, your Auntie Edna. Alden’s mother, do you remember me?”
“Of course, Auntie!” How could I forget his constantly unhappy mother?
“Richard, is Alden with you?” she asked in her thick Filipino accent
“No. No, I haven’t seen him for a while now.” The conversation was turning awry and I was becoming really annoyed. Hangry was definitely starting kick in. “Why would he be with me?”
“Richard, he’s missing.” She kept starting every sentence with my name, agitating me further. “Richard, something bad has happened and I need to find him.”
“What did he do now?” I wanted to guess, to say – Yeah I know dude probably just stole money from you or one of your new boyfriends and now you have to find him or you’ll catch some fists. Well I wasn’t going to have any part of this nonsense anymore. I was on the verge of hanging up.
“Richard he beat his girlfriend last night.”
“Last night he beat her.” She said, not missing a beat, her voice nowhere near cracking. How could she be so calm?
“Are they okay? I’m out of the area right now. I’ll try to visit or something when I get back in town.” I lied, thinking it was just some dumb drunken episode Alden had gotten into.
“Richard, she had to go to the hospital.”
“Ok.” At this point, what she was saying still wasn’t fully registering in my brain.
“If you hear from him, will you let me know and call me back as soon as possible?”
“Sure, but like I said, I haven’t heard from him in a while. Yeah, you know we haven’t talked in a long time. The last time we talked…” ...would have been earlier this evening.
“What? What was that last part?”
“I was just trying to think of the last time we talked. Sorry I couldn’t be more of a help. I have to get going my battery is dying.” I hung up, a long slow sigh escaping my lungs as a cloud of angst.
Alden, what did you do? Why did you do it? And why did you call me? Outside, a car drove by bumpin’ a hip-hop song rhymin’ about ‘smacking a ho.’
That very moment, I just felt the cold touch of irony grip me in the best lesson that hip-hop never taught me.