Every Saturday I feature excerpts from my writing. For the month of April, here I give you 27 Yards An’ Runnin’…
I, Sundiata [soon-dee-(or, soon-dye if you were from Senegal)-ah-tah] Sun Slaton was born on May 12, 1987 in Brooklyn, New York, to William Allen Slaton; a veteran of the Gulf War, and Matina Angela Coleman-Slaton; a nurse. I was the second of three. My sisters Serice and Sciona; both one year older and younger respectively, were the joy of my life— because life wasn’t easy for any of us from the start. My father suffered from severe bouts of post-traumatic stress with plunging depression stemming from the horrible combat he’d endured in his tour of duty. This, in turn, despite my mother’s best efforts, led to us scraping by. But, I couldn’t blame him. He witnessed comrades die in his arms, both women and children mercylessly slaughtered, and— up close and personal— ushered the enemy combatants to their demise in sometimes the most gruesome fashion ever imagined. Despite all that, what brought him to the breaking point was when he saw the death of my uncle, his brother, Wallace, by a sniper shot that was meant for him.
Before going off to fight, I was told that aside from my sisters, I especially was the joy in his life— the main reason for him to come back in one piece. However, almost immediately after coming home on leave from the first tour, from what I can almost clearly remember, he was distant from me. It was when he was deployed in the second tour where the unfortunate event happened with my uncle, which brought on an even more significant change.
My dad spent a month AWOL [where he’d travelled during that time, he would never tell] before being found near a military base in Okinawa, Japan, where he would eventually be administratively discharged as a result. Upon reuniting to us, he’d become deeply saddened not only because he thought of himself a failure on so many levels, but also because I reminded him so much of his younger brother. From there, he struggled to make a decent life for his family. Me and my sisters not only had the unfortunate privilege of growing up in the roughest of neighborhoods, but also now having to deal with an unstable man that’d long since stopped being my dad. Along with the “ghost” that seemed to plague every co-op tenement we moved into, everyday there was the sound of shooting, streets filled with drug induced zombies, and police sirens filling a little boy’s concept of reality, to where all I began to know is death. One day my friend, Pablo, and I were walking down the street from the candy store and inadvertently into a gun battle between rival gangs. Stray bullets managed to hit us both. Fortunately, I only suffered a through-and-through to the shoulder, but Pablo took two fatal hits: one in the chest and the side of the head.
As we both lay on the ground— bleeding out, piss-pants, and scared out of our minds— I turn my head and could see and hear my best friend calling out for his mother as he slipped away. It was such a peaceful departure, despite being amongst the rattling hail of gunfire that hadn’t stopped since two (or possibly more) innocents had unsuspectingly become targets. This undoubtedly would be one in a series of events that would shape my perception upon the value of my own life.
And while it was fortunate that I never took a route that led to preying violence upon anyone— I wasn’t built to be a stick-up kid or a hopper. Not that the streets had me shook, I just couldn’t shake an inherited conscience (courtesy of my dad) I knew would break me more than a fist, bat, or bullet could— still, I think my route toward inevitable destruction was a more nefarious, self-suffering one. Seeing most of the people that I knew around the way being carted off in body bags almost on a daily, coupled by the comedy that was the nightly news, did nothing but reaffirm my way of thinking. I was soon convinced that I would never make it to, what were known where I’m from as, benchmark years.
Say, if you were still “above six feet” by the age of ten, for example, it meant that you were a dodgy young hopper who knew how to duck and cover. Fifteen, where you were officially a teenager society-wise, in the streets you were a runner that was well into his nitche. Twenty-one would be a monumental year for any regular pedestrian looking to score their first (legal) taste, but for me it was seen as seasoned soldier status. Far as twenty-seven went… Man… At the time, I couldn’t even think that far ahead. However, you were an old ‘G… But it was almost guaranteed that you were in prison, for sure. And, if I were doing a bid of any length, I might as well have been dead. As time went on, and sheltered as my mother tried to keep me, still, I believed that it was just a matter of time.