From Bullet to Blue Sky
1 The sun was in the process of its morning stretch. While the residents of gated communities came alive to be greeted by the tropical heat of south Florida, the stragglers of the universe awoke to the sounds of a 9 mm dispersing its gun powder to the blue sky. The ghetto houses that sheltered these citizens were painted different colors; some exposed faded paint, and others told stories in graffiti, inspired by gang artists marking their territories. Roll bars protected the windows covered with filthy bed sheets that not even dogs would lie on. 231232Broken toy pieces scattered over the dead grass in the yard outside. The lanky, dark-haired girl lay in her bed twisting and turning, trying to catch a cool wave from the ceiling fan that spun and thumped overhead all night. She always heard the same dogs barking; her ears still rang from the sound of that gun. She still felt the warm, thin blood that stained her hands. She still felt a sharp, pounding pain along her left side; for every breath she took, the pain reminded her she was human. She had witnessed many shootings before; she had seen more blood in her days. Why was this shooting any different? It was because for the first time she was the victim. I understood her pain, for I was that girl.
2 It all started with Mr. Tangye in the fall of 2004. He was an inspiring math teacher, who convinced me that I had more to offer this world than I had thought. As the bell rang at Conniston Middle School, we marched like zombies to our classes. I passed through dark hallways of vandalized lockers with torn papers and ripped books scattered over the ground like a dump. I made my way past the miserable teachers and devilish students. The administrators surrounded the hallways like a S.W.A.T. team, commanding everyone to go to class, I walked into Mr. Tangye’s math class; he had a bright, white smile that hurt my eyes every time I looked at him. Before I could make it to my seat, Mr. Tangye handed me a paper that itched my fingers; it was a math test. I stared at that test, and I begged my brain to wake up! The other kids shuffled the paper back and forth on top of their desks or used it as a pillow on which to lay their heads. I secretly tried my best at every problem and flippantly turned it in.
3 As the bell rang, I dashed for the exit. I swiftly dropped off my homework, but Mr. Tangye caught me and pulled me aside to show me my test. He said, “You are the only one who has passed the test.” Then as Mr. Tangye showed my grade to me, he said, “You are on the borderline of failing or passing this class, I’d like to see you pass!” I listened to every word he said because I was tired of being perceived as an idiot.
4 As I finished out the rest of that day, all I could think about was whether to study or not to study. I hated being stuck between a world that offered happiness and stability, whose proverb was “anything is possible” and a world that followed the theory of Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” People in my world struggled for everything—money, power, respect, even the last piece of fried chicken. My world had an underground feudal system to follow with rules to be respected, lines not to be crossed. Although this world was violent, senseless, crazy, it was my world. This unmerciful, savage world … I was comfortable in it. I felt super-glued to this world; I felt guilty leaving it behind, like a crack head quitting dope. I silenced that inner voice that begged me to stay. I was going to make it out of my world of hardship and struggle and bullets.
5 When I got home, I was greeted by a warm aroma from the kitchen, where I always found my mother. We greeted each other in our usual exchange. After I gave my mother a brief overview of how school went, I rushed to my room to study. I was tired of the struggles, fights, problems, which by birth, I did not deserve. I was going to be somebody; I was going to do something with my life. I was not going to be another Al Capone or Bonnie with a Clyde. I was going to be somebody the way God intended. I was going to earn a living the right, clean way, but in order to be somebody, I needed an education.I would have to get an “A” on my chapter test in Mr. Tangye’s math class. I had to do it. I would!
6 Four gruesome weeks passed. I slept, ate, and studied. The morning of the test, I woke up early. I studied some more, for I wanted to be alert in case an unusual math problem was on the test. I left early that day to ask a few questions. Usually, I took a longer route to school to avoid crossing enemy lines, but I rushed through a shortcut. The shortcut led me to the back of the school, where boys played basketball and girls double-dutched after school, but the recess court was empty. No one stood in the courtyard but me. My eyes locked on the formula sheet I memorized. Suddenly, I heard a familiar sound as gunshots sliced the morning air; tires screeched. As I walked toward the school building, I felt something drizzle down the side of my torso. I grabbed my shirt; something slightly tickled me. It was wet. It was not sweat; it was blood. Three small holes pierced my skin, leaving bloody trails racing down my hip. I had been shot. It happened so quickly. I threw my paper and books, bloody from my handprint, on the ground. I screamed at top of my lungs, not because I had been shot, but because I knew I could not take my math test, the test I had studied so damn hard for. My memory faded before I collapsed. A former fire rescuer spotted me on the ground and got help.
7 As I lay in my bed at home, I tried to crawl around my brain; I wanted a reason why God led me to this path. I was not connected to these savages, who shot me. These thugs just wandered around the neighborhood trying to find an ordinary person to become a victim, whose fate would carry a dark message.
8 When I was shot, it did not overpower my life; it empowered my spirit. As I got out of bed, I tried to convince myself I should stay there, but I could not find any good reason. My injuries were three-days fresh, but I was determined to take that math test. I reached to find the strength from deep within my soul to move. The pain gripped my side like 500 needles repeatedly stabbing my ribs. I grabbed a chair so deeply that I bent my nails backwards. My arms and legs shook. I screamed with every movement I made, yet the agonizing pain only intensified. I gripped my book as I walked out the door. Slow steps minimized the pain. I gave my mother a kiss as the bus approached the curb. She touched my arm and reassured me that I could make up the test after I healed completely. I objected because I was ready for this test now. I told my mom that morning that I tried to better myself. This neighborhood, this ghetto, hardship-world I lived in tried to bring me down; it tried to kill me. I refused to allow it.
9 On a sunny day with blue sky above, I dropped my coins into the bus depositor, found a seat, and quietly, painfully moaned along the ride. My mother waved to me as the bus drove off. She was staring at me with a satisfied expression upon her face, for she knew she was raising a fighter, a winner, and a believer. She was raising a somebody.