I liked to think about big ol’ girl booties as long as DeVante and Ella Staywoke knew me. And DeVante and Ella Staywoke liked to think about big ol’ boy booties as long as I knew them. That’s just how we were.
Ella Staywoke’s real name was Ella Steward but we called her Ella Staywoke because she stayed saying woke things when DeVante and I least expected it. DeVante was probably the most gifted fourteen year-old in the history of Jackson Mississippi, next to Ella Staywoke. I was right next to him when he tried to invent wearing matching wristbands the first time you kissed someone, and bootleg Jordans the first time you had sex.
DeVante’s greatest invention, though, was calling people “Ol’ blank-blank-blank ass Nigga.”
Like if you ate an apple too fast, DeVante would call you an Ol’ eating-apples-like-they-plums ass Nigga” or if you failed a test, he’d call you an “Ol’ watching –Dragon-Ball-Z -when-you-shoulda-been-studying ass Nigga.”
If one of y’all called DeVante a name he didn’t like, DeVante could slap the taste out of your mouth better than any kid, except for Ella Staywoke. Slapping the tastes out of folks mouths, and staying woke and memorizing everyone’s pass codes to their phones were just three parts of what made Ella Staywoke the second most gifted kid in Jackson.
Last week, DeVante got jumped by two old sixteen year olds Vice Lords from West Jackson and I haven’t talked to Ella Staywoke since..
It all started when DeVante went out of his way to embarrass this great big Vice Lord who was also named DeVante. We called him Mean DeVante. Mean DeVante called DeVante transgender and a transgender activist in the parking of church. It hurt for a lot of reasons but really because no one had ever dissed someone by calling them any kind of activist before. DeVante was pissed but he appreciate fresh Mean DeVante was with his disses.
When everyone looked his way, DeVante said out loud that he never knew a sixteen year old could smell like nut-sack, urine, dookie and rotten rutabagas through his church clothes. Then, as loud as he could, in front of the whole church parking lot and the one white person who went to church, DeVante called Mean DeVante an “Ol mean wiping-yo-ass-when-you-need-to-be-scrubbing-yo-stank-ass-ass Nigga.”
It wasn’t the most dynamic diss DeVante has ever deployed but it did its job. Even Mean DeVante’s own Mama started laughing. And when the Mean DeVante got in DeVante’s face, DeVante slapped Mean DeVante across his mouth twice with both hands.
That’s four slaps right in the middle of the church parking lot.
Then he ran to tell Ella Staywoke and me what he did. The sad thing is that when he ran up on Ella Staywoke and me, I was just starting to finally spit my game I’d been practicing for months. I had on matching wristbands, bootleg Jordans, and that new flavor of Axe body spray. Ella Staywoke said she wanted me to stop spitting game. But she only said it once, and she held my hand when she said it.
So I did not stop.
Anyway, when DeVante found Ella Staywoke and me in the woods, he told us what happened. Ella Staywoke did this strange thing where she grabbed his hand, thanked him, and then she started crying. DeVante grabbed her other hand and he started crying. I wanted to cry too but I didn’t know what we were supposed to be crying about.
That’s when DeVante told us that his Mama and Grandmama were most definitely going to beat his ass for saying the word “nigga” in front of the one white person who attended that church on a Sunday.
Ella Staywoke and I told DeVante we had to leave him in the woods because Uncle Robert said we could play “Call of Duty” in his old feet-smelling room at 4:00 that afternoon. Uncle Robert was in the top thirty of good singers in Jackson. Uncle Robert couldn’t really sing, but his lyrics were fake deep in a way some basic folk appreciated. Uncle Robert didn’t allow DeVante in his room because he said DeVante was “too girlish and too confused sexually” to be around his stuff.
Before we left, DeVante hugged me for the first time in our lives. “Don’t ever be mean to folk who would never be mean to you,” he whispered in my ear. “It’s okay to be scared of hurting folks.” Then he hugged Ella Staywoke and whispered something in her ear too.
Ella Staywoke and me waited for an hour in Uncle Robert’s room, but Uncle Robert never showed. While Ella Staywoke was playing “Call of Duty” I was going through Uncle Robert’s diary. He kept the turquoise diary at the bottom of a box of shotgun shells. The diary was covered in duct tape, and it had a lock on it. I asked Ella Staywoke if we should read his diary. Ella Staywoke helped me take the duct tape off the diary and let me use her pocketknife to break the lock.
“What are you gonna say if Robert finds out you broke in,” Ella Staywoke asked me.
“I’m gonna lie,” I told her. “Listen to this. Uncle Robert think he so smooth.” I commenced to read the lastest diary entry to Ella Staywoke.
“When she talked with me about sad memories, I would ask her why she rested her memory in sad places. When she said she was not afraid of sadness, I would pick at her for being a kid who was never beaten by her mama. I would call kids who were never beaten by their mamas spoiled. She would resent me for that. When she confronted me for my lies and cheating, I would focus instead on insignificant times when she didn’t tell me whole truths I had no business asking. Truths about boys at her school, truths about her body. I told her that the real offense was her going in my phone when she promised me she never would. She said her body knew something was wrong. I would ask her to listen to me, not her body. She said that she didn’t need to listen to me just because I was fifteen years older. When I was her age, I would have felt the same thing. She would learn to hate me more than I’d ever been hated. She would hate me for telling so many lies. She would hate me for making her a secret. She would hate me for making her wait. She would hate me for asking her to do things with her friend she did not want to do. And she would not hate me enough. She would call me a lying piece of shit. I would tell her that I was sorry for my preferences. I would tell her that I knew she deserved so much more. She would tell me to never, ever tell her what she deserved. No, she would say when I asked her if she could help me. No. And fuck you.”
After I finished reading the letter, Ella Staywoke’s eyes started crying but the rest of her face didn’t make a sound. I didn’t ask her why she was crying. I told her again that kissing me might be better than she thought. Ella Staywoke fake-laughed and started biting the nail of her left thumb. When she got a nail sliver off, she used it to clean the dirt out of the nails on her right hand. “Mean DeVante and those three other boys, and your Uncle,” she said, “they were really mean to me and DeVante.”
“Mean how?” I asked her. “What did DeVante whisper in your ear?”
“They just, you know, wrapped themselves up in this meanness,” she said. “And they made me and DeVante be mean to each other.”
I asked Ella Staywoke if “wrapped themselves up in this meanness” was a new phrase DeVante made up.
“Naw,” she said. “It’s not new. It’s just all of what they did. I don’t really want to be in this room no more. Can we leave?”
“It’s too familiar.”
Later that evening, Mean DeVante, the boy who got slapped four times in the church parking lot, and another one of his friends dragged DeVante back in the woods. DeVante slapped, punched, kicked, and bit the best he could but they ended up beating DeVante down with t-ball bats. They didn’t ever hit him directly in the head but they crushed his larynx. DeVante’s body stayed spread out in those woods all night before we found him. We only found him because one of the boys put a video of the beating up on facebook live.
I told Ella Staywoke about my plan to kill Mean DeVante and his friends for what they did to DeVante. But she wasn’t interested in killing anyone.
“They did what all yall do sooner or later,” she said.
“Who is yall?” I asked her. “And why don’t you ever say my name?”
“Yall learned that mean from some boys who learned that mean from some other boys,” she said. “And those boys learned that mean from some men who learned that mean from some other men who were scared to tell they fathers and they uncles and they grandfathers to kill that mean. Y’all mean.”
Ella Staywoke starting biting on the fingernail of her right thumb for what felt like two whole minutes after her speech.
I tried to hold her hand.
Ella Staywoke jerked back, and slapped the taste out of my mouth. “Please just stop being so mean,” she said. “Please. I don’t want you to touch me the way you want to touch me. Why is that so hard for y’all to understand. I just want to go home.”
That night -- the night of DeVante’s funeral – I remembered how Uncle Robert made his way to Ella Staywoke at the dinner. I remembered how he laughed without opening his mouth even when Ella Staywoke didn’t say anything funny. I remember how Ella Staywoke kept her head down, and tried to move every time Uncle Robert got closer to her. Then I remember Ella Staywoke eventually laughing and looking up at Uncle Robert as he walked her home.
I knew that wasn’t fair.
I walked home by myself that night knowing I’d lost my two best friends in the world to an unfamiliar sadness and a familiar mean I was too afraid to name.