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.
Y'all might not understand, but that’s just how we were.
DeVante was probably the most gifted fourteen year-old in the history of Jackson Mississippi. I was right there with him when he tried to invent wearing wristbands the first time you kissed a girl or a boy, and Timberlands the first time you had real 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 -Good-Times-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 making all kinds of sense, and copying everyone’s handwriting were just three parts of what made Ella Staywoke the second most gifted kid in Jackson.
The summer of ‘86, DeVante got jumped by two old sixteen-year-old Vice Lords from West Jackson.
It all started when DeVante went out of his way to embarrass this great big Vice Lord who was also named DeVante. We called that DeVante "Mean Ass DeVante." DeVante slapped Mean Ass DeVante in front of his family and his girlfriend at the arcade after church. Right in front of the Frogger, too.
Mean-Ass-DeVante called DeVante a confused, smelling like outside all the time gay nigga. DeVante whispered in Mean-Ass-DeVante’s ear that he better never put his hands on Ella Staywoke or him again.
When everyone looked his way, DeVante said he’d never knew a sixteen year old could smell like sack, urine and dookie through his best winter church clothes. As loud as he could, he called Mean Ass DeVante an “Ol mean wiping-your-ass forward-instead-of-backward-so-the-dookie-get-caked-up-under-your-nuttsack, ass Nigga.”
Even Mean-Ass-DeVante’s own Mama started laughing and when the Mean-Ass-DeVante got in DeVante’s face, DeVante slapped Mean-Ass-DeVante across his mouth twice with both hands.
That’s four slaps in the middle of an arcade.
Then he ran out the arcade 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 wristbands, Timberlands and some Old Spice. 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 didn’t 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 then grabbed her other hand and he started crying. I wanted to cry too but I didn’t know what we were crying about.
That’s when DeVante told us what happened at the arcade. He said his Mama and Grandmama were most definitely going to beat his ass when they found out he said “nigga” in front of white folks on a Sunday.
Ella Staywoke and I told DeVante we had to leave him in the woods because my uncle said we could play his Nintendo in his old feet- smelling room at 4:00 that afternoon. My Uncle didn’t allow DeVante in his room because he said DeVante was “too girlish and confused sexually.”
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 my Uncle Relle’s room, but Uncle Relle never showed. While we were in there, 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-Ass-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 he whisper in your ear?”
“They just, you know, wrapped themselves up in this meanness,” she said. “And they made me and DeVante hurt each other a lot of times.”
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 wanna be in this room no more. Can we leave?”
Later that evening, Mean-Ass-DeVante, the boy who got slapped four times in front of Frogger, 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.
Ella Staywoke and I didn’t speak a word about getting revenge until a week later, the same night of DeVante’s funeral.
I told Ella Staywoke about my plan to kill Mean-Ass-DeVante and his friends for what they did to DeVante. But that’s the strange thing about planning to kill boys from South Jackson with someone like Ella Staywoke .
“They did what you gon' do sooner or later,” she said.
"I mean y'all."
“Who is y'all?” I asked her. “And why don’t you ever say my name?”
“I mean, y'all learned that kind of 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 take off that mean and just admit they're scared.”
Ella Staywoke starting biting on the fingernail of her right thumb for what felt like two whole minutes. When all these tears started flooding the gutters of her eyes, I reached out to hold her hand.
Ella Staywoke jerked back, and slapped the taste out of my mouth. “I don’t want you to touch me the way you want to," she said. "I just want to go home.”
That night -- the night of DeVante’s funeral -- I walked home by myself knowing I’d lost my two best friends in the world to a familiar mean I was too afraid, and really, way too much of a man, to name.