Blood is thicker than Kool-Aid

The summer before kindergarten, my mother took me to visit some Very Important People we’re related to. She had told them how, as a preschooler, I transformed my friend Moe’s life in less than a year’s time. These VIPs wanted to see me personally to tell me what a great job I did. At the time, I was still unsure of what made the simple act of being a friend so remarkable. These VIPs were going to shed some light on the situation for me.

These VIPs of ours live in the kind of neighborhood where, to this day, needles and dope bags are found on the ground; gunshots are heard often and mattresses are kept close by to press against windows in case there’s any stray bullets; regular cops won’t do, the US Guard roam the streets with AK-47s, M16s, and other assault rifles (really); and you’re lucky to make it out alive—and without kids or a drug addiction—past age 18. It is literally the worst neighborhood in the most crime-infested part of the city.

And these VIPs of ours run it.

The day my mom took me to visit them, I noticed a long, dark trail of something starting from just in front of our parking spot, down the block to our VIPs’ building, up the front stairs of the building, and up three more flights of stairs to the spot right outside of our VIPs’ door. The trail stopped there; an even larger pool of whatever it was had accumulated on the landing.

I looked up wide-eyed at my mother.

“What is that?”

“Kool-Aid,” she said.

The only problems were: 1) Who wastes that much sweet, delicious Kool-Aid? and 2) Kool-Aid doesn’t dry brown.

Once we got inside the apartment and greeted everyone, my mother chatted it up with The Elders while my older cousin took me aside. I asked him about the trail leading up to the door. He asked me if I was afraid of it.

“No. I don’t know what it is.”

“It’s blood. It’s been there a week. The other kids and grownups here are scared to look at it.”

“Oh. I’m not like the other kids.”

He laughed.

“That’s right. You saved a little boy’s life, didn’t you? All the kids around here think you’re a hero.”

I blushed and looked down, embarrassed that others knew what had happened before I had the chance to fully process it myself. I failed to understand then what would happen many more times in the future: my reputation had preceded me.

Cuzzo put his finger under my chin and lifted my head up.

“Don’t be ashamed of that, baby girl. You did a good thing. If you keep it up, you can do many more good things.”

“How?” I asked.

Cuzzo led me to his bedroom and walked toward his closet door. As he opened it, stacks on stacks of dollar bills taller than I was were revealed.

In front of this closet full of stacks, my cousin taught me some basic rules of The Game.

Cuzzo said, “Just like you’re not scared to save somebody’s life or scared to see that blood trail, don’t be scared to get physical. There’s some crazy people out here who will try and step to you because you’re a girl and a kid, but you’re smarter than that. Make ‘em regret it.”

Cuzzo said, “I hear you like to read. Keep that up, baby girl. Knowledge is power.”

Cuzzo said, “This ‘hood here, never be a part of it, even though you, your mom and her brothers, your grandmama and her siblings, and my grandmama and her siblings all come from it. You only visit and do business here, never live here.”

Cuzzo said, “If you keep doing good things, not everyone is gonna like it. In fact, some people will hate it. F*ck what these other b*tches & n*ggas have to say about what you do or don’t do. Get money.”

I laughed at the cussing. Adults never kept it real with me like that, especially at that age. I laughed again some years later when Biggie Smalls & Junior M.A.F.I.A. came out with the song “Get Money,” whose refrain goes: “F*ck b*tches, get money. F*ck n*ggas, get money.” Because of what my cousin taught me that day, I automatically knew Biggie was the truth when it came to rapping.

Finally, Cuzzo said, “If you ever have a problem, baby girl, you let me know. I’ll handle it.”

Before we joined The Elders and my mom again, I asked my cousin what happened to cause that blood trail leading up to the door.

He paused and looked me straight in the eyes.

“Somebody didn’t mind their business,” he said, the laughter of The Elders and my mother rising faintly in the background.

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