“You know you hot when you gotta dodge pussy.” He leaned back in the Monte Carlo until the leather seat was so low it was more like a lounge chair. A woman walked by. Slowly, he adjusted his seat back up but only halfway.
He wore baggy Enyce pants tucked loosely into untied Tims and an oversized Ecko T-shirt that concealed his gun. He had three cell phones: the Motorola Razor (it had just come out), and two little Nokias that stayed vibrating and lighting up.
His cars always changed. This time it was a Monte Carlo. Last week it was a Chrysler Sebring convertible and two weeks ago it was something else. When I asked him about all the cars he just shrugged and said, “I hit up the auction.”
He was tall, sturdy, and unbothered, almost bored at any given moment. He only smiled when he looked at me and even then it was faint, like a fleeting reminder of something that once gave him joy. His eyes were large and clear like pools, his eyelashes were long, and his beard was so thick that you could almost see it growing from the last shave. He was beautiful on the outside and even though I never got to see too far in, I could feel that his understanding of the world was captivatingly tragic: a barren landscape of survival.
One day he picked me up and I could tell he wasn’t ok. He talked even less than usual and instead of his usual intent listening, his mind was far away. When I asked what was wrong at first he said nothing. And so we sat in the car and smoked a blunt in silence until finally, he said, “This muthafuckin’ kid tried to break up in my spot. I shot ‘im.”
My heart raced but I didn’t react. “Is he dead?”
“I heard someone tryna break in so I just posted by the door and when he came through, blam! I shot. Man, I ain’t know know it was a kid tho. Still blood on the floor an shit.”
He shook his head, staring blankly out the windshield. “He must’ve been watching the place, he ain’t seen my boy drop me back this morning an’ take the car.”
“Survivors kill,” I said, trying to calmly absorb his words into the place in my mind that understood the steely laws of the natural world. Growing up in the bush, I was exposed to this coldness from an early age. Watch a snake eat a songbird whole and alive you will understand.
“Fuck nah,” He snapped out of his mist for a moment and turned to face me, his eyes were bright and deep. He put his hand gently on the side of my face and looked me in the eyes, speaking slowly and firmly. “Don’t say shit like that. This ain’t shit. This shit ain’t even the least of it, a’ight?”
But we both knew it was true: That survival of the species depends on that hot fierceness. It’s why the shiny roosters stay sitting at the top rung in the chicken coops; it’s why the hot boys stay leaning back in their Monte Carlos tryna dodge pussy.
We never had sex. We never even kissed. I was a virgin back then and I knew he was way too hot for me. He knew it, too. He didn’t even try. It was an unspoken understanding. But I was drawn around him like a moth to a flame and we spent afternoons in his hot cars driving around talking lone shit. I could tell by the way he looked at me that he cared, but I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I was a place he could go to cool off for a little; a place to escape all the heat, just for a moment. He’d pick me up by my school’s dining hall and we’d drive around with no destination or we’d walk through the nature trails way at the back of campus and talk about life.
One time we were walking in the woods behind campus and we passed a pond. There were ducks in it, swimming around.
“You ever seen ducks when you feed ’em bread?” He asked me. “They just smash that shit, like ’til they can’t even swallow it; they just stand there struggling and choking and still tryna get at the next piece.”
“Okay, your point?”
“That how these niggas be out here. Always tryna get some shit from you, and when you do break ‘em off they come with they greedy ass an’ take more than they can even handle.”
“You can learn a lot about human behavior by watching nature,” I said.
“It’s like that song,” he said. “What’s that one talkin’ ‘bout, ‘We ain’t nothin’ but mammals?’”
I knew the song and I giggled. “I was trying to be deep and here you come with that.”
“So was I,” he said. “But I ain’t neva been to no college so I can’t talk smart like you. I’m straight hood.”
It was quiet for a while and then we looked at each other and laughed. I’d never seen him laugh before.
One evening, I called him and tried really hard to convince him to come up to my dorm room. He didn’t. Instead, he threw a fit.
“This ain’t how it go,” he said, raising his voice. “You can’t just have me over an’ shit, don’t you know that? Look, you catchin’ feelings an’ fuck, I jus’ gotta tell you straight: You and me? We’ nothin’, a’ight? And stop callin’ my fuckin’ phone ‘cause from me, you ain’t gone’ hear shit else!”
And he hung up.
It was mean. It was cold. It was over. And I never did hear shit else from him. I don’t know why the sudden turn, but I have my theories. Either way, looking back, it was obviously for the best. But in the moments after he hung up, I felt the sting. I lay on the floor and listened to Evanescence, stunned. I drank some straight Mohawk vodka that I kept in my desk for impromptu campus parties. Hours later, my roommate came home and found me there with the bottle on the floor in the dark. She turned on the lights and shouted, “WHAT THE FUCK?”
I got up and told her what happened and she laughed and eventually, she got me to. From then on we referred to him as, “Shit Else.” We played some Ludacris and jumped around the room and the shadow passed. It was my first brushing with a hotboy and I was dazzled.
Back then I didn’t know how deep it got, how that shadow can creep in and curl around the edges of your life and grip down. It was a warning. A warning that I did not heed. Years later, I was neck deep with a hotboy from the West side, selling dope and who knows what else and traveling around the continent spending money. I flew right into the flame. Only just in time did I drag myself out, and barely. I lived with the shadow for two years afterwards wondering, thinking, and sifting through the rubble.
I’m 31 now, grown as fuck and a boss in my own right. In an act of swearing off hotboys, I thought I found one who was reformed. In theory, it was the perfect scenario–you get all the hotness and the swag without the messy lessons. But I was wrong. It took a couple years before I learned first hand that true hotboys never fully reform. If they do, it’s because they are broken; It’s because the game broke them and they’ve spontaneously combusted in the heat; It’s because their soul, blown to dust, is floating around in the air looking for somewhere to land.
I’d like to say I know better than to be chasing these hotboys. I’d like to say I’ll never again fly too close to the flames. I’d like to say that I’ve learned how to harness the shadows. But after all these years, all I can say is that the biggest wars we’ll ever wage will be between what we know and what we feel.