Ride or Die

You want him to think he’s not your priority, even if you’ve been secretly fantasizing about what his name embossed on a gold chain would look like around your neck. I texted him one Friday after school: “Hey, you tryna roll up? In the corner, tall stacks of sneaker boxes brushed the ceiling. The lights were fluorescent and harsh. We walked the six blocks to his place; public housing projects called The Linden Houses. I nestled into him. When he asks for your number, give it to him. I can’t. His neighborhood’s kind of sketchy. I had plans to go to a friend’s loft in Williamsburg afterward and drink the bottles of Moët our girl had swiped from her parents’ liquor store. Maya was beside me giggling. I’d been alone with guys in their rooms before, but for the first time in a while, I didn’t think this guy was about to try some shit. You like that the most. It has the biggest bed in the house. ¤
You won’t wonder why you ever fetishized him the way you did until many years later, he was human, just like you — his world was real. “I’m saying, like, we can just hang out. He’ll tell you to be grateful that they care so much; his pops is “bum-ass nigga” and he hasn’t seen him in years. You’ll wonder if he thinks of you, if he remembers that girl he talked to that time. You’re impressed by the way he flows through the ’hood so comfortably. But if the sneakers are crisp, take a good look at his face. ¤
Ultimately, when I finally pulled the guy who would fulfill my ’hood fantasies, it wasn’t one I’d snagged on the street, or at Kings Plaza, it was all thanks to a set-up. “My room. Marcus turned and yelled, “I know!”
“That was my mom,” he said a few moments later. “Anyway, what have you been up to?”
“You know, same shit different day.” He blew out a thick cloud of smoke. It made her glow. “It’s really good to see you,” he said. You’ll know it’s really real, though, when he calls you late at night to hear you whisper in the phone in a tone low enough that your parents can’t hear you from their bedroom across the hall. You’ll love being treated. It had felt so good to put my name on something, to claim that space on the wall and leave a mark. At Kings Plaza, Kerrecia had confidence. But, since I grew up in Brooklyn, I got “yo ma’s” and those worked pretty well, too. Let him walk beside you for a bit. You with me,” he laughed and put his arm around my shoulder. Would be nice to see you again.”
His response came quickly, “Absolutely. Little did they know there were always fights breaking out in front of the Häagen-Dazs. You should have him meet you at the train station.”
Marcus gave me a bear hug and kissed me on my cheek when I pushed through the turnstile. Tell him, “Sorry, I’m taken,” even if you’re not. Through his unfurnished living room, I could see into the kitchen, a single milk crate sat perched in front of an open stove. I nodded. The point is to appear unbothered, even if you did a silent happy dance when you saw his name pop up on the screen of your Sidekick 3. You always wanted to be a ride-or-die chick. It’s during these talks that you’ll be your most honest. The sun had set by the time we approached his place. He sat on his bed, but I chose a seat at the foot of it. You’ll wonder if he still lives around the way or if he made it out. It was really nice to see you.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. When he asks if you have a boyfriend smile and say, “Nah.”
Laugh a little. He’ll make eye contact with you. I’ll walk you back to the train.”
As we rode back down in the elevator Marcus turned to me, “We should do this again sometime. You’ll ask him what he wants to be when he grows up. You never quite knew how to talk about your house and wealth without sounding like an asshole. My parents are making me do it, but I guess it’ll be dope.” I sparked the blunt. Reading the mess of names tagged on the elevator walls, most of them money-centered; “J-Ca$h” layered over “G-Money” layered over “Gun$$.” I recalled the past summer, when I tagged “GlynnVogue” all over the walls of the L train in Sharpie. “Shit,” I shrugged casually, “I’m chilling.”
He raised his eyebrows. Your fast friend will say, “Thanks,” pout her lips then pop her gum. His breath smelled like grape Dutchs, sweet and smoky. Chuckle, but say, “No, my boyfriend wouldn’t like that.”
If he’s a fiend, he’ll keep trying, most likely, though, he’ll throw in the towel. My friend Maya knew I was the greatest wingwoman, so she’d always call me with double-date propositions. In freshman year of high school, my m.o., and my girl Kerrecia’s, was to get holla’d at; get bagged, get chose. “Whattup, Marcus?” She was jittery, her short hair was slicked back, revealing patches of scalp, and her body was squeezed into a metallic catsuit. No harm in that.”
Tell him, “Nah. All he needs is a nice smile and fresh Caesar and you can work with it. He’ll think this shows extra care. There was no amount of slang I could use, my good girl demeanor had given me away. Since your house doubles as a bed and breakfast you can have your choice of room. Tell your friends, “I’ll catch up.” Make small talk. You and your girls will giggle. If he thinks you’re giving too much attitude that could result in a “Whatever bitch” and then your girls will chime in and you don’t want all that drama on a Thursday afternoon. You’ll come to learn that the dudes you’ll fuck with later in life won’t be too keen on titles or commitment either. “For your clip stash,” I said standing. And I always got stuck with the corny friend, doomed to spend more afternoons, sitting on a couch in East New York, when I should’ve been in math class, while Kerrecia and the boy of the week “didn’t have sex.”
This part is key: when he texts you, don’t respond for at least an hour. ¤
Glynn Pogue is a writer with wanderlust from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. ¤
In high school, I thrived on catcalls. When Friday rolls around, he’ll ask, “What you doin’ tonight?”
The movies will be your best bet. I told her it was nothing, secretly beaming with pride. Your nightly chats will go on for two weeks, max. Marcus’s apartment was sparse. is good. You don’t want to have to run the bathroom to answer. “She pretty!” she croaked from the distance. Most at least five years older than her. And even though she told me she never had sex with any of them, when we cut school to chill at their houses, she and her dude would hole up in his bedroom for hours, while I sat in the living room reading urban novels. He’ll see this as an invitation. We were steps from the entrance of his building when a woman walked into our path. That’s cool. We smoked in silence for a while, the energy between us was warm. Her call came on a Thursday: “Hey girl, want to go to Court Street theater with these guys I just met, tomorrow? Go out to dinner. Tell your mom just you and your girl are catching a movie. Tell him you go to a good school in Manhattan with “a bunch of white people.” He’ll think it’s cool you don’t just go to the zone school, “Oh, that’s why I never seen you around here.”
He’ll think he’s got a good one. He’ll hop down off the hood, slide up beside you. Tilt your face up, let your eyes lock. Have my shit straight,” he’ll say. I think it’s an inner-city thing. “I just want to be good, you know? Keep it cordial. “Y’all are so pretty,” he’ll say. “Hey,” Marcus said. “That’ll definitely be dope. You hope that’ll make you down by association. He pointed to an overgrown field to our left. I’m going to Europe this summer with this exchange program. You’ll probably be in a better mood than if you were walking alone. Neither of you will acknowledge your house; that it’s the biggest on the block, and how strange it is to have a lawn in the center of Bed-Stuy. That the big house has an even bigger mortgage and you don’t really have it that good. Posters of basketball players were tacked to the walls. You both had dreams, but you had access, privilege. He’ll buy your ticket, and whatever snacks you want, too. We nodded goodbyes and kept walking. And you know that if anyone tried to fuck with you he’d protect you. If his sneakers are dusty don’t even bother. You always doing big things. And since my Upper West Side high had very few eligible bachelors of color, I almost always agreed to tag along. I felt confident in Marcus’s presence, he was looking at me like I was valuable. When he rings the bell, come to the door in boy shorts and thigh high socks. “She ain’t lying, yo,” he said. I’m happy for you. But you gonna be good, though. How to say that it’s not how it looks. Find her prose in Essence, Jezebel, Vol.1 Brooklyn, and at glynnpogue.com. Kerrecia was much better at the game than I was. You’d been attracted to his swag, his fearlessness, and his power, but later you’ll realize most of that was just a necessary shield. Chilling there on Saturday afternoons, flirting, and drinking milkshakes from Johnny Rockets felt suburban and I loved that; the type of shit I’d seen in Disney Channel movies. You’ll be surprised at his sensitivity, and sure he’d never opened up to a girl like this before. We would wear tight Antik Denims copped from a hole in the wall on Canal Street, modeling our jeans for the trio of Nigerian brothers who ran the shop before we made our purchases, “Does my butt look good?” If we got their approval, we knew we’d be wearing them to Kings Plaza on the weekend; the only mall us Brooklyn kids had, and where all the flyest guys hung out. On our way, I told him about Maya’s warning. I felt tiny. When you hear the creak of your parents’ door, and your dad’s heavy footsteps in the hallway, hang up quick. Marcus was no Chris Brown but he had charisma, I was drawn to him. “How you been though?” he asked, reaching over to squeeze my knee. I hope you’re doing good,” but we didn’t see each other again until almost four months later when I’d developed a pretty serious love of marijuana and was constantly trying to get it for free. I’m just tryna meet new people. I looked down at the blunt, it’d burned down to a roach, so I butted it, passing it over to him. But yo, be careful. You’ll feel like a woman. That sort of thing would’ve made my knees weak. You don’t want your mom to start trippin’ and calling your phone when you’re in the theater. SEPTEMBER 17, 2017

IF YOU’RE WITH your friends, he’ll think he has a shot. It’ll be so fun, I think you’ll really like my guy’s friend, Marcus.”
I don’t remember what we saw, we were sitting in the very back row and I was too distracted by Marcus’s teeth, tongue, and lips on my neck. If he’s light skinned with light eyes you’ll think you hit the jackpot. She’d had boyfriends since I met her in the ninth grade. You’ll fall for it instantly. When I got home my mom asked why I had a purple bruise on my neck. Some guys liked that I never got it quite right, maybe it showed innocence. And my big waistband was a result of a nice waist to ass ratio (which has never failed to work in my favor). I don’t think she and her guy even saw the trailers. In the South, dudes with Southern drawls call sweet “hey shawty’s,” when fine girls walk by. “Especially you,” he’ll say. He wants you to know you were the first thing on his mind when he woke up. Come here.”
I followed him to his room where he put a dimebag and a Dutch in my hand. Shove your phone under your pillow, pretend you’re asleep. And niggas stay shooting up my building. “I feel it,” he’ll say, turning to saunter off, all the while thinking he should’ve went for the fast friend instead. In the station, he pinned me against the cool wall tiles and pulled me into his puffy North Face jacket for a goodbye kiss. ¤
Invite him over when your parents go out of town. I looked up at him, his braids were frizzy, his eyes were kind of beady. The street lights in the courtyards dividing each building in his complex had just started to flicker on. He’ll try to say some smooth shit like, “Well, we could just be friends, right? I might’ve been feeling my look one day, but I had to hear a guy confirm it. Your dad never cleans the bathroom and your room is juvenile, and you and your dude are about to do adult shit. “You ain’t never seen shit like this, huh?” Marcus asked leadingly. I called Maya, “I’m on my way to Marcus’s house. Her slim hips switched, she ran her manicured fingers through her perfectly flat-ironed hair at random, flashed her flawless smile. Nothing about it felt homey. Later he’ll tell you the house surprised him when he walked up and that you could’ve “warned a nigga.”
As you lead him upstairs turn and say, “I just rolled a j.”
Marcus and I texted off-and-on for a few months after our double-date: “How’s school? Shit, I’m proud of you.”
“I guess,” I said, looking down, embarrassed. To really cover your tracks, invite one of your homegirls and tell him to bring a friend for her. You’ll imagine him in a bedroom a few blocks away, you’ll find closeness in the thought that you’re both lying on pillows, looking out at the same moon. She’ll be suspicious, but because she knows the game, she won’t challenge you too much. And you’d hold him down, too. The floors were linoleum. “Imma see you later,” she said, laughing, as the short guy nuzzled her neck. You didn’t know what happened on the block when the street lights came on and were afraid to find out. He knows he’s got to compliment the bunch to get one. I’m sorry.” The apologies are key. “Yeah,” he nodded, reaching over to take a hit. Fuck what the feminists say. How random.”
Maya laughed, “Awwww. You will officially be “talking.” The equivalent of “dating” but it sounds less formal, less committed. You’ll wonder why he doesn’t say anything, but be glad he doesn’t. Her face was blemishless and always shiny from the layer of Vaseline she slathered on. “They dump mad bodies in that field. You’re going to act cute, ’cus you are, in True Religion jeans and a flight jacket, your hair light and bouncy thanks to Gloria, the woman at the Dominican salon who blowdries the shit out of your mane every Thursday. He might have been afraid, too. Everything was washed in the yellow of age. Choose the Ashante Suite, it’s afrocentric and cozy. He’ll tell you he doesn’t really know yet, but that he does want to be able to cop nice things for his mom and his little brothers, maybe move them all into a house one day. That’s where you’re coming from when he sees you. When the lights dim in the theater he’ll grab your hand. You’ll tell him about your parents, how much they annoy you. Sometimes you’ll think of him when you see young lovers locked in embraces outside of high schools. That your parents argue about money all the time. You’ll keep your head down, but you’ll smile. Don’t take him up to the top floor where you and your parents’ bedrooms are. Plus, it was a harmless place to tell our parents we’d be spending our time. “I should get going, I have this thing to go to.”
“I feel it. Indulge him. I, on the other hand, always had flyaways, the waist on my jeans was always too big and I had a mouth full of braces. “So uh, you got a boyfriend?”
Look at his footwear first. The lighting is perfect — amber and dim. Meanwhile, you’ll like that he goes to the school up the block and says “Whattup?” to the guys in front of the bodega when he passes. Still, whenever a guy yelled out “Yo ma!” while walking up behind Kerrecia and me as we window-shopped at Aeropostale, it was almost always for her. “Oh, cool.”
I was quiet on the elevator ride up to his apartment. Take the 3 train to Van Siclen.”
I was only trying to stop by to smoke. She was puffing on a Newport and had her arm draped around a short guy with a five-o’clock shadow. But mostly, I think they liked that I stayed fresh; in the Rocawear, Akademiks, and Echo Red threads that had “fallen off a truck,” and a knockoff designer bag dangling casually from the crook of my elbow, I had the ’hood rich uniform. “Where’s the bud at though?” I laughed, hitting him playfully on the shoulder. When we left the theater, Marcus made the entire 10-block walk to the train with his arms wrapped around my waist, his crotch pressed against my ass, and his legs spread out wide because his jeans were hanging down so low. He’ll want to see a late show, but tell him 8:00 p.m. She’s currently at work on a memoir dealing with race, class, identity and her beloved Brooklyn ’hood. “Yeah, it’s good to see you too,” I smiled. “Pretty chill. His touch felt harmless. He’ll probably hit you with a “Good morning” text. When it ends, because it will end, tell yourself it’s because you didn’t call, even though the phone works both ways. “Word.” I said. I know you like to eat,” he’ll say, raising his eyebrows and eyeing your thighs. “Your hair’s looking nice today, miss,” he’ll call from the hood of the car where he’s perched. Come through to my place. I rolled, using my long acrylic nails to tuck the leaf just right, while he watched.