Hometown dues, blues, and BBQ’s

Shortly after touching down in my hometown, I have swept away to a house party that I didn’t even know existed anymore. Small town Illinois black culture provides a session of talking shit and sharing the sacred blunt. Sitting down, I knew I was outside of my realm for this fire and desire game of spades. Now I have played some of the most brutal criminals in this game, no, not while locked up but visiting the farmland’s hidden secret. Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has over 15 locations dotted over I-55, and Interstate 57…. these visits to various cousins, brothers, moms, and uncles have taught me that one does not mess around on the table. As I sipped my grocery store Prosecco, eating the tomatoes and gruyere I bought in preparation for the dreaded munchies. I started looking for my comfortable spot, so I took in my childhood friend’s kitchen, where it’s obvious he is a bachelor just wanting a good time, no time for real cleaning. Soon my sister became the target for affections though she was definitely not interested. They are opposite, and I cannot tell him that as his guest, especially since my sister didn’t want to go as she grew up a town away.

Scanning the counter, I peeped fried chicken, chips, and two types of beans. I never passed on a free meal, so I made a plate trying to be discreet with all of the loud slamming and shit-talking that was strangely familiar. Knowing I cannot play, I sit down to get to know the impassioned group; no one was interested in how the host and I met earlier in the day at the community block party. Everyone was taking their break and enjoying the ending of the workweek. I myself was still excited about the block party earlier in the day, where they shared BLM, NAACP, and Democratic Socialists of America literature and ways to stay involved within the social justice movement. Though over 20 something odd years have passed, the host and I still recognize one another, each waiting to see who would bring up the tragedies we both have endured. Me losing my twin brother that everyone associated with me as “the twin,” and was more so his friend. Or how my childhood friend and host was convicted and tried for robbery before the age of 18. He began life in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), where he stayed for over a decade — losing his first child’s mother to domestic violence while incarcerated. His teenage exuberance in inviting the whole high school class of 1998–2003 through Facebook, old school word of mouth, Snapchat (which I still don’t have), and Instagram won the night.

Now we are all comfortable; the music was flowing; dry-ass wine kept the blunt cough at bay. Feeling relaxed, I started sharing, most likely oversharing as usual, and it hit me this is a place I could have been my whole adult life. It’s getting late, and texts come in, and the conversation turns to kid pick-ups, runs to the stores, and so and so is locked up; it then registers that this is part two of small-town midwest life. My friends and family now are grandmas/grandfathers, and here I am, contemplating another child. I say to myself, what are you thinking, coming home after 25 years! Gladly I see the growth of my people in an area rocked by liberal and conservative meltdowns with competing agendas of justice and peace. Joining the military, I thought I escaped the little city pressure. Instead, I ended up learning from a band of brothers and sisters who did the same thing as me. The real world broke our concept of a family at a heartbreakingly young age. Generational games, never mind the curses being played in front of liquor and UNO cards cut without malice.

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