That summer Mom got sick, I had just graduated from elementary school. It was right across the street from our house, so me and my crew—Curtis, Jeremy and Sean—would walk over there and go straight to the roof. There was always a stray ball that someone had kicked up there during recess and we’d use it to play basketball, kickball, whatever. Or sometimes we’d hit our fists against a brick wall to see who was toughest. The bricks were concrete with this coarse sand that would rub off like the salt from a pretzel. My knuckles would be bleeding, but I would not stop hitting the wall. It was cool. I was always the toughest.
Curtis was my best friend. He lived with his mom in a low-income apartment complex in Mount Kisco. It was like we came from two different worlds. The differences really hit me that summer when I invited him to the Bedford Golf and Tennis Club to play tennis. I walked onto the court, bouncing the ball and talking shit, and when I turned around I saw that Curtis hadn’t set foot on the court. He was just standing there and his eyes began to well up with tears. He was looking at the “Whites Only” sign—he thought it meant that black people weren’t allowed. Even though I felt so bad, I just laughed it off and explained that the sign was for clothes. But I hated the club from then on. Later, I learned that the club, the Bedford, Golf and Tennis club, wouldn’t even let Arthur Ashe join.
One evening, this kid Kenny, Curtis and I were walking back to Curtis’s house from the Bazaar Mall and this Puerto Rican gang of older kids drove by and almost hit us. The car stopped and Kenny backed off, but Curtis and I stood our ground. And one of the Puerto Rican kids rolled down his window and was like, “Give me your jacket.” And Curtis said no. We just stood there, glaring at them, and they drove off. That night, I learned that you just have to stand your ground with things like that. You have to be tough and stand your ground.