other turns in the road

Seminary Hall, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

i once lived in a town called Tahlequah. Its the Cherokee Nation’s capital city, if you must know. Secluded near Grand Lake on the way to Arkansas or Missouri or Texas even, its a town with roads that go and go but seemed to never really go anywhere. Vian. Muskogee. The neighboring towns, they were no different, no better- we simply had a campus that they didn’t. The town gave you what all towns in NE Oklahoma not called Tulsa provided. You got a Wal Mart and Pizza Hut. An Arbys. Or a Sonic. Or both if you were lucky. It was there that I learned the most about who I am and what makes me. I was there, in the Cherokee Nation, in the land of Sequoyah, not to learn Cherokee (ahem, though I can speak a bit still), but to learn English, to major in it to be exact. I’d hopped in a car one Saturday morning at the end of the summer with the plan to drive to Tennessee. Nashville to be exact. My spring break visit to Tennessee State solidified my desire to go to school far from Tulsa, but with no sure financial aid package days before classes began, I told my mom to stop the journey in Tahlequah, miles away from a fate unknown in Nashville. And just like that, I decided to go with plan B, attend Northeastern State University.

It wasn’t a sudden decision per se. I mean, I was accepted. I hadn’t really registered for classes or signed my dorm papers, but I at least paid the room deposits and was already accepted. I didn’t want my mom to drive back 15 hours alone and I really wasn’t as thrilled about Tennessee State University as my other friends were, you know, because i had no fucking money. So there I was, at NSU, in Tahlequah, the town with two gas stations, a Pizza Hut, a Wal-Mart and two college bars, only one which catered to 18+. But the beauty of it might have been in the old-time feel of it. One main street, with all of the major businesses and townhalls leading two narrow lanes of traffic from the campus to the the Wal-Mart at the end of town where you entered and exited the village of retirees, students, and thriving Native Americans. If you knew any other routes in the town, you were a god, because most students never left that thoroughfare. I, a broke freshman without wheels, could barely afford to leave campus, so those parts of the city didn’t concern me much. Don’t get me wrong though; it’s really a beautiful town, and it should concern you, so if you are in NE Oklahoma, Green Country, swing by. I just couldn’t afford Wal-Mart too often. I mean, I tried to get a job in town, but outside of promoting a club a block from campus, and periodically hitching a ride with my college buddy, Sharon “The Biv” – or just taking her car for a joy ride, I was always in my fucking room. Or wandering the campus and thinking of poetry. It’s a beautiful yard. The perfect inspiration and ambiance for creating prose and personalized pennings of passion and inspired youthful wisdom. Or something like that. I wanted to be an English major. I was stuck in a whirl of thoughts on coming of age and reading the writings of a men against the world or themselves in search for clues to my own identity as a young black existential muthafucka. after a few pretty bad years in Tulsa and a decent leveling of things just as I went to school, my decision to stop and start in Tahlequah instead of Tennessee State seemed perfect. The school had a philosophy on school workload, so they suggested that kids take 5 years at 12 hours a semester and enjoy life. I thought that was fucking awesome, even though I knew I’d push harder than they suggested. After a pretty decent freshmen year of fucking and drinking and vomiting and worrying more about if condoms broke then grades, I went home for the last summer I’d spend in Tulsa Oklahoma.

My mother had relocated to Austin, TX what seems like weeks after I’d started school. It was sudden. My brother was a budding football star, and before he went back to Chicago to dominate and take up boxing, he stayed another year Tulsa, living with the football teams coach, who coveted a winning record enough to feed and house a 11 man squad of young black boys if it meant a state title that year. I was hoping to relax, work, and practice basketball all summer to win a walk on scholarship, or at least a spot on the university basketball squad when I returned to campus. After murdering my fellow students in intramural games and a few of the school’s current players in the field-house pickups freshmen year, it seemed I’d lifted enough weights and played enough horse to regain a love for the game, at least enough to compete for a free education. And the coach was interested. He invited me back to off season workouts. I’d be back on campus a few weeks early. Score. Things were different that summer in Tulsa, but back in Tahlequah, it was almost like home when I was on campus. I’d began MY life and it was shaping up just right. I had to work my ass off. A work study job and a lack of creative ingenuity led to little money for food let alone recreation and with a basketball scholarship a faint promise still a semester away (nothing open til the Spring and you’ve got to earn it in practice the coach says), I buckled. i showed no smarts, and no patience, and I made other turns in the road. Ya know, the wrong ones.

I am not the first kid to sell drugs in college. I’m not the last. And since school is in session right now, I bet there’s a deal happening on a campus in America right now. So please no mercy here. I could have struggled harder. I guess after a life of struggle, I saw a little crack in the door, a way to ease the tension,with no other plans for relief. The other idiots on campus were smoking weed. I saw an opportunity. I hadn’t been versed in the philosophies of Warren Buffett, of Benjamin Franklin, or whoever, so with a mind full of Jay Z I invested in a pound to profit, ya know, cuz niggas want to smoke dope. And it worked. For the first time ever, I had money for the entire semester; not just until my books were paid for. I couldn’t go to the bar every time I got an invite, but at least I could do my laundry when I needed. And I even managed to buy a pair of turntables. Not the Technics, but not them cheap ass belt drives I copped from the back of The Source Magazine with the money I made from my first summer job when I was 16 and couldn’t buy a car. I wasn’t a drug dealer; I knew this. I planned to hone my DJ craft until I could make money throwing parties. If I could just make it to second semester I thought. I’ll get the basketball team to chip in for the food and the deejay hustle will do the rest I thought. Music makes the world go round I thought and I knew I was getting good enough to make it profitable. I took the deejaying as seriously as I did the basketball. I just hate that I made selling weed the priority over them both.

When the spring semester came, I didn’t stop selling. In fact, I got more sloppy. I’d been accepted on the team but given a position at the bottom of the bench (can’t travel, must take charges in practice, you know glorified towel boy). With the ultimate goal, a scholarship, still a bit out of reach, I didn’t stop selling weed. It was a bad decision, but I really expected to find a better way to not live hand to mouth, meal point to meal point. My first year, I’d ran through my meal plan, buying sub sandwiches at a premium, so I had to take a cafeteria loan for $750 to eat for the rest of the year; a loan that had to be paid before I could return to school, so there went my summer job money. Now with a set of turntables and about $500 bucks to make it through the spring, I was back at square one, albeit still in control of every opportunity. But I was back with the same hungry pool of football players and loser kids looking to smoke weed until 1 am. The game was still on. The hungry entrepreneur in me couldn’t let it go, it was the easiest opportunity.

Luckily, I was starting to gig as a deejay. The club owners/promoters weren’t too bright with the audio or the campaigning, but we managed to provide a nice alternative to the country western and rock bars that dotted the main avenue. Though I wasn’t paid but 50 bucks a week and all the beer I could drink, I thought it would be enough to sustain sooner than later. I was working every burner on the fire, doing my best to keep my grades afloat, pushing 30 hours of work study if I could steal the extra time, and eating Ramen every night, while I spent the days worried about money and life and where I’d live when the semester ended and I returned to a Tulsa with no home of my own.

I was doing too much. And it caught up to me. One night after DJing at the hole in the wall restaurant/night club, I was assaulted and robbed for my stash by a couple of transgressors who caught me slipping. I’ll share that story in detail at some time or another, if its not already on here somewhere. And well, when a robbery happens, things are a crime scene. .So that kind of happened which kind of ruined my plans of playing basketball at that school, at least for a semester or two more, said the coach. And with the incident occurring in my dorm and the campus security finding a postage scale and baggies aka paraphernalia, I was booted off campus. Luckily, the university saw me as the victim and didn’t expel me, since the thieves, who were caught, were not college students and apparently were thugging for a long time. But with no money for rent and barely enough loot to turn the lights on, I needed to get grittier and fight harder if I wanted to survive March through June 2002. I had 90 days to the end of the school year, with no place to go when the rent expired at the end of the semester, and no money to keep the lights on the duration of the 90 days I’d live there until schools end. I’d rented the studio apartment and stocked my cabinets with can goods and Ramen with all but my last $100. I had no weed to sell, new hospital bills, and no reup money to pay for either, you know because I got robbed. I was pretty much counting the dollars and pennies as I counted the  days and hours, hoping time expired before the money did.

Then I met a man in Vian. He was a friend of the Biv’s and he had a little bit of cocaine he could give me for free if I promised to pay him a little bit of the earnings. I didn’t know shit about cocaine, but I’d learned enough about grams and weight measures from weed to make for an easy learning curve. And I’d already spotted my market. On walks from my apartment to campus, I’d pass trailer parks with dirty toothless hicks and poor migrant Mexicans who always asked if I had certain drugs. I guess even they assumed the black guy has the drugs. Fucking racists. But hey, that was enough for me to see the potential in the market and sure enough, I made it work, because I always, I repeat always live up to the stereotype (jokes). By the time June came around, I’d managed to pay my electricity bills, buy groceries a few times and even pitch in on a dime bag or two, because hey, now I was smoking weed instead of selling it, you know like a cool kid. I knew I’d give it all up when the semester ended; I was hoping to piece together enough scratch to get a car to gain a summer job there in town or back in boondocks of east Tulsa. I didn’t spend much more than I needed for survival because I wasn’t making much. I didn’t sell drugs to be a kingpin after all. I left the semester with less than I had when I came back for year 2. And again, I went back to Tulsa to find a 3 month gig. This time, I would have to make alot more money because I wasn’t going to pay a cafeteria plan debt or a small room and board fee. I was still barred from living on campus, so I needed to grind up enough cash for a 12 month lease. In 3 months. In Tulsa. At 18 years old. With minimum wage at 5.15. Yeah. Impossible. I was still accepted to Tennessee State University and I’d burned the best bridge and brightest opportunity there at NSU, so I decided I’d transfer. After spending the previous summer at my aunt’s crowded house, stranded far in East Tulsa, where no work could be found,I thought it time to strike out on my own and give Nashville a shot. NSU was now a box. I’d boxed myself in by selling drugs and getting kicked off campus. Losing focus on priorities and slipping in class, even my English professor had questioned my dedication to the reading material as I failed to participate with any weight in discussions, even suggesting that I push to another major. It was an insult, but he was probably right. I was picking fights and drinking more, probably skipping more class, and it was time for a change. Maybe I had gone too far down the wrong road, too deep in the forest to see the leaves and shit. I must have, because even I left that semester feeling it all too far to turn back.

I still remember the moment I decided to go to NSU, as I approached the steps of Seminary Hall, with the sun beaming on my face through cypress leaves that towered over the red brick building with the  Big Ben clock hanging in the bell tower. It was the perfect place to work on the art of literature. The grass was perfect for lying on a blanket. It was perfect for rolling around in between class with your book and sandwich and girl and smile. I ruined the opportunity(s). But the moment and the memory helped make me. I’d outgrow my love for the English language as literature when I hit Tennessee State, where the professors really focused on teaching syntax and shit to produce teachers and cared less about cultivating the creative mind of existential poets. And that turn in the road of life didn’t mean there still weren’t potholes on course for the eventual success of graduating college, but if I have one regret about my young life at this time, its that I gave up on the first path a bit too early. I should have struggled on the meager means. I should have starved and lived summers on the floors of family in Tulsa. I even could have and should have suffered the shame of returning and walking campus as the kid who blew it for a semester, but didn’t give up the chance to play college basketball. I ran the other way. Instead of holding on to the only decent, opportunity to play sports ever really given to me, I ran away from it. who knows how life would be different now if I hadn’t i guess. The other turns in the road….

Ryan Mega is man of many mistakes.  This here story is just about one of those mistakes that makes him. What is he? Some might say he’s Gangster. He’s the M.ost E.ducated G.angster in A.merica if you ask me.

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