I began writing this piece last year when I got the news that a girl I knew had died of an overdose. Years before her a popular kid in the area, he was a few years older than me, was stabbed to death during a fight. A few months before I began writing the piece a guy I used to take the bus with was locked up for 9 years for stealing a pair of sneakers from a white kid. He was 16. The inspiration of this piece comes from my surroundings, the deaths of people I knew, the injustices committed right on my doorstep. Having lived my entire life in the south end of Albany, New York and most of my life in poverty I am privy to these events, I see them, they affect me because I see them with my own eyes. But I have always been safe from them, I am not black, I do not have abusive or neglectful parents, I’ve been blessed to rarely be in the wrong place at the wrong times. But I felt that I had to do something, to at least show the pain, I may never be able to convey it but this piece aims to show and expose some of it. This is important pain, it’s real, visceral, and it is inflicted everyday on far too many people all over this country.
You might know the story of Taylor
You might not
I’ll tell it because what you must understand is that our last vestige of strength is held firmly in the hands of the stories we tell
Because if I don’t tell the story of Taylor his pain will never be able to be felt by those with skin akin to him
His reality will never understood by the eager pale faces bobbing in the crowd of every rap show
His life will never be understood as anything more than his thick red blood and the seeping wound that painted the final target on his back
His truth, the truth of many men of color in America, can never be understood by even the author of this tale, a man of color, granted, but one with a pale complexion
Maybe the author himself shouldn’t be writing the story
But I am
For better or worse.
THE STORY OF TAYLOR
In moments of pain you think back.
Back to when the guns and the drugs were only on TV, when Scarface was the scariest guy you knew. You think back to all those times you went to the city to visit your cousins. You see, shit was so much easier back then, back when summer days at the park seemed to morph into weeks, back when the sun used to streak across the sky like a time-lapse. Back when kids used to tease you for having curry for lunch at summer camp then ask you for more when you let them try some. Shit wasn’t painful back then. In those last moments, as your breath came more and more ragged and your heart grew weaker and weaker you think back. You go back.
Your parents came from India at a young age, your pops was planning on finishing his degree in the city but they fucked up. Later on mummy would tell you it was false advertising, pops always just accepted where he was. They ended up having you in the third floor stairway of a project in the south end of the city. Not New York City, The City. Your city. Pops didn’t have a car; Taxi’s took twice as long to come if you had an accent. There you were. 7 pounds 8 ounces. Normal. Extraordinary, actually. They called you Taylor; they got it out of an American baby book. They didn’t want you to get bullied, later on, and after it was already much too late, after you read all those history books backward and realized what they could have called you, you would resent them for not connecting you to your culture. Growing up in the south end was like growing up to die. Most cats didn’t make it past 21, you’d probably be buried at the cemetery three blocks up pretty soon. You got your summer job when you were 14 but you spent every check on new kicks because what the fuck else was there to buy? Pops was a manager at a meat-packing factory, mummy worked at an elementary school. By the time you’re 1, pops needs a cane to walk, they had you late.
Mummy always told you that love conquered everything. “And all pain can be cured with a little love.” She told you with her sweet sing song accent. Crazy how you noticed it. They were from two different worlds back in India, Pops was Gujarat, Mummy was Banglorean. “She’s too dark for him,” Pops’ family said. It took 9 months and 5 proposals for the wedding to be approved. Then they got tricked into coming here. They didn’t mean to land in the city, they meant to land somewhere else, away from the projects. And sometimes when you looked deep into his eyes you could tell Pops had regrets, if you looked closely past the crows feet and the deep brown you could see a man raising a happy family back in the homeland, with a wife the same tone as him. You could see a man living the way his culture wanted him to live, the easy way, in a way that didn’t cause him all this pain. Love conquered all. That’s what she said, her dark skin shimmering in the sunlight as she tanned out back in the little yard you shared with 25 other tenants.
Summertime ’06, your favorite album of 2015, you bumped that shit so hard, you met mad dudes that summer, cool fucking cats, like you broke out. The thing with the south-end was that all you needed to be was from there. You met Jaquel, some dude who lived a few stories up, his Mom died when he was little and his father always told him her dream was for him to go pro. Every morning at 6 am, Jaq and his dad could be seen running drills at the court out back behind our project. Jaquel’s Dad caught a bullet half way into the summer.
Just another black face fading into the dying light, flailing arms fail to fight
The plague of white eating face, form and figure, making jokes at Thanksgiving dinner
That’s about the time you started writing your rhymes. You started slow, just journal entries. You became an observer; you didn’t expect to ever actually be affected by this shit. Like you were just interested, interested in where the nicknames your friends had came from. Jordan was Lil J, you called him that because he was only 5’4. Little dude. Trayvon was just Tray- pretty self-explanatory. Abel was known as The Prophet, you called him that because every time you all smoked together he would start getting deep about the world. Of your whole friend group only Tay survived to see past the next two summers.
So the rhymes kept coming and Prophet started teaching you how to flow, “Listen to Kendrick,” he would always tell you, before taking a long drag of the joint and sinking deeper into the sofa. You listened to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City twice a day at least while making sure to still keep up with Future, Thug and Carti’s new shit. Soundcloud became your obsession, finding new flows, crafting yours. Late summer ’15 you started going to the open mics. You would walk a mile up past the invisible Mason-Dixon line of the city to spit your baby bars to a room full of white hippies who had unnatural obsessions with young brown kids from the hood. They would come up to you afterward and ask you where you got your talents, you always said the same thing “I’ve always wanted to rhyme.” What? Really? That’s your reason for having talent. Nah the real reason was a lot more sinister, what you wanted to say was something along the lines of: “Honestly I want to move up here, with you guys. Since the city got split in half in the mid 90s when they built your shiny plaza the areas below your domain have been dying. My friends’ friends get shot every other day, I know 5 drug dealers by first name. My beat cops have probably killed a dozen innocent black or brown people during their careers. I wanna be a good raghead, is that what you call me up here? Raghead? Maybe it’s just nigger, maybe you can’t tell us apart.” But you don’t, you keep your mouth shut and keep it moving.
Black skies burn as white lightning arcs to the ground
Slicing your soul in two you’re bound by the idea of them and you
Captured in the net of oppression
Writhing around with your stolen brethren
You look up, white lightning smiling
Your check still pendin
Skip to Summer ’16, you’re 17, Abel has been in the hospital for 3 months now. Back in March he got busted up trying to cop loud off a new guy, he was undercover, Abel ran. That silver bullet ripped apart his back, cutting through his spine and paralyzing him. But it was fall that put him into a coma. His Mom doesn’t have enough money to keep him alive for much longer, she keeps telling Mummy that God is gonna bring him back, Mummy holds her hands while she cries and sends her home with whatever money she can spare. You brood. You miss Abel’s funeral, you miss his last breath. You listen to Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick scolds you.
“Guess you thought he would recover well
Third surgery, they couldn’t stop the bleeding for real
Then he died, God himself will say “you fuckin’ failed”
You ain’t try” – Kendrick Lamar to Taylor Singh, 2016.
That summer, though, shit changes. Before the end of you year you decide to write a play, it covers 3 black teens who have an encounter with a racist beat cop that ends in the death of one of them. You win a school contest to get the play produced, you hold auditions. This one girl auditions. She stands up on the stage to read her lines; she looks at you like some corny notebook type shit. If you knew how it would all end now you wouldn’t have looked back. She delivers those lines so well, her voice floats into you and threatens to change you. You stop brooding. By the end of the third rehearsal, you’re both sweating, sitting half clothed in a back corner of the auditorium after everyone has already left. Her name is Lily. She’s as perfect as they come – this dark chocolate skin, eyes like little galaxies hiding as much as they reveal – dream type shit. You’ve never wanted to bring someone to dinner more than her; you wouldn’t even mind if she didn’t like the curry. You stop brooding. Briefly.
But Lily has her own burdens. A torn household has left her mind broken and bruised beneath her. She sings like an angel fighting back hell. Beautiful, with this melancholy tingle that makes you shiver whenever you hear it. You add a musical number to your play. The night after the first performance, you tell her you love her. But Lily has her own demons. Her own pain. Jordan gets popped over a pair of J’s the next week. Your heart burns with regret not just because Jordan was your brother but also because you were with Lily that night and Jordan always said “Bro’s before bitches bro, never forget, even if she got yo heart. You never know when you gonna have to have a nigga’s back.” He had a girl, Ciara, she was 5 months pregnant at the time. She lost the child. Grief they said. The hood seems to seem more and more like a movie. You listen to Brenda’s Got a Baby. You scheme. You write more. You and Lily get more serious but you decided to wait.
Take no chances in this valley of death
Pain and destruction rain like lead
Lost lottery tickets tumble along the sweaty blocks
Lost dreams, fast ticking clocks
Seems like yesterday we were throwin rocks
Now in my hand I firmly grasp this Glock
Lily loves your rhymes; she listens to you spit slowly in your bedroom as you trace your bars along her smooth skin. It’s really summer now. Do The Right Thing hot. You two take these long peaceful fucking walks all the way up town and it feels so good to leave the block, like breaking the top of the water after a deep dive and feeling all the oxygen sprint back into your lungs all at once. But at night you still hear Mummy crying in the next room, her soft sobs remind you how hard things are. They’re behind in rent this month and the every time she goes to the bank to ask for a loan she is forced to defer to you because they always say her accent is too thick. But they don’t “talk finances with kids.” Pops is losing his leg; it got caught in a grinder at work when one of his workers got angry and pressed him up against the wrong piece of machinery. He’s in a wheelchair until the procedure. At least he’s getting a raise, you don’t want to have to go looking for another job. You go to parties. You don’t cheat though, Lily deserves a lot more than that. She’s more beautiful every day. On particular hard days for us I remind her that “Love conquers everything.” Jaquel from upstairs finds out he got into Duke, full ride. You and Pops host the celebration, his last family member is his aunt, she comes all the way up from NYC. He bursts into tears when we cut the cake. His father’s candles are still outside your building just to the left of the doorway. “RIP Don’tay, you will always be loved.” It’s the last week of summer. Lily’s Dad wants to meet you, he seems like a really cool dude, you talk to him briefly on the phone, he seems cooler than cool, he’s dope. She’s dope. Life isn’t too bad, you’re mad in love. You get a call at the end of August; it’s a dude named Branson. He introduces himself as a music agent, and he tells you that you’ve been noticed. All the SoundCloud shit paid off foreal. You tell Mummy and Pops, Mummy smiles wanly and stirs the curry, Pops tells you to get a job. His procedure is in a week, he’s in a lot of pain, but he’s optimistic, he tells you the doctors think they can save his leg.
Then one day a little kid gets shot on the block. The police say on the news that it was a drive-by gone wrong. You call Lily bawling your fucking eyes out. “I fucking hate all this shit.” She says she knows, she understands. You know she understands, her skin is two shades darker than yours; she’s lost a family member to violence. You scheme more, you’re gonna make it out, you promise her. She says she loves you, she says she believes you, but you don’t believe her. The last song you listen to is Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst before you go out Sunday morning. Mummy kisses you on the cheek, she reminds you to bike to the hospital, not home on your way back. You tell pops good luck and give him that handshake you been practicing because he’s “gotta learn how to be down.” They smile as you walk out the door. You talk to Lily on the phone as you walk to the court. You guys are gonna go on a date to see the new Star Wars joint. “The trailer looks good, me and Pops always watched those when I was younger.” Lily isn’t impressed, “As long as we can go shopping after.” Of course baby. You meet Tray and a few others at the court. You’ve never been great but you got a 3-point shot so you fill the Indian boy baller role pretty well, it always satisfied you. You emerge sweaty and breathing heavy from a best of 3. As you sit on the bench everyone starts asking you to rap. You’ve been waiting for this. But just before you begin to spit, some recent shit you wrote the week before someone from across the street yells, “Yo bitch!” Everyone pops up to pop out. Tray looks heated, “Those bums were over here last week.” Once the first one of you went for blood, it’s a free for all. You got in on that shit because that’s what you do, not cause you liked it, just because you’re brothers. Then the sirens blare, normal shit, you scatter. Shit happens too fast though – way too fast. As you make your way raggedly up the hill back to the project, your phone begins to buzz, it’s Lily, you remember you were supposed to go meet her pops that afternoon.
That wasn’t for you. You didn’t do anyth-
Every rhyme gets ripped out of your chest by the force of four small thimbles of metal. Your lungs no longer force clever conjecture out of your thin lips, instead they begin to focus entirely on controlling the weak pounding of your heart. In those moments of pain you think back, all the way back to the plane Pops and Mummy board all those years ago, 6 months pregnant, heading to a place they wouldn’t reach. You think about Lily, you think about how her Dad will never hear any of your poetry. You think about Prophet, you think about how his lungs must have collapsed like yours, giving up on each other and falling in a pile of utter surrender. You think about Lil J and his girl. You think about Jaquel and his Dad. You think about your block. You think about your future. As your visions darkens and the end of the tunnel rushes ever closer you can’t help but wonder how things would be if you were lighter, if Pops had finished that degree. If Mummy ever got approved for those loans. Kendrick lyrics swirl in your head like a poorly mixed drink. You’re passing. One last prayer.
When the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me
I could have been Taylor, I could have had his darker skin, and my parents could have had his parent’s perilous story. Taylor and I have the same genetic makeup essentially; the only thing that separates us is two blocks and two skin tones. Taylor is me and I am him. His only sin was the color of his skin and the reputation of his kin. Taylor was hope and surrender, love and hate. Taylor was more than the sum of his multi-colored parts. Remember Taylor, remember this story.
About the Author
Aden Suchak is a filmmaker and visual artist based in Albany, NY. Aden has been acting, writing and directed short films since he was 12. His short documentary “Make it Float” was one of 5 finalists selected to Tribeca Film Festival’s America I Am program in 2016. Aden is currently studying Documentary Studies at The University at Albany.