“She looks like someone’s surly grandmother!”
“Really?” Gavin turned the magazine sideways. “Hmmm…certainly not your grandmother, Dante. She has all of her teeth!”
The young, tattooed man at the computer stopped typing just long enough to strike his cousin in the ribs playfully before returning to his book report.
“Don’t be talkin’ about ‘MeMaw’ like that, bro! They didn’t have dental care for my people back in those days.”
“Your people?” Gavin began, sitting the fashion book on the desk behind them. “What is this ‘your people’ crap you guys always hit me with? Like I’m not as black as you because you’re darker than I am or something?”
Dante stops again, this time turning sharply to Gavin with a snicker.
“Yeah…that’s exactly right.”
“Bro, we may be cousins but you will never know what it’s like to be a REAL black man in America.”
Gavin let out a frustrated sigh. “That’s bull crap, Dante!”
“No way do you get in more trouble than I do simply because you’re darker than I am. That’s not true anyway! You’re an all A student at your school and I’m a C student at best…”
“Yeah, and I’m the one sitting at YOUR computer typing a 12 page essay trying to get into a good school where as you, my half-black cousin, have scholarships all over your desk here!”
Gavin looks at the desk and laughs out loud. Dante is not amused.
“Oh, is something funny to you ‘pale face’?”
“Yeah, ‘D’! You’re insane if you think these schools contacted me for my lack of color. You know I was on the NBA scouts list since I was a junior at Melborne High, right?”
“Not with that jump shot…”
“Yes, with this jump shot! And this cross over! And this amazing ability to pass between multiple defenders AND I run like a race horse without getting tired!”
Dante leaps up from the computer visibly livid. Gavin stands his ground, unrelenting. Dante balls his fists up tight at his sides.
“You saying you’re better than me, bro?”
Gavin could see the fury in his older cousin’s eyes. The anger that made him so feared as a fighter at his school. The fierce competitor who had worked so very hard for the grades he had at a lower class school, giving up on sports in favor of work to help his mother pay bills for himself and his younger siblings. But Gavin saw something else as he stared into his cousins trembling, manic eyes: fear. The fear that no matter what he did or what he achieved at school, he would amount to nothing in this life.
“No,” Gavin began. “I’m not better than you, Dante. You know I’m not saying that–”
“No, Gavin,” Dante interrupted. “I think that’s exactly what you’re saying to me! Because you don’t have to pay bills and drive your brothers and sisters to and from school every morning you have time to focus on your freakin’ jumper or your cross over!”
“It’s not like that, ‘D’! Geez, cous, I worked real hard at what I did and maybe I did have more time than you. So what? I used it wisely! You don’t hear my whining about my grades—”
The blow to Gavin’s cheek was quick and powerful, forcing him backwards and over the desk in one complete motion. He hit the floor with a thud just in time to see Dante leap over the desk at him, fist cocked back for another strike. Gavin rolled clear of his cousin and found his feet swiftly.
Dante looked at his cousin, enraged by the thought that Gavin was in any way superior to himself.
The skinny, pale kid who he had to take up for time and again when they were children. The one constantly picked on by boys and girls alike in their middle school years. Dante had shown his cousin nothing but love over the years, even being the one who introduced Gavin to the game of basketball that would now be his way out of the ordinary lives they lived. An escape that should be his own, Dante reasoned as he faced his cousin to punch again.
Instead what came next was a swift kick to the face. Dante’s knees buckled just long enough to feel his cousin rush in for the tackle, pinning him to the floor beneath him.
Dante prepared himself for the inevitable strikes to the face he anticipated, the fuel that would likely ignite a greater flame to burn his cousin with when ever he reached his feet again.
But those strikes did not come.
Instead, Gavin looked down at his cousin with concern.
As Dante looked deeper into his cousin’s eyes he saw more than just the fear of what he could do to him physically if he ever got up from the floor. There was no question that Dante was the superior physical specimen. But that was not the base of what fears prevailed in Gavin’s glare: he was hurt. And not merely a physical pain as Dante had first presumed, but rather something deeper. Something within his cousin had broken and neither one of them was entirely sure how to address it with words.
A few sparse moments in silence precluded no true solution, and Gavin simply released his hold on Dante and went to sit on the bed deep in his own thoughts.
Dante slowly rose, staring curiously at his cousin. Was it just possible that all of the pain and annoyance that this family member had caused him all of these years was actually ill-placed? Maybe, just maybe, Gavin was actually the victim after all, Dante thought to himself as he walked slowly towards him. That he himself had placed unfair expectations and stereotypes onto Gavin and was looking for a way to somehow outshine someone who was simply trying to bask in the glow of his favorite cousin.
“Bro,” Dante managed at length. “You really are getting stronger. Did you seriously kick me?! That crap almost hurt!”
Gavin looks at Dante, still shocked and disbelieving.
“Gavin,” Dante throws his hands in the air. “Bro, my bad. I came at you all foul, bro. My bad, cous. You know I got mad respect for your achievements. I’m proud of you.”
Gavin looks away a moment, then back at his favorite cousin.
“That actually means a lot, D. Thanks.”
“Yeah, no doubt….” Dante returns to his seat at the computer. “Yo, don’t be showing me pictures of ugly chicks in magazines, bro! You know how I can get!”
Gavin laughs out loud.
Dante shakes his head and returns to his writing at the desktop.