Appayank. It’s not a word, but it’s who I am. Since my family moved back to West Virginia from the Northeast in 1983, I’ve felt the pull of both places. I’m starting to write about it – we’ll see how that goes.
This first story might be why I dig hip-hop so much…
I was 13 going on 14 when I told my parents I would not change schools again.
Changing schools had become an every-two-year habit, and I wouldn’t have it. “O.K.,” they said nervously. Parenthetically, I know they were nervous now. They were worried because, in order to stay in my current middle-school, I’d have to take the bus across town. Way across town. With kids who didn’t look like me.
Both of my parents hadn’t really seen black people until they were over 18. They were born and raised in West Virginia, where there just aren’t many people who aren’t white.
Mom had some guts though. As an adult I learned that she completely rebelled against her parents (I get it honestly) and went to Fisk University in Nashville for a summer in the early 60s. By the time my grandparents found out Fisk was an HBCU, it was too late. They had already paid for it, so they let her go.
Maybe that experience was in her mind when she tried to prepare me. “These kids will be different from you,” she told me. “Not better or worse, but it won’t be the same as our old neighborhood.”
The old neighborhood had been a very white middle-class development where I walked to school with my good friend Melinda. We sang REO Speedwagon at the top of our lungs and talked about other music we’d been hearing about – like the Clash, and A Flock of Seagulls.
Our new neighborhood was more blue-collar, but cooler, really. There was a Korean family up the street with a couple of kids who were my age. From the brother, I heard my first Rush album. The sister’s sixteenth birthday party is one of my best memories. I gorged myself on homemade spring rolls that day – watching her mother cut and roll wonton wrappers filled with stuff I’d never eaten, but loved.
That first morning of my eighth grade year, I walked five blocks to the bus stop and waited. I’ll never forget how it felt to walk on the bus and feel so alone. I won’t bother with the clichés that come to mind here – but it’s safe to say I was in a world for 40 minutes each school morning that was different from what I was used to.
It was clear the kids didn’t know what to do with me either. There was always an empty double seat on the bus for me each morning. They stared. I looked down. Once in awhile, I smiled. The kids were never mean, they just pretended I didn’t exist.
Music changed that. One day on the bus, I started singing along with the chorus to Rapper’s Delight.
i said a hip hop the hippie the hippie
to the hip hip hop, a you dont stop
rock it out baby bubbah to the boogie da bang bang
the boogie to the boogie da beat
The next day, there was no empty double-seat.