I was the type of kid who came straight home and did their homework, or “lessons,” as Grandpa called them. My older sister, Joanna, had trouble in school because of her dyslexia. Her learning disorder caused her to comprehend the letters backwards. They put her in the “special education” classes, and kids used to tell her that she was stupid because she couldn’t spell very well. I was even mean to her, teasing when she asked me how to spell things.
Jo went to Mandeville High School. Matt describes it as, “a good school—for a public school.” There were mostly white kids there who all drove new cars their parents had bought for them. Most of them would pull up to school in the morning with their tinted windows, new shiny rims, and loud bass speaker systems blaring Lil Wayne, who they all looked up to because they thought he was so cool. It seemed like every week a friend would send you a text with a warning saying, “Hey be careful because they have the drug dogs on campus today checking all the classrooms.”
Most of the areas where our classmates lived were close by, but there were no sidewalks to be able to walk over. In fact, the city of Mandeville does not have any form of public transit because the rich white folks there try to keep out the poor class and colored folks. After Hurricane Katrina, things changed.
Our neighborhood became easily accessible to communities like Woodridge, Heavens Drive, Woodridge North, Pineland Park Estates, Beau Rivage, and Beau Chene because all of the fences between houses were knocked down. With no fences, we had free reign to the area. Needless to say, we kids often got our flip flops very muddy from walking in the trails and jumping over ditches past all the vinyl siding or brick houses.
All the ditches behind the houses ended up with worn down trails from us walking them so much. I got so used to walking them that I didn’t even have to see where I was going at night. I memorized where every jump and rock was. When our parents were home on the weekends, a lot of our friends met up behind Franco’s Athletic Club to smoke weed and drink warm beers. We would be like, “Hey want to meet up at the Franco’s Trail?”
Despite her problems, Jo always had lots of friends. Two lived in walking distance of her house in Wood Ridge. “Hood Ridge,” as my boyfriend Matt calls it, is located off of Highway 22. Katie had blonde hair and wore American Eagle clothes. She was very bossy and her grandparents were Cubans who also lived in Wood Ridge. Her mother was a single parent, too, who worked as a third grade teacher. In junior high school, we would ride her bus home or we would have parties there on the weekend when her mom went out of town. Her brother sold weed to all his friends at Mandeville High. She stole the weed and cigarettes from her brother’s bedroom. Some days after school, before her mom came home, we went upstairs to our friend’s bedroom and we’d lean out the window to smoke weed. After we smoked a bowl I asked her, “Can I bum a jo?” because that is what we would call cigarettes.
Stephanie was a brunette who always looked tired and loved to eat. She had troubling fitting in her American Eagle collared shirts because her breasts were so large. All the boys loved that about her. She had an older brother who made trips from California to Mandeville where he would transport large amounts of marijuana. He got caught a few times. Their mom was a lunch lady at Tchefuncte Middle School, and their dad worked for Tony’s Chacheries. On the weekend and sometimes after school, her mom was the type of mom who would smoke, drink, and do drugs with us in their garage.
Matt reports having a hangout spot at a friend’s house in Greenleaves Neighborhood nearby the Mandeville Police station. Some of the microsubdivisions in Greenleaves were apartment complexes, but this one was one where the richer white folks resided. He said the big house that was beautiful on the outside, but very dirty on the inside. They had several different animals ranging from birds, dogs, and long-haired cats, which had dingle balls on their butts, sand in their hair, there was poop and hair all over the house. Despite the filth, his friend’s mom was divorced and she was never at home because she dated a lot. For that reason, the house became all of the teens’ chill spot where they could drink and party.