How To Not End Up With A Bullet In Your Head

Law Koger
5 min readJul 22, 2019


During the summertime, the alleyways were always filled with more than needles and broken bottles. Kids filled the alleyways and backyards playing three fly. One kid runs about 30 feet opposite the group, and throws a football high into the clouds aiming towards a group of two or more kids. There were four of us at the time. The rest of the neighborhood’s kids were already enrolled in summer camps across the city: leaving myself, younger brother, and two childhood friends with nothing to do. Which made the game easier because the first person to catch it three times wins. I already had two catches.

The summer was freedom for us kids but for many it was torture. Right up the street laid a couple who argued day and night, whose daughter — one year older than me — was well acquainted with many of us. In fact, she was everybody’s first, for everything, excluding sex. At age 12, I had already noticed the effects a broken home could have on a child. With school out and all the summer programs being too expensive, there is nothing to do, but play sports and experiment. Time became a major problem in the neighborhood. When it was time to run around, we ran, but when it was time to stay inside, there was nothing to keep us occupied.

Mason hurled the football into the air, high enough to where the sun would have caught it, but instead I did. I reached over the head of one of my friends and caught the third catch to win the round and become the thrower on the opposite end. “Mossed!” I yelled. When you catch a football over somebody, you had to yell mossed, a term coined by Randy Moss, most known for his ability to catch everything.

While I jogged to the opposite end of the alley to throw the ball to the three of my friends, a body came running into the alleyway. A black man, 5’10”, skinny frame, and perfectly grown afro begged for our help. “Hide me! Please! Hide me!” His left eye was swollen shut and his upper lip stretched far enough to cover his chin.

At that time I had family that lived across from the Alameda on Woodbourne Ave, right across the street from Lillie May Carroll Jackson’s football field. Ms. Edna, who was considered the neighbors’ babysitter, stepped outside to see the young man pleading for his safety. Ms. Edna had watched over us for years, and by watch, I mean watched Judge Joe Brown on TV while we ran up and down the alley causing havoc. Although she barely kept an eye on any of us, we always felt safe. She cared for all of us and that was enough to keep us alive.

The battered brother looked to be in his late twenties. Young enough to gain empathy from Ms. Edna. Ms. Edna cared for everybody, but in the Baltimore kind of way. Ms. Edna would yell and curse you out, ask the Lord for forgiveness, then ask if you were hungry. Baltimore love. She agreed to hide him.

The game of three fly quickly restarted. I had the football on the opposite end, ready to throw it. But this time I didn’t hurl it as hard as I could, it was sort of a lob. I had already seen people in the neighborhood get beaten up or shot. And none of us wanted to be distracted looking to catch a football and become the unfortunate bystander to catch a bullet.

We had been playing three fly for about five minutes before a group of young black men — four of them — came looking for him. They all sported bloodied white t-shirts, busted Air Force 1s, accessorized with the cheapest handguns. “Ay, any of y’all little niggas see a nigga wearing a blue polo?” one guy asked us. Nobody responded. The word snitch tastes like copper pennies dipped in ketchup and nobody wanted to be called that. “So, nobody saw anything?” he yelled. “Nope,” all we replied. “Fuck, he got away,” one of them said.

They figured he had run fast enough to be across the city. I wasn’t sure what the bloodied man in Ms. Edna’s house had done but they seemed to be pissed when they couldn’t find him. After realizing he was gone, the four white tees turned their backs on us, tucked their pistols away and began walking towards the main street. Baltimore is one of those places where anything could happen in broad daylight, everybody could have seen it, but nobody saw anything.

After the white tees left, nobody felt like playing anymore. It was hot enough that we should’ve already been inside, plus the neighborhood was quiet today, even after hearing the white tees curse in disappointment. We all went inside to grab freeze pops and turn on the Nintendo 64. As we stepped inside, the bloodied man jumped, fearing we were someone who was after him. It was just us.

While holding ice to his busted lip — now dry — he looked at us and said, “Let me tell y’all kids something. Don’t be like me. If you want to live a long and healthy life don’t be like me.” He removed the ziploc bag of ice from his lip. “Mind your business. Don’t steal. Tell the truth. And look everyone in their eyes. That’s how you live forever! That’s how you not end up with a bullet in your head!” We all nodded but didn’t think nothing of it. Why take advice from a man whose mistakes have left him physically scarred? Had he taken his own advice he would not be in Ms. Edna’s house clutching a paper cup full of water and drops of blood.

The Nintendo was turned on and James Bond 007 was loaded up on the blurred big black television that sat on the floor. The rotating fan was propped behind all four of us while we selected our characters. The bloodied man stayed for a while but left once the day became night. His sweat had dried up, stiffening his shirt, but Ms. Edna fed him and gave him something to drink. Had he been a man just looking for a meal, this was the perfect sob story, because it worked.

We didn’t hear about the bloodied man for quite some time. A few days later, Ms. Hilda’s front door was kicked in by a group of men looking for her grandson. We had completely forgotten about the pistols and blood that interrupted our game of three fly earlier that week.

Ms. Edna told us that the man had been killed. He was shot, dead in the face, not too far from Ms. Edna’s house. It bothers me sometimes. If he knew how to not end up with a bullet in his head, why didn’t he follow his own rules? I’ve followed them all my life. I’m not old but I’m still alive. Even with the ice pressed against the bloodied man’s lips, I was able to hear what he truly meant. Although you can’t control everything in life, you can control what you do, and what you do will determine if you live.