This story won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize and National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. It appeared in Issue 5, 2020 of Runner’s World.
Imagine young Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery, a junior varsity scatback turned undersized varsity linebacker on a practice field of the Brunswick High Pirates. The head coach has divided the squad into offense and defense and has his offense running the plays of their next opponent. The coach, as is his habit, has been taunting his defense. “Y’all ain’t ready,” he says. “You can’t stop us,” he says. “What y’all gone do?” The next play, Maud, all 5 feet 10 inches and 165 pounds of him, bursts between blockers and—BOOM!—lays a hit that makes the sound of cars crashing, that echoes across the field and into the stands, that just might reach the locker room. It’s a feat that teenage Maud also intends as a message to his coaches, his teammates, and all else that ain’t hitherto hipped: Don’t test my heart. Some of those teammates smash their fist to their mouth and oooh. Others slap one another’s pads and point. An assistant coach winces and runs to the aid of the tackled teammate. And the head coach, well, he trumpets his whistle. “Why’d you hit him like that?” he hollers. “Save that for Friday. Let’s see you do that on Friday.”
That Friday, in Glynn County Stadium (one of the largest high school stadiums in all of gridiron-loving Georgia) the Pirates, clad in their home white jerseys with blue and gold trim, huddle in the locker room. Maud, who wears high shoulder pads, a 2x4 face mask, and number 21 in honor of his brother, Buck, and his idol, famed NFL safety Sean Taylor, swaggers into the center of his teammates and begins the chant he’s christened into a pre-game ritual.
“Y’all ready!” he shouts.
“Hell yeah!” they shout.
“Y’all ready!” he shouts.
“Hell yeah!” they shout.
“Y’all ain’t ready?!” he shouts.
“Sheeeeeit!” they shout.
To applause that could be thunder, the team stampedes out of the fog-filled mouth of a blow-up tunnel onto the field. The school band plays the fight song and cheerleaders shake pom-poms from a row in front of the band. There’s a raucous sea of blue and gold in the stands, including plenty of Maud’s people. Game time, the opposing team calls the play that Maud put the fierce kaput on in practice, and beneath a metal-halide glare that’s also a gauntlet, Maud barrels towards the running back and—BOOM!—lays a hit that sounds like trucks colliding. It’s a noise that resounds across the field and into the stands, that just might ring all over Brunswick. The fans send up a roar but Maud trots to the sidelines almost insouciant. Jason Vaughn, an assistant coach who also coached Maud on JV, grabs him by his face mask. “Now that’s how you hit,” he says, tamping astonishment that a boy his size could hit that hard.
But that’s young Maud, undersized in the physical sense, super-sized in heart.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:04pm Time-stamped security footage from an adjacent home shows Maud, who’s out for a run in Brunswick’s Satilla Shores subdivision, wandering up a sunny patch of narrow road and stopping on the spotty lawn of a sand-colored under-construction bungalow addressed 220 Satilla Drive. There’s a red portable toilet in the front yard. The garage is wide open.
Ahmaud, dressed in light-colored low-top Nikes, a white t-shirt, and khaki cargo shorts, loafs on the lawn for a moment before drifting into the building. The security camera records him inside the home, a brightened skeleton of beams and plywood and stacks of sheetrock and piping and wire. There are boxes of materials scattered about and a small forklift pushed in a corner. Maud doesn’t touch any of those things. He looks around, gazes beyond the frame of the camera toward the river behind the house. Maybe he wonders what the home will look like when it’s finished. Maybe he conjures an image of a family who could afford to live in a place so close to water.
Maud ain’t the first person to wander onto the site. Its security cameras have recorded others including a white couple one evening and a pair of white boys one day. On four occasions, it also recorded what appears to be the same person: a slim young Black man with wild natural hair and tattoos on his shoulders and arms, a dude, that by my eye, don’t resemble Maud. Let me add that the homeowner will confirm that nothing was stolen or damaged during any of the visits.
Meanwhile, a coveralled neighbor spies Maud roaming the site and calls 9-1-1. “There’s a guy in the house right now,” he reports. “It’s a house under construction. 219 or 220 Satilla Drive.” The man waits near the corner of Jones Road and Satilla Drive. “I just need to know what he’s doing wrong,” says the dispatcher. “He’s been caught on the camera a bunch before. It’s kind of an ongoing thing out here,” says the caller. It’s a statement of which he can’t be sure, though he does get right Maud’s physical description: “Black guy, white t-shirt.”
To fathom what it meant for Maud to be out for a run in Glynn County, you need to know a thing or two about the pastime of recreational running. Before the 1960s, the idea of jogging for almost everybody save serious athletes was this: Now why would I do that? But in 1962, legendary track coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman visited New Zealand and met with fellow coach Arthur Lydiard who’d developed a cross-country training program. Bowerman returned to the States excited by what he’d seen. He launched a similar program in Eugene (home of his alma mater and employer, the University of Oregon), wrote a pamphlet on the subject in 1966, and the next year, published a co-written book titled Jogging: A Medically-Approved Physical Fitness Program for all Ages Prepared by a Heart Specialist and a Famous Track Coach. Half Marathon Training.
Let me acknowledge that I am one of the rarest of Americans, one otherwise known as a Black Oregonian. As such, I feel compelled to share a truth about my home state: It’s white. I’m talking banned-Blacks-in-its-state-constitution white. At the time that Bowerman was inspiring Eugene residents to trot miles around their neighborhoods in sweatpants and running shoes, Eugene was a stark 97 percent white. One could argue that the overwhelming whiteness of jogging today may be, in part, a product of Eugene’s demographics. But if we’re keeping it 100, the monolithic character of running can be credited to the ways in which it’s been marketed and to the systemic forces that have placed it somewhere on a continuum between impractical extravagance and unaffordable hazard for scores of people who ain’t white.
Matter of truth, around the time Bowerman visited New Zealand and published a bestselling book, millions of Blacks were living in the Jim Crow South; by 1968, Blacks diaspora-wide had mourned the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. And by the late ’60s and beyond, the Blacks of the Great Migration were redlined into ever more depressed sections of northern and western cities, areas where the streets were less and less safe to walk, much less run. Forces aplenty discouraged Blacks from reaping the manifold benefits of jogging. And though the demographics of runners have become more diverse over the last 50 years, jogging, by and large, remains a sport and pastime pitched to privileged whites.
Peoples, I invite you to ask yourself, just what is a runner’s world? Ask yourself who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask who’s a runner? What’s their so-called race? Their gender? Their class? Ask yourself where do they live, where do they run? Where can’t they live and run? Ask what are the sanctions for asserting their right to live and run—shit—to exist in the world. Ask why? Ask why? Ask why?
Ahmaud Arbery, by all accounts, loved to run but didn’t call himself a runner. That is a shortcoming of the culture of running. That Maud’s jogging made him the target of hegemonic white forces is a certain failure of America. Check the books—slave passes, vagrancy laws, Harvard’s Skip Gates arrested outside his own crib—Blacks ain’t never owned the same freedom of movement as whites.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:08pm Maud strolls out the house and in just a few steps, begins to jog. He’s unaware of the witness who called 9-1-1, a man still surveilling him. “He’s running right now. There he goes right now,” says the witness to dispatch. “Okay, what is he doing?” says the dispatcher. “He’s running down the street,” says the man. The footage shows Maud jogging past the Satilla Drive home of Gregory and Travis McMichael—a father and son. Gregory McMichael, an ex-cop stripped of his power to arrest for failure to attend use-of-force training, notices Maud passing his house and deems him suspicious. “Travis, the guy is running down the street,” he hollers. “Let’s go.” For reasons the McMichaels must now account for in court (both have been indicted on nine counts, including felony murder and aggravated assault), they arm themselves—the son with a Remington 870 shotgun and the father with a .357 Magnum—and hop in a white Ford pickup truck.
The Golden Isles lie along Georgia’s Atlantic coast between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. The region encompasses the barrier islands of St. Simons, Sea Island, Little St. Simons, and Jekyll, as well as the mainland cities of Darien and Brunswick. Satilla Shores, part of the Golden Isles, is an unincorporated neighborhood of upper- and middle-class families; of blue- and white-collar retirees; of seasonal vacation-home owners and lifelong denizens; of fresh transplants. The small neighborhood features narrow roads canopied by moss-draped live oaks, tall Southern Pines, and crepe myrtle; and one- and two-story homes with landscaped lawns and driveways parked with late-model vehicles and boats. Homes on one side of Satilla Drive—the neighborhood’s main street—boast as a backyard amenity, the sediment-colored Little Satilla River, replete with its miles-wide spartina salt marshes.
Maud’s family home in Brunswick, the one where he lived at the time he was murdered, is a mere two miles from Satilla Shores, but in meaningful ways, it’s almost another country. The median household income for all of Glynn County is $51,000; in Brunswick that figure is $26,000. The poverty rate of what young Black residents call “The Wick” is a staggering 38 percent.
“The Wick” is where Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was born on May 8, 1994. He was the third beloved child of Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery Sr. Their working-class family included his older brother Marcus “Buck” Jr. and sister Jasmine. The family called Ahmaud “Quez,” a shortened version of his middle name, while his friends called him Maud. Maud had a slight gap in his front teeth and dark skin forever burnished by hours outside. He and his stair-step siblings attended Altama Elementary School. Around that time, Maud met his best friend Akeem “Keem” Baker, a fellow resident of the Leeswood Circle apartment complex. Keem, who in those days was a chubby introvert, recalls Maud being one of the popular kids in the neighborhood, someone he won over by bringing him snacks. The “sandlock brothers” were soon inseparable: sitting together on the bus ride to school, scouting the neighborhood in search of basketball rims, playing a football game called “Hot Ball” or a basketball-shooting game they christened “Curb Ball.”
In those days, Maud’s brother, Buck, just three years older, was a hovering protector. Buck also introduced Maud to the sport he grew to love. It happened during the 2002 BCS National Championship game. Buck’s favorite player at the time was Sean Taylor, and despite the Ohio Buckeyes upsetting Taylor’s Miami Hurricanes, he became Maud’s favorite player too. The next year Maud began playing peewee football, ultralight beaming as a running back and linebacker.
Maud also began playing tackle football with Buck’s friends, boys who were two and three years older or more. During an early neighborhood contest, one of those friends tackled Maud so hard that Buck thought his brother was injured and moved to defend him. Before he did, Maud sprang to his feet and shook it off. “I knew then he was tough,” says Buck. “That he was going to be able to take care of himself.”
Around that time, Maud’s parents gifted his sister a Yorkshire terrier she named Flav. Maud might’ve been hard-nosed on the field, but he spent hours frolicking with Flav outside and helping his sister with caretaking duties. Their bond was such that Flav would sleep at the foot of Maud’s bed when Jasmine was gone.
The family moved to a small white house on Brunswick’s Boykin Ridge Drive when Maud was in middle school, and in the new place Maud continued to share a room with his brother. “I was a neat freak,” says Buck. “But Maud would have his shoes scattered everywhere. Have his t-shirts where his boxers go. His polos with his socks.”
In high school Maud got a job working at McDonald’s, to keep some scratch in his pocket, but also to help his mother, who often worked two jobs. By then Maud had experienced a first-crush transformation, had adopted some of his brother’s tidiness, had become fashion conscious. He favored slim jeans and bright-colored polo shirts and rugbys, and kept his hair shorn low with a sharp hairline. Some days Keem—he was the first with transpo—would swoop Maud, wheel to the Golden Isles YMCA, and play basketball and/or work out for six or seven hours straight, jaunt across to street to Glynn Place Mall for the fries and wings combo at America Deli, and head right back for hours more of playing/training. Or else they’d roll as long as their gas needle allowed with Lil Wayne or Lil’ Boosie or Webbie or Gucci Mane (Maud’s favorite artists) cranking from the speakers.
Brunswick High JV coach Jason Vaughn met Maud his sophomore year when a fellow coach promised him a tough linebacker for his squad. When Maud, always-ever slim and undersized, walked out, Vaughn was quick to doubt him. “Are you forreal?” he said. “What’s this little guy gone do?” He soon had his answer. Team workouts often included a drill called Oklahoma where two players would stand three to five yards apart and go heads up like. Keem remembers Maud excelling at the drill, not from cock-diesel strength, but because “he was fearless on that field.”
Maud tore his ACL and meniscus in a game sophomore year. A less dedicated player might’ve given up, but he completed an arduous rehab. He reinjured his leg the following summer and committed again to a tough rehabilitation. “Our parents used to tell us, if you start something, don’t quit,” says his sister, Jasmine. Maud wore a leg brace during junior year, which hampered him and no doubt limited his prospects of playing in college. Still, the fact that he played at all is further proof of strong character. This was South Georgia football, and Maud played in a league that included a number of future pros as well as a game against Valdosta High School, the winningest high school football team in all the land.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:10pm The McMichaels, both strapped, tear off after Maud in their pickup, stalk him down Burford Road, another narrow street shaded by lush oaks, pines, and magnolias. From his front yard, William “Roddie” Bryan, sees his neighbors hounding Maud, and for reasons he’ll have to answer for in court (he’s been indicted on nine counts, including felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment), jumps in his pickup and joins them. The McMichaels race ahead of Maud and try to cut him off, but Maud doubles back—maybe recalling all the times he’s eluded a would-be tackler—only to find himself facing down Bryan’s pickup. Bryan tries to block Maud, but he skirts the truck, and huffs around a bend onto Holmes Road. The elder McMichael, Gregory, climbs from the cab to the bed of his son’s truck, the one with a Confederate flag on its toolbox, armed with his .357. They track Maud as he sprints down Holmes Road.
Maud played in the ballyhooed Florida-Georgia War of the Border All-Star game after his senior season but didn’t land a football scholarship. After graduating, he enrolled in South Georgia Technical College (SGTC), in Americus, and set his sights on becoming an electrician.
Like Maud, I was a passionate high school athlete (my sport was hoop) who was not recruited to a major college program. And like Maud, I attended a small school (mine a community college) in my home state. Both Maud and I witnessed friends reap scholarships, float off to towns or cities elsewhere, and continue playing the sports we loved. Maud quit SGTC after a year and returned to Brunswick and his mother’s home. I, too, quit my first community college. But unlike Maud, I didn’t have to return to my mother’s apartment because I already lived there. James “J.T.” Trimmings, another one of Maud’s day-one homeboys, believes homesickness was the root cause of Maud’s premature return from college. But I suspect that Maud also doubled back because his life as an athlete was over and disappointment can grind on even the toughest of us.
The year after he graduated, Maud was arrested for carrying a gun and sentenced to five years of probation, which he violated by shoplifting. A few years after I graduated high school, I was arrested with drugs and a gun and spent 16 months in a state prison.
Maud—dear God, whhhyyy?—is dead, and I, by grace, am a writer-professor hurtling toward middle age.
If Maud nursed thoughts of re-enrolling in SGTC, that idea lost appeal once he met his first serious girlfriend in 2013. Shenice Johnson first saw Maud when he strolled into McDonald’s one day and convinced the manager to give him his old job back. The pair, both shy, were soon google-eyeing each other on their shifts. It’s a little unclear who made the first move. Keem says Maud talked for weeks about the beautiful girl at his job, and how he was nervous about approaching her, that is, until Keem hyped him. “Man, you Maud,” he said. “Just walk up to her and introduce yourself.” Per Shenice’s story, their five-plus year relationship began when she offered the handsome boy on her job a free McFlurry.
Their first date, Maud swooped her in the gold Camry (“The Cam”) that his mother had bought him and that J.T. says he treated like a Mercedes. Decked in a white-collared shirt and sparkling Air Force 1s, he treated Shenice to a seafood feast and opened doors and pulled out her chair and paid the full bill without hesitance. “When I was with him, I didn’t have to worry about anything,” she says, a smile in her voice. On the couple’s first Valentine’s Day, Maud drove all the way to Savannah, bought Shenice a Build-A-Bear he named Quez, and delivered it to her along with a gold heart-shaped promise ring.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:14pm Cell phone footage captures Maud on Holmes Road, bolting away from Bryan’s pickup but toward the McMichael’s white pickup. Bryan, about this time, pulls out his cell phone and starts to film. Meanwhile, Gregory McMichael calls 9-1-1. “Uh, I’m out here at Satilla Shores,” he tells dispatch. “There’s a Black male running down the street.” The dispatcher asks where. “I don’t know what street we’re on,” he says. “Stop right there. Dammit. Stop!” the tape records him yelling at Maud.
Maud, fleeing now for no less than six minutes, runs toward a red-faced Travis McMichael who stands inside the door of his truck with his shotgun aimed, toward Gregory McMichael perched in the truck bed with his gun in hand, runs into what must feel like a trap, but perhaps feels like another time his courage has been tested. Maud zags one way and the other. He darts around the right side of the truck and crosses in front of the hood. Travis McMichael heads him off at the nose of the truck and shoots Maud in no more than a heartbeat. The blast cracks over Bryan’s cell footage. “Travis!” screams Gregory McMichael and he drops his phone in the truck bed.
The buckshot blast hits Maud in the chest, puncturing his right lung, ribs, and sternum. And yet somehow, he wrestles with Travis McMichael for the shotgun, and yet somehow, he manages to punch at him. Gregory watches for a moment from his roost. Meanwhile, Bryan continues to film. Travis fires his shotgun again, a blast that occurs outside the view of Bryan’s phone, but sends a spray of dust billowing into the frame. Maud, an island of blood now staining his white t-shirt, continues to tussle with Travis McMichael, fighting now for what he must know is his life. In the midst of the scuffle, Travis McMichael blasts Maud again point blank, piercing him in his upper chest. Maud whiffs a weak swing, staggers a couple of steps, and falls face down near the traffic stripes. Travis, shotgun in hand, backs away, watches Maud collapse, and makes not the slightest effort to tend him. His father, still clutching his revolver, runs to where Maud lies facedown, blood leaking out of his wounds.
Maud jogged alone on the day he was killed. No one can know for sure the route he took before reaching Satilla Shores, but he’d set off from his home, which means there’s a strong chance that on his run he encountered homes flying a Confederate flag or a Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”), homes tacked with No Trespassing signs. To reach Satilla Shores from Boykin Ridge, he would’ve also had to cross US Route 17, a highway that for years served as a de facto county border between the area’s Blacks and whites.
Maud had been running for years, but the origin of his practice lacks consensus. According to his sister, Jasmine, who was once an avid runner, sometime in 2017 Maud asked her how many miles a day she ran and soon after, began doing it himself. She says it was natural for her brother since he loved the outdoors and “wanted a release.” Akeem agrees that Maud used running as a kind of therapy, but thinks his main motivation was staying fit after football. This theory would locate the timing of when he began running to a few years before 2017.
Maud would run in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts. He’d run shirtless in basketball shorts. He’d run in a tank top and basketball shoes. Or as Keem sums it, “He could run in anything.” Sometimes Maud would persuade his boy J.T. who “doesn’t like running all like that,” and a couple of other homeboys to ride out to the North Glynn Country Recreational Complex and run miles around the park’s freshwater lake. Other times, when Keem was home from college, he and Maud would cruise to one end of the Sidney Lanier Bridge—the longest spanning bridge in all of Georgia—do some warm-up stretching and run back and forth across it, a distance of just under three miles. The pair would keep a steady pace. “But sometimes he’d push me,” Akeem says.
There’s no evidence of Maud training for 10Ks or full or half marathons or obsessing over his miles or PR times. And yet it’s obvious that he was a young man who loved to run and who by all accounts was a gifted runner. It’s also clear to me that the same forces that transformed running from a fledgling pastime in my white-ass home state into a billion-dollar global industry also circumscribed a culture that was at best, unwelcoming, and at worse, restrictive to him.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:15pm Per the police report, Gregory McMichael rolls Maud from prostrate to his back to check for a weapon. He checks despite the fact that Maud hasn’t brandished or fired a gun during any part of his flight, not even when caught between two armed white men and what he couldn’t have known was an unarmed white man behind him. Glynn County police officers will arrive within seconds of the shooting, their sirens screaming along Satilla Drive. But before those squad cars reach the scene, Travis McMichael—per Bryan’s statement to investigators in May—will call Maud a “f*cking [n-word].”
The bridge that Maud and Keem used to jog is named for 19th century poet and Confederate Sidney Lanier. It’s hard to imagine a Georgian with honorifics on par with Lanier. Not only is he the namesake of that bridge, there’s also the eponymous Lanier County in southern Georgia, and Lake Lanier, a reservoir in northern Georgia. Keem seems surprised when I mention Lanier’s Confederate ties, which makes me wonder how much Maud knew about the history of his home. Whether the young men were aware of Lanier’s hagiography or not (who stops to read the plaque on a bridge?) every single jog across that bridge was insult, an insidious means of humiliating them and their/our people. Yeah, the tiki-torch toting bald-face racists menace a spectacle. But what about the legions of bigoted invisible men and their myriad symbols?
Lanier died in 1881, which is to say near the end of Reconstruction and the outset of Jim Crow. In 1964, a few months after the Civil Rights Act ushered the de jure end to Jim Crow, a documentary film crew from National Educational Television (the precursor to PBS) profiled Brunswick because it was managing to integrate without the bloodshed that was occurring almost everywhere else in the South. “The Quiet Conflict” won numerous awards and was a key reason for Brunswick’s reputation as a “model southern city.”
While Brunswick might not have equaled the bloodletting of its southern counterparts, its segregationists still put up stern resistance. In one example, the KKK was called in to threaten Blacks attempting to integrate a local bowling alley. In another, whites filled a public pool with dirt rather than let Black kids swim in it. Several residents have gone on record to proclaim their surprise at Maud’s slaying and to downplay the significance of race. And for those who would argue that the spirit of Sidney Lanier and the segregationists is bygone, or that the younger McMichael might not have said what Bryan claimed in his statement to police, recent evidence—including McMichael’s own social media posts cited by investigators—I submit, as another example, this Facebook post from Chris Putnam, a former high school classmate of Travis McMichael:
“I’m not going to be one of the classmates of Travis McMichael’s that sat here saying nothing. He was always the very definition of a racist gun-loving redneck, and we all knew something like this was going to happen one day. I remember plenty of people that were themselves very openly racist and joked about how ‘at least [they weren’t] Travis.’”
The NAACP once defined lynching as a death in which 1) There was evidence that a person was killed 2) The death was illegal 3) A group of at least three actors participated in the killing. According to “Lynching in America,” a report by the Equal Justice Initiative, there were 4,084 southern-state lynchings between 1877 and 1950. Of the 594 reported in Georgia during that period—one of only four states yet to pass a law on hate crimes—three occurred in Glynn County.
Between 1920 and 1938, the NAACP New York headquarters flew a flag that announced “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday” to mark a murder that fit their criteria.
A boy was lynched today: for walking hooded down a street and refusing the command of an overzealous neighborhood watchman. A man was lynched today: for selling loosies outside a bodega. A teen was lynched today: for a disputed exchange of cigarillos. A child was lynched today: for holding a toy outside a rec center. A man was lynched today: for fleeing a traffic stop unarmed. For hawking CDs outside a convenience store. For announcing a legal gun and reaching for his license. A woman was lynched today: for sleeping. And yet another man was lynched today: for suspicion of passing a fake twenty. D-e-a-t-h! In Florida, New York, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, Louisiana, Minnesota, Kentucky, and again in Minnesota.
Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 1:16pm “Two subjects on Holmes Road. Shots fired. Male on ground, bleeding out,” radios an officer. Maud musters his last breath near the intersection of Holmes Road and Satilla Drive, a mere 300 yards from where, not 10 minutes prior, he wandered inside a construction site. The officers will cordon the scene and investigate. They will question the McMichaels—Gregory’s hands bloody from rolling Maud onto his back—and William Bryan. And in an act that is itself another violence, they will let all three go about their merry way as free men—for almost three months.
On February 23, 2020, a young man out for a run was lynched in Glynn County, Georgia.
His name was Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, called “Quez” by his beloveds and “Maud” by most others. And what I want you know about Maud is that he had a gift for impressions and a special knack for mimicking Martin Lawrence. What I want you to know about Maud is that he was fond of sweets and requested his mother’s fudge cake for the birthday parties he often shared with his big sister. What I want you to know about Maud is that he signed the cards he bought for his mother “Baby Boy.” What I want you to know about Maud is that he and his brother would don the helmets they used for go-carting and go heads-up on their trampoline, and that he never backed down from his big brother. What I want you to know about Maud is that he jammed his pinkie playing hoop in high school and instead of getting it treated like Jasmine advised, he let it heal on its own—forever crooked. What I want you know about Maud is that he didn’t like seeing his day-ones whining, that when they did, he’d chide, “Don’t cry about it, man. Do what you gotta do to handle your business.” What I want you to know about Maud is that Shenice told me he sometimes recorded their conversations so he could listen to her voice when they were apart. What you should know about Maud is that he adored his nephews Marcus III and Micah Arbery, that when they were colicky as babies, he’d take them for long walks in their stroller until they calmed. What you should know about Maud is that when a college friend asked Jasmine which parent she’d call first if ever in serious trouble, she said neither, that she’d call him. What I want you to know about Maud is that he was an avid connoisseur of the McChicken sandwich with cheese. What I want you know about Maud is that he and Keem were so close that the universe coerced each of them into breaking a foot on the same damn day in separate freak weight-room accidents, and that when they were getting treated in the trainer’s office, Maud joked about it. You should know that Maud dreamed of a career as an electrician and of owning a construction company. You should know that Maud gushed often of his desire to be a great husband and father. You should know that he told his boys that he wanted them all to buy a huge plot of land, build houses on it, and live in a gated community with their families. You should know that Maud never flew on a plane, but wanderlusted for trips to Jamaica, Japan, Africa. What you must know about Maud was that when Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan stalked and murdered him less than three months shy of his 26th birthday, he left behind his mother Wanda, his father Marcus Sr., his brother Buck, his sister Jasmine, his maternal grandmother Ella, his nephews, six uncles, 10 aunts, a host of cousins, all of whom are unimaginably, irrevocably, incontrovertibly poorer from his absence.
Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was more than a viral video. He was more than a hashtag or a name on a list of tragic victims. He was more than an article or an essay or posthumous profile. He was more than a headline or an op-ed or a news package or the news cycle. He was more than a retweet or shared post. He, doubtless, was more than our likes or emoji tears or hearts or praying hands. He was more than an R.I.P. t-shirt or placard. He was more than an autopsy or a transcript or a police report or a live-streamed hearing. He, for damn sure, was more than the latest reason for your liberal white friend’s ephemeral outrage. He was more than a rally or a march. He was more than a symbol, more than a movement, more than a cause. He. Was. Loved.
Some of those loved ones got to see Maud play the last game of his senior season, a play-in [playoff] away game at Lakeside-Evans High School. In the locker room, the coach delivers a passionate pep talk, and Maud, accessorized in school-color blue high socks and a sparkling white wrist band, leads the team in the pre-game chant. “Y’all ain’t ready,” he shouts. “Sheeeeeeeeit!” they say, and ramble out of the locker room, cleats clattering against the concrete, and onto the field. Maud’s a team captain, so he swanks onto the 50-yard line to help call the coin toss.
Rare is an athlete that ends a season on a win. Maud, who’ll earn the team award for most tackles that season, blazes around the field stopping play after play, and still his Pirates commit four turnovers in the first half and trail by 20 points. But the team—hooray, hooray—mounts a second-half comeback, one no more promising than when Maud leaps to snatch an interception in the middle of the fourth, zags here, jukes there, and bursts down the field, wind whispering through his helmet, his lithe legs floating him across the 50, the 40, the 30, and oh so close but not into the end zone. The Pirates don’t score on the preceding drives. They lose the game and miss the playoffs for the first time in half a decade. While their opponents celebrate and fans mill out of the stands, Maud and some of his senior teammates, circle in the middle of the field. There they stand, hand in hand, grass stains in their tights, tears running into their eye-black strips. Boys who will soon be young men mourning a season-ending loss, boys in thrall of youth mourning the eternal end of their football seasons. Maud could use his gift for humor to lighten the mood, but this time, he concedes to the moment’s gravity. Yes, some will play on in college. Indeed, others will attend as students alone. And sure, some will forsake a campus altogether for work. But here’s the truth, a whole truth, so help me: Under that final gleam of Friday night lights, neither Maud nor any of his teammates can be sure of what lies ahead.