Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Drop of Anything

"It only takes one drop." 

My dad said that a lot to my sisters and me. We'd say back that we were mixed and he'd glare, as if the white in us wasn't good enough. Then he'd laugh in our face and talk about how naive we were. "Wait until you're in the real world," he'd say. People in the real world would treat us black. It didn't matter who we thought we were. All that mattered was how we looked. 

He was partly right.

Every February, our school rehashed rehearsed material about slavery and civil rights. Our teachers preached equality and put up pictures of different colored hands all touching each other. "It doesn't matter what's on the outside," they'd say, "only what's on the inside."

The white parents would talk to us after school. "You guys are beautiful. It must be great to fit in anywhere."

It wasn't their fault. They didn't know it only took one drop of anything.

"You're not black enough," a black kid in high school said, looking me straight in the face after I asked to join their club. I knew why too. It wasn't that I spoke well or that I came from the suburbs. It wasn't that I had good grades, as their advisor would later defend, or because I didn't wear their clothes. It was the color of my skin.

It was because of something I could not change.

I didn't cry until I got home, until I told my dad, wanting to throw it in his face. The one group I had been banished to, because of something I had no control over, even that one group didn't want me. I was nothing.

So yeah, it's great fitting in everywhere until you realize no one wants to own you. Even worse when you realize you're only there to benefit them.

"Can you mark yourself as black?" An employer once asked me. "It would look good for the company."

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Sting of Chlorine by PH

I bounded up the bleachers barefoot, my hair still dripping wet from the last race, to where everyone's parents would sit and watch. I had won first place in backstroke and third place in butterfly stroke. It wasn't a huge swim meet, and it was a home meet, but I still hoped they'd be proud.

When I couldn't find them, I scanned the area again, ready to show off, ready for praise. My teammates' parents were already there, hugging their kids, getting ready to head home. Mine were probably just late.

I sat down and waited for what felt like an hour. After a few minutes, I decided to go and check the lobby. 

As I walked out of the pool area, the comforting scent of humid chlorine was replaced with the cold, hard air. The change shrank my lungs. I stood by myself and watched more parents leave with their kids, who still bounced from the races. Then lobby was empty.

Breathing hurt, though I'm not sure if it was the fear or the air. I began to shake, sitting there on a bench, looking out the door.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Believing in Hawaii

My mother talked about Hawaii the way you talk about ice cream in the summer or a bandaid on a papercut. It would fix everything...with its clear oceans and beautiful fauna.

She'd talk and talk until we could smell the wild jungle in the mountains of Maui. She'd pull up pictures of houses on the internet and what school we would go to as soon as we got the money for a plane ride. She'd talk about how easy it would be for my father to find work, how easy we'd fit in at school, how easygoing the people would be. Our everything would be easy.

Our parents had eloped to and honeymooned in Hawaii. It was the last place they were entirely and dreamily happy together.

Eight months later I was born.

My mother thought moving to Hawaii was sure to erase the problems, whatever those were, that had caused this dysfunctional family. When things went down, Hawaii was her haven. We never realized it was only that, a happy place in her mind, a memory that we had no access to.

Even now, it's still hard to not believe her, not believe in Hawaii.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sticks and Stones

As a child, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler enchanted me. Only Claudia, the protagonist, called it "running to" somewhere rather than "running away."

I was eight when I snuck past the lifeguard and stepped into the undertow. The water rushed my feet, burying me at the ankles. The tide was easy, but firm in its pressure as it slipped me forward through the grain, pulling me out to sea. 

Those were my mother's words - "pull you out to sea" - when she told me to stay away from the breakwater rocks. She said I'd never see her again if I went in there.

The water receded suddenly, leaving me calf-deep in wet sand. As I wiggled my toes deeper to see how far I could go down, I missed the wave barreling into my chest. I woke up sometime later covered in sand on a lonely stretch of beach, lips blue and past shivering.

When I finally found the pale twin high rises that we'd beached in front of, I glimpsed my parents from a distance, screaming at each other. Just as I had left them.

I approached slowly, but not for caution. My parents frequently fought and, though I'd normally keep my distance, this could not wait. I stood in front of them with wet eyes; mad they hadn't noticed I was missing, noticed I was sick.

And I remember my dad's face as he glanced at me, first a passingly and then closer. He grabbed a towel and ran towards me, effectively dropping the argument. My mother glared at me, like I was the worst thing, like I had taken everything from her.

"So that bitch is more important."

For days I tasted salt.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Dick in the Classroom

I'm in elementary school again, holding up my arm so long it hurts. My young adult lit teacher won't call on me.

She won't even look my way. I wonder if it's that I'm monopolizing the discussion or if it's that I called a character a dick.

It's probably the latter. She looked scandalized when I said it. As if a college classroom isn't the place for the shrewd and lude. Weird, because I have priest as a teacher that constantly talks about sex and will throw about the words of a sailor without blinking an eye. It's a little uncomfortable, seeing as he's a priest and such and possibly never had sex, but at least he recognizes we're not children in some middle school class where "screw you" is still taboo.

In my defense, the character (Holden Caulfield) was a dick.