I dive, into a tailspin with no end in sight. The coaster dips and turns, eventually directing itself around one, two, three loops before torpedoing downwards, then spiraling upwards. It’s enough to make the anxious nauseated, the adrenaline junkie thrilled. Around and around, the story plays because that is what it always does, whether in pieces waiting to be knitted into a whole or just flashes never meant to be more than just that: a flash.
I scream, if only to let the bubbling tension out. Beside me, they do the same, and I wonder for a split second( that’s all this ride is affording me to have) what is going on in their head. They scream, too, more joyously than I expected, and I believe it’s to feel alive, to feel excited, to feel there is some parts of the world that still have that sweetness, that delicious, that teeth brutally broken and starved can taste and savor. Eventually, I will have to tell them the story, the one that lingers in the back of my mind, a loose folder escaping from its drawer. The one that still haunts me a night, twisting pleasant dreams into a nightmare, or else an elaborate landscape where it lurks behind the corners, waiting to come claim me and make me remember what I’ve spent so long trying to reconcile.
No, it is not time for that story, a story no one wants to here anyway. Although this one may not be much better, the fragments distorted based on threads pulling in every direction. But it is a story I’m thinking about, a story that will keep me from the one I used to want to tell but now am afraid.
One of Them
We sat where we normally sat: gathered around Danielle’s stoop, each of us doing something according to the dictates of our personality. For me, I was picking at the fresh scab over my knee, the one I never allowed to heal because I always kept doing something that tore it up again. This time it was from racing Tommy Tennet in the school parking lot and tripping over my loose shoelace. I still beat him, though, and I was grinning ear to ear despite the blood dripping down my skin.
“Girl, you want a towel or something? My mama knows how to fix that right up,” Danielle sucked on the lollipop she bought on the way home. Yesterday it had been a snickers bar. The day before that a toothpick. She always has to have something in her mouth and the rest of us have to refrain from speaking the inappropriate thoughts that roll into our heads.
“No way! I wear this with pride! It’s my badge of honor!” As I said this, Gretchen Howser skipped by us, her neatly plaited skirt swooshing left and right like a bell, ringing, ringing, ringing her good fortune for us to hear. For she was not ever dressed cheaply, and her fine, china-like hair fell nicely onto porcelain clean shoulders. Hardly a speck of dirt was on her, and through the efforts of her high esteem parents there would never be a speck of dirt on her, even if she had to walk through it every once in a while.
Cecelia whistled. “Hey girl, where you think you’re going? Don’t you know what part of the neighborhood you’re in?” Cecelia liked to tease, and often with that boisterous voice of hers echoing for all the city to hear. Beside her, Nadia snickered, spinning in thick brown braid around in her hands. She admired Cecelia, although in reality it was intermixed with a kind of fear brought on my those who exerted great confidence. Boy, did Cecelia, taller and bulker than the rest of us, exert that confidence.
Yet Gretchen dared to challenge it. She wrinkled her nose, then said “Unfortunately, I do. It’s where they keep all the trash like you. Trust me, if I could walk around you, I would.”
“Then why don’t you?” The challenge did nothing to deflate Cecelia. “Don’t you know we don’t need a power clean? We are just find the way we are.”
“Because it’s still the quickest route to the Boulevard.” The Boulevard was the heart of where those who could afford to spent their time, splurging on casinos and fine dining, designer clothes and classical museums with club level access, all the things that belonged to a world we could never be a part of. Having an hour after school to ourselves was considered a luxury.
Gretchen, her head held ever so high, gave me a quick sympathetic look before scowling in distain, as if she knew I was better than this. It unexpectedly stung, so I sneered right back, my pride making me brandish my wounded knee. She skipped past us, no longer sparing us a second look, which I knew she thought was gracious. It just made us glower, especially Cecelia.
“Who does she think she is?” Cecelia growled. “Stomping around like she belongs here. Not anymore, sweetheart! She doesn’t need to go through here to get to the Boulevard. She does it to rub it in our faces.”
I stared, perplexed, although everyone else nodded in agreement. My ignorance was plain and clear. “What are you talking about?”
But Cecelia was quiet, something that was unusual for her. She picked at a loose strand on her corduroys, brown and frayed and full of stains that would never disappear. Then she grinned, and her reservation vanished as if it were never there to begin with. “Who wants to be one of them, anyway?“
Up until she said that I never really thought of it as a war between us and them, just a matter of pride. Like who cares if you have a new toy that spins around and around by itself when I can rig up a toboggan and send it flying down Mrs. Tuscany’s steep, crooked stairs. No. There was just the place I knew, one where we took old, moth eaten rags fished from neighbors yards or clotheslines and strung them across discarded plywood, TV sets, and the occasional toilet to make a fort which lasted until the next rain fall. It was where we all hanged out, avoiding the dreary responsibilities our mothers wanted us to do, and in the case of Nadia avoiding her father’s constant drunkenness. But something changed, something cleared from my eyes, a mist lingering for far too long. I could see the other side where the sidewalks weren’t cracked, and the people were walking in comfort instead of with the heavy burden of trying to make ends meet. The other side was where the Boulevard was, were people could spend their time not fighting for control of the only television in the house, where they could buy fresh clothes instead of being trapped in hand-me- downs. They never had to worry about a damn thing, and it was written plainly on Gretchen Howser’s face.
Up until then, I never wanted to be one of them. But my satisfaction shifted, and I spent the rest of that school year sulking, distracted by dreams of ‘what-if’s’ and new possibilities.
I think Cecelia knew. She knew I was drifting, but never said a thing. Only later, much later, when I walked past her own stoop where she stood, carrying a baby on one hip, and our eyes met did she finally say it.
“It always happens, sooner or later. Gretchen Howser had been the first, but certainly wasn’t the last. I guess I just hoped it wouldn’t happen to you.” She had turned and I had left, quietly carrying my shame. Those girls had meant the world to me and I threw them away as easily as a single used towel with only a speck of dirt. I wanted to tell her, oh how I so desperately wanted to tell her, but the words caught in my throat, how they never strayed far from my mind.
I got out. Persistent begging and fortuitous opportunities allowed my parents to uproot and place us squarely in the middle where it was easier to dig yourself out of a hole. But the others never did, out of pride or a sense of pessimistic helplessness, they never got out. Danielle was somewhere down there, hooked on candy and sugar cubes, bouncing from one sugar daddy to the next while Nadia had been gunned down some time ago, barely out of her teens when her boyfriend’s rival drove by, anger glinting in his eyes, and took aim, not at her but nevertheless an unintended consequence.
I got out. Is it fair for me to say that? What exactly did I get out from? Who planted that idea in my head? I sat where I normally sat at a desk, my head beneath a lamp while my fingers type across this typewriter. When did this happen? I know when. It was when I saw Gretchen Howser skipped on by with that smug look on her face, wanting us to know there were two worlds out there, and while I thought I just wanted stick it to her, I knew. I knew there was a divide that some of us would be caught in between. The choice was unconscious, but made, nonetheless. You can either be one of us or one of them. Not realizing what I would give up, I choose one of them, and I am not proud. No, I am not proud one bit.