Having proved that my intentions to blog more often have failed- let me apologize. October was a rough month for dear Afrocity. I had surgery during late September and tons of things to do for my various income paying projects.
Many of you have asked, “What happened to Sunday Soliloquy?” . Well to put it bluntly, I seem to be in a denial stage (again) with my mother’s death. I know, I know it will be four years in 2011- this should be an old hat for me now. Writing about our life together is sometimes not an easy thing.
Sunday Soliloquy takes a lot out of me emotionally.
Not only does it involve drudging my mother up from the ashes, it also brings unpleasant memories often of being hungry, homeless, or just plain feeling vulnerable.
Perhaps this sudden avoidance is a natural progression with the grieving process. Remember, I never saw my mother dead. There is no ghost of spirit bereft flesh for me to contend with. They would not let me see her body or the pictures they took when they found her. She was so far gone that I had to take a DNA test just to prove she was my mother. A DNA test which took 12 weeks for them to process. Without proof seen with my own eyes, there was no death. Just a phone call one night from a strange woman with a Texas twang.
“…maybe you should sit down honey, I have some terrible news…”
There is nothing more denial friendly than an AWOL corpse. Though mother showed up in my mailbox later as a box of carefully wrapped ashes, it never computed. They were placed in my credenza like some relic- a gift that I hated from a relative who knew nothing of my taste. The bad Christmas sweater or hideous art work that you hid in the closet.
Now I trawl the streets of Chicago, dealing with ghosts.
Where was I going with this? Oh, it is Halloween.
Mother and I liked this holiday because during our lean years it meant free food- if candy can be considered a food group. There was a sense of improvisation with my costumes. An old dress, glitter paint, and make shift angle wings cut from cardboard boxes and covered in Reynolds aluminum foil transformed me into a fairy princess.
In 1980, I was taking dance lessons at a local studio. Often, I was late because mother would never pick me up from school to get there in time. This lead to awkward moments where I tip toed into class – the only African American girl in the entire school mind you (sure I was not noticeable) , wearing something that mother thought was proper dance class attire…Like a Underoos for a leotard. My teacher would shake her head at me and I fell into line with the rest of the girls who were laughing at me.
Given that this dance class was mother’s idea, she sure made it her business not to be involved in aspect of it besides registering me. She never reminded me to practice but the studio never forgot that she had not paid the bill. Part of the embarrassment, was at the end of class when the teacher would call my name to stay after and that folded up white piece of paper would get stuck in my hand.
“Afrocity, give this to your mother,” she would say with a fake reassuring smile. “And next time practice the steps at home.”
I nodded and made my swift exit into what I would call the bitches with perfect blond ponytail zone- the dance studio locker room. Their leotards were perfect- all from Dansko. Ballet shoes from Capezio, personality by WASP. Their treatment of me was dictated in large measure by what I did wrong in class. On this Halloween Eve which was a Thursday, Afrocity had done a lot of things wrong. Dancing was not my strong suit. Coordination was not a gift- feet went left when they should go straight, my timing sucked.
“I thought all black people could dance,” said Ponytailed Bitch #1. “What happened to you?”
My reaction, which was to ignore her, served more or less as an admission of guilt. I did not know why I could not dance like the other black kids- especially my cousin. Cousin could imitate any move on Soul Train. Afrocity, well I stuck with the books. Rythmless creature that I was, I am sure the other girls in the class grew tired of teacher having to stop just so she could come to the back and correct my posture or pose.
“What are you going to be for Halloween?” asked Ponytailed Bitch #2. “Two left feet???”
A massive need to bolt welled up in me but I just laughed with them and changed into my jeans while looking down at the floor. Halloween was the next day and I bet they would have ponytailed bitch perfect costumes. I would be the Fairy Princess of Welfare or what ever mother was planning. I had the Old Salvation Army puffy long Glenda the Good Witch dress, aluminum foil wings (not sure how she is going to attach those), a crown from Burger King happy meal type box, all I needed was some shoes. And this is where the ponytail bitches ridicule of me came in handy. As I was looking down at the floor I notice a box of dance shoes. Ballet slippers, tap dancing shoes, pink shoes, red shoes…
The huge cardboard box must have been either some sort of lost and found or discards. As my eyes, tore through what I could see in the box, there was a pink satin ribbon sticking out- like the kind on those really beautiful ballet slippers that they wear in the advanced class. Not the leather slippers with the shoe toe bow, but real princess ballet slippers. I wanted those shoes for my costume. Eyes directly focused, the shoes were about may one third of the way into the box. A less greedy and more conscientious Afrocity realized that I would have to wait until the locker room was empty to go through the box without appearing to be an urchin. With Ponytailed Bitches primping and giggling this could take hours- and it did. I endured about 4 more racist like insults, including one where I was asked why do black people have Brillo Pad like hair. This was said as Ponytailed Bitch #3 was brushing her shiny tresses much like Marsha Brady in one of those Jan envy episodes.
“Can a brush even get through you guys hair?” asked Ponytailed Bitch number #1 .
“Yeah I mean lookit,” Ponytailed Bitch number #3 said coming at me with her brush.
I backed away from them. Why didn’t they just leave?
Thankfully another Ponytailed Bitch stuck her head in the locker room door and yelled “Hey guys if you want a ride it is my dad’s weekend to have me and he is outside. He has a bigger car than my mom so…”
Quickly, I went to the box and pulled on the pink satin ribbon until the shoe emerged. Oh, please be my size, please be my size. Stuck my foot in…they were a bit big but I could stuff them with paper towels.
Digging for its mate, was a bit more challenging.
This box was about up to my waist. I was nearly head first, feet up in the air in the box when of all people my teacher walks in the locker room. The ability to see her upside down was not uncommon because I was always falling in class anyway.
She was tiny about 4’11, blond, lithe. A blue towel was wrapped around her neck. She was sweating and flushed, her skin pink and freckled against the black leotard.
“Did you drop something in the shoe box?” she asked as she went to her locker.
By this time I was upright and out of the box. I still had the one slipper on the floor. “Ummm I am looking for my other shoe.” I lied.
“Oh? I did not know you took ballet classes too,” she said changing into sweat pants. “I thought your mom just put you in the modern jazz class.”
My lip began to twitch. What do I say no? “I have not started yet but I am practicing early.”
“Oh, I see you are practicing for the class that you have not had yet you cannot seem to practice for my class?”
“Do you not like jazz dance?” she asked coming closer to me. “Do you prefer ballet because many girls often do because of the pretty clothes and shoes and pink tutu, ponytails…”
Silence was my answer.
“Hmmm, ” she nodded “You know Modern Jazz Dance class is more in step with your culture. Ben Vereen does it do you know him?”
I swallowed a lump… “Yes, he was Chicken George on Roots.”
“Very good Afrocity but he also is a great black dancer and was in Pippin- a musical. Have you seen Pippin?”
I shook my head. “I know what it is. We cannot afford to go.”
“That is too bad because Mr. Vereen is a great black Modern Jazz dancer.”
“I like your class,” I mumbled stupidly. Gee that was insincere. I hated the class but mom wanted me the. Teacher was right, I would rather be in ballet but face it ballet was a very white class. The costumes were more expensive and my hair was not Ponytailed Bitch compliant.
Teacher closed her locker and towards the door to leave. Dumb me was still there at the shoe box. Beyond the lockers was a window. I could see that it was dark outside. Suddenly I missed the daylight until 8PM days of summer. All of this shoe business was making me late. Mom was probably wondering where I was and since we had no phone, I could not call her to say why I was delayed.
The necessity to say no was there and valid I did not own a record player. Mother had pawned ours for $13 dollars so we could eat. I lied again . “Okay,” I nodded. “I promise to practice.”
“Good,” finally teacher was opening the door to leave. “And don’t forget to ask your mom about Ben Vereen. I am sure she knows all about him. There is a reason why she chose the jazz class for you and there are so few black kids that can afford to take classes- tell you mother than we can work something out with that letter I gave you to give to her.”
I nodded again.
“Do you have a ride home? Is someone picking you up? It is nearly 7 o’clock.”
I lied again, My mom is coming she had to work late. She will be here soon.” My mother was on welfare and she was not coming to get me. I was going to walk the 15 blocks home.
“Okay, you sure?”
I nodded again.
“I will see you next Thursday on time,” she stressed that last sentence. ” Practice makes perfect and we have a deal now. Imagine yourself tall and elegant. See you next time.”
“Okay.” I lied again. Never would I step foot in that dance studio. That was the last time I saw the teacher. I would not listen to Pippin or be late or practice or receive another past due bill.
In the midst of all the humiliation, there was still the matter of the satin ballet slippers that I needed for my perfect fairy princess Halloween costume. With a vengeance, I decided to dump the entire box and find the mate. Dirty shoes, small shoes, black shoes, white, pink…Ah there was the mate all smooth and perfect.
My inner thief, concealed the slippers in my book satchel and was almost about to cover my tracks when the cleaning lady came in. She was African American, and looked pissed off …with reason. “What the heck happened with all of these shoes on the floor?” She looked at me. “Did you do this?”
I shook my head and ran past her through the door into the autumn Oak Park, Illinois night. My jacket was flimsy and I was wearing Underoos and tights.
The suburban neighborhood had put great effort into making its homes look scary for Halloween. Jack-o-lanterns on every porch step, brown paper bags with tealight candles lining the walkways. The rustling leaves were in step with my running legs. I ran the entire way home back to my apartment complex, avoiding any single man I saw walking down the street. This practice of knowing the well lit shortcuts was an art, no one would abduct me and I had special powers to ward off lurking pedophiles because of my new stolen slippers.
Once I was home, mother seem not to care that it was nearly 8PM. In fact, she did not bother to come out of the bedroom when I entered the apartment.
I put down my satchel and took out the ballet slippers, placing them next to the fluffy dress and box of aluminum foil for my fairy costume.
Dinner was absent from the kitchen. I opened the cupboard and all there was in that empty space was soup. I took out the Cream of Mushroom Campbell’s , got a pot and dumped the globby contents in.
“Add water to it.” Mother instructed. It was alive.
I put tap water into the empty can, poured it into the pot, stirring slowly.
Mother went into the living room. I could hear her rustling through my bag. “Someone had a party at school,” she said.
She was referring to the candy in my bag and popcorn balls from the class party. I was so hungry that I had stood at the stove top eating the soup from the pot before it had heated fully.
Could not answer her because my mouth was full of soup. Her footsteps came to the kitchen.
“Where did you get these?” she asked holding the ballet slippers by the satin ties.
Here came my ten millionth lie of the evening “I just found them on the street by the school…I tried to turn them in but my teacher told me to just keep them. I thought maybe I could wear them tomorrow with my costume that you are working on…”
For a moment I think she knew I was lying. She looked suspicious of me. Later I would learn that she had been derelict in her duties of aluminum foiled wing making. “Well lucky you. That was an easy find. “
I shrugged my shoulders, “Easy find”
She looked at the shoes closely ” Someone must be missing these. Oh well, God knew that you needed the perfect shoes to be a fairy princess for Halloween- the Lord will provide”
I nodded. I lied.
“The other girls will be so jealous of you,” she said.
I nodded. I lied.
Autographed Letter Signed,