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Chapter one (3/3)
The one about living vicariously
Because I obsessed over White boys in my formative years and White boys didn’t obsess over me I thought I was unobsessable. Unwantable. Okay those aren’t words.
I didn’t think anybody wanted me or would want me ever. And I didn’t even process it like it was tragic news. Unwantable was a word to add to my list of features: brown skin, black hair, unwantable.
In some ways I feel I was spared by not dating in high school. I didn’t have to deal with pre-adolescent boys or teens with raging hormones who would say things like, “Let’s talk on the couch,” as a code for “Let’s make out so I can see if I can get under your sweater.” Being Black was great birth control.
There was one boy. Another sliding door moment. He’s the one who told me in grade school he couldn’t date me because I was Black. In high school he had a change of heart and we almost were sweethearts but my classmate Ella made sure that didn’t happen.
Ella was a girl that I was friend with on paper since we went to the same grade school. My grade school class was particularly close since we were in school together since kindergarten. I felt a connection to Ella even though we had no classes together and she’d rather drive by me at the bus stop then pick me up in her car on the way to school.
She carpooled with my friend and I’d see them approach as I waited in the cold, rain or snow. When my friend drove and saw me she’d stop and give me a ride. When Ella drove she’d drive right by like she never knew me.
My sophomore year I asked my grade school friend to go to the Fresh/Soph dance with me. He went to the public school. And even though he’s the same kid who told me he didn’t ask me out because I was Black I was willing to let that go if he’d be my date.
He said yes and we started talking on the phone every night. We were reunited and it felt so good. Something had changed since 7th grade when societal pressures kept him from asking me to be his girlfriend. We had a good thing going. Then Ella found out he was going to be my date.
I was in her car when she found out I'd asked him. This time she had picked me up because even though she was about to whiz by our eyes met as she passed. I guess her conscience kicked in and the car pulled over and stopped about a foot away from the bus stop. When I told her I'd asked him I could see her brain going into overtime in the rearview mirror.
She didn’t say anything then but later that day I got a phone call. I never got a phone call from Ella. She had a proposition for me. The Black captain of the football team's date had canceled on him. The Black captain of the football team was dateless.
Before I stated I was the only Black kid in my all White high school. Yes I left him out because he was the captain of the football team. He dated White girls and nobody had anything to say about it.
Ella announced that he was dateless and then she proposed that I be his date. She told me she’d already run it past him and he agreed. She’d arranged the whole thing before she called me. All I had to do was cancel with my grade school friend. If I canceled with him then I’d be on the arm of the captain of the football team. If I canceled with him the stars would realign and the races would be together the way God had intended it to be. She didn’t actually say the last part but subtext.
I had what felt like a moral dilemma. Should I go with a kid from the public school that most people didn’t know? Or should I go with the captain of the football team who everybody knew? Would his status rub off on me? Was it actually meant to be that the two Black kids date and did I have the power to stop him from dating White girls once and for all? Was Ella a connector not a divider? Was it bigger than all of us?
I liked my grade school friend. I always had. Our love was unrequited and from the way we reconnected and talked regularly he could have easily been my first kiss, my first official boyfriend. I threw away all those possibilities and decided to go with the captain.
I don’t think he ever actually asked me directly. Pretty sure I said yes to Ella in a subsequent phone call. And I told my grade school friend over the phone as well. He was disappointed. He’d bought a new suit. I wanted to take it back the minute I told him. It was then that I knew he would have been my boyfriend and he would have been my first kiss and a whole other life experience was behind door number 3 but it was too late.
Behind door number 4 was the captain and an evening where we had one awkward slow dance, a car ride where he stopped the car suddenly and held out his arm like a mother does for their child to stop me from hitting the dashboard. I thought it was a move to hold my hand so I went to hold his hand but instead cupped his wrist. As soon as I did it I realized what he was doing. I let my hand fall to the side and attempted to laugh away my embarrassment.
In high school I wasn’t wanted by the White boys. I wasn’t wanted by the only Black boy. The only way I had an inkling of a hint that I would someday be desirable was when my school played against another school that had Black athletes, black students, black cheerleaders and staff.
That’s when I’d get a sideways glance from boys on the other team or boys in the stands. That’s when it felt like there was a spotlight following me. My insides would contract and I’d feel heat in my private parts. The heat I felt was a promise that someday when I got out of the environment I was in I’d feel a connection to others who looked like me; a connection I could sustain.
But I knew I’d have to wait inside this world where I felt no connection. So I shrunk that part of myself so small it couldn’t be found. Inside this world no other girl looked like me: brown, chubby, average height with chemically straightened black hair and acne. It’s where I gained my sense of self and what I felt I deserved. My low self-esteem in this area was not the misperception of a teenage girl it was the inevitable response to having no reflection.
While I felt connection to the boys across the basketball court I felt no connection to the girls from the other school. The looks I got from them were those of judgment. If our eyes met I’d look away before they could call me out for my differences. I was sure they could see right through me but I don’t even know what I was afraid they’d see. Perhaps I feared that once and for all they’d have proof that I didn’t belong where I was as well as evidence that I’d never belong where they were. But the boys gave me a message from my future self and gave me some comfort.
A child of color needs to grow up around other children who look like them and have similar ethnicity; culture. A child who develops strictly in Whiteness is a plant rooted in sand.
Next up chapter 2!