a short story by Nakeysha Roberts Washington
Blood, bones and it’s encasement. Strangely, when I was a toddler, I was as dark as I am now with blond hair and hazel eyes. I have no recollection of this of course, but there is evidence in the many photos that exist in the meticulously kept albums organized by my grandmother.
Here are several observations that I have concerning my encasement, my skin, from my childhood:
I was raised in a virtual utopia. Race was never a problem, but, then, is it ever for children?
It is a summer day. We are in the backyard shaded by the apple trees of which we have two. One in my yard and one in Erin’s. Erin, I have known since she was born. Anita, Erin’s momma says she saw me peeking out at her carrying Erin home after she was born and she knew we’d be friends.
Anyways, it is Summer, Erin, Chris, Anita, Barbara and I are in the backyard. I am not yet in school. The kids, three of us, are about to hop into the pool. Everyone is lined up. Barbara is putting cream on everyone. I follow suit. Barbara and Anita are reclining in lawn chairs. The kind that have plastic strips woven on a metal frame. One is yellow and white. The other is yellow and brown. It is my turn to get the lotion. Anita and Barbara look at one another. I see they are thinking. Barbara says, “Keysh, you don’t need the sun tanning lotion.” Anita assures me, “You won’t burn like Erin and Chris. You have natural sunscreen in your skin that makes your skin that pretty brown. I trust Anita and the kindness in her smile that has always been consistent. I run to the pool and play.
Burger King comes out with a convincing advertisement that seven year old me cannot resist. I tell my grandpa that I want him to come home for lunch and take me to get BK Bundles, mini burgers that Burger King sold briefly in ‘87. Anita babysits me everyday all summer. I want to thank her for taking care of me. My grandpa calls and then picks me up. He is a large black man. He is blacker than me. He was part of the Black Panther militia. He hates each race equally. The niggers in the projects two blocks away. The honkies at work. Everyone.
He tells me on the ride back from Burger King, “Keysha, you can’t trust honkies. They are horrible.” I am listening, but I am confused. I ask him, “Even Erin and Anita?” He pauses, and says, “No. Not them. Those good white folks.” I learn that day to question my Grandpa’s blanketed hate. That he doesn’t really mean it. He drops me off with my BK Bundles. I hop out and go share with Erin, Anita, and Chris.
I am in the 4th grade. It is recess. I am facing the one boy that I am certain I will marry. Bobby Bowens. He is blacker than me with hazel eyes. His sneaker collection is banging. He had swagger before we started calling it swagger. I, of course, am near him as I often as humanly possible. He yells at me, “Why do you have that neon pink jacket on. You’re too black for that.” I had just gotten the coat the night before at Boston Store. It was as bright a neon as you can imagine and made of windbreaker material. I, being my mother’s daughter, have a sharp tongue. I, also being too arrogant, even in the 4th grade to allow someone to belittle me, yell back, “I am black, and I sit out in summer to get blacker.” Bobby has nothing else to say. I called his bluff. He failed to shrink me. It’s funny how things like that can stay in the psyche.
I remember this moment each summer when I find the break from my normal hue to my sun kissed skin.
It is warm out. I am in the neighborhood that I have lived in since I was 2. I am 9. I am jumping rope across the street at Jenny’s house, near the creek and a small patch of trees. There is a new family on this block. The kids are pretty bratty and rude. The boy who has whitish blond hair cut in a fade. The top is worn in spikes, and the back ends with a tail comprised of a single spiral curl that twists down his back. His name is David, and he is probably 5 years old and also flashes us his penis… often. The girl blonde, too, chubby with freckles, Tammy is probably 7. She flips us the bird and sticks her tongue out… often. While Jenny and I, both at least two years older, don’t understand the cause of the aggression, and, though annoyed, we largely ignore them.
The lack of attention must have been too much for Tammy. She, while riding her bike, passes me, hocks a wad of spit, spits on me, and yells, “Nigger!” I see the glob of spit and phlegm sliding down my summerfied brown skin– changed daily in the summer sun. She tries to take off on her bike. I grow superhuman powers; I am sure I ran faster than the speed of light. I catch her, snatch her up and we fight. She runs to tell her mother.
Her mother comes down the street to yell at me, “Go back to where you can from!”
I yell back, “I have lived here my whole life”.
I am in the patch of trees near my house that is adjacent from the creek. I have recently taken up climbing the trees. I am somewhere between 9 and 10 years old. This Nakeysha loves the rush, and being high up, and being able to see my whole universe from the end of my block to end of my creek. All of this lush green springtime universe was mine. I was alone this day. Up on my favorite pine tree, I go too high. I go a row of branches higher than I normally do, and I quickly find that the branch on which I am perched cannot hold my weight. I am falling. I see the rows of branches pass me as I fall. Branches rush past my head like I imagine clocks, tables, and other things rush past Alice’s head when she fell down the hole, following the rabbit right before she landed in wonderland. I guess I must also have been flailing my arms because a tip of branch becomes lodged in my skin and I cease falling. I stare it for a moment, because I am literally being held from falling to my demise; suspended in the air by two centimeters of skin on the top of my hand. I look in awe at the hole in my hand. I hang there. Finally, I realize that I can use my other hand to steady myself and climb down the rest of the way.
I go home. I clean the hole in my skin preparing it for a bandage, realizing that my skin, strong, durable and dark brown broke itself to save me.
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