[sommaire-chapitres livre=1 affiche_infos=true titre=true resume=true numeros=true]
*continuation of Deja-Vu/Deja’s View
Deja tried to walk into the classroom as quietly as possible, but one of her backpack straps got hooked on the doorknob, causing Deja and her books to tumble onto the floor. 23 heads popped up and turned in her direction. For a moment, Deja froze, wishing she could be as invisible as she was in her neighborhood. Here, at Hudson Elementary, even without snafus such as this, she felt so conspicuous. She was an elephant in the dog show.
Ms. Marshall turned from the whiteboard and rushed over to help Deja with a smile that read, “you poor, pitiful child.” Ms. Marshall was sweet as Splenda towards Deja: sweeter than sugar, yet also artificial. Deja discerned that Ms. Marshall had quilted together the patches of what she imagined was Deja’s life from viewings of Law & Order, reruns of Good Times, and the Nightly News. Deja was her statistic and she was determined to be Deja’s hero—that white hero in every movie that turns the poor Black person’s life around. Ms. Marshall meant well, but her sweetness left a bitter aftertaste.
Deja’s momma, when she was feeling “good” would make Deja and her sister roll with laughter with her Ms. Marshall impressions. Her mom would hold her braids up into a bun on top of her head, purse her lips and begin to talk in a falsetto voice. Her momma really liked to replay the back-to-school-night story. Ms. Marshall literally stuttered when Deja’s momma walked-in wearing her blue slacks, white shirt with the bow at the neck, white fake pearl earrings, and a perfectly made-up face (momma could do more with 99 cent lipstick and eyeliner than most people could do with Mac). Ms. Marshall clearly didn’t expect Deja’s mother to appear at back-to-school night and she definitely was not prepared for her to look so—normal. Deja’s mom would say later, in-between deep drags on a Newport, “What pisses me off so much is that, I may use a little dope now and again; but dat White heifer didn’t have to assume I was a crackhead. YouknowwhatI’msayin? Ima be dere for my child. It’s the principality of the damn thang.”
Deja’s Mom was big on the “principality” of things. As far as Deja could deduce, the principality of things had made her mother quit at least 15 jobs, lose a good apartment, stop communicating with her Grandmother and aunts, then finally land them in the Brown projects. Deja sometimes wished that her mom didn’t have to be so darn principled.
Deja made her way to the blue plastic chair connected to the desk and took out her journal. Everyday, at the start of class, the 5th grade was supposed to free-write about whatever was on their minds. Deja had watched many of her classmates go to the front of the class and share stories from their journals about a getting stung by a bee, a family vacation to places like Hawaii and Jamaica, and a visit from their Grandparents, who would come with loads of gifts. What could Deja share about her life? Her life wasn’t their normal.
So, Deja did her best, in her journal, and in her day-to-day at school, to blend. Most of the kids were nice, if not somewhat curious about her. As the only elephant in the dog show, she definitely got sniffed a lot. The questions would come:
“Why is your hair like that?”
“Can I touch it?”
“Do you wash it everyday?”
“Look, I was at the pool this weekend; let’s see if I’m darker than you.”
“Where is your Dad?”
That was the only question that made Deja feel coated in shame. The failings of Deja’s parents were the birthmark on her face that she could not scrub, could not embrace, could not cover. It was seen the moment you met her and Deja felt that no matter how brightly she smiled or her light brown eyes sparkled, the birthmark was there and it was what people noticed first.
She didn’t know where her Daddy was. She didn’t know who her Daddy was. She just knew that he must’ve been a bad person because anytime she got in trouble, her mother always yelled, “You acting just like your damn daddy- no good mother fucker.” One time, Deja and her mother were curled up on their velvet, purple couch together, watching Family Feud. Deja’s mother was playing in Deja’s hair—absent-mindedly twisting and untwisting various cotton-soft sections. Steve Harvey asked the question, “Name the #1 gift that fathers would like to receive on Fathers’ Day?” Deja, keeping her eyes on the TV whispered, “Momma, who is my daddy?” Her mother takes a bigger tuft of Deja’s hair a snatches so hard, that Deja is sure that she is now bald in that area; takes her knee and shoves Deja off the couch.”
“Why in the hell would you bring up that dumb mother fucker?” she screamed. He aint’ thinking about you. So, I suggest you don’t think about him.” But Deja couldn’t stop.
So she made one up. She may not have had a daddy in the Brown projects; but, at Hudson Elementary she did. So, when Anderson asked her if she had a daddy, she without hesitation replied, “Of course I do silly, he’s in army. He’s overseas right now. And most times when she had to write in her journal she wrote about her Daddy—Franklin Delano Moore. Her pretend Daddy brought her a lot of comfort and protected her from a lot of shame.
Deja was always in a rush to leave the school, but never in a rush to get home. The in-between was her favorite place. Mac, the late afternoon bus driver knew her and always gave her a big wink when she got on the bus. “Good Afternoon, Einstein,” he’d call to her as she walked to her seat. There were always the regulars on the bus: Mrs. Dinkins, who went to the library by Hudson Elementary everyday since her husband died and often talked to Deja about the latest book she was reading; Dequan, who was doing community service for getting caught tagging a few buildings; and Mac’s cousin, who was clearly homeless, but Mac allowed to ride in the back of the bus during the winter months. They were a Chex-Mix-type of family, but they looked out for each other.
The Jungle, the neighborhood Deja had to walk through to get home, was absolutely schizophrenic. The mornings, on her way to school, she felt the bustle: the business doors rolling up, the click-clack of cheap heels on the sidewalk, and the “who-aah” of the buses taking off. But by 4:00 when she was walking home, she could start to feel the warming –up of the hustle. Blue, plastic, milk crates with a piece of cardboard placed on top start being set-up for games of dice and illegal betting; the homeless people beginning to pander; storefront owners starting to stand outside to lure in customers walking home from work and to keep an eye out of suspicious activity.
Unlike the Jungle, full of color and pulsing with energy, Brown Projects, stayed consistently dull and yes, brown, throughout the day—day after day. Her friends had told Deja that there used to be a fence around the Brown projects, but some rich folks had decided that was discriminatory and fought to get it ripped down. Deja always found it funny because the fence still seemed to be there. People didn’t go in; people didn’t go out.. Something about the place was paralyzing.
Deja slowly made her way up the four flights up to #445, each of her steps on the metal stairs made a low gong. She took the key out of the front of her backpack and let herself in. Typically, she would walk in and her mom would yell out, “Dat’s you, Deja?? Today, it was loudly quiet, only the sound from the never-turned-off TV.
Deja’s mom rarely went anywhere, but Deja figured that she went to the store or to get her nails done in those kaleidoscope designs that she loved. Deja grabbed a Hot Pocket out of the freezer, then grabbed the yellow cracked plastic chair to crawl up to the microwave to heat it. At that moment, her sister, Porshe, walked-in from her day at the local middle school. “Wat up, “ she said while doing a playful tug on Deja’s ponytail. She opens the refrigerator, sticks her head in, “Where’s momma?” she asked.
“She wasn’t here when I got home,” replied Deja shrugging her shoulders.
Porshe opened up the freezer door and pulls out the empty, Hot Pocket box, “if you are going to eat the last hot pocket, you could at least throw away the box,” Porshe admonished while sucking her teeth and rolling her eyes. Deja just laughed, grabbed her hot pocket and plopped down on the couch. Shortly after, Porshe plops down beside her with a bologna sandwich and a glass of grape kool-aid to watch the rest of The Ellen Show.
“Deja” Porsche shakes Deja awake. Deja wakes to the shaded darkness of evening.
“Deja, Mom still isn’t home.”
Deja’s mind and senses slowly start to reboot. She sees the left-over trash from lunch on the table, hears Lester Holt’s voice in the background delivering the day’s news, smells Ms. Patterson’s chicken being fried next door, and feels the soft velvet of the couch on the side of her face.
Only then could she hear what her sister had said, “Mom still isn’t home.”
[sommaire-chapitres livre=1 affiche_infos=true titre=true resume=true numeros=true]
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more