I walked out of the 9th street exit of 13th Ave School in Newark NJ. These doors were used for kids to get to and from the lunch room and at this early hour breakfast was being served. The air smelled like garbage and to my left there was a decade old dumpster that looked like it missed a pick up or two.
Across the street was an empty lot. Newark was full of empty lots back in the mid 80’s. There be abandoned cars that filled them and old mattresses thrown from windows of the homes that lined them. The patches of grass were over grown and the brown birds, the ones you always see but don’t really know what species they are, were all over the electric wires. Poop covered the side walk. That dumpster was an open buffet. I don’t remember having on a coat and based on the bright sun in my eyes and the warm temperature, school was going to be out soon for summer break. Next September I was going to be in 3rd grade. I was anxious to see what white teacher they were going to give me.
I was always by myself when I wasn’t forced to be accompanied by a foster sibling or if I wasn’t told to walk one of my biological sisters to and from school. Thirteenth Ave School was only two blocks away from my house. I was comfortable enough to walk the distance alone.
That day, the soon to be summer breeze roller skated through my fresh corn rolls. They started at the rim of my forehead and ran like train tracks to the back of my neck. They were beaded curtain drapes down to my mid back. At the end, held in place with aluminum foil, was a rainbow of beads that made the sound of loose change in your pocket with each step I took. I was a baby Bo Dereck walking to my assigned school entrance in 1988.
I once heard my foster sister Sephonia say my hair was “too good” to use rubber bands to hold the beads. So they’d get creative and use a house hold product. But I didn’t care. I had corn rolls in my hair. The only style I would rock was a ponytail or a shit load of smaller ponytails all over my head with a shit load of berets. You know, like those little black girls wore on school picture day.
I was stopped in mid walk to the exit intended for the 2nd graders by some little black girl. She said she wanted to fight me. I had no idea who she was and she scared the shit out of me. For one, she was black. And she held her hands in tiny fists. Before I can make a move to run, I was surrounded by 5 other girls. Five other black girls. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t cry. That shit was not accepted in these streets. I was about to get jumped so I had to fight.
They jumped me. Punches on my back. Punches to my head. Hands grabbed fists full of hair. I was in that ghetto position where you duck your head, close your eyes tight and swing like a mad woman. The sound of loose change hitting the ground was heard in between each throw. They were pulling out all my beads. I’m going to get in trouble for losing my beads when I get home.
“Oh shit, she’s fighting back! She’s fighting back!”
I swung. I landed. I swung another punch and landed again. I don’t know who I was hitting. My eyes were still shut tight.
It ended as quickly as it began. They stopped beating me. That girl that walked up on me was crying and holding her eye. Another one walked over to her to see if she was ok. I was alone. I walked away. The sea of rainbows that once glittered the ends of my corn rolls laid like bodies on the concrete. I thought for a moment to pick them up but decided against it. Judy is going to get me when I get home.
I hurried over to the doors where kids were lining up to get inside the school. I touched my braids, one by one, all my beads were gone. The braids were coming loose. I was going to look like a “crazy white girl”. Once I was told that was what I looked like when I didn’t comb my hair. My PR mother would let me wear my hair lose all the time. Judy didn’t allow it.
I got in line of the bee hive. Kids were running this way and that way. Chasing this boy or that girl yelling tag you’re it. There was an adult attendant standing by the door waiting for the bell to ring. She was always here. The routine was the same five days a week. I stood there in silence with my back aching and holding back tears. I am going to get my butt whooped if I go home without my beads.
“There she go. She right over there. That white bitch is right over there.”
I turned around and it was those girls again. And this time they brought along a big black boy with them. He looked like he was in 6th grade. I’ve never seen him at this exit.
“You hit my sister?”
He smacked the shit out of me. Hard enough that I fell down on the cement stairs that led up to the school doors. He was on top of me punching me. This time there was an audience. I closed my eyes, tucked my head into my chest and swung like a female in a ghetto video on WorldStar. I kicked. I punched. I swung. But once again, they jumped me.
“Leave that little girl alone!”
My eyes were clinched so tight my entire fight was fought in total darkness. But I knew that voice. That was the adult attendant that opens the doors for us every day. She picked me up off the ground. My forehead was now growing a lump on it. I was sent to the nurse’s office who gave me an ice pack to put on my head. I was so embarrassed. I got jumped twice by the same group of girls. Judy is going to get me for fighting a boy.
The principal eventually sent a student to get me from the nurse’s station. I walked halfway down the hall to his office. He was a balding white man. He had a 70’s Ron Jeremy mustache. He had a double chin and his sausage fingers were intertwined onto of his desk calendar.
The six black kids stood against the wall to the left of the door that I walked through. I was motioned to take a seat.
“Are these the kids that hit you this morning?”
I shook my head yes.
“Thank you. You can go back down the hall to the nurse. I will call their parents now.”
Two of the girls began to cry.
“But we didn’t start it.”
And they began to tell on each other. Pointing fingers. They committed the ultimate crime and started to tattle-tale. I never even had to tell my side of the story.
They were all suspended. And I never saw them again. The nurse called my foster parents to come pick me up. I sat on the bed and could hear what she was saying. Dear god, please don’t let Judy be the one to come pick me up. I was frantically trying to tighten all the loose braids as I sat on the edge of the green leather nurse bed.
“Keep that ice pack on your head.”
The nurse eyed me over her glasses after she hung up the phone with whoever picked up at the house.
“Your parents are on their way to get you.”
I didn’t have much time. I only lived two blocks away. I dropped the ice pack and started to braid my hair again.
Judy didn’t signed me out, Nolyn did. My foster dad. He walked into the nurse’s office and asked for me. I saw his figure take up the entire space of the door. He wore the same outfit every day, black pants, black shirt, black jacket and a Foodtown snap back to cover his jerry curls or afro.
We walked out into the hall. Nolyn began to laugh
“I heard you kicked all those kid’s asses.” and he laughed some more. He put his hand on the back of my left shoulder and took me home.
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