It’s 1986 and I’ve just transfered to the gifted class at then new school. I have just turned ten. Two days later three girls from my class would get to spend the entire day watching television footage of the Challenger disaster, while the rest of us worked on assignments. I didn’t know why these girls were special, I accepted their status as fact. Their apparent worth only confirms for me my lack there of.
Though I am only ten, I am in the final stages of puberty. It has hit me hard. I stand a towering 5-feet and two inches (I would only grow one more inch before leaving elementary school, which would in turn be my adult height). Nearly C-cup breasts sprout from my chest. I am the only black face on this classroom. Only one of eleven in a 1200 student school.
These three girls are a special clique. Everyone is reading The Babysitters Club books and these girls have created a real life club of their own. The call themselves The Georgio Girls and they meet one day a week after lunch. The Georgio is for an expensive and pungent perfume that was well marketed and trendy at the time. i never cared for the sent, but throughout the late eighties you could identify every middle income woman who pretended to be wealthy by how long the scent of her Georgio perfume lingered after she’d left a room.
Tanya was the head of the club. She was a tall, academic-minded girl with square shoulders and glasses. Her father was a lawyer and she lived in the neighboring affluent community. Like me, the school was not her neighborhood school. she was allowed in because of the GATE program. Tanya commanded authority because she did not have to ride her bike or walk to school, like everyone else did. She was an only child and was used to getting what she wanted. Life in our fourth grade classroom was no different. Tanya pretty much always got what she wanted, including the privileged to watch thew news all day with her friends.
Kelly was a tom boy, but her pretty face and long blonde hair suggested more future prom queen than future lesbian. She was athletic and played softball and soccer at a time when not many girls did. Kelly was one of those friendly people who was liked by almost everyone. It never made sense to me why she was in this power clique, except that she had three brothers and these girls offered an ultra-feminine contrast to her male-dominated home.
Tammy was a waif-thin Mormon who had five brothers and sisters. She took dance and gymnastics and had long, dark curly hair. She was one of those people who had been told she was cute and pretty her entire life. She sometimes talked about going on auditions for commercials and television shows and would one day perform in the school auditorium during an all-school assembly as a member of The Safety Kids.
For some reason, mostly novelty, these girls decide to befriend me toward the end of the school year. I was desperate for connection and friendship, things I hadn’t managed to find since we’d moved from our old neighborhood the previous summer. The new house had put a strain on my parents. My dad worked a second job at the Shell gas station and while I wasn’t ashamed of this, I felt like it was some secret I need to keep. My brother, who had fought long and hard to avoid moving to this neighborhood, had become an instant celebrity at his junior high, making my awkwardness feel al the more awkward. We lived on a new street, in a partially-developed neighborhood. It would be two years before all of the houses around us would be finished and sold. The silence at night was so deafening, it was difficult at times to sleep.
The Georgio Girls decided they would allow me to eat lunch with them and I welcomed the privilege, though I wasn’t exactly sure why it was being bestowed on me. I hung out with them and laughed at their jokes. I listened to the rules. Something about having to wear two tank tops at once and Chrissie shoes by Bass that you could only buy at Nordstrom. I’d never been in one. And of course the most important rule: Georgio Girls wear Georgio perfume every day. I didn’t own it. I wasn’t a Georgio Girl. I couldn’t even fake it. I don’t know why these girls are hanging out with me, but I am needy, desperate for their attention and approval.
So it happens that one day, perhaps less than a week, that the Georgio Girls decide to make me their new pet, we are walking from the lunch arbor to the playground for a post-lunch game of jump rope, when Tammy grabs my arm and screams, “Ohmygod! Look!”
larm bells are going off inside, but I don’t know what to be afraid of. I smile and we the other two girls pull in toward us. Tamy grabs my hand. “Look at her hand!” she squeals, and proceeds to flip it from palm to knuckle-side. The other girls stare on. My heart is pounding and I am confused by the attention. I can’t figure out what they are marveling at.
“That’s so weird,” Tammy continues. “Her hand’s a different color on each side.” More flipping. My ears are filling with the sound of rushing blood. They burn. So do my eyes. I stand there, my arm flipping like a rag doll’s. I want to disappear.
“Why does it look like that?” she asks. I am not sure what she’s asking. It’s my hand. My black hand. Hasn’t she ever seen a black hand befo–
The question is disruoted in my mind before I can even ask it. She hasn’t. None of these girls have. Their eyes are unified. I’m a freak. A novelty. A fun little knick knack you twirl around in your hands at a gift shop, but would never buy. And in the seconds that I stare into these girls eyes I see everything that I have come to believe about myself:
I am ugly.
I am strange.
I am shameful.
I am worthless.
And I smile at these girls, these girls who are everything that I am not. I pull my hand gently away and say what I think they want to hear, “Well, I guess god had to make us white somewhere.” They smile and laugh. I try to keep from crying. Not because they’re laughing, but because I know that what I have just said is wrong. I fight back the tears as we continue on to the playground, heartbroken that I have just given the only response I could think of.
This post was inspired by Julie Pippert’s Hump Day Hmm for January 30, 2008.