Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fatal Attractiveness

Ashton Kutcher, sixteen years younger than his ex-wife Demi Moore, is grieving the end of his marriage by partying in Brazil with a bevy of young, beautiful models. In the meantime Demi struggles to heal and move on. This week she was hospitalized for a reaction to some drugs she took at a party she hosted at her home and is now headed to rehab for “exhaustion.” It is also rumored she is suffering from an eating disorder, possibly anorexia. She remarked in an interview with Harper’s Bizarre, "I would say what scares me is that I'm going to ultimately find out at the end of my life that I'm really not lovable, that I'm not worthy of being loved. That there's something fundamentally wrong with me.”
At forty-nine Demi is five years younger than I am. I remember how beautiful I always thought she was and still is, but even beautiful women are plagued by vulnerability and insecurity. Society has us brainwashed, and men, too, to believe a woman is less than if her physical attributes don’t match a certain standard or when those attributes begin to change and fade with age. No matter how rationally and intellectually I view this issue, my emotions rule, and I find myself wondering if age will render me unlovable.
What can we learn from other cultures? That age brings the beauty of wisdom and the character of a life well lived.
(Excerpt from essay Staying on It: Beauty and Aging)
Norma, you're a woman of 50, now grow up. There's nothing tragic about being 50, not unless you try to be 25.
~ Joe Gillis played by William Holden
Sunset Boulevard (1950)                                               
Just a few months shy of nineteen, I held Ronald’s hand as we strolled across the quad at Syracuse University in the early spring of 1976. The day was unseasonably warm, and the sun turned my brunette hair a golden red. 
“Yo, Ronnie,” a light-skinned black man, whom I would discover was Ronald’s childhood friend, called out from across the quad.
“Yo, Bill,” Ronald shouted back, his voice giddy. “This is Dianne.” He held my hand up and twirled me around so his friend could see his girl.
Ronald made me feel beautiful that day and he still does when he pulls me close to him and says, “You look very Dianne today” or when he talks about my eyes and laments how they bedazzled him.
Ma didn’t make me feel beautiful. She made me feel ugly from the inside out. She called me Witch Hazel, banshee and a hateful child. I thought that meant I was so filled with hate no one could ever love me. I imagined the hate seeped out of my soul through my skin and hair, making dirt cling to me and my hair twist and knot.
Ma’s German-born friend, a member of the Overseas Wives Club, looked at me one day when she was visiting us and shook her head. “She’s pallid. She looks sickly,” she said, as if I weren’t sitting right in front of her.
I can only remember two times when Dad said something about the way I looked. The first was when I was seventeen, and I cut my waist-length hair. He drove me to the beauty salon, the first time I had ever been to one and the first time someone who wasn’t Ma or a neighbor cut my hair. Dad sat out in the car and waited. I watched in the mirror as the hairdresser, a small, olive-skinned, deaf man, sheared off my long locks. I had asked him to save my hair, but he had misunderstood or forgotten, and piles of hair lay on the floor around the chair. Then he curled and sprayed, and I didn’t recognize myself. I thought maybe it was because he was deaf, and he hadn’t understood the style I wanted. As I approached the car, I saw Dad with his arm resting atop the open window, staring straight ahead. When he heard me, he turned, looked me up and down and said, “I don’t like it.”
I cried on the way home, and Ma led me into the bathroom and wet down the curls so they looked more natural.
By my eighteenth birthday, I had let my hair grow to my shoulders and had learned how to style it using a newly marketed handheld blow dryer and a round brush. That evening, dressed to go out with friends, I posed for pictures. In one of them I sit on the arm of the dark green sofa, leaning back seductively, my left hand on my hip, my chin up, and my legs crossed. My hair is feathered a la Farrah Fawcett. I wear aviator glasses, a fitted red T-shirt tucked into a denim miniskirt, and four-inch cork-heeled wedges.
When I came out of my bedroom, Dad whistled.
“Wow!” he exclaimed and my Uncle Rocco, who had stopped over for coffee, nodded approvingly. That was the first time I felt beautiful.
As I matured, Ma pointed out my flaws. “If I had a nickel, I’d stick it in the slot and get on the bus,” she mused while looking at my backside one day.
I don’t think Ma really saw me as ugly; she was bemoaning her own loss of youth and looks and taking it out on the person who most reminded her that they were fading. As a young woman during World War II, she had captured the attention of the soldiers stationed in her hometown of Ryde, Australia, including Dad, with her buxom figure, long legs, and her bawdy sense of humor.
She fretted as I matured, and maybe hoped if I remained a child, she might stop aging. I fought in vain with her to buy me a training bra when I turned twelve. It was embarrassing to be one of the few girls still wearing undershirts. I was so thrilled when I finally got one that I lifted my shirt up to show Dad.
Ma wouldn’t teach me how to pluck my brows or shave my legs, despite the teasing I got in middle school from the boys.  She worried I was too young to handle tweezers and a razor, but I solved my brow problem.  I squeezed two quarters together and yanked, over and over, until I had made my unibrow into two smooth brows that framed my large eyes. My soon-to-be sister-in-law taught me how to use Nair on my legs one day during one of Ma’s many hospital stays. Forty-two years later, I pluck my brows daily and call Sundays my hair removal day: top lip, under arms, legs and pubic area.
Now I see my own loss of youth and beauty. In seven years I’ll be the same age Ma was when she had a heart attack and died at sixty-one years old.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Facebook Sedition

I have mixed feelings about social media like Facebook. I’ve used it to get back in touch with some high school friends, to stay in touch with distant family and friends, and to keep up with the accomplishments of other writers that I know. But there are definite negatives. People think communicating in short sentences and clicking a “like” button is enough to stay in touch with people. Face-to-face contact and phone calls are starting to feel like rare occurrences and I often end up feeling isolated after a foray out on my news feed. All that writing hasn’t improved upon posters’ grammar and spelling skills and, probably, they’ve degraded even more by the use of symbols, abbreviations, and gibberish. Worse than all of the above is that social media seems to promote and give people permission to behave badly and to type things they would not say in person.
The following comments showed up in my Facebook news feed this week. They aren’t from people I know. Maybe they are friends of someone I’m friends with. But this I know: the comments made me sad. They astounded and disappointed. They are filled with lies, hatred and racism.
I commented as follows after I read them and readily admit that I stayed away from direct accusations:

It's amazing how racist we still are as a country. It stymies me.

I’m reprinting the comments below since they were already made public on Facebook, and, obviously, these Facebook members have no qualms about launching into an anonymous tirade. Here they are (both in response to and prior to my comment) with no editing:

Dianne, what do you define as racist in this thread? I dont see any. Also know that My congressman is Allen West and I am very pleased w his performance so far in congress. I am very displeased w my presidents attitude, performance, actions, etc.... and it has nothing to do w race. I do feel the folks pulling the race card/issue are desperate to make it an issue and further devide us the American people.

I do not begrudge BO a vacation, in fact I wish him a permanent one in Kenya. Hawaii, Illinois, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan and other places are also "Home States" of Obama. You are right on the wealth of the Bush's and the Clinton's, however, they were spending their money or using their own property bought with their own money, that they earned elsewhere and not simply by siphoning off the American Taxpayer. The Obamas's are living large...their best ever....and at excess...all off the sweat of Taxpayers. This is not spreading crazy stuff, its the truth,....the reality of it! Taking back the Whitehouse is the first order of business. Actually it was the flowers in the $4 m lei that caught my eye.

OK, $15,000,000,000,000 !!!! get it ! OB is destroying the US.. period!!! he is a communist, socialist, Muslim. He is destroying America financially and militarily weakening us. I consider him no less than a traitor and should be tried and executed for treason !!!

Jeff not to mention the war,he has thrown trillions into it. Gave the go ahead to attack Osama Bin Laden who was allegedly killed but his body was buried at sea rather than capturing him alive and tried as a war criminal and a criminal against humanity,nobody but special ops and the authorised people on the ship saw his body,a little too suspicious for me. I personally would have preferred that. Another thing is because he threw away so much money on other things and is bleeding Social Security dry the new retirement age for my generation is 67 and early retirement is 65 rather than my parents generation could retire at 65 or retire early at 62. And by the way his birth certificate is still in question,because a) there is no official seal and b) the name of the hospital he allegedly was born in had a different name when he was born then it is named now but they used the current name on his birth certificate.

Where do I begin in battling the lies and vitriol spewed in these messages? How did I know years ago that my full Social Security benefits would begin at age 66.5? How can anyone blame the cost of the wars on President Obama, turn the story of bin Laden’s assassination into a negative (after we pursued him for so many years at the cost of trillions!), claim the President is spending our tax payers’ money on leis and vacations and living large, and question his birthright as an American? How can one deny being racist by claiming to support the first black representative from Florida since the end of Reconstruction – a tea partier? How many times have I heard over the years, “I’m not racist, I had a black friend once” or “I’m not racist, but they don’t want to associate with us” or other variations on the same theme. How many times have I heard whites blame blacks for racism, not realizing that the meaning of racism is not just prejudice but is based on oppression that prohibits economic and social equality? It still exists, and blaming the victim is one way to perpetuate it.
I remember a white woman I worked with in the late 1980s. She had been in a terrible car accident, suffered severe injuries, and was hospitalized for some time afterwards. The man that hit her was a black man, and in an unimaginable circumstance, he had hit her when he lost control of the car as his passenger stabbed him to death. It happened just blocks from where Ronald and I lived, and the man who was driving and was murdered had gone to high school with Ronald. I felt great sympathy for what the woman experienced by being in the wrong place at the wrong time and unwillingly dragged into a horribly wrong murder/car accident.
But what she said next confounded me. She said she knew I would understand what she was about to say since I was married to a black man. Then she explained that she was terrified of blacks, terrified of working and living in the city, and her new husband had promised to move her out to Skaneateles where there were very few blacks and she could live without fear. “He hit me,” she said of the murdered man. “You’ve got to understand why I feel the way I do.”
But I didn’t. I wondered and asked her if she would be afraid of white people if a white man had hit her.
“Of course not,” she said, perhaps thinking I was the crazy one.
I know now she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but her fear of black men had already been planted in her mind long before the car accident that validated her fear.
Having a black man serve as president validates many white peoples’ fear of black people, particularly black men. They’ve shown how they feel through their words and actions. They want to take back America because they feel it was taken away with desegregation and Civil Rights law.
The comment that offended me most was the charge that President Obama has other “homes” like Kenya that he should go to. President Obama is an American. He was born here. He had a black father who was from Kenya and a white mother who was American. He happens to be Christian, but even if he weren’t, that would not preclude him from serving in the highest office in a land that is based on religious freedom.
It is racist to assume that if you are not white, you do not belong in this country. Nor should you share in its rich resources, make a successful life for you and your family, or lead the country from the highest elected post.
So if one of your parents was not American, you should return to the country of your ancestry. I should return to Australia since my mother was a war bride from World War II. Or maybe, even though my father was born here, perhaps it doesn’t count because his parents were born in Italy, so I should go back to Italy. But how can I go back to a country that I wasn’t from in the first place? Why would anyone make the charge that having a foreign born parent negates your American status? Have they read and understood the Constitution? Do they understand our history and how Euro-ethnic people came to power in America in the first place?
Having ancestors who were brought here against their will and enslaved negates your status as an American, too, apparently. In our history there was a Back-to-Africa movement that began well before the Civil War and gained popularity well into the 20th century. Some blacks thought they wanted to go back to Africa after they were freed because it was their ancestral land. Many slave owners feared having free blacks roaming the country, so they supported it, too. White northerners supported the movement during the great black migration north. They feared blacks would take their factory jobs from them. As lynching became more pervasive, the movement became popular with blacks again as they realized that freedom from slavery was not total freedom or equality. Then blacks became disillusioned with the movement because there were scams and they also realized Africa was a continent as foreign to them as it was to white Americans.
What do people mean when they say “take back the White House” or “take back America” if not that they mean to take it away from those they consider undeserving? It means that lots of Americans believe usurpers have taken away a life in which they felt comfortable, safe, and shielded, a life in which homogeneity was the norm and people of color were inferior and held subservient positions. It’s what my colleague believed she would get back when she moved to Skaneateles, away from the black people she feared. What else could it mean?
I didn’t respond to the question from the Facebook poster who asked me what I defined as racist in the thread. I wanted to at first. I could feel my fingers itching on the keyboard, and my anger bubbling under my skin. I wanted to type, “Your ignorance is only surpassed by your arrogance.” But what would that have changed? It would only validate what they already believe: that I just pulled the race card because I am desperate and want to further divide people. Besides, why use Facebook to type things I wouldn’t say otherwise?
People are so disappointing sometimes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Human Urine

This week in the news the video of marines urinating on corpses has invaded our living rooms, laptop screens, I-pads, and breakfasts as we read the morning paper. The incident turned my stomach and I could not stop thinking about it. Those men were trained to kill, to disregard humanity, else how could they go to war? And, as a country, we asked them to. That’s the ultimate sacrifice, giving up one’s humanity, yet it is condoned, celebrated, argued. And it happens in all cultures and societies, among, or despite, all religious beliefs – wherever people cross paths with another human being.  Our need to protect and survive, even at the cost of another, is base instinct, and we willingly draw upon it. Then the soldiers come home, and we expect them to regain civility, to live and move among us who have not experienced the baseness of war and killing, and to forget that they have participated in such activities. Some do, but many, maybe most, don’t.
Ronald and I attended a wedding this summer and during the reception we got into a conversation with an elderly couple about conceal and carry of weapons. The husband felt strongly that he had the right to protect and preserve what he deemed his. I said that I would not carry a weapon and I did not think that I could ever kill another human being.
He pressed me to reconsider. What if someone had forced his way into our home and was physically harming Ronald? Wouldn’t I be willing to kill the intruder? Wouldn’t Ronald’s life be worth saving at the expense of the other? I responded that I could not imagine killing another person, no matter how egregious his actions were. He was taken back.  Maybe he wondered about my humanity. How could I sit idly by when the life of my loved one was at stake?
I say a prayer of remorse when I squash a spider, swat a fly or step on an earthworm, yet I eat beef, fowl, lamb and pork.  It’s the ambiguity of the human experience, an enigma. We abhor those who kill against us, but justify killing when it benefits our condition.
I always relied on Ronald to keep us safe, when we were raising the girls and now as a couple in our fifties, together for thirty-six years. Did I ever consider what that meant, what I expected of him, how that might have altered his humanity?
I thought about it a few months ago when that young woman aimed her car at us in the theater parking lot (see my post Do The Right Thing, October 7, 2011 I was frightened and I knew if the need arose, Ronald would protect me from harm. I also worried that someone would get hurt as a result of it. I was relieved it did not end badly for any of us.
I do not excuse the marines’ actions on the battlefield this past week, but I call for all of us to understand our complicity, our base need for survival, and our own imperfect humanity.
(Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Ghetto Will Follow You, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story)
Ronnie crafted a slingshot from a wire hangar. He waited until his dad brought home meat from the butcher and he swiped two heavy-duty rubber bands the butcher placed around the wrapper. He wore the slingshot like a holster on his shoulder, and he had plans to use it.
A month or so before, one of the white families living on the same street in the projects as the Hagans had done something unspeakable in Ronnie’s mind. His anger sits below the surface, humming like an electric current, even as he retells the story.
The mother had restrained a neighborhood girl, Toni-Jo, so that her two sons could beat her up. Ronnie watched from across the street as the pale, tow-headed boys dressed in hand-me-downs, hit, kicked and punched ebony skinned Toni-Jo while their mother held her still by pulling her arms behind her back. The boys screamed ‘nigger’ and laughed as they landed blows.  Ronnie didn’t know their names – he just called them the fat white man’s kids, and he didn’t like them. Ronnie’s anger seethed at the injustice. He silently vowed to seek revenge.
He practiced with the slingshot, trying out different projectiles and finally settling on marbles, the small ones, not the shooters. They flew true and hit hard. Then he exacted his revenge.
He hid behind the large metal dumpster and waited for one of the fat man’s sons.  He saw the boy walking toward him, remnants of his last meal smeared across his upper lip and his whitish hair matted to his brow. At just the right moment, Ronnie aimed and launched the marble straight at the boy’s head and thwap! The boy screamed, grabbed his head and fell to the ground. Ronnie ducked down low and ran.
But someone must have seen him and reported the incident to Syl who waited until Ronnie sat down on the couch after dinner.
“Ronnie, you got something you want to tell me?”
“You sure, now, because I’m pretty sure there’s something you got to say.”
 “You know you’re going to get your rump stomped, and if I find out you’re lying, you going to get it stomped twice.”
“Just do it then.”
“You talking back to me? Bert, that boy talking back to me.”
“You’re going to do it anyway.”
And he got his rump stomped, twice, because Syl knew; he always knew. Then Syl confiscated the slingshot.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Rumble Jumble

My brain is rolling around loose in my skull this week.  It feels like a rumble jumble up there. It’s that time of year.
It’s coming off the Christmas holiday and going on a soup diet so I can get control of my sweet tooth and my fat cravings.
It’s having a nightmare about zombie heads that roll around and kill people. And the heads were people I knew. Somehow I was able to turn a few of the heads back into whole people not infected by the zombie germ. Can’t remember how I did it though.
It’s being back at work after a week and a half off and remembering how much I have to do and feeling frightened but up for it at the same time.
It’s about getting a bug to write another essay and letting the idea cogitate while reading up on my topic of interest. The research gives me a frame of reference and helps build structure to my  “pursuit of mental rabbits” (that’s Scott Russell Sanders’ phrase) as I start to pour out all my thoughts and emotions onto virtual paper.
It’s about getting a rejection for my memoir manuscript and licking my wounds and thinking about what I want to do next, even as I work at producing more writing. I did not submit to multiple small publishers, just one, even knowing that multiple submissions would have been more efficient. But I’m not sure what I think about the publishing world and if I want to be a part of it. I’m not looking to publish the next great bestseller. I’m not trying to be a full time writer. I’m not trying to gain credentials to get a great teaching gig.
It feels hard enough sometimes to be part of the corporate world in my day job and my career is on it’s downward ride to retirement, though I’m not sure when that will be. I’m a humanist in a capitalist society. I never did fit in, and I’m not sure I want to fit in, but I believe I have something to say and a unique way of saying it. I’ll be cogitating a lot on this in the next few weeks.
It’s about racism that creeps into my life when I’m not even thinking about it. Like when I was reading about the hateful people in Alabama who talk of terrorizing people by profiling the Hispanic population. Children are frightened to go to school and adults are afraid to go to work. How is this helping? It’s helping to “take back the country.” Except the people that want it back are the descendants of those who took it in the first place. Why can’t we all just get along?
Then Ronald and I went to Best Buy. I had my purse on my shoulder and Ronald had his man bag on his. He carries his Nook and a notepad and his phone in it. It’s about the same size as a small shoulder bag for women. As we entered the store, I turned my head to smile at the greeter, an older white male, but his expression stopped me short of smiling. He looked frightened and ready to flee or press the button on his walkie talkie to notify security.
“Do you have a return?” he asked, looking directly at Ronald.
“No,” Ronald responded. He never stopped walking.
After we left the store we looked at each other.  “Really?”
It’s not like we haven’t talked about it before. One incident, and we shrug it off as someone’s mistake or bad day. But add up a whole day’s, week’s or month’s worth, and I can see how a person of color can jump down the throat of someone who asks a seemingly innocent question. Celebrities lose their freedom to shop and spend leisure time because they are constantly recognized and swarmed by their fans. If you are a person of color in America, you never had that freedom in the first place. You are always being watched. What would it take to earn the freedom to experience stress free shopping, dining out, movie going? And why would one have to earn it? Isn’t it an inalienable right of being American and being human?
Maybe I’ve had too much soup. I’ve got that rumble jumble in my brain.
(Excerpt from Chapter 7, The Ubiquitous They, Shades of Tolerance: A Biracial Love Story)
I graduated with a dual degree in English Education and Speech Communication. I took the first job offered to me after graduation –bill collector – so I could continue to stay in Syracuse. I hated it and hoped a teaching position would come along soon.
That fall I was offered a teaching position in a rural school district outside of Syracuse right during the interview. I was too inexperienced to realize that should have concerned me. My first day, a chilled November day in 1979, was disastrous. I had strep throat, and I drove the forty-minute commute with a three-day old driver’s license in my purse. A bit shaky on the highway still, I talked to myself the whole way. I arrived at the school thinking how great it was that I had survived the drive only to discover that the other teachers had walked out due to an expired contract. When they finally came back in the building an hour later, the teacher, whose place I was filling, gave me a tour. She was quitting to have a baby.
As she guided me through the crowded halls, her hand instinctively held in front of her belly, she rattled on about the students.
“A lot of the students are going to be your age,” she said.
“Oh?” I said, feeling feverish and overwhelmed.
“They come from farms, and lots drop out during planting and harvest seasons,” she responded. “And I should tell you, we don’t have a drug problem like they do in the city schools. We have an alcohol problem. Not much else for teens to get into around here.”
Oh, no, anything but alcohol, I thought to myself, trying to keep up with the perky teacher, her belly seeming to propel her forward rather than slow her down.
She pointed to a student going in the opposite direction down the corridor. “She’s from the only black family in town,” she said, as if it were special news. “We don’t associate with them.”
My head swirled and all movement around me seemed to slow and stop. I lagged behind the teacher now, and she stopped to wait for me.
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking concerned.
“Fine, I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve got a sore throat.”
“It’s the cold weather. There’s a blizzard due this afternoon. Do you plan to move here? It’ll be a lot easier for you.”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
I drove home in the blizzard, the wind howling and pushing my car sideways on the highway, my visibility near zero. But there was a blinding darkness in my mind, too, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.
Two hours later I pulled up to Peggy’s house, where I had been living again since graduation. I was exhausted, discouraged, and crying.
“What’s wrong?” Peggy asked when I came in the back door covered in snow. She was pregnant with her second daughter, and she seemed all belly like Ma had been when she was pregnant with Andy.
“I can’t go back there,” I said.
“Why? What happened?”
“They’ll be burning crosses on my car,” I said. “They don’t like black people. They’ve got no teacher’s contract. I almost died driving home. My throat is killing me.”
“Slow down. What are you going to do?”
“The only thing I can do,” I said, sucking in air and wiping my hand across my eyes, smearing mascara across my face. “Quit.”
I dialed the number to the superintendent’s office and told her I was submitting my resignation.
“You can’t quit,” she said. “You signed the health insurance form.”
“There’s no contract,” I said. “You misled me.”
“Did you get offered another teaching job?”
“No,” I said.
“Did you know it is New York State law that you have to give thirty days notice?”
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll come teach for the thirty days, but that’s it.”
“Don’t bother,” She said, disgust oozing through the phone lines. “I better not find out you are taking another teaching job. I’ll have you blacklisted.”
“Do whatever you have to do,” I said, and hung up. Then I sat on the floor and cried.
“Dianne,” Peggy said, “What are you going to do now?”
“I’ll figure something out,” I said. I stood up to grab the phone and called Ronald.
“You should have stuck it out,” he said. He would, for twenty-five years, after he got on the Fire Department.
“I couldn’t.”
The next day I applied for Christmas work at J.C. Penney. I swallowed Orajel just before the interview so I could speak through an enflamed throat. Disappointment must have shown in my expression despite my best efforts.
“Don’t look so sad,” the chubby personnel manager said, rubbing his hand over his balding head. “I just offered you a job on the spot, and I don’t usually do that. The least you could do is smile.”
“I’m grateful, really,” I said, but I doubt I convinced him.
Out on the floor in the women’s accessories department, I was told to keep a special eye on black shoppers. The black undercover security guard would trail them if we called his number and let him know they were in our department. One day I told him off.
“You know,” I said, “if you stopped wasting your time chasing after all the black shoppers and followed some of the little old white ladies carrying tote bags, you might actually catch someone shoplifting.”
I continued to apply for teaching jobs and was offered a substitute teaching position that started in February 1980 at a wealthy suburban middle school. My hope was that the teacher, who was pregnant, would end up quitting and I would get the position full time. In 1980 there were too many teachers and not enough positions. The baby boom generation had all graduated from high school, and the next generation was what would come to be called the baby bust generation. Schools closed and getting tenure as a new teacher was difficult. Oftentimes substituting was a way to become known to the administrators in the case that a rare opening occurred.
I taught three English classes and one Special Skills class. Of my ninety students, only one was black. He was a small, quiet boy, maybe trying to blend in and not be noticed.
I quickly discovered how difficult it was to take over classrooms mid-year. Every comment from the students seemed to be, “Mrs. Smith didn’t do it that way.” But I was determined to succeed, and though I kept my job at J.C. Penney just to be sure, and then stayed up until 2:00 a.m. each morning reading and correcting papers, I stayed with it. That spring I moved into my own apartment.
Ronald borrowed my car one day to go on job interviews; he was still waiting to hear if he passed the firefighters’ exam. He picked me up after school had been let out. One of my students stayed late for an after-school activity and saw me getting into the car.  She must have spent the evening telling friends the juicy news. The next day she confronted me.
“I saw you yesterday,” she said, her red hair, the same color as her freckles, gathered into a half ponytail, her glasses shielding her eyes with glare.
“Oh?” I said.
“Is that your fiancĂ©?” she asked, twirling a strand of hair. Two of her friends stood next to her, giggling self-consciously.
“Yes,” I said.
“My mother said she would kill me if I ever dated a black man,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” I said, but I already knew this was a career-ender. I imagined she had told her parents, and I had no doubt her parents, in the name of protecting their child, had called the administration. I felt my heart drop.
“Well, what do you think of that?” she coaxed.
“I think your parents have a right to their opinion,” I said. “I don’t feel the same way. I believe you love the person, not the skin color.”
“That’s interesting,” she said, and she and her friends giggled and left the classroom.