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The Man I Am

At suppertime one August day, Papa suddenly stopped talking to Gramp at the head of the dinner table and turned his signature stern face on me. I always shook inside when he turned that gaze on me. His eyes roared like black fire and he radiated absolute concentration. It made me nervous.

“Dominick,” he said in his rich baritone. I gulped- my full first name. Suddenly the casserole I’d been chewing was dry as sand and just as hard to swallow. “When you gonna give yourself a good name, boy? You ain’t doin’ anything to make yourself known out there in the world.” He brandished his fork in his hand, a piece of roast chicken speared on the end of it. I focused on the chicken so I didn’t have to look at his eyes. The way the meat was pulled through the air… I wondered how it worked? How the air particles all moved aside to let it through, I mean. Did they all dance around it and hold it like a cocoon- a barrier, so it never got sucked into a void and lost?

Mama tried to interject. Her voice was the texture of honey, smooth and sweet. “Dom’s been doin’ good in school, Charles. He’s been getting fine marks.”

“’Fine marks‘?” Papa repeated disdainfully. I kept my eyes trained on the chicken. “Fine marks ain’t top of the class, Edie. Fine marks is passing. Loads of black boys been getting fine marks. Dom ain’t doin‘ nothin‘ different.”

I felt my skin start to burn in humiliation. Papa wasn’t gonna like what I said next. He wasn’t going to like it a bit. “Maybe I don’t wanna stand out, Pop. Maybe it’d be best to keep my head down and go about my business,” I muttered in a voice barely audible. I felt, rather than saw, Mama, Papa, and Gramp lean in closer to catch my words. And like water, I felt the ripple of Papa’s exasperation.

“You want to mind yo’ own beeswax?” Papa said softly, real gentle, like talking to a baby. I quit my fixation just in time to meet his eyes in utter surprise. “That’s it, Dominick? You want to keep your head down and out of trouble?”

I shrugged to imply I wasn’t so keen on going against what he wanted for me. “I guess.”

“Well,” he began, his voice already escalating, “it’s too bad you ain’t a little white boy then, isn’t it? Little white boys already have a reputation to go on in America. They got money and respect. They got a chance! Me and you, we ain’t got that. We have to make our own way in life and there’s no shortcuts for us. You got to stand out, or you ain’t ever gonna make it!” He popped the chicken in his mouth, chewed, and looked out the window out into the street like he was a professor talking to an arrogant kid in his class and felt he was wasting his time giving him a lecture that the kid didn’t understand. And that disrespect from Papa was the last straw.

I was sick of Papa’s same old speech. Sick and tired of it. I stood up quick as a cat and shoved my chair into the table. The legs squeaked shrilly on the polished wood floor. “Like you, Pop?” I asked loudly, knowing I was being disrespectful and not caring a bit. “Like you?”

“You hush.” Mama’s voice was sharp with needles. Delicately, she placed her fork on her plate and swallowed a dainty sip of water. “You just hush, Dominick Harper. You’ve no right- no right!- to speak in that manner. It’s not your place to say any such things to your fath-”

“Edie,” Papa interrupted smoothly, laying a big, brown hand on her small one. She looked ready to continue ranting to me, but Papa shook his head quickly, keeping her from going on. Mama sat back in her seat and regained her composure, wiping a hand across her shiny forehead. “You’re right, Dom,” Papa said. “I didn’t do nothin’. But you got an opportunity right now!”

“I do?” I asked incredulously, and kind of a bit skeptically too. I wracked my brain, trying to recall some conversation in which someone had let slip some chance for a black boy to prove himself. I couldn’t think of anything.

“Yeah you do.” Papa dug in his jacket pocket, producing a piece of rumpled paper which he slapped on the tabletop. Instinctively, I looked down at it.

“You’re kidding, Papa. I can’t act.” I skimmed the banner at the head of the flier. Some big, fancy, white theater was putting on a performance, newly written by one of the actors, and they were looking for people to audition. “You done want me to act in a white performance?”

“No. I want you to act in a performance, Dom. It ain’t white unless you think of it as white. There’s white people all over the country. You gonna say it’s their country and go drown yourself in a river?” He paused. “Well, boy, are you?”

“No siree,” I said smartly. “It’s just, well, it is a white play, Papa. I just think I wouldn’t be any good in a white performance, is all.”

“It ain’t white.” He stole back the flier and scrutinized it a minute, frowning intently at the fine print. “’It’s open to all people,’” he read aloud. He looked up at me. “All people. You a person, ain’t you, Dom?”

“Yes sir,” I said again. “But it’s a white folks’ play and I-”

“It ain’t a white play, boy! It’s a people’s play.”

“I ain‘t gonna listen ta that,” I snarled angrily, ripping the flier outta his hands. “It is a white men’s play and I’m black. My skin is black! I’ve got bad skin. I’ve got bad skin, so I’m bad. I’m bad! I ain’t actin’ in a white men’s play! I ain‘t gonna do it!”

“You give me ba’ that flier, Dominick Harper. You gonna act in this play. You gonna do it.”

“I ain’t gonna do it!” I bellowed. “You don’ get it. You won’t ever get it. You think it’s gonna be so easy to do this thing. You think it’s gonna be so easy to blend. I’ll never blend with white people. We ain’t never gonna live together. We ain’t ever gonna do anything together.”

“I never said it was gonna be easy, Dom,” he said softly, breathing heavily. His eyes grew tired and sad and he seemed to get more lines on his face as I watched. “I ain’t ever gonna say it’ll be easy.”

“Then why are you making me do it, Papa?” I muttered. I felt tears sting the corners of my eyes and blinked furiously. Stupid tears. Mama and Gramp looked away simultaneously, and then Mama started playing with her food like she always did when she was stressed by me and Papa arguing. Gramp started whistling a little under his breath.

“You’re the only one who can change the way it is,” Papa murmured wearily, noticing the atmosphere and wanting to cool it down. But my anger was revived at his words. He’d said the wrong thing.

“I don’t want to be the only one who can change it! I just wanna be a kid, Pop! I won’t do your stupid play.”

“You gonna do it.”

We were going around in circles. I wasn’t going to waste the rest of the night arguing over the matter. It was closed as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t doing the play.

“Good night, Mama, Gramp,” I said, letting them know I was done with all that pointless talking. Mama nodded at me as Gramp kept on whistling with his eyes closed. Then slowly and quiet as possible, I muttered under my breath, “Night, Papa.” And then I marched right out the door.

As I walked away, Papa muttered one last thing, real quiet. “You the man you wanna be, boy? You proud of yerself, Dominick Harper?” I pretended I didn’t hear him.

It was only when I was in my bedroom that I saw I still had that flier clutched in my hand. I made to throw it in the wastebasket, but something stopped me. Still unsure why I was doing it, I folded up the flier and put it on my dresser. And then I went to bed.


The very next day saw me up at sunrise- an unusual feat for me. I always slept late as I was allowed. But something nagged at the back of my mind. I dressed simply and pulled on my scuffed-up sneakers without bothering to undo the laces. My mind was already downstairs devising my plan for snagging an extra one of Mama’s corn muffins without getting caught, but my feet didn’t head for the door. Instead they wandered on over to my dresser. I caught a look at myself in my mirror- man I was scruffy and unkempt and all that stuff them white people said.

I couldn’t stop myself examining my lips in the shiny surface. They were big, definitely. Mama always said, “Dom, boy, your lips is full, that’s what they is. And besides,” she’d add, putting her hands on her hips and giving me her don’t-mess-with-me-mister look, “big and little is all relative, boy. You gonna let them white people tell you how you look? You got eyes, don’t you? Well it’s time you used ‘em instead of taking white people’s word for everything. They isn’t always right, you know.”

I shrugged her resonating words from my head and leaned closer to my reflection. I raised my hand and compressed my lips together in a vain attempt to make them slimmer. All that did was make them bulge outward rather than up.

I gave up with a small sigh. Mama could give me her “you’re beautiful how you are,” spiel, but it wasn’t like I lived under a rock after all. I’d experienced firsthand that every mother said that to her baby even if he was hideous unless she was real messed up in the head. It was the job of a mama.

I glared once at my reflection, squinted at my image just to see if maybe I could make myself look white, and then gave up and determinedly avoided the reflection as I scanned the dresser top for my house key.

And there it was. The darn flier Papa’d pressed on me. Below the stuff about where and what it was, and what we needed to know for the audition, in the fine print there was a little notice. Myself, I thought it should have been in big letters so no one would miss it, but maybe they were looking for actors who could read fine print.

Auditions will begin 9:00 promptly on the morning of August 18 and continue until 3:00 of the same day, at which time cast members shall be announced.


I glanced over at my wall calendar. August 18, sure enough. The auditions were today. Overcome by the information, I sank on to my bed clutching the flier tightly in my hands. Today.

I thought about what Papa had told me, about it being a people’s play. I thought about the glory I’d receive, the pride I’d feel seeing all them black people cheering me on. Then I remembered how my mate Samson Barry had been beat up and ridiculed by white boys just last week. I recalled the blood splattered across his torn clothes. I pictured the bruises painting his face darker black than it already was. I saw his bloodshot eyes tortured into agony. And all that was just for talking to a white girl- and all he’d said was “Excuse me,” when he’d got in the way of her by accident. If I acted in a white play… in front of all them white families- and having them have to listen to me too…. I could go out and dig my grave right that second.

So I was good as dead if I auditioned. So what?, some little voice in my head asked me. Why shouldn’t I try? I didn’t have much to lose, really, and only honor to gain. The worst thing that would happen would be getting my head bashed in by a mob of angry bystanders. But that, that was nothing. That would make me a hero even with the guys. Someone with physical scars to prove he’d fought for his rights.

It wasn’t all that bad an idea.

I found Samson in his usual spot down at a little creek near where I lived, at a place where we liked to skip pebbles on the water.

He had a nice big stack of flat rocks next to him on the bank, and in the time it took me to reach him after I first saw his figure, he tossed maybe fifteen of them out into the shallow water.

I sidled up to him. “Yo, Sam.”

Samson jumped up and adopted a defensive position. “Oh, Dom. Hey, man.” He settled back down. “I thought you was one of those white boys,” he added by way of explanation.

“I know it, man,” I told him. I plopped down next to him and dug the toe of my sneaker into the grime of the bank. Some of the water seeped into the shoe and drenched my sock, making my toes tingle with cold. I looked over at Sam’s face and studied the bruises a little. They weren’t so bad any more, just a little lumpy in some places, and a bit crusty. “You hear about that new play them people are auditioning folks for today, Samson?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said unenthusiastically. “Some new deal, I think. Suppose‘ ah be real big.”

“Yeah,” I said, pleased to know more than he did. “One of them actors wrote it hisself. It’s brand new. Never been done before.”

“Oh yeah? You know that? What’s it about then, anyway, man?”

“I dunno.” I paused. “I been thinking ’bout goin’ out for it, you know,” I told him casually, averting my eyes.

“No, man,” he said with abrupt finality. “It’s a white play, man.”

“Well Papa says it’s a people’s play, Sam.”

“How’s he know it, Dom?”

“It’s on the flier they been handing out.”

“Oh.” He scooped another pebble into his palm and weighed it while he thought. “Then sure you should go out for it, man.”

“You think? Won’t I be beat up something bad?”

He paused again, considering. “I reckon you will. But it ain’t so bad, and if it’s a people’s gig you ought to do it. I done seen your acting. You’re good, man. You real good.”

“Oh, yeah? I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t. I’m not so good and being black and all I won’t get anything, I don’t think.”

“Yeah, you will. You don’t give yourself enough credit, Dom. I noticed that ‘bout you. You all about what color your skin is. You ever stop and think, man? You ever say ‘I am Dom Harper, man and you ain’t stopping me doing what I gonna do‘? You ever do that?”

“No, man. The world ain’t for us. It’s for them white cats.”

“It is too for us! You good enough, Dom. You just say ’I’m a green man, and that guy’s a purple man, and we both got a shot for this part,’ and you gonna get it. Say that. Say that now. ’I’m a green man, and that guy’s a purple man, and we both got a shot for this part.’ C’mon, man.”

I rolled my eyes. “That ain’t gonna help me, Sam. I ain’t a green cat. I’m a black man.”

“Say it anyhow.”

I struck a pebble at the water. Ripples immediately whirl pooled out from the spot of impact. “I’m a green man, and that guy’s a purple man, and we both got a shot for this part.”

“So…” Samson urged.

“So I’m gonna get it.”

“Yeah you are. What time is this gig, anyhow?”

I glanced around. “You got a watch on you?”

“Yeah.” He drew back his sleeve to reveal a rather plain clock face. “So what time is it at, then?”

“Nine o‘ clock.”

“Man,” he yelped, “you gotta scat or you gonna be late!”

“What time is it, Sam?” I cried in alarm, jumping to my feet.

“Get on, man. Get on!”

“Just give me the dang time!”

“8:32! Get on, man. You gotta get home. You gotta change yer clothes. You gotta get a ride. You gotta-”

“I’m getting on. Later.”

He waved my good bye aside. “Just get on, Dominick. You can’t be late or you gonna be right about not getting anything.” As I lost sight of my friend, I heard the harried clang of a pebble on the water.


Papa refused a ride.

I barged into his study shrieking, “Pop, you gotta give me a lift to this auditioning gig!” He pushed me away with his hand and continued right on studying his paperwork. Almost absentmindedly he started a record player going and Duke Ellington filled the room with his modern jazz.

“Get out, Dominick. I’m busy, boy. Ain’t you got anything to waste your time on now?”

“Please, sir, a lift to the theater! I’m gonna be late.”

He lazily turned a page of paper and began running his finger down the page. Calmly, he took a drink from the glass beside him. “You ain’t gonna be late, Dom-”

“Yes, I am!” I shrieked hysterically, cutting him off.

“No, Dominick,” he continued coolly, without looking up, “you ain’t gonna be late. You ain’t going.”

“Yes, Papa,” I said, hoping to cheer him up, “I thunk it over. I’m going. I’m gonna make you proud up there at the people’s play.”

“No you ain’t. You already gave your nice loud opinion, boy.”

I felt the blood rush to my head and my skin began to pulse in furious embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Papa. Ain’t that good enough?” I whimpered childishly.

Silence.

“Please, Papa,” I pleaded, my euphoria evaporating on the spot. “Please, Daddy?”

“No, boy. You right. You ain’t good enough for them white standards. I wouldn’t even cast you if I was them. You ain’t proud to be in your own skin. How can you play a character good if you can’t even play yourself good? You tell me that, and then I’ll take you, Dominick Harper. You tell me that.”

“But I wanna go,” I muttered. “Please, Daddy….” I trailed off. He didn’t even twitch a muscle. He really didn’t care.

I ran. I ran all the way to that dang audition.

And when I got there I almost wasn’t let in, but while I caught my breath, a white boy was coming up the front walk with his mother and father in tow and I managed to get in by drifting in after them and pretending to be a servant.

In a weird way, it bolstered my confidence how I could play my part so convincingly. But it wasn’t all that hard as no one even looked at me.

The theater hall was a big, dark place. The men running the stuff, three white cats, all dressed in black suits and wearing dark shades so I couldn’t see their eyes, they shoved all of us auditioning kids up on the stage. Then one at a time they called us out in the big, bright yellow spotlight to have us recite our stuff and read a couple passages of the script and do some acting things.


They didn’t see me right away as I was near the end of the stage where it was dark and shadowy.

But one of them saw me all right and I was pulled into the center circle quick as a flash. Behind me I heard the snickers of the white boys and in front of me I faced the black unknown. Somewhere in there was the casting directors, staring at every inch of me.

“You got a name, n*****?” The rough, scratchy voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. I stepped back instinctively and heard a chorus of laughter. Provoked and humiliated, I stepped firmly back to where I’d been a second earlier. The voice came again. “N*****, you got a name for us?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, what it is it?”

“My name?”

“No, your favorite color. C’mon, n*****, you aren’t that dull are you?”

“No, sir. Dominick Harper.”

“Is that your name, then?” He was toying with me. In my bones, I could feel it. But what choice did I have but to play along?

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, sir, what?”

“Yes, sir that’s my name.”

“What’s your name?”

I paused before answering, determined not to fall into a trap. “My name, sir, is Dominick Harper.”

There was a slight pause. Then, “What are you reciting, n*****?”

“A poem.”

“No, really?” the voice drawled sarcastically. “Of course you are. But what poem?”

“I done gone recite this one poem I picked up some time ‘go by Hughes, sir, if that be okay with y‘all.”

A chair creaked backward out in the darkness. “Langston Hughes, n*****?”

“Yeah, sir, that it all right.”

“Go on then.”

I cleared my throat with a quick cough, none too long lest I annoy someone, and then I closed my eyes and focused on the words that filled my head. “Democracy, by Langston Hughes.” To me, “Democracy” is not a poem. To me, it’s a speech inside my soul that I never been able to put in words until old Hughes did it for me.



“Democracy will not come

Today, This year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear.”


I tasted the words with relish as I said them, lettin’ ’um slip from my lips and drift across the abyss of night. I felt so good saying the stuff in Hughes’ voice that I couldn’t say in my own.


“I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.


I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.

I can not live on tomorrow’s bread.


Freedom

Is a strong seed

Planted

In a great need.


I live here, too.

I want freedom

Just as you.”



I heard some muffled muttering when I finished. The men appeared to be arguing in stifled tones. Finally, finally, one of them broke the uneasy silence.

“That was a strange pick. You’re supposed to be auditioning, not preaching. But it wasn‘t half bad anyhow.” His voice was laced with surprise.

Astounded at my own nerve I retorted calmly, “It wasn’t any different than any of them white boys who went, sir.”

“It was quite different,” he answered stiffly. “Quite different.”


And so went the rest of my performance. In my opinion, I did nothing extraordinarily well, but each time I finished a different aspect of my audition, one of the men came up with something just short of praise. Which satisfied me to a degree. It was only when I slid back into the sea of white boys that I noticed the dramatic difference between my audition and theirs. They received no snide comments. Not one of them. But no encouraging remarks either and certainly no praise to any extent. They simply did their jobs and returned to the line.

As I stood there, I really thought, the way Samson had suggested. Why? Why was I treated different? Cause I looked different. That was the natural answer. But none of them white cats looked the same. They had different shades of color. Different features. Why was dark skin worse than having a pointed nose or brown hair? How come it was the skin that made someone hate you? Why wasn’t it the length of your fingers? Or if your teeth were straight?

And standing there, something changed inside me. I was more aware of every intricate difference in every person near me. All of us were so different. But we were all able-bodied, all of us at least semi-intelligent. We breathed the same and talked the same. I was just as worthy as they were of everything. The world was my world just as much as theirs. And then I got it. It clicked. I was important. I was meant to be someone.

I spoke without realizing I was speaking. “I’m a green cat and he’s a purple cat and we both got a shot at this world. So I’m gonna get it.”

“N*****!”

The boys parted, sliding as far from me as the line would permit.

“Yes, sir?” I didn’t know which way to look.

“You’re talking,” the voice said pointedly. “No talking.”

“Yes, sir.” My ears seemed to pick up every word whispered down the line. None of those boys were being reprimanded.

“You’re talking, n*****.”

This time, I nodded.


We got a lunch break at 2:00 so the men could decide our fate in the comforts of a lavish sitting room in the back of the theater. The boys all took out their paper bags and sat around backstage gobbling down ham sandwiches and homemade cookies. But I didn’t have any stuff to eat.

In order to get away from the sight of food more than anything else, I moved off down a vacant corridor. I’d taken maybe thirty steps when I started hearing voices filtering from one of the closed doors.

I don’t know what I was thinking. I sure wasn’t planning to eavesdrop or anything like it. Actually, I thought perhaps there were spies back there plotting something. In any case, I drew nearer.

It was the men. Of course it was them. I’d been stupid not to think of it before. And they were discussing… me. Of course. I was the odd one out.

“I don’t know what that n***** was thinking, coming here. It’s obvious it’s for decent white kids.”

“I’ll tell you what he was thinking, Tom. He wasn’t. Plain as that. He had a hassle over his name, for God’s sake.”

The third voice joined in. “You were messing with him, Andrew. He didn’t have a chance.”

“I was checking for intelligence. A first grader could beat him in a test.”

“What sort of test?”

“Any sort of tes-”

“Gentlemen- casting.”

“Sure, Tom. But I want to know what sort of test Andrew thinks-”

“That’s irrelevant, Matt. You know it is.”

There was silence for some time while I sat down with my back against the door, tuned in to nothing but the three men in the room. “He’s a good actor,” someone said after awhile.

“Good? He’s the best we got.”

“Reads like he was born to.”

“Knew the poetry by heart…”

“A little kinks to sort with the acting and he could go pro.”

“He’s a n*****.” There was an abrupt silence once more. “There’s no part for a n***** in this production.”

“We could invent something.”

“Nonsense. He deserves the lead.”

“The lead is white! Some kind of backup role could work.”

“He deserves the lead.” The voice was adamant.

“Tom…” someone tried to soothe him.

“He deserves the lead.”

“No n***** is getting the lead in my production.”

“It isn’t yours. We have to think of the big picture.”

“With him as the lead the only picture is a stage of squashed tomatoes and an empty auditorium. You know that. The community wouldn’t accept it. Our drama fund would be reduced.”

“Yes… but-”

I crept away, back to where the boys had begun a game of soccer with a ball one of them had brought. I thought about trying to join and decided against it, choosing instead to curl up unseen in a corner.

So I deserved the lead…. So what? I wasn’t getting it. That much was entirely too clear.


When they called us back to the stage, I was ready. I had a plan.

This time they came right up there with us. “The lead,” one of them announced, straightening out his clipboard in front of him, “is Parker Jefferson.” A chubby blond boy stepped forward, beaming proudly. My body surged with anger. He’d been terrible. Just terrible. And I deserved that part.

They didn’t call out my name until the end. “The pony will be Dominick Harper.” The boys around me gaped in surprise. They hadn’t even expected me to be cast. None of them seemed to get that there hadn’t been no pony to audition for. It was a brand new role.

“No.”

“Excuse me?” All three men were wide-eyed.

“No. I won’t do it.”

“Of course you will. You’ll be grand.”

“I deserve the lead. You done said it yourself. Give me the dang lead.”

“Picky boy,” one of them chuckled. “You don’t deserve that lead. You aren’t good enough for it. Take the pony or get out.”


“Why?”

Now they were just flabbergasted. “You’d better learn your place, n*****. You better just buck up and learn your place in society.”

“I want to know why I wasn’t the given the lead,” I murmured through gritted teeth. I expected to die any second. But I didn’t.

“You want to know?” one of them said in a voice of deathly calm. “You want to know? Because you’re a frigging n*****. That’s why. You’re a n*****!”

“So I’m black. So what?” I asked. All of a sudden it was so easy to see. I’d been hindering my own success, bowing down to all them whites. They weren’t any better than me.

“’So what?’” He was spitting. I watched phlegm sail across the stage and onto the floor. “You just- did you- you just- did that frigging n***** just say ‘so what’ to me?”

“Yeah. I did. Why’s it matter?” The boys around me fidgeted uneasily, shifting their feet, rubbing their hands together. And all of them avoiding looking at me or the directors.

He was scrambling for purchase. “It- It just- It just does. You don’t need to know why. It just does. Take the dang pony or get out.”

“Fine,” I announced loudly. “Fine. I’ll get out. But you know. You know I’m good enough.”

“You were freakin‘ rotten,” he said airily, ushering me roughly off the stage.


I walked numbly toward the doors at the far end of the auditorium. I couldn’t believe it was over. More than that, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it. I had nothing to show. Nothing. A whole day… and nothing.

He was a shadow when he rose from a seat. Black and silent he made his way toward me, the contours of his body blurred. I couldn’t make out any features. It frightened me fractionally. But only fractionally.

And then he was upon me and I was buried in the warm smell of my father, feeling his arms wrapped tightly around me.. When I drew away, I tasted salt on my lips and felt the tear stains on my cheeks. “I’m sorry, Pop. I tried. You’re right. I can’t act my part.”

“Oh, Dominick.” He was chuckling. Laughter burst from him, choking him, ballooning out around him.

“Are you high, Papa?” I pressed cautiously.


“Not on booze, I ain’t. You did it, Dom.”

“No. No, I didn’t.”

“Not the play.” He waved it away as though it was a bothersome mosquito. “What you did!”

“What I did, Papa, is criticize all them white men and refuse my part. I‘m supposed to be proud of that?”

“Of course!” He beamed exuberantly. “Of course you are, boy. You won! You didn’t take their baby food. You knew you could handle the steak! So you turned the food away, willing to starve rather than sink to their level! Dominick, you’re your own man. You ain’t gonna let them boss you around no more. You’re free.”

“I’m still a black man, Papa.”

“I know, boy, but it ain’t so bad. You just gotta grow into the role.”

“I know.” I nodded quietly. “You know what, Papa?”

“What, boy?” He asked as he took me by the shoulders and wheeled me around to face the door. He propped it open and followed me through into the muted light of the afternoon.

“I’m proud I’m a black boy,” I told him. “I am the man I wanna be, Pop. I am.”

“You sure?”

I hugged him again. “Yeah, Papa. I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make something of myself.”

“You already done that, Dom. You already done that.”





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