Childhood Memories

January 9, 2012
One spring morning long-ago, in an age of innocence, security and happiness, in a land where maturity and experience were not existent, I entered 3rd grade at a new school. I remember the day precisely . The sky was filled with cotton wisp clouds that floated gently in the azure blue sky. A gentle breeze filled my lungs with cool and refreshing air smelling of mulch and the dew on the emerald green grass. A small black gate opened to a seemingly big white pathway. The structure in itself large red brick building with ivy climbing down the side, and a white and blue sign that said “Welcome Back”, which I felt was odd because I was a new student. I could hardly hold still walking beside my mother, my mind flooding with pointless questions and teeming with curiosity about my new school. What was it going to be like? Were there any new people like me? Would we get chocolate chip cookies for snack? My mother sensing my anxiety and nervousness smiled a smile that calmed all my fears and worries.

“Bye Justin, have a good day at school, be nice to the new students” my mother said with a sad but proud smile “ It will be different here” she said with a note of anxiety in her voice “But you will get used to it, I promise”

“Bye mom, I’ll see you this afternoon” I yelled, oblivious to the meaning of my mother’s words as she walked away. I would soon find out the meaning of those words, and remember and think about them for the rest of my life.

I walked into the playground, a group of my new classmates were already playing games. I ran over and it seemed like the world froze, they became silent. Unaware of this fact I smiled, thinking that they were going let me join them. Out of group, a big mean looking kid with black hair, freckles and blue eyes approached me. He looked back at his friends and grinned, a mean, sarcastic knowing grin. “So” he said, radiating arrogance “What’s it like?” I looked back at him, puzzled. Was this some sort of playground trick, I played along. “What’s what like?” I said, unmindful of the snickers and muttering of his friends behind him. He smirked” Whats it like living in the ghetto? The hood? The block? The corner, homie.” I looked at him even more confused.

Homie? What type of word was homie, was it a word I was supposed to know? I racked my brains for what these foreign words could mean? What type of gobbledygook was this kid saying. These words were vague but familiar, but I could put no plausible meaning behind them. I froze, unable to understand the ignorant malignant contempt thrown behind these words. I stuttered “H-huh”. The group laughed again. Something in my mind was telling me this wasn’t right. A sinister chill crept up my spine, I did not understand this feeling until later on. The boy sneered “What , they didn’t teach you how to speak in public school?” The group behind him roared with laughter. An inexplicable heat rushed to my face, later, I thanked God that I was dark skinned and they could not tell. But why was I embarrassed? I had never went to public school. Was it a bad place? My mind raced for a clever answer, but could think of none. I mumbled, “I never went to public school, I went to private school, just like you”. The boy’s laughter turned to a look of confusion, then boiled with anger. “What?!” he shouted at me “Like me? “ he scoffed like the idea was preposterous “We live in two different worlds, bro. You better speak up when your talking to me, boy”

Fear fled from my mind quickly replaced by anger. What did he mean by speak up when I was talking to him? What did he mean by boy? I could have only been a year younger than him? Only my parents had said things like this to me, and he was definitely not my parent. A newfound boldness sprung within me “ Shutup” I said defiantly, using the harshest word that sprung to my mind “ and don’t talk to me like that”.

The other boys laughed, shouting “OOOH” “You gunna take that” “You hear what he just said to do”. He laughed it off “What are you gunna do, call your mommy?” he intoned tauntingly. My fists clenched with anger, something clicked. A part of me knew that he had crossed the line, nobody was to talk about my mother. Words sprung from my mouth so fast I didn’t know what I was saying “ At least my mother doesn’t look like a monkey”

The boy flinched, and his face turned red, he glared at me with angry eyes. “Your dead meat, punk”.

My inner voice spoke confidently, leaping unbridled from my throat, my word sped like an arrow from my mouth “ Big words for someone of your vocabulary.” I smiled, bulls eye. Where were these insults coming from I didn’t care, cause it seemed like I was winning. The boy was taken aback for a second. Then he charged, I did not see that coming. He tackled me and my instincts kicked in, literally. I kicked up just as he landed and he momentum of me rolling backward sent him tumbling behind me. Adrenaline pumped through my body, for some reason my vision was sharp and acute. I was noticing everything in vivid detail, his muscles flexing as he charged at me again, his cruel friends goading and taunting him like he was a wild bull, but to me more like the Minotaur, except we were not in a labyrinth and I was no Theseus. He spat on the ground, then ran at me again, my legs muscles tensed, my mind quickly surveying my choices. I could either run, which would have been smart, or get squashed, since he was several inches taller than me.(I later recognized this as the Fight or Flight response) But a sense of pride filled me, and I remember he mentioned my mother. I ran at him as well and started yelling, this must have surprised him, for he stopped dead in his track. I made a wild swing and hit him in his jaw and he sat, stunned. Not as cool as those kungfu movies that I watched, but the same effect. K.O. like those arcade games I used to play after going to the movies, but in this “game”,sadly, I could not get a high score. The energy faded from my body as quickly as it came, I felt drained, and I realized that I really would be “dead meat” if he got back up again. I braced myself to take the punishment.

Then the most surprising thing happened, he started crying. Not like a little streak down the cheek, but wailing and blubbering, like a big ugly grimy baby. I was so relieved I started chuckling to myself till I noticed how quiet it was. I heard “Teachers coming” and they scattered like rats from an alley dog. Now I froze, how would I explain this to the teacher, on the first day. I rationalized to myself, well he insulted me first, and he tried to hit me first to, right? But in the back of my mind I heard my mother’s voice “Never resort to physical violence unless it is necessary”. I felt a little guilty, but why? I shouldn’t be, it was self defense, like karate class, right?. The teacher strode over to the boy and knelt beside him. He stammered “That black boy, he h-hit me, I wasn’t doing anything, h-hes so violent.” I was first shocked, and then angered. What did he mean by that black boy? And he completely lied too, that jerk, but then I felt assured, of course the teacher would know he was lying because she was a teacher and teachers know everything. Plus in books the truth is always revealed, so I figured it would be the same in real life . The teacher stood up and towered before me, her shadow cast over me like a menacing mountain and said sternly “Come here, you have a lot of explaining to do.” “But maam” I said carefully, not wanting her to think I was rude “he is lying, I didn’t hit him first, he hit me, I swear”. He looked at me with disdain, as if I had told him the most unbelievable thing in the world. The words she said after never faded from my memory “ Why would I believe you, or him?” she said. In my mind I thought, “ why wouldn’t you?”The world stopped and froze, like the negative of a picture, it seemed bleak and unfamiliar, like I had wandered off into a crowd of people that I did not know and I would never be found again.

There was anger that blazed through my mind and boiled in my heart and bubbled in my throat burning of unfairness and indignation.

There was confusion, stumbling through my young mind and twisting at my heart, questioning everything I had ever known and accepted.

There was loneliness, a confused boy looking out into the world and finding only foreign strange faces that laughed at his gullibility and inexperience.

Then my mind came to a realization, all these people were white and I was black. This in my mind, was meaningless, but an uneasiness crept in my thoughts. Why am I the only dark skinned boy here. I looked around, thinking there must be at least one or two. But there were none, I was the only black boy there. But what did this mean. I had read about Martin Luther King and the times he lived in, but it surely could not be like that, right? Didn’t whites and blacks co-exist peacefully now? But some hazy unuttered notion tugged at the back of my mind, that maybe, just maybe, some people still held the same ideas as back then. But how could they judge me? I was just as smart and as educated as them. The only difference was the color of my skin. And that day I realized that prejudice still existed. It was my first real experience with racism.

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