Monday, March 11, 2019

Confederates

We didn’t notice the Stars and Bars in the truck’s rear window the first time they passed. 

We were absorbed in whatever ten-year-old girls entertain themselves with as they meander home after school. Maybe it was Brian’s new haircut, or maybe some article in Seventeen Magazine. 

Jackie was overly — I thought — concerned with the kink of her hair; she wanted long, straight, smooth hair. More like mine. Maybe that was the reason we did not see the white truck make a u-turn. Maybe I was telling my beloved best friend that her hair was stunning and perfect the way it was, black and wild like cotton candy. That she should ignore that magazine article. 

Maybe my hand had already been raised to her head, to stroke the beautiful hair or touch the cheek in the way of fourth grade girl mimicking the warmth of a television mother, and perhaps that is why, as the truck popped the curb alongside us, we were close enough already to embrace, frozen in little girl terror.

It was only a moment. The truck’s engine roared close enough for Jackie to feel the heat of it against her arm. The boys, their blond crew cuts, hanging out the window, screaming threats: death, rape. “Nigger lover!” The spit in our hair, slimy and stinking of tobacco. They drove off, as suddenly as they had appeared, laughing. Laughing. Laughing.

We noticed the Confederate flag as they peeled away. The smell of rubber and road, diesel. And then the quiet of the neighborhood sidewalk. The small side street, up until that moment, had felt so ordinary and suburban, so appropriate a space for two children to occupy, giggling or whispering. Now the emptiness of it menaced us, and hand in hand, we searched the road behind us and ahead for lurking dangers, the world now altered. 

Summer 2016, in memory of 1989.

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