[A scrap from my notebook. 2017.]
I grew up in an old house on the east side of Cleveland. A decaying, grayish white at my birth, painted a vibrant yellow with green accents during my adolescence. When I drove by in 2017, the accents were a dull blue. The yellow paint as frayed as the white had been in my early years. Despite its humble appearance and the seventeen years since I lived there, it is home. The old house on the old inner city street can still stop me in tracks and bring tears to my eyes.
I stopped there on a Sunday during a summer I vowed to change my life. I declared everything too slow, too boring, too typical. My hunt for “more” led me to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the Roots Festival in Philly, a new Cleveland restaurant every weekend. That Sunday, it led me to the inside of a church for the first time in ten years, then to a street festival where I sipped whiskey and ate tacos with only vibrant surroundings as company. On the drive home down I-90, something pulled me to the E. 140th exit, 15 miles from the suburban apartment building where I lay my head. Something called me home.
Perhaps I needed to be reminded of the girl who inhabited that house.
The girl with knobby knees, braces, and zero athletic ability. She cried often, and dreamed of the day when her surroundings matched the lush, vast world in her head. She wanted to be popular and admired, but had yet to find any company she enjoyed more than her notebook. She had a love/hate relationship with school. On one hand, the classroom was her stage; the only place in the world she truly shined. On the other, she was a slave to the opinions of her peers who thought her too skinny, too much of a know-it-all, too fragile, and too serious. At home, at least, she was left alone. Sometimes, too alone. Her grandmother instilled discipline and the importance of manners and citizenship. Her mother fostered her quick, curious mind and did her best to bolster her daughter with the fierce confidence that was second nature to her. Both women took care to plant send nurture her intellect and specialness. She was not like the other girls in her neighborhood; public school wasn’t good enough, carefree ripping and running through the neighborhood was unacceptable, and “little nappy-head boys” were not allowed. Neat handwriting, proper English, and legs crossed at the ankle were a must. Baby dolls were purchased, but Barbie play was encouraged. Too many of her neighborhood peers thought babies were cute and entered motherhood too early. Her imagination was to be pointed toward better things: careers, fancy cars, nice houses; the trappings of a woman who could take care of herself. The kind of girl who’d never wait for a prince. She’d build her own damn castle and only let the prince visit when he had some damn sense.