Dana? Dana? Come here please… Right away.
Yes mother, here I come.
Dana, did you remember to wring out the wash and hang it out to dry?
Yes mother, I did that before I set that table for supper. Mama? I don’t mean no disrespect, but how come you always ask me to do everything? Mary is over there always on the phone and in the mirror, and Ted didn’t even finish his homework and he’s leaving for a date. It’s not fair mama.
Oh dear, I wish you would do something with that voice. You know I can’t stand to hear that high pitched whining mess! No go on and do what I told you to do… I need to check on your daddy.
I know mama loved me. She loved all twelve of us. I was the one born somewhere in the middle of all of the drama and chaos. I wasn’t old enough to move out, but I wasn’t as young as my sisters and brothers still in grade school. Between all of us, from the youngest to the oldest, there was twenty years of experience hanging on for dear life. They would all fuss and fight with each other one minute, and then make up like nothing ever happened the next minute. They treated me two different ways. Sometimes, I would be the family maid. I wanted to make sure the house was clean and the younger kids were clean before mama and daddy got home from work. That wasn’t exactly on my chores list, but no one else cared or chipped in.
I don’t even know how I learned how to talk, read or write. I really taught myself the best way I knew how. Mama never liked how I talked. She said my voice was too squeaky and she couldn’t understand me. Daddy tried to listen to me; but usually we could sit in silence and understand each other.
Daddy and mama only talked when the kids went to bed. They would think that all of us would be asleep, but I would be right there hiding under the table next to the eight track player in the family room. It was that moment that I heard mama telling daddy that we had to move because she received hate mail in the mailbox the other day. I overheard them saying “the horsemen” were coming if we were not out of our house by next week on the 15th. I remembered that number to look at a calendar when I got back to the den. That was only five days away.
The 15th of the month came so quickly. It was like watching the destruction of a tornado tear up an entire town. As much as we could pack away in such a short amount of time was going to be all that we could take with us. If it wasn’t already in a box, it was getting left in that house, along with the memories. I didn’t know where we were going. But I had a feeling mama wanted to move us as far North as possible.
In high school, I had a tough Senior year. I already skipped ahead two grades of learning because I was tall. That was the only logical reason. It was hard for me to keep up in class, but the teachers didn’t really know what to do with me. There weren’t many opportunities for Black kids. Either the Black kids were advancing to higher grades because they were athletes, or the teachers wanted to get rid of us.
It was easy for the other classmates to pick on me. I wore my older sister’s clothes and shoes that were too large for me. I also didn’t have much to eat for lunch. If mama didn’t pack a lunch for me to carry to school, that meant hers and daddy’s check was smaller than usual, and we would have to find some leftover crackers and fruit from the other kid’s lunches; if they would share. Most of the time I simply avoided the cafeteria.
There was a guy that I grew fond of; he seemed so sweet. I would always catch him smiling at me during school. If we would pass by each other, or if we were sitting near one another in a classroom, he would make it a point to smile or wave to me. We started studying together after class behind the school. I don’t know why he took an interest in me. But I really appreciated it. He was the only one that seemed to care about me.
I was tall and thin. Some called me frail, malnourished, or x-ray as rumors spread that I resembled a skeleton. I didn’t have hips or breasts, even at the awkward age of seventeen; but I was fast. I didn’t play sports because I wasn’t very coordinated for that type of thing. The fast I’m talking about was Muhammad Ali – throw a punch – kind of fast. Daddy taught me how to fight and defend myself.
One day after school, I had a bad feeling about seeing my friend to help me study. Something about the day just didn’t feel right. He and I were sitting behind the school on the picnic table. Out of the corner of my eyes I heard Velma Daniels mocking us. She was screaming out the most awful things I have ever heard regarding the color of my skin. It didn’t seem like this was going to end. My friend told me to ignore them and he kept apologizing. I didn’t hear him because I was furious. I felt my skin getting hot and the anger inside of me was rising quick. At that moment, I didn’t see anything or anyone except for her. Everything else was a blur and her words came out of her mouth in slow motion. It took everything in me to sit still and not sprint across the yard to knock her across her head to make her shut up. The worst part was that she and I had the same skin tone.
I never could understand self hate especially after all that we have been through as a culture. It was rare to see other Blacks that didn’t share a special bond of sister or brotherhood. But when it was forced to be viewed directly in front of me, that was something I couldn’t handle. I knew a little Black girl from Baldwin, Mississippi better not lay a finger on another person unless she was ready for her life to come to a screeching halt. But more often than not, if two people were the same race having an altercation, everyone would look the other way; as if nothing was happening at all.
It was a Saturday morning when I headed out to hunt Velma Daniels at her home. I knew where she lived. I would see her get off the bus everyday after school. There was a lot to see and observe while sitting at the back of the bus. Minorities were forced to sit at the back and reserve the front for the privileged White folks. It didn’t make a difference if a White man was rich or if he didn’t have a dollar to his name. If his skin tone matched the color of a manila folder, he had a designated place to take the load off.
I would witness Velma’s cruelty to a few of the other kids on the bus. They would just sit there an take it like they were helpless puppets. Velma didn’t try to make a large scene on the bus when she wasn’t surrounded by at least four of her co-signing affiliates. But if they were present, that was the equation for verbal, and sometimes physical abuse from Miss Daniels.
The bus driver would never try to stop the fights or help the victims. He would just sit there like he didn’t hear or see anything. He must have been paid to keep quiet.
That particular Saturday morning I was tired of seeing the drama that Velma Daniels would cause. Everything in me said she needed to be punished or removed from our school. I arrived on her doorsteps around 6am, before the landscapers drove up to freshen up the lawn. I knocked on the door and she answered, to my surprise. For about five seconds no words were exchanged. She stared at me up and down like I wasn’t welcomed to breathe her same air.
The next thing that happened frightened me. I remembered everything that my daddy taught me on how to hit someone in the face, and let them watch their own blood pour out of the wound. As I heard those vivid tips in my self-conscious, my body followed through with the actions. When I snapped myself out of fight mode, she was on the ground in her home’s foyer, screaming, crying, and choking on her own blood. She squirmed so much that her dress was falling off along with her bloomers. She tried to run for help. That’s when her bloomers came all the way off, followed by a stream of liquid that was leaving a trail on the floor. She didn’t make it to the bathroom in time.
I knew I didn’t have much time to get out of there unharmed. I just assaulted the most talked about and feared girl from school. I ran, hard and fast, until I reached the back door of my house in a massive sweat with adrenaline flowing through my veins. I was lucky to see my dad first and told him what happened. By the end of the night, I was the talk of the house, “Dana beat that girl so bad her bloomers came off!”
My mom was right, “the horsemen” were coming, coming to take me away for my vicious attack on Velma Daniels. Somehow she was connected, and protected, to get away with hate crime. So anyone that stood up to her was going away to never be heard of again. So we moved, ran away with our tails behind our legs to keep me out of trouble. I never seen Velma Daniels or my study partner again.
When I woke up, I saw I sign that read, “Welcome to Wisconsin.” I wonder how long had we been driving? A better question is how long had I been knocked out? I don’t remember making any stops, eating, or taking a bathroom break. I only knew that we were leaving behind a different world.