KLYE Katz, Contestant#14 shares a memory

the safety of the nest

“If growing up means it must be beneath my dignity to climb a tree
I’l lnever grow up , never grow up, never grow up-not me!” (Mary Martin as Peter Pan)

Literati

As you know, once I read a story submission I gravitate towards an image and then find an appropriate illustration. For this story, with Kyle dangling her freckled legs from a tree, I thought that would be an appropriate graphic to capture the scene of her story.  But, as I was pulling up dozens, if not hundreds of images from which to chose, I suddenly became aware that there were absolutely NO pictures of black children in a tree.  At was if that stalwart experience of childhood was simply not part of the black experience, or at least, not to those who captured the experience with a camera.  So I chose instead a nest in a tree, people size, because that is where children are safe and protected until they descend into adulthood.  Who wouldn’t want to be in that cozy little nest, hidden and invulnerable?

Alas, here is what happened when Kyle stepped down from that cocoon into the turmoil of adolescence and eventual adulthood.

The Color Line

 by Kyle Katz

Riots broke out a week before, in an area of Chicago, Ill. You could hear an occasional siren in the distance. I did the sign of the cross and bowed my head; with a prayer it wouldn’t get any closer.

My neighborhood had some insulation of middle class diversity.

We went to church on Sundays. The lawns were green, the ice cream truck came round at the same time during the summer.  The clanking of a game of horseshoes served as an alarm that your morning had started. Neighbors’ doors opened wide as piano notes danced in the sweltering heat.

Bernard spotted me dangling from the tree.

“Hey girl, wanna go to the park?”

“Yeah, but I’m not getting in that pool.”

“ Really? They have enough chlorine in there to probably kill us all. But nobody died yet!”

“It hurts my eyes.”

“Yeah we wouldn’t want anything to damage those pretty green eyes.” He flutters his lashes.

“ And I don’t want that crap in my hair, either.”

“ You’re such a girl.”

“Oh yeah.”

I gave him the finger, then jumped down.

We were best friends and told our secrets to one another for years.

We walked back to our neighborhood and I offered to make him a pastrami sandwich, lean, with lots of mustard. We sat under my favorite tree next to the four-way stop sign.

A car stopped a little too long and distracted him. His body rigid, his eyes inflamed, he ran to the car and yelled. “Get the fuck out of here, you Honkies!” He pounded on the windows.

I approached the car and witnessed two young kids in the back seat crying. Bernard jumped on the hood and started pounding, the family paralyzed with a map sprawled across their laps.

I grabbed Bernard and yelled for him to stop. I tugged at his arm. He fought me and then relaxed as the car sped away.

“What did these people do to you?”

“They were in my neighborhood.”

“They did nothing wrong!”

His deep eyes were cursing me for my heroism. “We aren’t friends anymore. You made a choice.”

I screamed. “You wanted to hurt someone because the color of their skin?” I fell to my knees and started pulling up clumps of grass in frustration. Secretly I knew what it meant for me. I held out my arm. “ What color do you see? Bernard.”

He turned and walked away.

“Do you feel the same way about me?” I shouted.

He stopped. The heat hovered, paying no attention to our rage.The neighbor hood dogs lifted their legs on our favorite tree then ran across the street wagging their tails.

“When the revolution comes…no one will ask questions, you look white, they’d shoot you along with the other Honkies.”

I cried.

I watched Bernard walk away like a warrior.

I moved from that neighborhood.

My life changed.

It was such a perfect neighborhood.

Mine…and Bernard’s.

 

*******

Smile, if you ever sang “I’m the friendly man who sells Good Humor,” that ice cream truck to which Kyle refers

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments

  1. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Every uprising struggle for greater respect, dignity & equality historically includes both attacks & backlash reprisals. The civil preachings of Dr. King for change counterbalanced in riots in the streets of America before & after Dr. King’s assassination. The angry writings, voices, actions & demands of Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver & others as well as the White backlash abuses filtered down to the African American youth as a call to hate. Black versus White was too often a two way street war where friendships were sadly lost as told in this story. Thank you, Mrs. Katz, for your personalised story, touchingly written.

  2. Kyle Katz says:

    Thank you Lady Pafia Marigold. You have always brought so much wisdom,thoughtfulness, clarity and intellectual evaluation to this site. I appreciate you reading my little snippet of my life.

    • Lady Pafia Marigold says:

      On behalf of my predecessor spirits who each are no more and myself, I thank you for your very generous praise. It warms my heart to be so welcomed to my first contest here with such kindness from those far more experienced at AWYYP. We have never met in life, perhaps never will, but I am grateful for your story which triggered inherited memories from my predecessor, Pete, who lost a childhood friend at U of I (Champaign-Urbana), because of how his African-American friend would have been attacked by his new African-American, Chicago friends, who unlike him were very angry, if he had kept speaking with Pete.

  3. Michael Stang says:

    Some days I just want to fetal up in that tree nest and forget about what really happened. Cover up the back then with something rosy and innocent, somewhere the infection didn’t reach yet. I feel the same longing in your writing.
    Thank you

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