“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)
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.”
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 watched Bernard walk away like a warrior.
I moved from that neighborhood.
My life changed.
It was such a perfect neighborhood.
Smile, if you ever sang “I’m the friendly man who sells Good Humor,” that ice cream truck to which Kyle refers