Eunice attended Nixon Elementary not far from home on Goode Street. The class photo of pretty white girls in uniforms showed her standing there third from the left next to Rachel Whitaker. It was curious how a picture could make everything seem perfect. She almost passed for white in photographs; she was a cute girl with a caramel sun kissed glow. Her reality was different.
She’d notice students or teachers staring trying to figure her out. Being mixed, her hue was darker than Caucasian, sometimes more black than white in certain light. She laughed her head off when she passed for Spanish, Brazilian or one time, olive skinned Italian.
She remembered asking Sam Hood, her neighbor two doors down, as they skipped rocks at the pond, “Do folks look at you funny?”
Sam had the darkest skin in the neighborhood.
“Sure. It’s funny when they look away when I catch em. It only happens when I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be,” he said sheepishly.
“Shouldn’t be? What do you mean?” she asked, honestly not knowing.
“Let’s just say I stay outta trouble,” he said.
“I see,” she said, not knowing if she had stayed out of trouble.
Eunice realized she was a curiosity due to her parents’ friendships with movement folks. Everyone around town knew Curtis was a former Black Panther, the dormant political party from the 1960’s. Panther pals dropped by from time to time inspiring school kids to tease your daddy’s a panther lover!
Given the family houseguests, Eunice’s passion lay on the Negro side of her birthright, she barely paid attention to Martha’s Irish Canadian heritage. It wasn’t nearly as interesting to be half Canadian except on those days she wished she could disappear up north and never to be found.
Curtis’ story was much more interesting too. He’d had enough degrees of affiliation with the Panthers to be defined as an enemy to southern harmony but in reality he never was a member and had no direct connection to the party unless you counted Angela.
To Eunice she was wise Aunt Angela but to the public she was Angela Davis, the political activist and academic. Among the multitude of fascinating events in her life she had grown up in Birmingham and had been friends with two of the girls killed in the terrible bombing at the 16th street Baptist church.
It was Nixon elementary Eunice first learned to trust her instinct by listening to the itchy twitch of her nose just like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Intuitively she saw a clear line between right and wrong, almost as if an allergic reaction would strike to tickle her nose when someone was lying. The girls at school pretended to be friendly but later deceived her, often too late for her to clue in to the twitch.
As a child who saw herself as black, vibrant and connected to the African American community, Eunice was deeply pained by the lack of acceptance of white girls in school.
She was asked regularly, “Which one of your parents is white, your mom or your dad?” they’d ask, her boundaries inconsequential to them. Eunice was appalled by the question and grew increasingly fatigued by it.
Public consensus said she was supposed to choose a race and stick with it. If she didn’t the girls assumed they had every right to ask whatever questions they wanted.
Even if she had followed societal norms at Nixon there was a catch. If she leaned white she might get, “You’re tryin’ to act better and smarter than everybody!” Conversely leaning black would get her, “Listen Oreo, you ain’t even black!” both black and white girls used that line on her. Nobody else was supposed to define her. Dumb bitches!
In shopping malls or on buses she seemed to bump into archetypical underdogs at every turn. She’d feel a trigger tripped by how itchy her fingers got and a burning up the back of her neck. One time during English class she slipped out to the washroom only to find Brittany Carlisle being accosted by tormentors. Britney was confined in a back brace which was meant to straighten the S shaped spine she was born with. Brittany was locked in a stall crying after an alleged deluge of taunts by Jenna Neal and Melanie Harris, two entitled white girls. Jenna’s father was a big wheel judge in town.
“What in tarnation is going on in here y’all?” Eunice asked confused. The foggy moisture of the washroom squeezing her brain like a tight bandanna didn’t help.
“Brit-Brit here won’t keep her word on the geometry tutoring I paid her good money for!” Melanie said, as she kicked the door again to scare Brittany.
“She wanted me to let her cheat off my exam!” Brittany shouted from inside choking back her next round of snotty tears.
“Hells bells girls, cut it out!” Eunice commanded.
Jenna shoved Eunice against the adjacent stall knocking her backward. Without hesitation Eunice did a karate side-kick plunging her sneaker into Jenna’s stomach. It bent her in half like a soft-shelled taco and sent her to the floor. Her eyeballs looked berserk in a hissy fit not seen since Who Let the Dogs Out won a Grammy for best song.
“Oh wait! Jesus Eunice never mind! We were just settling a score on Brittany’s broken promise,” Melanie said, defending Jenna while helping her up.
“You’re gonna get it bitch!” Jenna said in a winded whisper. Her eyes looking as if she held back a conniption fit.
Jenna and Melanie slowly hobbled out.
Eunice let rosy-cheeked Brittany out of the stall, a number eleven of mucus dripped from her nostril to her mouth, her back brace a tangled mess around her waist.
“Darlin’ you can’t play games with rich girls. They are complete assholes?”
“Well I just hope Jenna’s face freezes like that!” Brittany said, as if it were the wittiest thing.
“Just lay low with those cows. Mark my words karma will get them,” Eunice said.
Back in class Eunice thought about her lightning speed reaction to protect Brittany. She had no remorse or fear of consequence which could bite her one day. It should have scared her but memory gaps like this had happened to her before.
She forgot about the incident until a few hours later heading to Principal Skinner’s office. Jenna Neal, Justice Neal and her mother sat in the waiting area glaring.
“Eunice as per the district and school board guidelines, I have no choice but to suspend you for three days,” Skinner said, with authoritarian dryness. His tired eyes lacking compassion.
Eunice was quiet. She wished she had a great comeback line to defend herself but she didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. In fact, she had zero recollection of ever leaving English class.
“Judge Neal, Jenna, please excuse me. I need to discuss next steps and protocol with Mrs. Johnston,” Skinner stood up to direct the Neal’s out. Jenna gave Eunice a customary fuck you look.
Skinner turned back to them with a concerned frown. “Mrs. Johnston, in light of the recent violent episodes, that’s two this month,” Skinner said. “We’ve contacted Booker T. High School and they’ve agreed to take Eunice one year early providing she doesn’t get into any further incidents,” Skinner said. He winked faintly at Eunice. Was he doing her a favor by getting her out of Nixon and into Washington? She wanted to think so but Booker T. was known for being a tough school so perhaps it was a punishment.
Not light enough, not dark enough. Why me?
“But, that’s a high sch...” Eunice said, as Martha interrupted.
“Mr. Skinner I’m forever grateful for your intervention but does Eunice have enough credit under her belt to skip a grade?” she asked.
“As you well know Eunice is smart and if I may be frank Mrs. Johnston, that high school will put Eunice where she belongs. The student body is mainly African American. This will be much healthier for all involved,” he said. The all black high school excited her. Enough with this trying to pass for half-white bullshit!
“I see. You have my word that after suspension Eunice will be bright eyed and bushy tailed. You will notice a huge difference. Eunice let’s go please,” Martha said, yanking her daughter’s arm.
One of the few things her folks agreed upon was being pissed off she’d squandered the opportunity at white bread Nixon Elementary, “Young lady I had to pull a few favors to get you in there! Oh well. C’est la vie!” Martha said.