Then she howled. And we danced and twirled and she threw leaves up in the air and watched them fall and I twirled the large branch and imagined I lived at the top of a tree like a fairy and that Adelmira wove a fence of leaves below me. That no one could get in. That no one could break into us. We stayed like that, enraptured with the muddy fall for another ten or so minutes before she broke our stride.
“I need to head back.”
Snapped out of a parallel daydream, both my hands were full of dirt when I came to.
“I have to take care of my mom.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing, I just have to go.”
“Ok, I’ll walk back with you.”
We both began the trudge through the ditch.
“Are you gonna get in trouble for your clothes?”
She looked down towards her feet and then turned back to me. She was leading.
“I don’t think so. It will be alright.”
She smiled at me, bright. She had a front snaggle tooth. A few other kids I knew had those. My brother said it’s because they couldn’t afford dentists and orthodontry. My mom agreed. My brother said other things too; more negative things but I didn’t repeat them to her.
“I had fun.”
“Me too, want to play tomorrow?”
She was messing with her hair a lot. I envied her hair; long and tangly, fine like mine but longer. Hair was what I felt when I twirled the leaf, envy, hair, what it would feel like to run my fingers through my hair. It was the secret thing I did that I couldn’t explain; touched things that felt like they could move–straws, ribbon, leaves, tall plants. As I touched them, I would imagine they were long locks of my own hair except it wasn’t me, it was the distorted more perfect version of me. The one with hair. The one who had good handwriting. The one who always won the science fair. The one who boys liked and girls admired and she had long hair.
“I like your hair, Adelmira.”
She didn’t say anything but she stopped playing with it. When we got to the edge by the church where we met, I asked her which way she was going. Pointing to the left, towards Chesapeake, she bit her lip.
“I’d invite you but my mom doesn’t like people over. It’s better if we meet here.”
“That’s ok. I am not allowed in that neighborhood. Or that one,” I pointed to my left. “I got off at my friend Parres’ bus stop once but I wasn’t allowed to do it again. I don’t know really know why.”
“I do. It’s cuz your white.”
“No, my mom says it’s cuz it’s too far. Aren’t you white?”
“No,” and she added. “I thought you and I were kind of the same but we’re different. I still like you though. It’s ok that you’re white.”
“Ok,” I became sheepish.
She headed towards Indian River, that was the name of the neighborhood, and I began walking home. I was going to play Kirby I decided. Or Donkey Kong if no one was in the den. It’s cuz your white. Years later, my friend Parres, in high school would turn around on the bus to face me and tell me she thought I was different but that I was white like all the white girls and that we were all racist. I didn’t argue with her but I told her I wasn’t racist. She looked at me. We had once, in third grade, gotten into a fight because she thought I rolled my eyes at her when I was trying to get something out of my eye. My mom taught me a trick–you close your eye and roll it around and whatever is stuck will fall out. In order to keep it closed, I had to pull the eye shut. Because of my predilection for attention, I often tried to get my friends’ attention no matter what I was doing or at least looked their way. Both Parres and another classmate, Tamara, saw me and took it as a slight. I actually did not know this until much later, weeks later when they decided they were done being mad and started doing my hair at lunch again.
“I love your hair,” Tamara would say and run her fingers through it twisting it into a loose braid.
Kids. Kids have no idea what trauma is until hindsight. Hindsight is the adult’s burden. Ignorance is the child’s.