by Brown-Eyed Girl
“Well, I’ll tell you, one of ‘em moved out by me,” Danny said.
The voice of another family member rang out. “Out in Catalina?”
“Yep. They’re taking over and the city government is letting them. I never thought I’d see the day. When we were young, everybody liked to keep to themselves. Coloreds didn’t want a white neighbor and we didn’t want them either! Ain’t that right, Owen?”
“How would Owen know? He didn’t grow up here, he lived in Ohio,” Danny’s wife Kathy said, looking at me for validation.
Before I could say anything, Danny was at it again. “Oh you be quiet now old woman. Me and Owen used to talk about this kinda thing all the time. Tell ‘em about the Colored waitress that dropped that beer in your lap at that bar we went to.”
I smiled faintly. Once when I had just met Diane, about twenty-two years ago when we were in college, her brother had come to visit and I had taken him out to one of my favorite bars for a meal and a couple of drinks. The waitress was a pretty black girl, she was skinny with flamingo legs and she wore her dark brown hair flipped out. When she was bringing our refill a man standing behind her called for everyone to watch out and shot out both of his arms to clear the area. I guess she didn’t hear him over the blaring music, or maybe she just didn’t know exactly where to move to get out of the way of his spewing vomit. But whatever the reason, the man pushed her with an outstretched arm and she and her tray went tumbling down onto me.
Diane’s brother, Danny, had jumped to his feet immediately and stepped in front of me and the black girl awkwardly crumbled between my lap and the floor.
I thought that he was going to help her up, but instead he just stood over both her and me and said, “What are you waiting for you clumsy Nigger? Get up and get this man something so he can clean hisself up!”
Then he puckered up his lips, swishing them around like he had mouthwash in his mouth, dropped his head, and spat right on the girl. She scrambled to her feet and ran to the back of the bar. She didn’t come out again that night to serve us or anyone else.
As soon we waved Danny back home in his black Ford pickup, I turned to Diane. “You didn’t tell your brother that I was biracial did you?”
She didn’t look surprised, nor did she say a word. She just looked at me and turned to walk inside. I followed her in and asked her again. “Did you?”
“My family lives in Tulia, Texas.”
“What does that have to do with telling your brother about who you’re dating?”
“My family doesn’t know any-” She paused then, and continued reluctantly, staring off into the corner. “People like you.”
“You mean biracial people?”
“Owen, you look white. You’re educated, you’re polite, and I love you very much. Why would I ruin it and tell my family that you’re part black?”
“Because I am? Do you know that your brother spit on a black girl and called her a Nigger in the bar we went to? That’s embarrassing and it’s rude.”
“I know, but that’s just how Danny is. That’s how they all are.”
“And that’s how you are too?”
“Sort of. I’ve never had any friends that were black or even mixed. I know you are, but you’re different. You don’t even have any black friends, Owen. You act white. I don’t understand why you even tell people that your father was black. When has it ever helped you to be black?”
“Why should it have to help me? It’s just who I am. I loved my father and his family very much.”
“Yes, but did they love you?”
I looked at Diane with fierce eyes, intense with anger for her bringing up my father’s side of my family. My parents had never been married, but they both lived in Youngstown, Ohio and although I lived primarily with my mother, I visited my father a lot. He was a genuinely nice man and he put people at ease just looking at him. He had smooth, pretty skin the color of a faded manila envelope, and a little browner where it stretched over his knees and elbows. The best thing about him was his eyes though. They were big and clear brown and they sparkled so much that I used to think that he could see into people’s souls.
The only problem with my father was his drinking. Every night after he ate dinner he would go off and drink until he ended up in the bed one way or the other- either passed out or asleep. When he died of liver problems when I was eighteen, the church was more packed than I had ever seen it- everybody loved my father.
But not everyone in his family loved me so much. They didn’t like that I lived with my white mother, for one. But they sure pretended to like me after the reading of my father’s will. He had left it up to me to decide what to do with all of his money and belongings. My family wanted me to use the money start some type of family-run business; it was hotly debated whether it should be a store or a restaurant.
I had different plans for my father’s money. I used it to pay for my college education and promised my family that as soon as I was out, I would use my degree to help them start up both a restaurant and a store. I thought that was how my father would have wanted it, so that I wouldn’t have to work hard and struggle my whole life like he did, but my family thought differently. After I told them my decision about the money, they told me to go back to my fat cracker mama and stay there where I belonged. I never spoke to them or heard from them again.
Of course, I had told Diane all of this, which made her question pertinent, which really got under my skin. What had being half black done for me? Being white got me into a good college, got me all the friends I had, and got me a beautiful girlfriend. Plus the only family who was still around for me was white.
A year after that conversation with Diane, I asked her to marry me. We had been married for twenty years to the day, and her family still had no clue that I was really mixed, or a “halfie” as they would put it. I was secretly their worst fear, tainting the family with “Nigra blood” and moving in next to unsuspecting white neighbors.
I turned to Danny and said to him, “Oh she was nothing special, just a clumsy Nigger girl. They’re always doing something.”
“Yeah you’re right about that. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” He put his arm around me and pointed to where Diane and their mother, Sherry, were standing. “Looks like it’s time for you and Diane to cut the cake.”
As I looked at my white wife standing under the rainbow speckled banner that read “Happy 20th Anniversary Diane and Owen,” I faintly remembered having Sunday dinners at my father’s house, when the whole family would crowd under one roof and spill out into the yard laughing and dancing and poking fun at one another. I remembered the sweet smell of yams and the not-so-sweet smell of chitterlings, and how my grandmother’s cornbread would crumble when it passed my lips. I remembered my Aunt Samira’s laugh, so loud and powerful that it acted like a ball, bouncing off of everyone else and making them laugh along with her; I remembered my Great Uncle Byron, who would slap all the children on the behinds with his cane when we passed to go outside, telling us that he knew we would do something to deserve it later on. But most of all I remembered my father’s eyes, two brown dots penetrating into my soul.