IN THE FIFTH GRADE MY DREAMS BECAME FLESH. There was a little girl in my class who wore a pink sweater with pearl like buttons down the front. It was a soft pink cashmere confection that glowed even more gloriously against the girl’s dark black skin. The tiny buttons that adorned its front were not flat like the cheap sweaters I wore but were raised round pearlized pieces of wonder. I thought about that sweater all day long on the days she wore it. I loved that sweater. I didn’t have anything as lovely as that sweater.
In the fifth grade, it was my job to clean the blackboards after school each day. One day, the little girl forgot the sweater. She had carelessly left it hanging on the back of her chair. How could she have gone home without that sweater, I wondered.
On the day the little girl left the sweater, I was absolutely alone in the room, or so I thought, cleaning the blackboards while I waited for Mr. Mel’s school bus to arrive and pick us up for the journey home. I had the overwhelming compulsion to take it, and so I did.
I took the sweater, balled it up and stuffed it into my school bag. I caught the bus home and hid the sweater in among my meager things. I never told a soul I had the sweater. That was on a Tuesday.
By Friday of that same week, my mother was summoned up to the school and was told that I had stolen the sweater.
Understand that my parents were extremely poor. My mother didn’t work and my father worked at Stuckey’s Lumber Mill making forty dollars a week. He had eight people – two adults and six children – to feed, clothe, and house on that paltry sum.
My teacher, oblivious at the time, I thought to our plight, asked my parents to pay for the sweater.
My mother went home, having never confronted me directly, and tore the house apart until she found the sweater and returned it to the little girl the very next day.
A week after that, the two girls from my dreams, showed up seemingly from nowhere. I can barely begin to relate to you my confusion and apprehension. Two people that I thought were products of my nightmares were suddenly standing in front of me! They began following me all around school, calling me a thief. They were relentless.
I remember one day during recess being on the playground with my friends, and these two girls came over to where we were playing – and working like sheep dogs – separated me from the other kids. They got me alone in an isolated part of the playground. For a few moments, they just stood there regarding me as if they were figuring out the best way to tear into my flesh. And then they smiled — an evil smile that sent a chill of fear through me. Slowly they began circling me. Round and round they went, taunting me as they went, screaming, Thief! Thief! She stole my pink sweater! Thief! Thief! Neither one of these girls was the little girl in my class who normally wore the coveted sweater.
I knew from experience, that I had to get to someplace safe or somehow anchor myself. So, I grabbed onto a nearby pole and held on as they circled me, faster and louder. They kept this up until their screams became a roar in my ears. It was my friends, Betty, Carolyn, Shirley, and Virginia who came to my rescue.
After that, I came to realize that whenever something bad happened to me at school, these two older girls were usually the source of the problem.