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make your day dance

An anecdote

September 2nd, 2009 · 2 Comments · Tags: ···

Last week while learning the particulars of Writers Workshop, I had to write a “personal narrative” in order to work through the process.  Personal narratives — stories of small & true moments — are foundational in the Writers Workshop method.  Since the one I developed came straight from my life as a dance educator, here it is, with names of people I’ve never met.  It’s called…

Driving Home

“Yeah, I just about popped that girl that looked down her nose at us. She was lucky she looked away.”

“I bet they never seen anyone so black as us.”

“Oooh, but did you hear the audience clap for us at the end?”

“Yeah, we came on strong for the bow.”

“And when we were doin’ our dance too! They got real noisy when Taneesha and Zenalisa came dancin’ back into the sticks.”

“Oh yeah, we were sharp!”

“Hey, look at that dude on the corner – I think he’s my uncle!  Hey, guy!”

“He’s not your uncle!”

“Yeah, he is! Hey, comb your hair, fella!”

“You know, he can’t hear you with the windows closed!”

“Yeah, well, he’s a mess.”

The banter from the three girls in the backseat was like birds chattering on a wire, shrill chirps overlapping and piled on top of each other, as we drove them home, with my husband Rick in the driver’s seat and me riding shotgun. Of the performers in our group this evening, these were the girls without rides, whose parents worked, didn’t have a car, or couldn’t come. As we turned south onto the highway, the cacophony in the backseat continued. I stared out the window, exhausted from directing their energies through the rehearsal and performance, feeling lucky myself that Zenalisa hadn’t decked anyone, and relieved that a fall chill kept their voices inside the car.

“Hey Ms. R, I don’t want to go home. I want to go to Zena’s house tonight. Take me to Zena’s house.”

This was Taneesha, in the middle seat, in one of her loud, buoyant moods.  A tiny slip of a 10-year-old, she wore carefully polished fingernails, big hoop earrings, and was endearingly cocky. She was fragile, brittle, spunky, steely, all at once or in close succession. The three of them, Taneesha, Zenalisa, and Latreece were like sisters, close, quarreling, and quick to rally as a team if one of them were challenged. When Taneesha had her down times, they’d be all over her with sympathy.

“Hey, Ms. R, are we gonna stop at Dick’s like the other night?”

“No, Taneesha,” I said wearily, “Remember the pizza before the performance?  You three ate a lot!”

“But don’t take me home, Ms. R. I wanna go to Zena’s. We moved, you know. My parents aren’t there anymore, where you took me on Thursday.  They’re at the new house. They want me to stay at Zena’s tonight.”

“They didn’t tell me that, Taneesha.  The permission they signed didn’t say that.”

We’d been there just the other night. Her duplex was upstairs, uncomfortably dark when we entered, but the switch at the bottom of the stairs lit our way to the door at the top, past torn carpet and litter on the steps. Her mom had poked her head out.

“Thanks for taking her!  How was it?”

“They did a great job!” I’d waved cheerily and escaped down the stairs as Taneesha ducked inside.

Tonight her insistences accelerated as we got closer.

“I bet you don’t remember the way, Ms. R! This is the wrong turn. It’s not down here. My mom’s at the other house, they moved all the furniture. They’re not gonna be here.”

Her persistence had my thoughts scrambling for a good option. The signed permission was all I had, and I couldn’t guarantee that a voice in a cell phone would be the right one, so I stared silently out the window. Without comment, Rick guided the car through dark streets, retracing our path from the other night. He was the insured driver, since the district didn’t condone teachers driving students. As we pulled up to the shabby two-story, we all saw the pack of young men standing around on the sidewalk. The girls reacted immediately, with urgent, wary voices, dropped almost to whispers.

“Hey, what are they doin’ on my sidewalk?”

“They’re nothin’ but trouble.  Why are they hangin’ out here?”

“Get away from her house…”

“They shouldn’t be here.  They don’t belong.”

There were three or four of them shuffling around on the sidewalk, dark against the dark night, with big jackets and baggy pants. In their late teens or early twenties, they were spread out along the sidewalk, talking and messing around. I’m thinking, “We’re going to stop here? And I’m going to get out?!”  My instincts screamed, “No!”

Our car pulled up to the curb, and with only a minor hesitation, I stepped out and opened the door for Taneesha. As we walked through the pack, she cussed and yelled at them to get away from her house. Shepherding her along, I didn’t even notice the car pulling away from the curb and easing up the block.

With her shout ringing in my ears, I walked briskly, Taneesha at my side. We climbed the steps, crossed the porch, and entered the dark hallway. The dim light brought the same litter to life as Taneesha clicked it on. She ran up the stairs and knocked. There was a muffled response, and she exclaimed, “They’re trippin’ again!” Another knock. “It’s me, I’m home.” Another muffled response, and she repeated with a disgusted grimace, “Ah, they’re trippin’!” The door opened, and she disappeared inside, leaving me helpless and uncertain on the stairs.

Turning away, I stepped briskly back out on the porch and walked quickly past the group again, with purposeful eyes straight ahead.  Just in time, the car pulled to the curb to rescue me.  I stepped in with relief, and Rick pulled away quickly.

After my shoulders had begun to lose their tension, after we’d gotten back on the highway and driven the other two girls home, and after we were driving home to our quiet, empty street in the north end, Rick told me why he’d pulled the car around the corner while I was walking Taneesha into her house.

“When Taneesha cussed at that crowd, Zenalisa & Latreece hit the floor of the back seat. They were expecting gunfire and stray shots!”

Rick had driven around the corner to calm their fears, and the girls had stayed on the floor of the backseat until the night silence, an absence of explosions, brought them out again.

The next day at school, the girls were their usual ebullient selves, nothing out of the ordinary. They chattered and quarreled, challenged and jumped to protect each other. But for me, what was driven home in that drive home was that home can be very uncertain, and that in their world, you have to be ready for gunfire.

Tinikling from the Philippines

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