Pride Me Not
Short and slender, he was a wonderful 12-year-old chance-selling companion on the avenue just a block north from where we went to school. Joyfully, we'd laugh and joke about how we'd beat out the competition from our classmates and get that television set for one of our homes. We'd outsell them because we had something they didn't; we were bi-racial, not by birth but the fact that he was black and I was white--a sometimes shocking combo even in our ethnically diverse neighborhood. In that regard we'd get both black and white shoppers to stop and buy chances from us.
George, with his engaging smile and gracious manner, would amble up to a likely woman and ask, "Buy a chance? It's for our school. We'll use the money to fix up our school yard. They're only a quarter or four for a dollar." No bargain at four for a dollar, but people seemed to fall for it, sometimes.
In addition to my friend being black, George was also beginning to exhibit an orientation that was not greeted with glee in the surrounding neighborhoods. George was obviously gay and his quirky flashes of hand, waist and hip movements projected his "fairy" qualities for everyone to see. Even his manner of speaking had that lyrical tone not found in the rough neighborhood boys.
He didn't try to contain it. After all, he was already being "punished" for being black and the boys in school mocked him, so why not let the whole package hang out there? Yes, George was braver than anyone I knew but I didn't know it then.
The Spring chance-selling season didn't last very long, perhaps two months, but it didn't matter. I brought George home to pick up my book of chances. He already had his in his two back pockets.
The greeting we got from my mother as she opened the door should have told me something was amiss, but I was full of the heady stuff of winning a TV. OMG, a TV! Normally, my mother was a woman of few words, but the look should have told me something.
The idea of having a TV was making me high as though on some hidden drug. It was a dream come true. We didn't have a TV and I couldn't imagine what it would be like not to have to go to sit in the TV section of the local department store to watch programs after school. If we won, I could actually sit on our living room couch and select whatever channel I wanted. It was beyond enjoyable. It brought delirium to my mind. It clouded my perception and my usual sensitive social antenna were not deployed.
A moment's look at George, with no words spoken, and we were in the living room. I snatched my packet of chance books from the dining room table. Off we went with a shouted "goodbye" lingering in the air as we jumped off the stoop. To the avenue!
Chance-selling efforts were lukewarm on most days we went to hawk them. Quickly, George and I saw that our plan to appeal to both black and white shoppers didn't carry any weight in favor of us. Once again, that other student in our class, the one who had her sister take books to work, beat us by a wide margin. The TV lived on only in dashed dreams.
Almost immediately after the winners were announced and all our leftover books were discarded, my mother told me I couldn't be with George anymore. The neighbors had told her that he was "odd" and, in addition to that, he was a black boy and I was a white girl. Things like that weren't acceptable or "right." She listened and, for some unknown reason, followed their suggestion. This was outside her normal reaction because she was a highly independent woman.
Nothing more was said. There was no discussion, as was usual in our home when a bit of disagreement arose, and I stopped being friends with George. Within a short time, he transferred schools because the teasing had become so intense that they had raised it to shoving him around in the school yard. George was in real danger.
The boys, with their eyes out for vulnerable seventh-grade girls, didn't want George taking away any of their attention. And they didn't want any black boys hanging around with white girls, even those in whom they had no interest.
The honor of white males and white young girls was in their hands, as they probably felt or reasoned it to be. Testosterone was pumping through their veins and it fueled this imaginary honor code they believed in. He'd have to be taught a lesson and they began to plan.
Shortly after a school yard meeting, George turned up in class after lunchtime recess with a bloody nose. The "accident" was blamed on his walking in the way when the boys were playing Johnny on the Pony and he was slammed into a brick wall, face first.
"He's going to stay with his grandma in the South," I was told when I asked at school where George was. In the South? Did they honestly believe George was going to be safe when I knew he had a love of dresses, which he hoped to sew someday?
Now, as the world celebrates the freedom from gay repression, I wonder where George is and how he's doing. If I were to meet him again, I'd have to apologize for my family, my friends, but most of all, for not standing up to my mother on that day.
I'm sorry, George.