I had to snatch a knot in her behind once for putting furniture polish in their milk. Made 'em take a nap in the doghouse with the dog and fed 'em Alpo while I went downtown to pay some bills. Had 'em practice drowning in a bathtub full of cold water. How many steps could they jump down with their eyes closed without falling. The list goes on. Now, all my kids is taller than average, as good-looking as they come and as dark as you can get, and I spent what I felt was a whole lotta unnecessary time and energy teaching 'em to appreciate the color of their skin. To not be ashamed of it. I used to tell 'em that the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice, 'cause everybody know that back then being yellow with long wavy hair meant you was automatically fine, which was bullshit, but here it is 1994 and there's millions of homely yellow women with long straggly hair running around still believing that lie.
Anyway, no matter what I did or said to make my kids feel proud, Charlotte was the only one who despised her color. Never mind that she was the prettiest of the bunch. Never mind that she had the longest, thickest, shiniest hair of all the black girls in the whole school. And nothing upset that chile more than when Paris started getting breasts and learned how to do the splits and Charlotte couldn't. She was the type of child you couldn't praise enough. Always wanted more. But, hell, I had three other kids and I had to work overtime to divide up my energy and time. What was left, I gave to Cecil. Where's my lunch? I know this ain't no hotel, but a person could starve to death in this hospital. Would you look at that: it's raining like cats and dogs and here it is March. This weather in Vegas done sure changed over the years. It sound like bullets hitting these windows. I wish they would turn that damn air conditioning down. My nose is froze and I can't even feel my toes no more. I hope I ain't dead and just don't know it.
Anyway, it ain't my fault that right after we left Chicago and moved to California, Charlotte didn't like it and put up such a fuss that we sent her ass back there to live with my dinghy sister, Suzie Mae. She forgot to tell me and Suzie Mae she was damn near four months pregnant when I put her on the train. Young girls know how to hide a baby when they want to, and I'm a hard person to fool. I pay attention. Don't miss too much of nothing. But Charlotte is good at hiding a whole lot of stuff. She snuck and got married, and wasn't until another two months had passed when Suzie Mae come calling me saying, "You could send your daughter a wedding present or at least a package of diapers for the baby." What baby? Did I miss something? But I was not about to ask. I sent her a his-and-her set of beige towels from J. C. Penney, even though I didn't know nothing about the boy except his name was Al and he was a truck driver whose people was from Baton Rouge, so I couldn't get no initials put on 'em. I bought a mint-green booty set for the baby, 'cause they say it's bad luck to plan so far ahead, and right after her honeymoon (they didn't go nowhere except to spend the night at the Holiday Inn two exits off the freeway from where they live), Charlotte woke up in the middle of the night in a puddle of blood. She was having terrible cramps and thought she was in labor, except later on she tells us that the baby hadn't moved in two or three days. The doctors had to induce labor, and the baby was stillborn - a boy.
I asked if she wanted me to come there to be with her, and she told me no. Her husband would take care of her. And that he did. With so much going on, college slipped her mind altogether. She got that job at the post office and worked so much overtime I don't know when they found time to make anything except money, but somehow they managed to generate three more kids. Now, Tiffany - that's her oldest daughter - got those big gray eyes and that high-yellow skin and that wavy plantation hair from her daddy's side of the family - they Louisiana Creoles - which is why she walk around with her ass on her shoulders thinking she the finest thing this side of heaven.
Reprinted from A Day Late and a Dollar Short by Terry McMillan by permission of Viking Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Terry McMillan. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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