The Tall Sexy Man & The Nun
'Children begin by loving their parents, after a time they judge them, rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.'
- Oscar Wilde
I wasn't molested as a child. No one beat me with a coathanger. I was never burned by my evil babysitter's cigarette. I grew up in neighborhoods where kids played ball, swang on swings, and rode merry-go-rounds. Santa slid down my chimney, the Easter Bunny hid chocolate eggs in my yard, and the Tooth Fairy left a quarter under my pillow.
A rosy patina of relentless suburban niceness shimmers on the surface of my childhood: roses swimming gently in beds, summery smelling freshly mown grass moaning, golden leaves falling like floating autumnal coins; the taste of cold waterymelon and the lick of a soft cloud of ice cream cone; toboggans and hot chocolate; Fourth of July fireworks and Tom Turkey Thanksgivings; Cream of Wheat mornings and Cat in the Hat nights.
You were happy where I grew up, and if you weren't, you had the decency not to mention it. I don't remember ever seeing a black person, except for the maids who magically appeared in the morning to clean up after us, then disappeared on the afternoon bus.
Into this brave New World came my mother and father, English immigrants from Newcastle, land of lily-skinned, thick-skulled, black-lunged, Broon Ale-swigging Geordies, escaping a land as hard and cold as the coal you're not supposed to bring there.
My mom and dad became American citizens the instant they could, and we had a big party to celebrate, with sparklers twinkling atop a red-white-and-blue sugarlard-icing United States flag-covered cake.
My parents are in many ways embodiments of the American Dream. They came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their back, and after twenty years of hard work, sweat, and sacrifice, they were getting divorced, totally broke, and deep in therapy.'
On Friday afternoon in late Hollywood August, I'm seventeen-year-old freshmeat, just arrived to start my college career at Immaculate Heart College. Sister Liz, a wimply nun, checks me into school. She reminds me of the Singing Nun from my childhood. Only she doesn't sing. She tells me they don't have any dorms. I'm shocked. While I was in exile at boarding school I'd decided to go to college early. Only one place would take me without a high school diploma. That was Immaculate Heart College. So, like a boy a bit too big for his britches, I'd blindly forged ahead without bothering to check whether they had dorms. And since it was later decided I would live with my Mom in LA, no further arrangements had seemed necessary. But things change so quickly sometimes.
I have no place to sleep, and all I have is $27, so I call my father. He says he's having a cash-flow problem. I'm confused. My dad lives large. He seems anxious to get me off the phone, and I can hear a woman who's not my mother laughing high and carrying on in the background.
"Whatever--" I manage to mumble.
Then I hang up.
I consider calling my mom. A quick flash of the last time I talked to her shudders me. It had been a few weeks ago. I was calling to make arrangements for her to pick me up at the LA airport. I was to live with my brother, my sisters, my mom, and her new lover in LA while I was attending IHC.
She'd sounded off-balance. Told me she'd decided to stay up in Oregon because it was so nice there. And since I was already enrolled in college, and tuition was paid, I should just go to college in Hollywood.
The beige phone was cold and hard in my hand as my heart sinks through the rug that was being pulled out from under me.
Good luck and God speed.
I ask Sister Liz if they have a place for me to crash. She says they're not insured for student crashing, but as a last resort, if I need a place to sleep for the night, she could possibly try to arrange something, although she'd really prefer not to.
Copyright David Henry Sterry 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the author.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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