[To the few of you actually subscribed to this rarely-updated blog for my political rantings, I have decided to get serious and blog that commentary at my new site: Primarily Politics (primarilypolitics.com).
Meanwhile, I am re-dedicating this blog solely to my personal life, including occasional fiction writing.]
–990 Words– “19. Nemesis Attacks”
I watch the other kids play games in the schoolyard. I want to play, too, but they never let me. And I would be really good at those games, too. Instead, they make fun of me. Sometimes they throw dirt clods at me. Jabari Simms spit on me once in third grade, but he got suspended for three days and I heard his father beat his butt. Anyway, I always keep my head up, just like my grandmother says.
At today’s session, the school psychiatrist asks me how I see myself. I say, “I’m fat and I’m a bad singer and I’m too dark. And I’m only in fifth grade so I can’t run away from home yet.”
She smiles like she wants to laugh at a joke too sad to enjoy. She’s a nice lady. She wants to help me accept who I am, but she can’t accept me herself. I’m not mad at her.
“Is there anything else?” she says.
“Like what?” I ask. Stubborn.
She steels herself.
“Your hand,” she says, and puts her own hand on my arm, not quite able to will herself to touch it.
I look below the table at it, resting in my lap.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I say.
This has been going on for months.
She sighs and asks about my grandmother.
That night, my grandmother and I have fried catfish for dinner, my favorite.
Whenever I ask my grandmother about my mama, she tenses up. “She loved you very much,” she always says. She says it sternly, like a lesson she needs me to learn. “And I love you. Every day, I love you.” And she stoops down to where I am sitting so that she can look in my eyes. And she takes my right hand into her left hand.
And she takes my claw into her right hand.
It’s reddish-brown and about the size of a catcher’s mitt, but it’s more like a lobster claw. The doctors say my fingers fused and that it’s not unheard of to have a hand like mine, though mine is…unique.
They can’t explain the thick shell, for example.
When I’m nervous, I click the thumb part and the fingers part together, just like a lobster. If I do it really hard, the sound is like slamming two bricks together. I don’t tell anyone how strong it is. That’s my secret. That’s what keeps me from going crazy. I’m not afraid.
When I get to school the next day, there’s a new student in class. His name is Marvin and all of the girls are whispering and giggling. He’s tall for our grade, light brown-skin, curly-hair, high cheekbones. I notice these things because he’s everything I’m not. No girl will ever look at me like Marvin, or even Jabari, who’s confident and strong, even if he is short.
Jabari, sensing the competition, hates him instantly. “He look like a little girl, y’all,” he says, and several of the boys laugh. Marvin, three rows up, pretends not to hear. When Mrs. Horton turns away, Jabari throws a spitball at him. The class erupts in laughter. Marvin keeps staring straight ahead, the spitball eventually falling to the floor.
On the playground that day, Marvin sits on the sidelines, forlorn, not far from me. Jabari is triumphant. He seems to notice my claw slowly. I sit all the way in the back and he hasn’t seen it.
“Whoa,” he says. He walks over cautiously. I try to cover it. “Cool! Does it hurt?” I shake my head.
“Man, I wish I had a claw. No one would ever mess with me!” And I start to tell him about how wrong he is. How lonely it is to be deformed and fat and ugly—even if I did crush an aluminum bat with it once. That last part just came out.
Marvin says he’s cursed, too–with good looks. We both crack up laughing. Then I tell him how miserable he would be if no one ever wanted to play football with him or basketball or—Oh, hell no!—Doctor. He laughs, and he’s not laughing at me. I’m telling him the class gossip when Jabari saunters over with three other boys and stands fifteen feet away. He always likes to make a big show of not getting too close to me.
“What you ladies talking about?” he says suspiciously. Marvin tries to hold his gaze, but can’t. “What y’all doing, kissing?” he says.
“Jabari, man, why don’t you leave us alone?” I say. This is a very long sentence for me and he seizes on it. “Black lobster speaks! He can move them big lips for his girlfriend!” he says. The newly-formed crowd roars.
I stand. “You’re just mad because now you won’t get all of the girls anymore.” and the crowd oohs.
“Shut up, fatass!”, he says.
“Shut your short ass up!” I yell. The crowd shrinks back, surprised, more afraid that I’ll touch them than ever.
But Jabari is furious. He looks silly and he knows it and he’s not used to it. He’s been running things through sheer brute force since kindergarten. He narrows his eyes and I wonder if he’s conjuring up all of the times that he degraded me. Humiliated me. If he’s drawing on those things to strengthen his resolve.
I know I am.
As he charges at me, head down, I think again of all of the games that no one ever let me play and how good I would have been at them. Because in his mind, I know Jabari is turning on the speed, planning to plow into me, to bowl me over, even though I outweigh him by 30 pounds. But in my mind, he is moving about as fast as a turtle. And this time, I have a friend to impress.
I open my claw very wide.