BY SAND J BUTTER
My mom grabs my hand, unconsciously squeezing it from her anxiety. Her cheeks are flushed turning pink with the intensity of the heat. Black and white faces pack like sardines as people search for their luggage. Time stops as we walk through the sea of men begging us to buy their knock-off brands. My observation is interrupted by a tall man standing close to his 1999 Honda CR-V. He gestures towards us and screams something in Canadian-French. We run towards him—my mom excited to see her brother-in-law, my father’s disbelief of seeing his younger brother, my sister’s confusion, and my relief in knowing we’d be in cold air for at least thirty minutes. The car rides last an hour and a half with non-stop chatter from my parents, and both my sister and I falling into deep sleep hoping to wake up to an unlimited supply of food and popsicles.
My sister and I meet the cousins we claim to have known since birth. I try and keep up with the different French dialects as each of my cousins formally introduces themselves. The formal introductions are interrupted by my sister and mine.
‘Nice to meet you too’
“Oh, parle Français non!” Speak French! My mother says. I attempt to follow her instructions by saying “Je m’appelle Sand J, ca c’est Ludjy.” My name is Sand J, this is Ludjy. The awkward silence breaks with an uproar of laughter as my mother mimics my words to my cousins. I force a smile and decide to stay quiet unless I’m spoken to.
“Beach?” My cousin blurts out. My eyebrows furrow together, but looking at the excitement in his eyes, I shrug my shoulder and let out a “Sure.”
Sitting on my mom’s floral towel, I watch the water as its clearness resembles tiny diamonds encrusted together reflecting the warmth of the sun. I watch the fish splash mimicking the patterns of the waves as the hot sun roasts my toes. The kids run carelessly through the sand, digging their feet in as they create footprints. I watch a girl in the distance, her kinky coils cascading on top of one another, letting the water swallow her curls, a townsman selling raw sugarcane bartering with three customers, one French-speaking lady holding a purse, a small child holding what looks like loose change, and a loud man wearing only swim trunks holding ten Haitian dollars. Surrounded by my cousins, they exchange words that are a mixture of Haitian-Creole and French often switching between the dialects. I try to resemble them but realizing my broken, unpracticed French is a bootleg version of theirs.
“No! J’nais faire rien! C’est pas possible!” One of my cousins bursts out, splashing the others as they canter into a wave of laughter. I smile with them. The water is warm, and the radiance of laughter feels like a soft hug. The fish swim below us and consider us their companions as they smile at us, but among the laughter I can’t smile back.
I draw stick figures and flowers with my fingers on the window to distract myself from thinking about greeting Mr. Heizer’s yellow teeth at the front door. I step out of the car and make my way towards the building. Sturgis is one of the few charter schools on the Cape. Parents sacrifice limbs to get their kids on the waiting list—lucky me I get in on the first try. I can’t wait to be surrounded by narcissistic, small-minded white humans. As I walk into Ms. Kelly’s biology class, I realize it teaches us more about life than we’ll ever know. We don’t just learn about mitosis and taxonomy, we understand the inequality of social class, and how education in America is a scam. Ms Kelly does her best in educating us beyond the book, but some of the kids just don’t get it—I am one of them.
I sit in my unassigned assigned seat. To my right is Kacee, and my left Mia, directly in front is Sarah. Kacee is my best friend, her thin chocolate hair complimenting her small face. She claims she has several “ethnic” friends, but I am her special ethnic friend.
“You’re like black on the outside, but white on the inside, like an oreo! I’m gonna call you oreo now!”
“Yeah!” Acknowledging her words as a compliment, I flip through my book finding the lecture Ms Kelly has for today.
‘Classification and Biodiversity’
Mia is another one of my close friends, she is pale, thin with platinum blonde hair covering her heart-shaped face. She is the smartest with her frail fingers towering above her head each class to give the answer. Sarah is a friend to me, but I am a best friend to her. I’m not as smart as her and don’t receive private after-school tutoring like she does. She has a plump face, with blonde, curly hair. I meet her braces before I meet her, as she constantly plucks the elastics in her mouth during class. She plays volleyball and is into men significantly older than all of us—even Ms. Kelly. She suggests that we are sisters because I talk like her and always have my hair straight.
“Oh my gosh look, we literally have the same butt, if we stand back to back, we can’t even touch backs cause our butts are so big, literally black girls have such big butts, we’re basically related!” she says.
“Yeah, seriously!” I laugh with her, looking back at her I can’t understand if I misidentify as a white girl or fake black girl. I make a conclusion, it is both.
I dig my hands in my pockets as the beats of H.E.R’s Changes play through my headphones. It’s Thursday, my long day, and classes are back to back. The buzzing of my phone catches my attention with a text from WaWa replying to my earlier text of ‘Have a good day’ with a ‘You as well.’ I walk to my first class, Media Theory. We discuss the R. Kelly case and that allegations against him have not yet been made. I absorb the comments regarding the #MuteRKelly campaign, and how our professor occasionally comments by providing unbiased appropriate opinions.
“If several women have accused this man of sexual assault acts, still so crazy to think that he’s not found guilty,” she says.
I notice the sea of white students that sit like ducks in a row beside each other. Then my attention is directed to my chocolate skin that is inescapable through my dark clothes and my tightly coiled black hair that doesn’t gracefully fall on my back. The slide switches to another with a question. “Discuss with someone next to you,” our professor says. My immediate reaction is to turn to the closest person to me, being the only other girl in my row, I attempt to discuss with her. Her gaze is fixed at her computer, making small, subtle movements to indicate her focus. I sit back in my seat, rolling the chair further away from her and, since I’m the closest person to me in this moment, I’m forced to have a mini discussion with myself. Back in my dorm, my phone buzzes on my bed, I pick it up and it reads “Dad.”
“Hey! How you doing?”
“I’m doing okay, just been kinda rough for me.”
“Oh, I know but, keep holding on.”
“I guess so.” I breathe heavy and there’s silence between us.
“It’ll all be worth it trust me, don’t give up.”
“Okay, thank you daddy, love you.”
“Love you too.”
I lay back on my bed, and I click the forward button, H.E. R’s Free plays. As I lock my fingers together, I feel my mom’s hands squeeze mine when we arrive at the airport, the stick drawings I make to distract me, and hiding my hands in my pockets before class. I unlock my hands letting them hang freely. Not on my bed, my pockets, or on my window drawing figures, but letting them dangle in the air, floating, not connected to anything, right where they need to be.
Sand J Butter is a Haitian American writer whose work is inspired by her childhood experiences of cultural assimilation. Her work is truly inspired by her two parents who supported her work and education. She hopes her work can inspire young black women to feel valued among their cultural experiences.
Image Credit: “Laws of Attraction” by Brenda Mann Hammack
Read by Sand J Butter