I found this going through my old writing. It was never meant to go anywhere, so I’ll post it here. It ends where it ends, with the expectation for something more. The way a New Year’s Eve should.
The New Year
The beer bottle dangled from his hand as he sat outside on the front steps. His other hand he stuffed in the pocket of his blue jeans, keeping it warm in the burning cold of the winter midnight. The sound of laughter and toasts to the New Year echoed in the house behind him and encroached on his sense of solitude.
They were his older sister’s friends, all of them almost thirty, most of them married, each of them anxious in the way of people with something to prove. Their laughter sounded breakable, like the champagne glasses they kept refilling. Time had them in its grip, propelling them forward into adulthood, and old age, and eventually death. The terror of truly coming to understand the passing of time lent a falsity to their party and he could sense it, hated it, and knew that one day he’d join them in it.
He brushed his hair out of his eyes, lifting his gaze to the sky, explosions from the country club’s fireworks audible but not visible. He didn’t turn around when he heard the stick and give of the front door opening. He didn’t move as two bare lovely legs covered in goosebumps folded beside him, and long blonde hair swung into his peripheral vision.
“Happy New Year,” she said, clinking her champagne glass against his beer bottle.
“Cheers,” he answered, lifting the beer to lips and taking a sip.
Sure, you can say, “It’s just a stupid ice cream song—quit overreacting.” But that’s exactly the fucking point. It’s the most benign, neutral thing I can think of. And this is part of its history (not even buried particularly deep)
So, this reminds me of a song that I was taught by my grandmother growing up. It was a racist song and I had NO IDEA. In fact, when I’d ask my mother what parts of the song meant, she’d obfuscate to avoid telling me the truth. For example, “Mama, what’s a darkie?” “Oh, honey, that’s just a child who is dirty because they are too poor to have running water.” Or, “Mama, what’s a pickaninny?” “Oh, baby, that’s a child who worked in fields picking cotton.”
Uh-huh. I see.
This all culminated one day in the third grade when our teacher offered us extra credit points to stand up and sing any song we wanted. Oh, yes…oh, yes, I stood up and sang this song. My teacher was HORRIFIED. And when I got to the middle of the chorus and messed up, and asked to start over, she was like, “Uh, no, how about you just sit down now.” I was mortified and thought it was because I can’t sing well (and I can’t). But when I told my mom about it later she just about died of embarrassment. Also, there was a black kid in the front row. LET ME TAKE A BOW NOW.
So, yes, the lesson of this story is, I guess, don’t let your mom teach your kids racist songs because then their teachers are gonna think you’re a racist. Also, for what it’s worth, I’m not teaching this song to my kid, obviously. But I still know every. single. word, and I still wish darkies were just dirty children. But…that’s not what it means and I offer up an apology to everyone offended by my childhood ignorance.
By the way, this is the song I sang, except in the version I learned, we said pickaninny instead of the n-word — apparently my Appalachian family had some limits when it came to racist terminology. POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING! THE N-WORD IS USED!:
Speaking of the n-word…my daughter and I were talking about the book Huckleberry Finn the other day and she was asking why some people wanted to ban it. The subject of the n-word came up and I was like, “Well, there’s this word in there that is very offensive, but it was used really regularly back then. What’s interesting, though, is that the book was one of the most important piece of literature for illustrating that humanity is the same no matter a person’s color, and the use of that word in the book was to help illustrate that lesson.”
“What word, Mom?”
“Uh, it’s, the, uh, n-word.”
“What’s the n-word?”
I looked at her little face and couldn’t bring myself to say it. “I can’t say it. It’s just really never okay to say it.”
“But how will I know what it is?”
“I’ll write it down.” I then looked at a piece of paper and the pencil and couldn’t even do that. “I can’t write it down either,” I said. I couldn’t hand a piece of paper to my beautiful seven year old with that word on it.
“But, Mom, how will I know what the word is?”
I almost answered, “That word should be forgotten.” But finally I realized that it’s still pervasive in different parts of our society and culture, she might hear it and repeat it after listening to some rap, for example. So I explained it by saying, “It sounds like the word bigger but has an ‘n’ on the front.”
She said, “Oh. Okay. I’ll never say it, Mom.”
And I was like, “Cool, because it’s worse than the f-word and it’s so insulting to people that it really just shouldn’t be said, okay?”
So…yeah. I couldn’t look into her beautiful face and say such a hurtful, awful word. It sucks so much that there are kids out there who hear it directed at them or their families. I hope some day that stops forever.
In June, I was lucky enough to see the male ballet corps, Trockadero de Monte Carlo. To quote a YouTube user named MozartGirl1756: The Trocks are trying to tell the world that you don’t need to have giant sticks up your ass, noses up in the air and serious for it to be this to be wonderful art form. They’re all amazing and talented dancers who are doing what they love, doing it beautifully AND showing us that ballet isn’t a stuffy form of entertainment.
What I found most amazing about seeing them was how, yes, as you’ll hear in the videos below, there was always a bit of laughter and comedy, but there were also times when the audience would go so still and quiet, emotionally absorbed by the beautiful dancing and the story playing out before them.
Here is a beautiful video of Swan Lake as performed by Trockadero de Monte Carlo:
Seeing them, I was reminded of the Chorus Line song, “At the Ballet”, because, yes, everyone is beautiful at the ballet, every prince must have his swan, and the fact that the dancers are male and covered in chest and armpit hair make them no less beautiful. It was a real treat and I’d like to thank my friend, Pun, for taking me to the show.
Today I’m OVER HERE talking more about Trockadero de Monte Carlo, ballets, and how fairy tales and certain other stories can provide us with a world free of difficult, realistic baggage so that we can explore emotional touchstones in a more open-minded, open-hearted way.
Wow, that sounds super wanky. Go read and let me know if it’s wanky as it sounds. LOL!
As a reminder, Love’s Nest is available on Amazon now. Barnes & Noble and Sony are coming soon! It’s also up on Goodreads where you can mark it as “wanna read” or rate it if you’ve read it already! Hooray!