I am in Mrs. Macon’s class at Orange Grove Elementary. I am wearing a dress decorated with a yellow school bus and various school supplies (you know, the usual). It is pink and plaid and has a poem about how I was almost late to school, because I slept in, but how happy I am to be there now. (Later, I will find that the first part is a theme that will occur in my life far more than the second). Mrs. Macon releases the entire class for a group bathroom break. Perfect timing, I think. Because, while Mrs. Macon had been teaching us a lesson on fractions, I had been busy crafting a retainer out of a paper clip, and our bathroom break was the perfect time to see how it looked on me and make the final touches. Yes, you read that correctly. While most kids were reeling at the thought of having to get braces one day, I was looking around at my peers, finding myself immensely jealous of the ones whose mouths were decorated with brightly colored rubber bands. How I longed for a metal-mouth of my own.
I had no idea how to fashion faux braces, but after surveying my school supplies, I realize that a retainer would be more easily attainable. And after all, the whole point of braces is to get you to the retainer part, right? I’m merely skipping a step. I am standing in front of the mirror, trying on my retainer, straightening out the ends to fit in my mouth better. (Like, I was fooling anyone). I say my name a few times. My favorite part about this new “retainer” is that it gives me a little lisp. (Because nothing says, “coolest kid on the block” like a retainer AND a lisp).
In walks Takayla Dean. Takayla is much cooler than me. You can tell by her clothes. She is wearing short jean shorts, a white tank top and sneakers. You can tell she means business just by looking at her. I mean, even her stomach was showing a little bit. My knees are barely showing. If one were to look at me, they would probably just assume that I got separated from my mother and need help finding my way back. Takayla looks like she can take on the streets. She walks up to me as I’m minding my own business, flashing my new and improved metallic smile.
“What are you doing?” she spits at me.
“Oh, I’m just straightening my retainer.” (Again, not fooling anyone).
“That ain’t no retainer.”
“Um, yes it is. I just made it. I’m waiting for my dentist to make me a real one. This is just for practice.”
I put my retainer back in my mouth to show her.
I’m facing her now and Takayla walks my back into the mirror and with her face close to my face, she says,
“I SAID that AIN’T NO retainer.”
“Pleath get out of my fathe,” I say, like a baby with a speech impediment.
“This is stupid. You’re stupid.”
Takayla wouldn’t step off, so I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I may be wearing a pink and plaid dress with a poem about school on it, but I am also a yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do. She really doesn’t know who she’s dealing with here. I take a deep breath, just like my TKD instructor had taught me. Fighting is the last resort and if you think it’s going to come down to a fight, you need to make sure you are in the right headspace. Try first to solve all your problems verbally. If that doesn’t work, mentally prepare for the beatdown. My words weren’t getting me anywhere. My words suck. So I let out a breath, lift my hand into the air, close my eyes (wait, what?) and put two fingers (the pointer and the middle) right smack dab in the middle of Takayla’s forehead and gently push her away…by her face. Like the badass yellow belt that I am…who obviously never paid attention to anything in Tae Kwon Do, because what kind of move is that?
If you’re not getting a full picture of what this moment was like, picture an angry lion walking up to you, staring directly at you, growling. Put two fingers on that lion’s forehead and push it away slowly. There, now we’re all on the same page.
Takayla throws her arms back in the air and looks at her friend, giving her the eyes that say, “Oh it’s on.” Then she redirects her gaze at me. She pushes me and I fall down instantly, because I am a tiny white girl and don’t stand a chance against a tiny black girl with rage in her eyes.
I crawl under the sink for refuge and Takayla kicks me repeatedly.
“No, stop. Please… stop… I’m sorry.” I squeak out from under the sink, in between kicks.
Takayla is calling me dumb and I’m taking the beating like a champ, when I hear Mrs. Macon call to us from the hallway.
“Ok class, everyone back in the classroom.”
Takayla and her friend who sucks, race out of the bathroom and into the hallway. I slowly stand up and brush off the dust and dirty ground water from my dress. I look in the mirror to see how much my retainer has been jostled during the brawl. It still looks good…for being a paper clip. I walk out of the bathroom and into my classroom, where I am promptly greeted by my teacher.
“Destini, we need to talk about what just happened in the bathroom. Takayla said you hit her?”
“No… I didn’t hit her.”
“YES SHE DID MRS. MACON!!!” Takayla shouts and now the whole class is interested.
“I didn’t!” I look around, waiting for someone to help me out. Will NOBODY stand up for the girl in the school bus dress? Do they honestly think I am capable of hitting someone while wearing this thing?
Mrs. Macon speaks again. “Destini, we don’t tolerate fighting here.”
“I know! Zero tolerance! But…she kicked me!” I plea.
“BUT ONLY BECAUSE SHE HIT ME FIRST!” Takayla is on it. She has clearly been in this position before.
“Destini, did you hit Takayla?” Mrs. Macon asks me gently.
“I put my fingers on her face and pushed her away, because she was yelling at me.”
“Why was she yelling at you?” Mrs. Macon questions.
“She called me stupid and I pushed her face away from mine and then she kicked me.”
“Ok, well I’m going to have to write both of you up for fighting in the bathroom. You’ll need to take this paper home and get it signed by your parents and bring it back to me tomorrow. And Destini, take the paper clip out of your mouth.”
I am defeated. This is the first time I’ve gotten in trouble at school, aside from that time in Kindergarden where I had to sit in time out for five minutes, for running indoors. But this, this was far worse. I had a write-up. I had to have my mom sign a paper that said I was in trouble. In trouble for fighting. Who am I? What will I become? Is this the start of my downward spiral? What will I be like next year? A fourth-grade crackhead? I need to jump off this train before it’s too late.
That night at home, my mom and I are laying down reading a book together. This is our thing. The chapter ends and I know I have to face this now. I had held off through the drive home from school, through dinner, through our book…but now it was bedtime and shit was about to get real. The only thing I feared more than having to tell my mom I got written up for fighting, was having to go back to school and tell Mrs. Macon I didn’t get my paper signed by my mom. I start crying. This is my move. (Still to this day, should a problem arise, I have to cry it out before I can appropriately handle the situation).
“I got in trouble today,” I say through sobs.
“For what?” my mom asks.
My mom looks confused. Even SHE knew I was incapable of this kind of debauchery. She saw what I left the house in this morning.
I tell my mom everything. About my retainer (then we talk about germs and how paper clips are disgusting), about Takayla getting in my face, about me pushing her face away, about all the kicking, everything. Then I start crying harder.
“Please don’t tell Mr. Ferkile!!” I cried.
Mr. Ferkile is my Tae Kwon Do instructor. He is one nice, but tough, man from North Korea. One of his many rules is that if you get in trouble at school, you get in trouble at TKD practice. I was dreading this part the most.
“I’m so sorry, please don’t tell Mr. Ferkile.” My eyes are puffy and bloodshot.
“Destini,” my mom says sympathetically, while putting my hair behind my ears, “Honey, I’m not going to tell your Tae Kwon Do instructor that you got beat up in the bathroom and didn’t defend yourself.”
Good point, Mom. I was a yellow belt now. Soon, I would be a green belt. Time to get serious.
The next time a sassy black girl tries to fight me, I would be ready.