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Chapter Three Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, August 1986 Ten minutes after I called 911, two Somerville police cars pulled up outside the apartment building. Minutes later, my neighbor emerged from the front of the building, wearing handcuffs and flanked by a pair of broad-shouldered police officers. Although I knew my neighbor’s voice all too well, I had never actually seen him. Like any other vampire, he preferred to do his business late at night, away from prying eyes. Illuminated by the flashing blue lights from the two cruisers, the man was much smaller than I had imagined. His hair was dark, as was his skin. Dressed in boxer shorts and a grimy undershirt, he looked thin and vulnerable between the two white cops. From the window, I couldn’t see the woman he’d been fighting with. Maybe she was hiding inside somewhere. Five minutes later it was all over. My neighbor got in the police car, its doors slammed, and the cops drove away, leaving silence in their wake. In my middleclass neighborhood back in Tacoma, people would have been standing in the street, watching the drama unfold, and bemoaning the presence of criminals so close to home. But Somerville was a gritty working-class town on the outskirts of Boston. Lately, a large number of Hispanic immigrants had moved there—including, rumor had it, members of an infamous gang of narcotics dealers from El Salvador. It spoke volumes about my new neighborhood that no one came out to watch the arrest. I sighed and turned away from the window. Another black man on his way to jail, and at least in part, because of me. I wasn’t blind to the fact that my neighbor’s encounter with the justice system was more likely to result in jail time than if he had been white. Was I wrong to call The Man down on a fellow African American? Hakkim Jackson, the very first love of my life, would have thought so.After relieving me of my virginity, Hakkim broke up with me in the cafeteria in front of a table full of black students. “You think you some kinda white girl,” he told me.“But you’re just an Oreo —black on the outside, white on the inside.” The gut-twisting shame I felt stayed with me for years. I felt self-conscious about my light skin and private school vocabulary when I met new black people. 10 11 Carolyn and Sarah, Somerville, August 1986 If I had a darker complexion and came from the ’hood, would I have called the police tonight? Did calling the cops make me a Race Traitor? Wasn’t I a woman as well? What would my Grandmother Alberta have done in my situation? Would she have stood idly by while another woman was being abused? It was now 5 a.m.—too late for me to go back to sleep but too early to be moving around. It seemed as good a time as any to write in my diary. Lately, I’d been writing about things I was afraid to admit to anyone else: How guilty I felt about losing control and throwing that glass at Jeffrey; how important it was to be a good mother to Sarah; how desperately I wanted to work as a jazz musician; how scared I was that I would fail both as a parent and as a musician alone in this strange and dangerous city. I tiptoed into the bedroom, removed a spiral-bound notebook from its place on my cardboard-box-cum-nightstand next to the alarm clock, grabbed a ballpoint pen, and took a seat on the living room floor. There were only two pieces of furniture in my living room—an enormous upright piano I’d purchased for $600 on Somerville Avenue and the piano bench that came with it. My brother David had an old couch he said I could borrow, but until I could find the time to pick it up, the floor was all I had. At least it was carpeted. Dear Diary: The whole issue of race is one painful quagmire, no matter who you are. If you are black, like me, the issue of prejudice is never far from your mind. I chewed on the top of my pen and got lost in memories of the prejudice I’d experienced. Ever since I was twelve years old, I’d wanted nothing more than to play...


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MARC Record
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