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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chi

Tales of an African Bootscratcher: "Unrequited Love in Pre-school"

I have a dent in my arm.


It’s a reminder of a trauma from long ago. There was a daycare center at the bottom of the HUD building where Harold Washington came to visit us. I was in preschool with other children from the building and the surrounding neighborhoods, like my own. Preschool had very few surprises: naptimes on greenish blue cots followed by snacks.


Ricardo sat next to me during story time where I could see up close how his straight black hair would stick straight up. Like my own hair, this brown-skinned boy had hair that seemed to defy gravity. But he had no thread to get it to stay that way, so I could not understand how it did so. He, in turn, was fascinated by my threaded hair that would unwind with his slight tug, turning a strand of hair into a propeller on top of my head.


However, our friendship was brief.


One day, I was playing with paper bricks, neatly stacking them into a wall that became longer and higher. My tantalizing endeavor was too much for Richardo, who kicked in the cardboard brick wall, leaving me frustrated from all of the hard “work” that I had put into it. He had brown skin and didn’t speak English, yet somehow, I managed to communicate my anger with him. “It’s because he likes you!” our preschool teacher said, her hair tied in a colorful scarf. I knew this was a good thing, from the way that the teacher said it. But I was pissed as hell and that was strike number one.


But then LaVerne was the last straw. She was a light-skinned black girl before I even knew what that meant. She wore pretty dresses to preschool even though we were going to get dirty with child’s play. Laverne’s dark brown already-relaxed hair was divided into sections all around her head with ribbons handing from the bobbles that divided each one. Each of those sections culminated in a barrette that twisted itself around the ends of her twisted or braided hair. Her hair was so different from my own, which stood up in tightly wound sections coated in waxy black thread.


LaVerne enjoyed sucking her thumb and I almost equally enjoyed prying it out of mouth. I had heard her mother’s warning not to do so as she dropped her off in the morning and I was sure I was helping her become a better person. I felt so mature next to LaVerne. My clothes were not as shiny and pretty, but I kept my thumb out of my mouth, so I was practically an adult! Still, LaVerne was good company for when we bathed the plastic dolls in the suds-filled fake bathtub that never had enough water to get the dolls actually cleaned.


“LaVerne is sucking her thumb!” I would yell out to whichever preschool teacher was near. The first time, she looked shocked and the preschool teacher berated her. LaVerne removed her thumb only to place it in its original position as soon as the teacher looked away. “She’s doing it again!” I would call out, but the teachers paid me no mind, so LaVerne’s saliva-soaked thumb remained in place.


I felt so mature in preschool that day. Ricardo called me over to play with the red paper bricks, so I was totally feeling myself. LaVerne walked over to join us in building the wall and because I was so secure in our relationship with Ricardo, I let her continue to play with us. Her barrettes kept knocking the boxes down and her hair sections narrowly missed hitting me in the face. But I had a friend and she didn’t.


Suddenly, I made the mistake that many women have made in forcing their men to choose sides.


“Who do you like more, me or her?” I asked Ricardo.


He. did. not. even. have. to. think. twice.


After he said Laverne’s name, I was furious. I glanced at her and she was smiling and laughing. I wanted to push her. I wanted her bobbles, ribbons, and barrettes all over the floor. The pile of Medusas on my head were frozen in time as I snapped. “Why do you like her?” I already knew that she was prettier and daintier than me. Ricardo just shrugged his shoulders and kept playing with the paper bricks. Quickly, I knocked down the wall we had built to the floor. Immediately, LaVerne leapt to his rescue, shoving me to the floor. Ricardo pushed LaVerne off of me and tried to climb over the brawl, stomping onto my right forearm with his rust-colored canvas sneakers. 


My yell pierced the air of the preschool. The preschool teachers came rushing to my side.  My arm was throbbing and I was in the greatest pain that I had felt up to that point, worse than getting shots at the doctors, worse than having thermometers shoved up my behind when I thought my mouth would suffice. A large purple ball formed in the middle of my right forearm. I laid down on a green mesh cot with ice on my arm as I waited for my parents to come pick me up at the day’s end.


That was the last day that I ever saw Ricardo. I suspect his parents were afraid they were going to get sued or worse. Like many immigrant parents, my mother and father thought that the situation was not a big deal. To this day, when I roll a finger over my forearm, it bends like a small valley in its very center. My own jealousy made me a freak of nature.  I suppose that’s the price that you pay for love.


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