Dorothy was my best friend. We had met in school when were ten and were forced to sit next to each other when she came in on her first day. It was hard at first to get to know her because I was mad she took my other friend, Charlene’s seat.
Dorothy was black and I was white. It was the first time our district was integrating students. We were one of the later schools to do so in our state. My parents were strong supporters of this movement, but we knew a lot of others who were against. Before the integration, my parents became friends with our black neighbors who moved in during the suburban housing boom. Even though their children were much older than I, they still let me play with them.
It was scary when I went to school on the first day of integration. My father walked me in through the crowds of people who were protesting. They were screaming at all the black children and parents who were walking into the school. I held onto my father’s hand so tight, I thought it would break. He held me close to him as we entered. I couldn’t believe the people I saw at the picket line. Folks I went to church with had the look of malice on their faces. They looked like lions readying for a kill. I never saw them the same way again.
Dorothy and I first talked on the playground; Charlene and I were trying out this new jump rope song and I asked Dorothy if she wanted to join. She was standing by herself against the wall, watching us play. Dorothy was the only black student in my grade; all the other students were much older than us. Charlene was nervous about letting Dorothy use her jump rope, but when we saw her nail every hop, skip and spin, it didn’t matter.
“Cinderella, dressed in yellow
went upstairs to kiss a ‘fella
made a mistake
and kissed a snake
how many doctors
did it take?”
Dorothy made it all the way to twenty before she tripped the rope. She became the jump rope queen.
Charlene’s parents didn’t want her to associate with Dorothy, so after a while we didn’t see much of her. She was later pulled out of the school.
One day, Dorothy and I went to a soda shoppe after school. We decided to split a strawberry milkshake because it was all we could afford with our allowances. So we were sipping on our own straws and giggling over the gurgling noise it made. A tall man, whom I later found his name was Mr. Mitchell, came in to the shoppe and grabbed onto both of our arms to pull us away from each other. He was yelling at Dorothy for sharing a drink with me.
“What in God’s name is going on in this shoppe? I can’t have this goin’ on in my town. Y’all shouldn’t be sharin’ anythin’, y’hear?” He was fuming. We were both really scared.
I yanked my arm out of his hand and stood in front of Dorothy as she cowered, which was something I’ve never seen her do before. Dorothy was never scared of anything. Later, I had found out her mama told her to never talk back to the white men, so she was pretending to be scared to protect herself.
I told Mr. Mitchell that she was my best friend and we could share what we wanted. He took a hold of my shoulders and shook my body saying I needed to be disciplined. He was about to slap me when the shoppe owner, Mr. Larson, came from out back with a rifle and told Mr. Mitchell to leave.
When Mr. Mitchell left, Mr. Larson apologized to us and said our shake was free. He urged us to run on home and don’t stop or look back until we got there.
I grabbed Dorothy’s hand and we ran. We didn’t stop running until we got to her house which was closer than mine. We made sure the door was locked before we started hugging and crying.
Dorothy’s mama came in the hall from the kitchen and saw us crying. She asked what had happened. Dorothy explained it all. I kept apologizing through my tears, I was afraid she wouldn’t let us be friends. Dorothy’s mama looked up at me. She opened her arm out for me to go in and she hugged us both tightly. She told us that there will always be people in the world who don’t want us to be friends as long as we stayed together we will always win.
It was the first time I met Dorothy’s mama. She reminded me a lot like my mama: smart, strong, and beautiful. I gave Dorothy’s papa a fright when he came home from work. He wasn’t expecting me to be in their home and he wasn’t as scary as Dorothy said he’d be. Dorothy’s papa laughed when we told him the story about Mr. Mitchell at Mr. Larson’s soda shoppe. He asked Dorothy why she didn’t say something, and Dorothy’s mama shot out from the kitchen, “Because I told her to keep her big mouth shut in public.” That sent Dorothy’s papa howling in laughter again.
My parents loved that I had found an honest to God good friend. We were free to go back and forth to each other’s homes. My mama would always have a fresh batch of Dorothy’s favorite, snickerdoodle cookies, waiting for whenever she’d come over. And Dorothy’s mama would make sure we had our fill of iced tea and lemon bars during the summers.
Eventually both our parents started meeting with each other and they all became friends. Most folks in the town weren’t too bothered by our presence together, but there were some who would openly voice their frustrations to my father.
My father was a prideful man. He always carried himself with dignity and whenever someone tried to knock him down, he wouldn’t let it affect him.
One day, Mr. Mitchell stormed up to my father and cussed him out for letting me be Dorothy’s friend. My father didn’t say anything but, “Is that all?” back to Mr. Mitchell. When Mr. Mitchell left, my father took this as an opportunity to teach us a lesson.
He said, “Now, what that man said there was hurtful. I’m not denying that. But if someone makes you happy, you shouldn’t be embarrassed or try to hide that friendship. Don’t let others tell you who to love.”
We both nodded and smiled at each other.
“One day, people won’t care who you’re friends with. That day will come for you two, don’t you worry.” My father patted the top of our heads and walked on down the street.
Dorothy and I told her mama about it the next day and she agreed. She said that she prayed for it every day.
While the civil rights movement gained traction, we would listen to the news about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was leading marches, and encouraging peaceful protests. He was preaching that we should all live together peacefully and equally. Dorothy and I imagined being a part of the marches. Our mamas would never let us participate, but we still pretended.
Dorothy was outspoken during class debates on the civil rights movement. I stepped in whenever I felt like she was being outnumbered. It got us into a lot of trouble, but Dorothy never backed down from an argument. I was honored to be able to stand by her side.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, we both cried. It was like someone had killed the idea of our friendship. Dorothy’s mama wouldn’t let us outside for the entire day. She was afraid something bad was going to happen. I stayed the night at her house. The next day, my father had come to pick me up and escorted me home. Everyone was on edge for the next few weeks, but soon things returned to normal.
After we graduated from high school, we both set out on our different ways… Dorothy went to Howard University and I, well I started at Princeton, but ended up falling in love with a boy, we got married, and I quit school when I got pregnant with my son. We lost touch along the way, but I always thought about her, if she succeeded in her dreams, and wondered if she did the same with me.
A/N: Thanks for reading this excerpt.
Find out what happens next on patreon by selecting the Exclusive Access Tier!
Full version available under the Patreon Exclusives tab!