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Half-Sleep Mug Shot

A year and a half before me and Brandie were together in Humanities and 7S, my father Jimme took me and my older brother Darren to his “girlfriend’s” two-bedroom apartment on Mount Vernon’s South Side. The place felt bigger to me than it actually was. Maybe it was because of the day we made this visit. It was a Saturday in May ’80, when May used to mean early spring, and not May showers, October winds, and August heat and humidity, like it does now. It was sunny, and that sunshine found its way into that apartment that day, highlighting heavily polished wood and making the yellow walls brighter. Even though Brandie’s mother and Jimme were having drinks and paid me and Darren little mind, it was nice getting out of our sparse space at 616. It was good that Jimme actually showed up this time.

About an hour into the visit, Brandie walked into the apartment door. She held several bags in her hands from shopping. All I noticed was that Brandie was taller than me, and wider too. I saw her as a woman of massive girth, somewhere nearing six feet in height, the stereotypical Black woman whom people like my mother had spent the previous decade of my life making fun of. I couldn’t resist. Like a mindless idiot, I said “Wow, she’s fat!” with glee in my eyes and a welcoming smile all over my face. For me, it was as if I had said, “Wow, you’re gorgeous, and your skin has a wonderful glow!”

Brandie’s reaction was one of stone-faced, speechless shock. Jimme gave me a semi-chuckled “Donald!” to let me know that I had said something inappropriate, but other than that, nothing. Brandie didn’t scream or holler, Brandie’s mother said nothing about it, and everyone — including Brandie — carried on with conversations until we left for home. I learned that Brandie attended Grimes and about Humanities for the first time. I didn’t know that I’d be a classmate of hers sixteen months later.

We ended up fighting inside of six weeks of being together in 7S. I thought I was the “smartest kid in the whole world,” while Brandie thought I was a “dumb ass.” After punching her in the breast, I was also a “pervert” — and pathetic me didn’t even know what “pervert” meant — for the rest of the year. Boy, I really was a dumb ass back then!

It took me until the end of high school for Brandie to see me any other way other than the idiot ten-year-old that I’d been. By then, she had changed as well, and mostly no longer cared for Mount Vernon or most of us as her classmates. But, she didn’t hate me anymore, at least. Brandie and I hugged at our high school graduation in ’87, but not before saying, “You’ve changed a lot over the years. You used to be an asshole you know!”

She was right, of course. Unfortunately, she’s not here for me to say that. Or to say that I’m sorry. Not just for calling her fat. Not just for my prejudice toward people with obesity. But for not revealing my truer self, my better self to her, not in ’80 or ’81 or ’87. Despite all evidence to the contrary, sometimes we really only get one chance to make a good impression on others.