Below is a chapter that I just cut from the book. Simply put it just didn’t fit. The feelings, although stated in an earlier blog I wrote, are real to me. This is how I read this situation and many like it. I do think it is an important point which I will include in the book in a more precise and focused way. Although cut from the book, I liked the picture painted of youth and the games we played. It seemed like a waste to just hit the delete button and do away with it.
It’s third down and one yard to go. The yard we have to gain is Mr. Wright’s front yard. He lives to the right of the Tenbuschs and his driveway is the end zone. James, my oldest brother hikes the ball and lofts a perfect spiral to Peter who catches it at Mr. Wright’s walk way and breezes in to the end zone. Peter raises the football above his head and then spikes it hard on the cement driveway. Just as the ball leaves Peter’s hand a look of fear consumes his face. As the ball hits the cement it bounces to the right and lands on Mrs. Matz’s lawn. We all freeze. Ms. Matz’s lawn is off limits. As soon as it comes to rest in her yard, a loud banging comes from her front window. The banging clearly shouts, “Stay off my lawn.”
We know we only have 23 seconds to retrieve the ball or she will storm out and take it. We all figure she has to have a room in her house full of our Frisbees, baseballs, tennis balls, and kick balls. Those types of balls were relatively inexpensive so to lose them is not a big loss. The leather football is not in the same category.
We all look at each other and telepathically we were asking who is going to go get it. The time is running out and we need to move or the football will be lost forever. Wayne Scott, the crazy, loud kid with the unusual hazel eyes moves first. He sprints wildly across Mr. Wright’s yard and on to the forbidden turf. As he steps one foot on the grass, the loud banging on the window sounds again. Wayne jumps as his nervous body reacts to the sound. Now the race is really on. Ms. Matz is headed to the front door. As Wayne bends down to grab the football, she throws open her front door and yells, “STAY OFF MY LAWN.” Wayne jumps again and shifts into an all out sprint. Wayne grits his teeth, showing the shiny braces that cover his front teeth. Wayne lands safely on Mr. Wright’s driveway with the football securely tucked under his right arm.
The cheers erupt and we all give him pats on the back or a slap him five. Someone shouts, “Ok, who’s kicking off?” Our game resumes and Ms. Matz returns to her seat at the front window.
Ms. Matz is a single woman, an elementary school teacher. It is easy to see why there is no Mr. Matz. She is about 55-60 years old and mean. She wears a scowl whenever we see her. After years and years of being mean the facial muscles freeze in a bitter expression 24 hours a day I am convinced. She lives with her elderly mother and drives a little red sport car. The fact that she teaches kids and drives such a cool car makes my head spin. These bits of personal information don’t fit the monster mold.
At age ten, Mrs. Matz is as close to a monster as Big Foot. We run from her like she has the power to kill with her cold stares. There is not a day that goes by in the summer that she is not pounding on her window or yelling at us. When that doesn’t deter us, she calls the neighborhood security company to handle us.
The poor guy making minimum wage pulls up in his marked security car. He parks in her driveway and goes to speak with Ms. Matz. After a brief conversation where she appears to do all the talking, the plastic cop walks over to us dressed in his dark blue security shirt, jeans and no name gym shoes. He usually says something like, “Ok guys, give the old woman a break, and stay off her lawn.” We promise to have better control of our toys and he drives away. I am sure he knows it is nonsense, but it is his job to keep the community safe from toxic baseballs and Frisbees.
As we get older, she is less of a threat and more of a game. We purposely stroll across her lawn and like clockwork she raps on the glass. The anticipation of the sound still sends us three feet in the air. The fear is replaced by laughing and dancing across her lawn.
Wayne Scott, who is her neighbor to her right, takes great joy in harassing her.and he organizes a committee to burn a cross or a swastika in her yard. No one is sure what either symbol means but we know it would be a terrorizing and intimidating thing to do. We decide to burn a cross in her front yard because the swastika is too hard to re-create. The cross is two lines. It takes less artistic ability. We will use gas to outline a six to eight foot cross in the front yard and light it.
The fear of getting caught and being punished negotiates it down to a one foot cross in the back corner of her backyard made with lighter fluid. Wayne volunteers for the mission.
One quiet summer night, Wayne jumps the fence, clothed in all black. He quickly squirts the lighter fluid on to the lawn in the shape of a cross, lights it, and leaps back in to his yard. We muffle our cheers so we don’t draw attention to our terrorizing act. The little cross glows for about 30 seconds. The lighter fluid is eaten up the flames and the flames die quietly.
Burned in her yard, is an outline of a cross and it takes about three weeks for the grass to grow in and cover it. I always wonder what her reaction was when she came across it while mowing her lawn. I’m not sure because she never mentioned it.
The Detroit Free Press paper route that I share with James, my oldest brother, forces me to interact with Mrs. Matz regularly. The route is divided in to two. James delivers the papers on Outer Drive, one street over. I deliver to Shaftsbury. James pays me $5.00 a week and I feel like I am a descendant of Rothschild.
Mrs. Matz is one of my customers. Each morning before the sun wakes up I walk up her lime stone walk way to drop off a paper. As I approach her front door, I begin speaking in tongues and praying that she is not up yet. I walk as light as I can, concentrating on making delicate, soft, weightless steps. Once I make it to the door, I softly and slowly turn the squeaky handle. I would sacrifice one of my siblings for some WD-40 at this moment. I pull open the screen door and place the paper down absent any sound. Then I return the door to its prior position and I creep away.
There are days when my luck cheats me and she meets me at the door. She says nothing as I hand her the paper. No, “Thank you,” no “Good morning” just THE LOOK.
The way her lips turn up and her nose wrinkles gives off the appearance that a very foul smelling object has entered her presence. My hormones have not started producing those odors yet so it is not that I smell.
Her disgusted look shows what she thinks of me without saying anything. She looks at me and she makes me feel small, inferior, subhuman, repulsive.
My internal compass labels her a racist just as simply as north is north.
Occasionally, Dad will hear how she treats us all and I can tell by his questions that he is probing for her true intentions toward me. It is comforting in a deep way to know Dad looks for what is not obvious.
At this point in my life, my self esteem is still maturing. The wounds inflicted by Mrs. Matz penetrate my armor and cause me to walk less upright and confident.
Growing up as a minority teaches me to always question the intentions behind the actions. This cerebral dialog is a private conversation I often have with myself and one that I don’t share. The fear of being labeled as “too sensitive,” keeps me quiet. I often question why I would be labeled “too sensitive” and why the violator isn’t labeled “too insensitive.”