Friday, January 27, 2006

life of buddy don, chapter 145: puzzles of the hart

in july of 1983 me n brew n his bes frien oscar clowder n daddy n roenas husbin jim coates tuck us a lil trip up to obed. everbidy brung em fishin poles but me. i brung me my diary, witch i hadnt writ nary a wurd in it fer munths. thay wuz a reason fer that.

durin the sprang quarter it had becum purty obveeus to me that cassandra had a crush on me. twernt the furst time a stoodent had dun that but thay wuz a lil more toot this time, tho i wudnt willin to add mitt it fer munths n munths, witch that wuz how i had a crush rite back on her. twuz a natchrul deevelopment on a counta how at all them reehearsals n other meetins of the drama club she wuz thonly stoodent i knew verr well, makin it easy fer the two of us to sit n talk while we wuz waitin fer the next time we wood be needed, witch fer them furst two plays i wudnt nuthin but the chaperone.

thang is, i knew fer a fack she had a crush on me fer minny a munth befor i could add mitt i had inny feelins fer her othern pity or cuncern fer a verr brite n talented stoodent who had survived a livin hell befor gittin to kc. as i gut to know her better, i larnt bout lil facks n lil facks till i knew a bit about her life histry.

she wuz born in atlanta to a woman name of joanna that left her in the hospitull the instunt she wuz born, witch her grandma cum to git her n take keer of her n she ended up a'callin her grandma 'mama' fer the res of her life even if her ackshul muther, witch cassandra dint never call her nuthin else but joanna, dint hardly wonta add mitt she wuz her muther even ifn she did go on to bear 10 children. a cuple munths after she wuz born, cassandra wuz tuck frum her grandma to live with joanna. lucky fer cassandra, she had a full older sister name of faith that lived thar too.

twernt long after gittin her kids back till joanna set that house on fire n left them two yunguns in it, witch faith happend to be eight whenever cassandra wuz born n she gut her lil sister n dragged her out into the street while that house burnt to the ground. after that, faith n cassandra lived with thar grandmama that they calld 'mama' n thar ackshul muther joanne dint try to git em agin. they even tuck the name of 'worthy' fer thar last names, witch twuz thar grandmamas last name.

the bigger influents on her life wuz her daddy, a feller that wuz in prison servin the thurd year of a 20-year sentents whenever i met cassandra. his name wuz daniel turner n cordin to her stories wuz a coke dealer n a pimp n mayhap a murder fer hire servus n a car dealer n had im nigh onto thirty children by eight or nine differnt women. all them kids wuz her half bruthers n sisters. she wuz his 19th child n whutever bad she had to say bout im, he kep a huge house n ever one of his kids wuz welcum to cum live thar, witch cassandra dun that a few times in her life whenever she couldnt git along with 'mama.' he finely up n marrd one of the women he had children by, a woman name of hanna, witch hanna insisted cassandra live with em till she larnt that she n cassandra hated each other.

i member thankin how hard tiz to figger folks out. i herd cassandra tell me a thousand tales of how awful her daddy wuz, how he wuznt never thar when she really needed im, how he dint keer much fer her ceptn fer bein proud she had been picked fer a local tv show whar she wuz the lead acter fer a speshul local ackcess program that wuz a kids vershun of the news. twuz hard to bleeve she had ever been so willin to perform in publick, but that wuz all befor she turnt thirteen, witch she playd a rape victim durin that time n it skeerd her so go thru it n to innervue sum ackshul rape victims to larn her role till she quit that show. but fer a while she wuz famus in a lil part of atlanta n her daddy wuz proud of er fer that.

but that wuz thonly good thang she could thank he had ever dun fer her. whenever it cum to goin to kc, twuz all set up by hanna, witch i sed that seemd lack a kind thang fer her to do but cassandra figgerd she jes wonted to git her outta the house fer good n since she gut a full skolarship n since daniel turner had lots of cash, twernt no skin offn hannas nose to make shore cassandra wuz sent away to collidge. she tole me minny a tale bout how cold her daddy could be, how he wood have folks killt or beat up, how he wuz a truly bad man. she showd me pomes she had writ bout how she had sufferd at his hand n been embarrassd at havin to watch im bein arrested n walked off in shackles n be in endless trials n such.

but then he wuz let outta prison to attend the funeral of one of her bruthers, witch i fergit his name but i do member cassandra splainin how he wuz killt by a rival drug dealer who wuz pertecktin his turf. thang wuz, cassandra couldnt thank of nuthin else but gittin down to atlanta to attend that funeral n see her daddy, witch she went n seen im but he dint have a chants to say a sangle wurd to er. i dint hardly know whut to say whenever she tole me this, witch i could see she wonted to cry but couldnt let herself go thataway. she wuz jes glad she gut to see im, even ifn twuz frum a distunts n even ifn he wuz in shackles n had guards on eethur side of im.

whenever skool ended kc wuz purty good bout givin jobs to them stoodents that dint have no home to go back to, witch twernt minny of em. three of my stoodents did stay, witch sharon n cassandra wuz two of em n tuthern wuz a verr capabull stoodent name of violet johnston. violet had been in the furst comp 102 class i had n she had aced it. sharon tole me i orta have the three of em over fer dinner the evenin cooley high wuz bein shown on tv, so i cooked up a huge pot of spagetti sauce n made sum garlick bread n went to git em. i reckun we woodnt a dun it ifn we had notissd how cooley high dint cum on till 11 pm, but once we had invited em, thay wudnt much we could do but try to stay awake fer the hole thang.

odd thang bout that nite wuz how cassandra wuz in a terrbull mood. she needed a heap of sugar pored into her spagetti sauce, witch that ruint it in my pinion. she couldnt eat no garlick bread but wonted sum cornbread, witch that wuz easy but not whut i wooda served with spagetti. that hole evenin violet wuz flirtin lack nobidys bizness with me n emily wuz havin fun with it her ownself, jokin bout whut a stud i wuz to have four women over at the same time. as the evenin went on, cassandra gut moren more withdrawn. i member how she needed a piller, so i tuck mine offn the bed n she curled up on the couch when that show cum on n dint say a nuther wurd near the entire nite.

once that movie wuz finely over i had to take em home. turnt out bof sharon n violet wuz stayin in a place over in east knoxvull n cassandra long with a stoodent name of milagros wuz a'stayin with a teacher name of susan browne who lived in collidge homes. violet needed to wurk the nex day, so i agreed to take her n sharon home furst n cassandra last.

i wont never fergit that ride. cassandra dint say nuthin the hole way thar n whenever we arrived, i figgerd she wood jes git out, but she dint do nuthin. she jes sat whar she wuz n i figgerd i wood wait her out. twuz one of them moments when i figgerd she wuz a'gone cunfess how she felt n i wuz wundern whut i orta say. but dint nuthin git sed ceptn wood i walk her to the door to make shore she gut in ok, witch she tuck off n i gut out to foller till she gut near the door, spun round n stuck out her hand, sayin, 'thanks for a wonderful evening, mr. duncan.' i shuck her hand but she dint let go. twuz dark near the porch, but i could see the lite frum the streetlamp reflecktin in her eyes, witch we stared at each other fer whut seemed lack a hour but wuz probly no moren ten secunts. then she pulld away n went in.

whenever i gut home n lay down in bed, that piller i had smelt jes lack her, a musky smell that wuz a mix of her perfum n hair treatment n jes her. i wuz dog tired n wonted to sleep, but emily wonted to talk. so i turnt over on my back n ast whut wuz it? she lay thar fer a long while till she sed, 'ye gut a crush on cassandra, dont ye?' i wonted to ast whut could make her thank such a thang on a counta how i hadnt give cassandra inny attenchun to speak of all nite, but i knew she knew, so i tuck a deep breath n sed i hadnt real eyesed it befor that, but i probly wuz purty sweet on her. she sed she thought so n thanked me fer add mittin as much.

we talked until near morning, when cassandra calld n wonted to speak with emily. during that talk, that bed wuz as uncumfterbull as ifn twuz made of nails. emily sed she had ast cassandra to call her back in the evenin when she could talk longer. then she turnt over n wuz asleep within three breaths. but i wuz awake fer a long time after that, my thoughts n feelins bathed in the smell of that pillar, the memry of her hand in mine, the lite in her eyes, the way i jes knew she wonted to say sumthin but couldnt brang herself to doot. i knew i had dodged a bullet when emily ast me whuther i had a crush on cassandra, witch that aint nuthin fer a teacher, but ifn she had ast me wuz i in luv with cassandra, i dont know whut i wooda sed.

so whenever we went up on obed that saturdy in july, i splained to daddy how i dint wonta fish but wonted to rite bout the mountins n all fer a novel i had been a'wurkin on fer a cuple years. he knew that novel wuz bout a father n his son, so he sed he understood, witch he dint but it give im a way of takin it. corse, makin notes fer that novel wudnt whut i needed to do. i needed to figger out whut i really wuz a'feelin, witch fer me i larn by trine to rite down whut i dont even know yet.

i caint say it no better now than i dun then, so heres whut i writ:
'When I began working at KC, I didn't know very much at all about Black people. In fact, it seems to me now that black people in general are almost invisible to white people (in this country anyway). White people certainly never see Blacks (or only rarely) when white people aren't a conspicuous majority, and Blacks are different when very few Whites are present.

'I thought I knew a lot about Blacks, certainly more than most white people I knew. I concentrated on helping black students in writing lab, tutored at the Black Cultural Center, and even did a little "business" in Gamble Valley. Thus I knew several black individuals pretty well. I worked for Ralph at Carbide, also, which let me have good knowledge of one individual. In groups, however, Blacks are different, and I really began to learn that at KC.

'One of the problems for white people in seeing black people (in contrast to Blacks being invisible) is that for many white people, myself included, for most of my life, is that blackness becomes a uniform to a white eye. The eye sees the uniform, as in seeing a policeman or fireman or guard, and makes the only recognition it needs: a negro. Few whites around here know enough Blacks personally to have any reason to identify any individual Black. Thus, once a White sees it is a Black, he can stop looking. (The well-known low visibility of Blacks in the media also contributes to this problem). And in this way, the old saying is true: all Blacks look alike to many Whites.

'So it was for me when I began teaching at KC. One of the scariest moments I had was the first day of drills in Elementary Comp I (Fundamentals of Grammar). I called on students randomly and had to learn all of their names quickly. I did, but it was the first time I had to look closely at any group of Blacks as individuals. The longer I've been looking at Blacks this way, the better I've gotten at doing it.

'At first, I also didn't find black women very attractive. I had the usual complaints: hair too kinky, lips too large, nose too flat, or just plain blackness. I remember quite well when Kamal 'Too Short' Trotter pointed to Shantell Brown and licked his lips. I smiled and nodded, but I didn't find her very attractive (though I know now just how incredibly sexy she is). I enjoyed teaching (and still do) because the students were so eager to learn (and they still are – most of them). I became close to many students and one of those was Cassandra Worthy.

'I "met" her at drama club winter quarter. I'd had her in class for 1.5 quarters in elementary composition but I knew her only as a very bright student with a lot of problems, leading to her finishing the first quarter in one-on-one sessions due to her having left class following a very traumatic experience. When I began going to drama club, I was the only white person there and because of the different atmosphere, I felt nervous and uneasy. I recognize Cassandra and we gravitated to one another so we wouldn't feel so ill at ease. And we found we could talk quite easily.

'Some months later I realized she had a crush on me. And I also realized I'd "had a crush" on her for a long time. I don't know how long, but I did feel very happy about getting to know her the very afternoon following drama club (the oddity about that being that I didn't feel I got to know her very well when I was giving her one-on-one instruction in grammar). It took me several months before I could see how beautiful she is, and I only admitted to myself that I had a crush on her when Emily pointed it out to me.

'Of course, this brief note doesn't give you any idea of the many hours I've spent in Cassandra's presence. I haven't touched her at all, but the tension between us is great enough that Emily noticed it when Sharon Worth, Violet Johnston and Cassandra came over for dinner. She asked, after I'd taken the girls home, if I had a crush on Cassandra and I admitted I did. This caused us to talk at great length until morning. That evening, Cassandra called to talk with Emily. The two of them talked at length about a problem – Cassandra was raped by four men (or so she says – for some reason, I have growing doubts about the story). Emily and Cassandra had dinner together to discuss the matter and became friends (or so Emily says). Cassandra could be visiting Emily right now for all I know.

'I hate to write about or discuss feelings because I always feel foolish. But I need to talk about feelings, foolish as they be. I don't understand that heart at all. I "fell in love" with Darlene and against all reason, I had to have her, to marry her. I still love her. But I also love Susannah (or so I think). I hate feelings! But I do love Susannah. And I love Emily. And now I wonder if I love Cassandra. I certainly am attracted. Because of the many barriers between us, my feelings seem passionate, very demanding, urgent. I think about her very often, almost always. I can't remember feeling this carried away (which tells me the whole thing is ridiculous – it can't be the same) with anyone. I feel my love for Emily is sensible and sane and whole. I do not love her less due to whatever I feel for Cassandra, more if anything.

'But why must I feel this way? And my feelings are for a woman who would be trouble in every sense of the word. My family wouldn't soon (ever) accept Cassandra. Looseburg would kill me. It would probably ruin both Cassandra's and Emily's life. I probably wouldn't be as happy. My children with Cassandra would be black. Society would object. I am teacher, she student, so I'd lose my job. ETC!! And still, I am so strongly moved by her that I can't bring myself to write in my diary for fear of saying anything about it. How can my heart be so crazy? I have the perfect woman and I know it. Any such feelings of mine towards Cassandra serve no purpose, but I can't say I don't feel them or that I don't want to feel them ... even though I know of no sane way my feelings could be satisfied because I can't live two (four? counting Darlene and Susannah?) lives. I am especially happy now, so why such feelings? They only cause problems.

'But I do have such feelings and they're amazing to me – they excite me so, especially since they came upon me so unexpectedly. I had no idea such a thing could happen. I didn't realize a black woman could even be attractive to me, but one can and – damn it! – is. Now I find myself more attracted to black women than to white! That is, I will look at a black woman on the street before I will a white. Both are eye-catching, but the black gets me first, probably because I know where Emily is at any given time, but any black girl could be Cassandra, whose whereabouts I rarely know. So I check. Whites need no checking, I guess.

'Any "fulfillment" of my feelings – an affair, one night stand, marriage, etc. – is bad in more ways than I care to count. I want to be responsible, but I fear I lack the strength or the will.

'I pray this will pass. I look forward to the year in Germany when Emily has to go for her DAAD since I'll be away from all temptation, from Cassandra. But I dread it, too, and fear Cassandra will get over me before I get over her. What am I saying? Things are not so bad. I just wish I could lead two lives.

'But I need to say I love Cassandra.

'Are our bodies, our psyches, our souls – are they evil? Why do things like this happen? I do not choose to be evil. I do not choose to love two women at once. How can I? But I do, and I see each very often and I love each. I love Emily. I love Cassandra. I love so many people and I can't understand why it should be wrong. Of course, I know it is and I pray for strength to do right. Be a model for Cassandra as a writer, be her guide as a teacher; be a husband – a loving husband – to Emily. Accept it that I will love more people than I can marry and give my life to ... but it still hurts and I think and think and think. Surely this will pass! Surely this is like crushes I've had and forgotten, not like Darlene or Susannah or Emily. Surely.'
i member feelin as ifn i had let go of a lode of wurry n woe whenever i finishd ritin that entry in my diary. twuz a fine day in a beeyootifull place, so i lit a number n jes enjoyd bein hi in such tranquilty till tutherns cum back frum fishin.

they couldnt bleeve i had dun had me a good time. we cooked up a mess of them fish n baked sum taters in the fire n et us a real feast. as we wuz eatin, daddy ast me had i made inny progress on my novel. i tole im i had dun moren i had figgerd i could git dun. he sed twuz no sprize to hear me say that on a counta he always felt lack he could thank a lot strater whenever he gut away from 'the worl'. i had to agree.

but whenever i gut home, i found emily sittin in her chair n cassandra sittin in mine. emily had spent the day gradin papers fer a summer class she wuz teachin. cassandra had spent the day readin, furst the hobbit n then the catcher in the rye. emily had even give her the furst seckshun of crap notes. whenever i cum in, emily jumped up n give me a big hug n tole me she luved me. i sed the same back at her, but over her sholder i wuz a'lookin cassandra rite in the eye whenever i sed it.

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