Thursday, November 20, 2008
Other than finding a nice frozen Thanksgiving turkey on sale, the best news in my world until yesterday really ain't even in my world, it's in my daughter's world.
Cassie is a 9th grader, an honor's student, and since Saturday, focused on making the school basketball team. She got cold feet and was misty-eyed on the way to the first tryout last Saturday.
"Why are you crying?", I asked. "I thought you wanted this."
"I do," she whined, "but I won't have as much time for studying!"
"Yeah you will."
She described the problem of one friend, also in honor's, whose grades dropped like a rock after joining another sports team.
"Look, you gonna have to make this work," I said firmly. "Unless I find a great full time job, I won't have a nickel for college for you. You have to do everything you can get a full scholarship."
Cassie has heard this before, and sucked up the tears. I felt a twinge of guilt. I loved my TV shows too, at her age. My high school years had little pressure. Most of what I read were paperback sci-fi and horror novels. Higher education was cheaper then, and between my father and government grants, my tuition worries were non-existent.
I considered biting her bait when she said, "Maybe I can wait and try out in 11th grade."
"Nope," I replied, sounding eerily like my father, who'd drive me nuts with that word.
I parked the car.
"Why are you parking?", she asked in dismay.
"So I can watch you not eff up on purpose. I ain't playing about this."
She inhaled deeply and walked ahead of me into the gym. I know she was thinking how embarrassing it would be to have mother watch. Tough.
Once inside, I met the coach.
"She's worried to death about not having enough time to study," I said to him quietly. "She gets a little more homework, I think, 'cause she's in that honors program. Do you find this a problem with the girls?"
He glanced her. She looked down at her feet. Poor kid.
I was feelin' for her, but this was no time to be her friend. At that moment, I had to be her mother.
"Absolutely not," he answered confidently. "It's all about time management. I give them talks about this too. She'll be fine."
I stayed and watched her. She made the hoops easily. Cassie is one of the taller girls, standing at 5'10 and 150 pounds. Like the others trying out for Junior Varsity, she wouldn't have prayer against the more seasoned 11th and 12th graders. Thank God I said nope to waiting two more years.
Then came the drills. Her performance began to drop when her partner would pass her the ball. Five times in a row she missed the hoops. I softly called her name. She looked over at me.
I spoke to her wordlessly, with my eyes.
Her performance improved. Satisfied, I left.
On Sunday evening I took her to a basketball court and played against her. It was cold and dark, but oh hell that was fun. I just knew I was gonna win, but she cheated.
"I did not cheat!", she yelled.
"Yeah you did," I teased. "Ain't nobody tell you to be taller than me."
She laughed. "That ain't cheating, Mama."
"You chose a hoop where the street light was shining in my eyes. You know I hate that."
She laughed again. "That still ain't cheating!"
"Pfft," I replied. "Whatevah."
She stuck out her hand and smirked. "You owe me a dollar. Ha ha."
"Don't cry when I win it back."
This really cracked her up.
We had been home for an hour when she found a handful of ID's belonging to a young lady about 20. She brought them to me.
"I think Xavier robbed somebody," she said.
We've long suspected he's done this before, because he 'finds' more ID's than anyone possibly could. I've seen half a dozen over the years.
I looked at them. A driver's license revealed a pretty white girl, a college ID, and other stuff.
I got on the phone and called the family muscle, a soft-spoken male relative who can take his azz down in seconds. He came over immediately.
My apartment is kind of large, but when the door knocks, everyone comes out. Cassie didn't; she knew the deal.
"Hey, waz up?!", Xavier said, smiling, to Tony.
Tony is cool. Greeted him, had a seat, made small talk. The day before, Tony worked out with him at the gym. This was a treat, because he rarely has time to visit us. The two have a good relationship.
I put the ID's on the coffee table and asked, "You gangbanging again?"
Xavier was fast. "No, I found those."
"I didn't believe you last week when your sister found someone's gym membership. I believe you even less today. Why are you stealing people's wallets?"
"I found that one! I forgot to turn it in!"
Tony and I grit on him.
Rat a tat tat speed, our questions came.
Tony looked at the ones on the coffee table and said, "What happened with these?"
"For real," he insisted, "I found a girl's wallet."
"Where?", I asked.
"What's it matter where?"
"You lying, how'd you get it?"
Lie, lie, lie. We wore him down. Finally, Xavier told what is hopefully something close to the truth.
"I was at a party," he said. "My man stole this girl's purse while I was talking to her. She was freaking out looking for it. It was kinda funny, really. "Where's my pocketbook?!", she was yelling. Oh my God! I can't find it!"
"That shit ain't funny," Tony growled.
I stared hard at Xavier.
"Why you looking at me like that?"
"I'm picturing you with gray hair in jail," I replied. "That's where you gonna get old."
"I didn't do nothing!"
"Then why you got her shit?"
"I forgot about it!"
Xavier does have a fucked up case of ADHD along with some other shit. This makes him an idiot for a criminal, and he cannot cover his trail. He is truly forgetful.
A light bulb went off in my head. "Where's her credit card?"
"We ditched that at Popeyes."
If he were smart, he would have said she didn't have one. I didn't point this out to him.
Tony said, "So y'all treated yourself to a big meal after the party?"
"We were hungry."
"We?", I asked. "How many of y'all were there?"
"I ain't getting into names, and not everyone ate."
"Where's the credit card?"
"I bent it up and threw it away afterwards."
"So," I said, "if you had possession of the credit card, then you stole the purse, 'cause that's what the ring leader wins. Ain't that right?"
"Shut up," I said. "You busted."
"You a bitch," Tony said to him. "Lemme go to your room and see what I can steal."
"No, I'm sorry!," Xavier said.
Tony walked back to his bedroom, with Xavier following. Cassie peaked out of her door.
"Snitch," Xavier growled.
"Ha ha," she laughed, and slammed her door.
"I like these shoes," Tony said, picking up a pair.
"I won't do it again, I swear. We were high."
"Nice excuse," Tony said. "Try that shit on a judge and see how far it gets your black azz."
Tony kicked me out the room so they could have a man to man-child chat. He left with shoes. I imagine he'll give them back the next time he visits, or maybe make Xavier catch that long bus and subway ride to get them.
The next day, I googled the girl's name, found she's in the college like her ID said and got the info for Xavier to mail her stuff back to the authorities there. I explained 'my kid found it', and they didn't ask my name or hers, and said they'd forward it to her.
Initially I thought he was a stupid criminal and still do, but as I looked through her stuff again, I wondered about something. See, this girl had three or four gift cards from various stores.
Xavier was laid off his minimum wage job a few weeks ago, and I've already told the kids don't expect much, if anything, for Christmas beyond the tree, saying Happy Birthday to Jesus, and a spectacular meal.
Last year the gifts were thin, and this year the question has not been what do you want?, but do you want anything?
They each got the message and to my relief, politely said no, they'd be okay.
Suddenly, temptation whispered in my ear.
"Gift cards," the Devil said. "Untraceable. You can keep these and buy stuff for them and you. I'm sure there's some money on them or the girl wouldn't have had them in her wallet, right?"
"Shut up," I whispered back to Satan. "I ain't like that."
He was persistent. "She looks rich. Must be since she lives out of state but attends college here. Pretty too, even got blue eyes. Probably got it made. Lives on campus so you know her folks got money. They might even be one of those Wall Street Wolves who made it so hard for everyone else..."
"Shut up!", my soul whispered back to Temptation.
"Go ahead," he whispered, "keep them. No one will know."
"Fuck you," I hissed. "I'll know."
I called in Xavier. "Why did you keep these, really?"
"I don't know," he said.
I passed them to him. "Look through them one more time," I said.
"Did you plan to use the gift cards?"
I passed the envelope to him. He put them in, sealed it, and we walked to the mailbox.
"You can still keep those gift cards, Ma," he said quietly. "They ain't like credit cards, and there's probably not much on them anyway."
My eyes locked with his. "I know," I said, "but it ain't right whether it's $25 or $100. I'm too proud to evah go on welfare, and damn sure too proud to steal, even from a little rich white girl."
"Why you gotta be so perfect?"
"I'm not perfect, and I won't lie to you. It is a little harder to be honest when you're broke, but it's not impossible. I wouldn't want someone doing this shit to me, 'cause what goes around, comes around. Karma, ya dig?"
He looked at me like he was unsure, and this made me feel unsure. After all, a lot of people who've never harmed anyone get hurt. I tried to hide my uncertainty.
"It's a pride thing, too," I added quickly. "Some kinds of pride will bring your downfall, like being too proud to work at McDonalds. Other kinds of pride will keep you honest. Times are a little tough for us right now, but they ain't tough enough for any of us to sell our souls. Some lines you just don't cross. They're like potato chips, where you can't only eat one."
He nodded, and shoved the envelope in the mailbox.
We spoke with our eyes. He was proud of me. This boy, my son, who has always walked a tightrope between Good and Evil which warred for his soul, wouldn't have a prayer if I or the folks in our extended family started slipping in the slime of dishonesty.
That afternoon and the next, Cassie had more basketball tryouts. I didn't embarrass her further by going to see her again, but noted that she was more relaxed and confident when she came home. Her chatter about making new friends among the girls was a good sign, but I know how kids, like adults, lie.
Xavier and I waited excitedly for her to return from school on Wednesday. Her coming in later than usual was a good sign.
Before I could open my mouth, he asked her, "You make it?"
A small smile played on her pretty face and her eyes.
"Yeah! I'm in!"
We cheered and hugged her.
"I'll need new shoes to play," she said. "The coach told me these aren't good."
She must have seen the worried look on my face.
"Don't worry, Mama," she said. "I have $40 from my babysitting money to put toward them."
"It's not a problem," I lied. "I may have a new client this week."
Truth be told, not as many folks are coming in for mental health treatment since the economy crashed. They can't afford the copay. That's the main reason I'm looking for another gig with an agency. This one was great while it lasted, but all things come to an end at some point. I been thinking that if shit gets much worse, I'll be begging Best Buy or Borders Books to hire me.
Xavier and I watched the family hero walk to her room. Normally she turns on the TV. Instead, she dived right into her homework.
Later, I sat back in my comfy chair at my computer. Been wanting to write something good all week, including finishing a post where I'll be passing along another award I was given, but had no time. I thought of how financial worries suck me dry of creativity, but I accomplished some things as a parent.
I thought how I miss my mother. If only she could see how little Cassie is has grown to be so strong, stoic, focused, and blessedly, accepts my guidance, she'd be overjoyed.
Suddenly, an angel whispered in my ear.
She said, "Look for the savings bonds I left you. Remember those?"
"But you cashed them, Ma, didn't you? I remember that. You treated the kids to those great summer camps two years in a row!"
"Look anyway," her angelic voice whispered.
I've never gone over her financial papers after she died. My father's either. It was too painful. Back in 2004, I had tossed them in two separate boxes and shoved them all way back in my closet, next to their cremation urns, never ever planning to touch any of it again unless I moved.
Indeed, the bonds I remembered had been cashed. She'd written a note on the copy, saying so. My shoulders slumped. Oh well, I thought, it was worth a try.
And then suddenly, I could smell her.
Her scent was on her papers. It was heaven. I clutched them, reveling in a primal ecstasy of smelling my mother's aroma once again. It was as though she were alive and in the room with me.
I set them down, finally forcing myself to read through her past bank and other statements. I tried not cry over her life, now gone.
Then, I spotted an insurance policy.
She left me nearly $4,000.
Then, I found more copies of savings bonds I'd never seen before, payable on death to me. I don't know if she cashed them or not. I couldn't find the originals, but it won't be hard finding out if they're good or not.
Then, Daddy's box. His scent was not on the papers, to my disappointment, but then...
Another small insurance policy for me near the top of one stack. Nearly $2,000.
Overwhelmed, I couldn't look no more, and still don't know if any other gifts are in that box.
Gifts... gifts that I wouldn't have found anytime soon, if ever, if I had lost my moral compass and been out shopping with someone's stolen gift cards.
I began weeping.
Posted by Kit (Keep It Trill) at 10:07 AM