Tina Sipi Stein

My mom was in the front passenger seat while her boyfriend, black- Tommy drove. It was Thanksgiving and we were going to Grandma & Grandpa's for turkey and cranberry sauce. They were whispering loudly.The conversation bounced from talk of "this is the best for them" to gibberish about "having enough pot for the trip." I couldn't configure their strategy, but I knew they were up to something. Today's tension caused me to search for an ounce of familiarity to prove my intuition wrong. I leaned over the seat and asked black-Tommy if he could play Curtis Mayfield. Lately, every time we were in the car, black-Tommy would pop the 8-track in and shout "Freddy's dead...Tina, sing it with Tommy" I felt special when we would sing together. Mom simply looked out the window with a desire to escape. My little brother Davie, played with his Snoopy-Pez dispenser. Black-Tommy and I were the music lovers in this car.  

We arrived at my Grandparents and black-Tommy didn't get out of the car. He wasn't allowed inside. He never seemed to be sad about it, his face held a resigned look of lost understanding. He would do his usual drive around and pick us up in a few hours. This had been our routine since Mom and black-Tommy started dating three years ago. Tommy was easy-going and had a keen awareness of his place within my Moms life. I guess this is why he introduced himself to me as "black-Tommy". I wanted to ask if there was a "white -Tommy or red-Tommy" that I didn't know about.  I decided to accept the name and thus, he was "black- Tommy." My Grandmother was the reason he wasn't allowed inside. Her southern roots were deeply rooted and although she was physically detached from the south, she still had a deeply-rooted, mental separation of black vs. white.  Last year I asked if I could bring black-Tommy a plate and she gave me the look of death. Not only was a colored not allowed in her house, but she wasn't "gonna feed one either." She never edited her words around my brother and I the way Mom and her friends did.

Dinner was finished and Grandma was slicing the apple pie when we heard a loud knock on the door. Grandpa opened it. From the dining room you could see black- Tommy in handcuffs, with a swollen face, standing next to a police officer. The officer snarled something about finding black-Tommy driving through the streets of Oxnard for the last five hours. When they stopped him and asked what he was doing, he "claimed to be waiting for his girlfriend who was in this house." The officers voice was ripe with California cynicism. Looking at black- Tommy's bloated face, I knew there was a segment of the story the officer was intentionally leaving out. My mom was frozen, I'd never seen her so still, like she momentarily drifted into outer space. Above me, I could feel Grandma's angry breaths, her silence was scarier than the cops presence.

With the confidence of a politician, my Grandfather looked at the cop and said, "Yes Officer, this is my son-in-law." Black-Tommy peeked at him through puffy eyes, moms spirit returned to earth and Grandma splattered the apple pie with the knife...and her fist.

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