Page 26 - Vol. VII #8
P. 26

 Back when I believed in God, He was Irish Catholic, like me. My family prayed to Him at the dinner table and every night before bed. Our existence from September to June was confined to the leafy, square- mile island of Detroit’s University District: Six Mile
to the south, Seven Mile to the north, Livernois to the west, and the Detroit Golf Club to the east. We rarely left our neighborhood, but every summer, me, my mom, Dad, my five sisters, and Faygo the dog piled into the yellow Ford Econoline van with no seatbelts, and drove up Gratiot to the Blue Water Bridge. We escaped the pull of the magnet buried deep in the De- troit River that keeps Detroiters like us from traveling past the city’s northern redlining boundary of Eight Mile and head for Canada.
The View from Senator Street
The popular kids who dominated Catholic grade school were the unfriendly progeny of automobile executives, good Catholic families eating their daily bread and getting rich on account of the Big Three auto companies. My classmates were real Detroiters; they had concrete and metal dreams, backlit by fluo- rescent light bulbs, bright and unforgiving. The boys ruled the safety patrol, the altar boys and the play- ground, law and order, right-minded citizens in train- ing. In class, I basked under the watchful eyes of the nuns, but as soon as we escaped their gaze the social order resumed. In gym class, flinty blue eyes passed over me when it was time to pick teams for dodgeball.
When I finally graduated and made it into Cass Tech- nical High School in downtown Detroit, a White
girl I met at swim practice invited me to her home.
I couldn’t believe Lainey wanted to be my friend. Most White kids I had known were richer than we were, and snobby. She was a White girl who was not at private school, talked with a southern drawl, and thought my family was rich. When I was at her house in Southwest Detroit, I felt at home, as if I should live there already. I expected to see my doppelganger, wearing a pair of old Levi’s, white high-tops and
“Your shoes are boy shoes.” I didn’t see who hissed the word “boy” like it was a crime. I scraped my blue suede boots against the bleachers until I was the last girl picked, shuffling over to my complaining team- mates. There’s no dialogue here, because I never spoke back. I can tell you what the shoes looked like though, their thin suede that was no defense against angry foot stomps: bright blue patches, but mostly grey and flattened, soaked by the icy puddles of Detroit sidewalks. I spent too much time looking at my feet. The slick soles slid across the gym floor—I remember that the popular kids, Black, White and “Mixed” got picked first in some sort of complicated pecking order, while I tried not to let anyone know that I did care what they thought, praying that I didn’t get chosen last.
a flannel shirt walking up to one of the other red shingle duplexes. I could imagine my parents, sipping a beer on the front porch, playing their instruments and singing folk songs out in the open. If we lived over here, Mom wouldn’t be taking in anyone’s iron- ing, just so we could stay in the big castle-like house in the University District, and I’d have school friends on my street. Finding Lainey was like stepping backwards through a threshold then out again, and finding the world changed to one where I belonged. Kids played basketball in the middle of the street, weren’t swallowed up inside their houses practicing the piano and studying. When I was little I used to imagine a different world, too. I put mountains and sunshine and clean skies in Detroit. Now, I was more realistic. I wanted a place that would take me in and love me back.
We were almost that family, the lowest rung of White scraping along in the rich neighborhood, hoping some of that American Dream would rub off on us. We weren’t as poor as the White family that had no furni-
When I took the bus after school past the Ambassador Bridge leading to Canada, past the oil refineries spew- ing their yellow smoke, to Lainey’s house on the Southwest side, I felt both at home and drawn in by the undercurrent. I don’t think anybody called our fam-
ily “hillbillies” out loud; we weren’t, not exactly. But
the church moms didn’t talk to us. They rejected my mother’s offers of friendship, warm cookies, bread—all wasted labor. We never saw the inside of their homes.
ture. Not as bad as the White family who didn’t have enough food. But almost. The rich White kids were the most cutting, the most vicious. The Black kids were off in their own solar system, going to debu- tante balls and hanging out with the others whose parents played in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, worked at the medical center or recorded on the Motown label. I’d have given anything to be part of either group. If I’d been brave enough, maybe I would have joined forces with the other pale, freckled kids from Appalachia, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I counted on Jesus to save me.
Lisa sinneTT

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