She wasn’t Hershey-Bar black. She was more like an Oreo-ish mix, a dark coffee with just a hint of cream. We were in the 6th grade. Barnard Elementary. Point Loma.
Her hair was kinky, and she kept it short. Her eyes were dark. She was taller than me.
She was my first girlfriend.
At the end of the Sexual Revolution, many, many social commentators openly worried about newly single mothers raising sons by themselves. The fear was I’d become a homosexual, a sissy, a nancy-boy.
I’d heard rumors and concerns, but it didn’t really come to the front of my direct experience until my mother found soft-core pornography hidden stupidly between my mattresses.
My best friend, Bobby, left his copy of some mag I’ve long forgotten at MY house. In a panic, I guess he stowed it where most boys stowed such media in those days. Mom cleaned my room, and she found the dirty pictures. I do remember this was the time when women kept it BUSHY. That’s honestly all I can remember about the pictures, but they were innocent enough. All I know is that I never got a chance to put them to their intended use … because mom flipped the fuck out. She waved it in front of me, accusing me of something I didn’t really understand at the time. She stormed out of the room, threatening to call my father. She did. I sat on the top step of the stairs, listening.
Well, Ed, she said as if she was incredibly relieved, he’s not a fag! And then I heard her laugh, answering how she would NOT give it back to me as my dad insisted, evidently. I do remember I didn’t rat Bobby out.
Took the bullet for him, the little pervert.
So, you can imagine when I came home, announcing I had a girlfriend, how reassuring this would be to my mother. My mother smiled and smiled and smiled. She was so proud. Her son did not suck cock, LITERALLY. Not only was he experimenting with HETEROsexual masturbatory material, he now had himself a little honey.
It was also around this time that my father decided to make one of his appearances in my life. Not sure what prompted him, but he invited me “and a friend” out for a day to go waterskiing. He had this kick ass jet boat; very, very cool in those days. His new girlfriend, Avis, a piping hot redhead, was excited to see me again. She grabbed the phone from my father, asking if I would bring my girlfriend. My dad was also genuinely excited about me bringing a girl, having a girlfriend. Something in his voice. Like my mother, I think he was relieved I wasn’t a fudge-packer.
You see, Ronnie was an African-American girl. Black babe. Negress. Colored girl. There wasn’t any escaping it. She and I would get stares at school. We’d get teased for hanging out all the time. I’d walk her home, and one time I stole a kiss at her front door – to the HORROR of the neighbors who were obviously watching. The next day at school, the rumor mill had us fucking in public. Oh my god, she was mortified. For whatever reason, I wasn’t.
In any event, my father was a severe racist. He wasn’t the lynching kind. Naw, that’d be rude. But words like “Nigger” easily left his lips … no matter WHO was around, including niggers.
Having been a cop, back when SDPD was feared, he knew “those people.” He even demanded my mother take me out of a school in Linda Vista due to too many “Gooks” in the student body (he caught a Vietnamese girl giving me a dime in a very sweet gesture; when I got in his car, he told me to return any and all gifts that “gook bitch” gave me). That’s actually how we moved to Point Loma. My father was so disgusted by Linda Vista he told my mother he’d pay whatever it would cost to get me into a white neighborhood. He positively HATED Mexicans. He really thought they were garbage, and he referred to them as Latrinos (a neologism, taking Latino and the more formal name for toilet, Latrine, to form a slur).
You can probably imagine how he reacted to Ronnie.
My mother managed to keep her racism under wraps. She worked menial jobs, and as a result she had to rub elbows with “those people” on a fairly routine basis. She even became close friends with some. When she got a load of Ronnie, I caught her swallowing hard, managing to force a smile. I now presume she was dreading the inevitable encounter Ronnie and I were going to have with my father.
We were to meet my father and Avis at the bay.
My father was preoccupied with whatever one does to get the boat ready for launch (I’ve forgotten), and he didn’t see Ronnie at first. And if he did, he probably thought she was a guy. Avis sure did notice Ronnie, however. Avis smiled more than I had ever seen her smile, offering us sodas to cool down. She made small talk with Ronnie, complimenting her on some feminine shit. You know.
My father walked up.
Silence. Ronnie stuck out her hand, introducing herself and calling my father “Mr. Kelso.” I’d never heard any of my friends call my father that. It’d been so long since I’d seen him, I’d forgotten he and I were related. Silence. He gave her the THOUSAND YARD STARE. I knew that look. He told me he developed it while on tour in Vietnam. He’d look right through people. And years later, when a couple of vatos in a lowrider pulled up beside us, taunting him, he lowered his sunglass and yelled at them, FUCK YOU! You’re too ugly to look at me. Turn your fucking head. They did.
Ronnie kept her hand out, unflinching. Thinking back on her, she was one of the bravest gals I’ve ever been around. No fear in her. She waited with her beautiful smile. Avis nudged my dad to act nice. He shook Ronnie’s hand, begrudgingly. Almost at the same time, he asked Avis for a beer. He was going to need alcohol if he was going to get through the afternoon. No, his son wasn’t gay, but his son had JUNGLE FEVER.
The rest of the day went well, actually. Ronnie loved the bay. We took turns skiing, and my father was rather cool when Ronnie was beside him. She was MUCH more adept to skiing than I was, and my father later said it surprised him because Niggers normally can’t swim.
Thank goodness he didn’t say that IN FRONT of Ronnie.
I think Ronnie’s home life wasn’t so great. She depended on me a lot. She’d come by the apartment all the time. She wanted to hang out constantly. Back then, girls still had cooties, and my first love, my REAL love, was baseball. Ronnie was beginning to get in the way of my first love.
Before she’d leave my life forever (she moved away the following Summer), we managed to sit alone, listening to the new Michael Jackson record. She loved to dance. So did I. Some slow song came on, and she got up and asked me to dance with her. There, in that shitty apartment, we slow danced. The world around us vanished. She put her head on my shoulder. It was sooooooooo sweet. It was the first time I put my hands on a girl’s hips.
When the song ended, she smiled and asked me if I liked the band Queen. OF COURSE, I cried. She took out the single, You’re My Best Friend. Played it. Tears went down her face. She told me she had to move, but that she would never forget me. I didn’t know what to say. My emotions hadn’t reached that level yet. Ronnie was just a good friend. But I had plenty of those. I guess she didn’t.
She then said, I’ll also miss your father. I was puzzled. Really? I asked, astonished. Yeah, she answered, laughing, When I asked him what he thought about Michael Jackson, he told me Michael Jackson was a “greasy little nigger.” Whoa. I guess she thought he was refreshingly honest or something. I don’t know.
Dear, sweet Ronnie. I hope the years have been good to you, girl. You were a model for strong women everywhere, possessing an inner strength I bet YOU didn’t even know you had. You faced down my ignorant father, and you bested him! You learned to laugh at stupid people, and to not take yourself too seriously. You also managed to change the world not by ranting, marching in the streets, or screaming … but by the example of love. Who could turn you down? Answer: no one.
What I’d give to dance with her again …
And I mean it.
FIRST PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2013
FIRST PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2013