Our lives intersected briefly, but she changed my life. I am haunted by her image, yet I don’t even remember her last name. Large for the sixth grade, quiet, in fact, almost mute, she frequently looked like a deer caught in headlights. Why I was drawn to Grace I do not know. Perhaps it was her uniqueness, for her skin was as black as night; whereas ours was as white as snow. Maybe my unusually small stature made me want to reach out to her.
She came during potato harvest. At the time, my piece of Long Island was dotted by potato farms and help for harvest arrived in trucks that looked like they couldn’t go another mile, and they were filled with dark faces of all ages who were beckoned to a temporary home, the shack on the field, as my parents called it.
As a child, the potato farm was the place I frequently played without fear. The little blonde girl and her dog would talk the ears off the people digging potatoes under the searing sun. Helping at times, I heard the stories and songs of sorrow and understood at some level, for, I, too, felt sorrow, although I wouldn’t have named it that at the time.
I did not know Grace from the farm. She just appeared one day early in the school year, smelling of sweat, taller, heavier, and darker than the class of lean, mean snow drops.
The kids taunted Grace on the playground, and I endured scratches and bruises for defending her. The teachers turned their gazes to other students, who peacefully played, while I fought for the girl who had the belt torn off her dress. She acted like she deserved the kicks, punches, and nasty words, but I knew what that torn belt meant, as I, too, was poor.
For fighting on the playground, I was sentenced to no more recess, and so was Grace, although she took no part in her defense. Together we copied words from the dictionary, never speaking to each other because of the teacher’s glance. I hated him. Even to my developing mind, I realized that he liked me, the top student, but he despised Grace, the invader. It is the year I passed from innocence to experience.
One day Grace no longer came to class, and I have missed her ever since. I do not know what happened to her. I hope that she fought back for justice. She propelled me to seek equality for all. The road has been long, filled with many bumps, and in my heart, I feel together that Grace and I have navigated the journey. This is what I believe.
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