As much as I tried to, I could not recall having any interaction with Shara after going to church with her. It was almost as if a scene had ended in a play I had been watching. The lights dimmed, the curtain dropped, but there was no applause.
How did this drama end? Would I ever find out what happened to the protagonist?
Over the years, I had hoped so.
Part of the reason I lost track of Shara was because we had moved back to the midwest where I found Billy despondent. I don’t know why Mom and I relocated when we did, but for me it could not have happened soon enough. My mother was in a tumultuous relationship that I hoped day and night would end, and I was experiencing puppy love which ended with me being dogged.
His name was Derek. He was the cousin of my neighbor Debbie who lived in 105. One Saturday, I was pretty bored and thought I would go visit her. There was never a dull moment at Debbie’s place. Their living room was always filled with drug addicts who were heading to or fresh out of rehab. Some were relatives, and some were friends, who would congregate in their front room discussing court dates and methadone dosages.
“Immo get it together, Miss Sadie; next time you see me, this monkey won’t be on my back,” someone would say.
“Well, I sure hope so!” Miss Sadie, Debbie’s mom, would always reply with a sigh, as she rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. Miss Sadie used to own a bar on the avenue similar to the one Billy would take me to. She had become ill not long after opening the bar and was disabled. Now an arm chair psychologist, it seemed as if every addict or hustler had followed her from the avenue to her apartment for advice. So there I would sit for hours listening to Miss Sadie dishing out home spun wisdom. She knew every hustler, street urchin, or prostitute who had ever strolled the avenue and could go back three or four generations giving details of their family history.
Some days she would just sit, chain smoking Camels, and school me on the ways of street folk.
“Now a wino will be honest with you, Tam. When he’s drunk, he will spill his guts and admit that he is an alcoholic. But there is something about dope that makes people lie,” she said one day as her voice trailed off. We sat silently as if she needed time to think about the many times she had been lied to.
I had expected the day that I met Derek to be like any other visit to Miss Sadie’s and Debbie’s apartment. I could already hear the rumble of simultaneous conversations as I approached their door.
Once inside, I gave a swift greeting and slipped into a nearby chair like I was attending a community meeting. The visitors that day didn’t look like folks I had seen in North End before and they weren’t: at least not anymore. They were actually relatives of Miss Sadie’s. Her sister Juanita and two of her children, Angela and Derek.
Juanita and her husband Ron owned a night club on the other side of town. Determined to free their family from North End, they scrimped and saved until they were able to move to the side of town where I had visited Shara’s family.
“Oh Tam, I want you to meet my sister Juanita and her…” was all I heard Miss Sadie say that day, once I laid eyes on her nephew, Derek. He was a slender built cinnamon colored young man with soft brown hair and a lazy eye that gave him a dreamy look. Derek was the coolest guy I had ever seen. His clothing was preppy and polished like Alex Vanderpool’s, but something underneath that image screamed young thug. I was completely smitten.
That day it was as if I had swallowed a happy butterfly that never wanted to be free. It was content just fluttering around in my stomach.
My first reaction must have been very obvious as I caught a glimpse of Miss Sadie and her sister exchanging glances and giggling. She would tease me about that for years to come. After a brief visit, I excused myself and headed back to our apartment. I felt like if I didn’t leave soon that happy butterfly was sure to fly right out of my mouth. Plus, staring at Derek and his sister’s clothing was starting to make me feel like Cinderella before the ball.
My pastel colored sweat shirt and jeans were no match for their attire. Derek was wearing a pair of really nice dress pants with a plaid shirt, a v-neck angora knit sweater, and a black leather jacket. Angela’s outfit gave her a militant, defiant look. Her huge curly afro couldn’t help but compliment the brown suede fringed jacket and mini skirt she was wearing. Her enormous hooped earrings, choker and high heeled suede boots made her look confident and powerful. Instantly, I wanted to be like her.
Something about their apparel made me think of how they must have chosen their images carefully and how hard their parents must have worked to help them maintain those images.
Over the next few months, Derek would make several visits to 105. Sometimes with his mom but most of the time alone. For fleeting moments I would allow myself to think that his frequent visits to North End were because of his growing attraction to me, although deep down I knew they weren’t. Juanita and her husband had prepared a banquet table for their children, allowing them to feast on everything their new money could provide. North End had already whetted Derek’s appetite and he could not stay away.
Derek’s real reason for visiting North End didn’t matter to me; I was just glad when he did. I’d looked for reasons to be around when he was visiting but I’d beat up on myself because I couldn’t think of anything to say. Being around him made me shy and awkward. There were plenty boys who liked me in our neighborhood but none as intriguing as Derek.
Is he shy or just trying to play it cool? Does he even like me at all? Does he think about me as much as I think about him? I’d think as I wrote our names, encased in hearts on every flat surface I could find.
Whenever he visited, we would engage in some conversation and I even think he had called me a few times. Still I wanted more of his attention but wasn’t sure how to get it. When I wasn’t pining over Derek, I would occasionally think about the girls he must be meeting in his neighborhood. Girls who sparkled more and always knew the right things to say. Those thoughts usually made me more uneasy, and it would show whenever he came around.
It wasn’t long before he stopped visiting 105 altogether. Debbie and her family had moved to a housing project across town and I hardly saw her.
One day I got a call from Debbie. “Derek is having a party this weekend. Why don’t you see if you can come over and maybe we can go to the party.” she said. I was all for it. I knew getting a ride would be difficult for us as neither of our parents had cars.
Saturday night came and as we predicted, we couldn’t get rides to the party. This didn’t seemed to bother Debbie at all but I was very disappointed. I begged her to call him. I knew I was getting ahead of myself and my emotions were overriding my judgment but I had to find out how he really felt. Mom had already announced that we would be moving to the Midwest any day now. Before my life in North End came to a close, I wanted it to have a happy ending.
Debbie finally gave in and agreed to call. “Oh somebody wants to speak to you….Tam” I heard her say before handing me the phone.
“Hello?” I said with a nervous giggle. I could hear that the party was in full swing. The music was loud and bumping and the people were louder. It sounded packed. I had hoped that perhaps Derek would want us to come once he heard that we weren’t able to, that he would even ask his parents or one of his older siblings to pick us up.
Quite the contrary. After a few minutes of awkward dialogue, he said these words: “I have to go! I’ll talk to you when the time comes….if the time comes!” That’s all I remember about that night. I’m not sure if he hung up on me or if I laid the phone down or told Debbie. All I knew that night was the chapter of my life that had taken place in North End was over, and hopefully, I’d never have to read it again.
Little did I know years later, I’d be compelled to.