It was my first year of school, and since my older sister and brother were also in attendance, my mother was a little restless. It was the late 80’s in north-central Louisiana, she is a Catholic from Massachusetts – our family relocated there shortly after I was born. My Father lived in the area his entire life except for a few years he was in the service – they met when he was stationed at a naval air base just south of Boston.
She recently took the test to become a Postal Worker in our small town of 300 but volunteered at our school and other places so she could stay busy and help others until she landed something more permanent — and paid.
One of these places was the “state school” – a small campus with a few brick buildings on the other side of town. According to my mother, it was for kids from all over Lousiana who could not go to a school like mine because they were “different and needed special help”.
It was my mother to a T.
Volunteering to help those desperately in need.
“Lucky”, I said.
“Why can’t I go there”?
“Maybe another year”, my mother said with raised eyebrows, an attempt to divert the conversation and move on to something else. I got it. Unlike those from other people, my mom’s cues are obvious to me. We get each other that way.
Thanksgiving was approaching and Mom casually let us know that a student she helped with was coming to visit, her name was “Tasha”. And Tasha is different from us, she has special needs— and she is also black.
What, what, what!?
My tiny little brain went a-fliter! There has never been another black person in our house — oh, the answers I could get. My head lit up like a celebrity telethon.
I wondered if she would be like Tina from MTV or the kids at my school, but hopefully, she wasn’t an “N-word” person, like my father and cousins regularly talk about. They talk about them quite a bit.
I have personally never met one myself, but they sound like terrible people.
The mention of the word was semi-regular, and it sent my mother into minor fits of rage every time she heard it uttered.
“If you say that word, one more time — I am taking you back home”, she would say to my cousin Karl — he is one year older than me and in the second grade. The look on his little face as blank as mine before returning to whatever he was doing.
Where is Tasha from? Why doesn’t she just go home to her family? What does Tasha eat? Does she have cancer, is that what makes her special?
My mother handed me 5 towels from the dryer and told me I could not put them away in 30 seconds.
In another life, my mom could have been a wildcat herder and her gift for deflection was sharp – but from a place of love. She understood that the only thing more motivating to me than finding answers was helping.
I also enjoyed running around the house and being good at something.
Years later in my teens, she would attempt the same tricks to get me to rake the leaves in the backyard or to take a shower. Unfortunately, her tricks stopped working — the laziness inside of me conquering both my curiosity and desire to do much of anything physical.
Needless to say, I was excited about the upcoming visit — and I was preparing. This would definitely be a rainbow shorts sort of affair — that way, if Tasha loved color as much as I did she would know immediately we had something in common — maybe a nice segue into another love of mine – Rainbow Bright. Maybe if we get along, Tasha could just move here instead and we could watch my shows together? We even have a few episodes of unsolved mysteries on cassette!
The Big Day Arrives
My shorts were pressed and I was an 80’s fashion statement in my OP purple tank top. I wanted to make sure Tasha noticed.
After all – aren’t I special as well?
Behind my taller brother, I fiddled with my thumbs and picked off dry skin in anticipation (a habit to this day). Then I heard the carport door open, she is only seconds away now.
And then she entered — sort of propped up by my mother, Tasha came into our small wood-filled kitchen. At first, I thought she might be a robot — her movements more frantic and pronounced than mine. And no big hello.
Is she playing a game?
And with another step it became obvious that my mother was not helping Tasha as much as holding her up — they made an awkward b-line for the table to sit.
I cannot remember perfectly, but I believe one of us muttered some sort of welcome or question.
No direct response — and my mother tried to quickly engage us with food prep chores.
I played along but I could not take my eyes off her. Normally, I would be careful not to stare, but I knew she wasn’t bothered — I’m not even sure she knew I was there.
But looking away proved impossible. Tasha didn’t have words like me — she made sounds. And her movements looked as if she was fighting everything around her – constantly struggling with her space.
She is not like me or anyone else I have ever seen. I wanted to sit next to her and just be there to observe and see if I could help in some small way.
I wondered how it felt not to be able to communicate or get up and walk on your own.
Where is her family? It is Thanksgiving after all?
At that moment something strange and unknown occurred within me. It felt like that scorpion from last year was on my neck again.
Tasha might know what it feels like to be different — but we can never be friends.
Is this what happens if you become too special?
My mother lightly grabbed me by the elbow and requested that I stop staring — it is rude, she quickly snapped.
Almost out of impulse, I ran into my bedroom, slammed the door, and fell asleep an hour later when the pounding in my head allowed. I awoke hours later — dinner was over and mom took Tasha back to the state school.
I exited my bedroom and my mother rested her hand on the top my forehead to see if I was coming down with a fever – then she kissed it.
I never saw or spoke of Tasha again. I’m not sure I even really thought about her again until a few months ago. I have been thinking about her a lot lately.