Dumb White Bitch
“That’ll be $5.63.”
I withdrew ten dollars from my purse and handed it across the counter.
“Pretty early for chocolate.”
Janice, the Walgreens’ cashier, was judging me.
“It’s for my classroom. I have parent-teacher conferences today. It’s my first time, so I’m kind of nervous.”
The cashier turned her attention from me to the much more interesting Walgreens sales leaflet. I grabbed the bag of Hershey Kisses and walked away, head down.
As I pulled into my school’s parking lot (the same lot from which Mr. Brown’s car was stolen two weeks earlier), I saw a small group of about 10 parents waiting by the school doors. Most of them looked less than thrilled to be standing there. I walked past the line, signed in at the main office, and received an approving look from my principal. Correction. I received my first-ever approving look from my principal.
“Finally wearing something professional to school, Ms. S. You clean up well,” he said with the grin of a Cheshire cat.
“Well, you know, since the parents are here and I won’t have to break up any fights today, I really think—”
“Alright,” he said, checking his watch as he walked away.
I made my way to my classroom, ready to prepare everything for the long day ahead. “Everything” consisted of a bowl of candy, my grade book, and two chairs. The hole in my ceiling—the one through which I could see the sky—had been covered the previous day with a ceiling tile. It will no doubt fall through some time within the next two weeks and give me back my natural light or, depending on the weather, a snow-covered or rain-soaked floor. The black mold around the windows near my desk was still there, punctuating all of the charm of a 100 year-old building.
The conferences were not as glamorous as I’d expected. They crawled by with just two parent visits in three hours. One was just “checking in.” In fact, she wasn’t even a parent of any of my students. She saw the bowl of kisses while walking by and came in to make small talk while taking five pieces of chocolate, one piece at a time. The other smelled like whiskey and asked for money to fix his bike’s flat tire. Sadly, I had less change in my pocket than he did.
After five months at my school, it was safe to say that growing up in a small town in the Midwest was vastly different from my present environment. Parent-teacher conferences were a big deal back home. The inner city of Chicago, however, didn’t seem too interested.
I heard a quick knock on my doorframe. “Ms. S. I have a parent here to see you about her daughter’s grade. Ms. Stovall, this is Ms. S.”
My vice-principal, Mr. Moore, stood just inside of my room as Ms. Stovall barged past him.
“I don’t need no introduction. I know who she is.” She took a seat and grabbed some candy. “But what I don’t know is why she thinks she can give Deanna an F. That ain’t right. Not right at all.” She glared at me while drawing out the word “all” as long as her breath would allow. Mr. Moore hesitantly pulled up another chair and sat down.
“Well,” I said, “if we look at Deanna’s attendance, grades and behavior, I’m sure we can figure out what’s going on and how to raise her grade.”
She continued to glare. I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my lower back. The one time they turn on the heater this winter is the only time I don’t need it.
“Nah, we don’t need to do any of that bull. All we’re gonna do is figure out what’s wrong with you.” She cast her eyes first down to my feet and then up the length of my body, sizing me up for the brawl she seemed to think was the only way to resolve the dispute over her daughter’s grade.
“Actually, I think it’s a good idea to see how Deanna’s behavior may be affecting her classwork and test scores,” I said, thinking of apples, trees, and their inherent proximity to each other. “She’s pretty chatty and disruptive at times, and it prevents her from learning the material.” I should have said a lot more. I should have added that her daughter was the meanest, most aggressive girl I’d ever met. She once tried to fight a pregnant girl for looking at her “the wrong way.” Deanna actually took the time to cut off her Lee Press-Ons before running down the hall to the classroom of this student. Sadly for her, the room was locked—a policy most teachers practiced for moments exactly like this.
Mr. Moore shifted uncomfortably in his seat after this last observation about Deanna’s behavior. He refused to make eye contact with either of us, and I got the uneasy feeling that maybe things worked differently here than they did back home. Had I said too much? Again? I didn’t have to wait long for my answer.
“Excuse me? Aww, hell no! Listen here you dumbwhitebitch, I’m gonna cut your mutha-fuckin’ lips off.”
I tried to suppress it, but a giggle escaped my dumbwhitebitch lips.
“Ohhhh, this dumbwhitebitch thinks she cute?” she asked.
I can see where she may have thought that my laughter was unduly dismissive of her concern, but I had only laughed because I had yet to ever hear a threat so creative. Sure, I’d been called a bitch. I’d been called a dumb, trifling, crazy ass, white bitch. Sometimes I was even called by my name: Miss Teacher Lady.
Threats didn’t really mean much to me. I was threatened daily with normal, boring, somewhat colloquial lines. Just last week I had been told that I’d get my white ass beat if I didn’t shut up my face, but it didn’t stop me. I’d heard that one before, and it has never made me shut up my face.
“I’m sorry,” I said. Yep, I was apologizing to the woman who had just threatened to cut off one of my (not to brag) nicer body parts. I was still smiling when I said, “But what did you just say?”
“You heard me! I said: you dumbwhitebitch, I’m gonna cut your mutha-fuckin lips off!” She stood up.
Oh shit. The menace in her voice and her towering figure silenced my giggle and quickly erased the smile from my face as my dumb white bitch lips tried to hide between my teeth.
I stood up.
Umm, sit down, you dumbwhitebitch, I thought to myself, but my body wouldn’t listen. I’ve been told that I’m too stubborn for my own good, and this may be the best example of that unfortunate characteristic.
Mr. Moore was also standing now. He moved between Ms. Stovall and me but had yet to speak or make eye contact. This didn’t exactly instill me with a tremendous amount of confidence. Why was I alone in this ridiculous argument?
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” I said with a tone of authority that could only have come from watching Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me one too many times.
“That’s fine, I’ll leave. I’m just gonna beat your white ass in the parking lot.” She was looking me straight in my eyes, and she pointed at my face with her electric blue, two-inch fingernails.
Before I could stop myself, I yelled. “Fine, bitch! I drive the black Jeep!”
Oh. My. God. I just called a parent a bitch in front of the assistant principal and told the woman threatening to cut off my lips what car I drive.
Ms. Stovall smirked, grabbed a handful of Hershey’s kisses from the bowl on my desk and stormed out, slamming the door so hard that it shook the room. Mr. Moore and I stood in my classroom until I broke the deafening silence with a shaky voice, “Well, that could have gone a little better. But all things considered, it wasn’t too bad …”
“I’ll have security walk you to your car for the rest of the week,” was all he said before walking out of my room.
After he had left, I went into panic mode, and I did what any other scared, new teacher would do: I called my mother.
“Wait, wait, wait,” my mother pleaded on the other line. “She threatened to cut off your lips? That doesn’t even make sense. Why would she threaten to cut off your lips? Wouldn’t it be simpler to cut off your fingers or just punch you or something?”
“I don’t know, mom. I didn’t have time to ask her.”
“Do you think she’s specially trained in this? Is this something she knows how to do? It sounds pretty difficult. I’d probably mess it up.”
“Specially trained in cutting off lips? No, I don’t think so,” I said. This phone call was not my best decision.
“Well, let’s just hope you don’t get fired,” she said.
“Alright, I’m hanging up now.“ I snapped.
“Bye, honey. Love you!”
I sat in my room staring at the mold, thinking how it would probably be there much longer than me. This represented a new low for me—I had become jealous of mold.
The rest of the day passed without incident. It also passed without any more parent conferences. In total, I saw three parents out of a possible 136.
As I clocked out in the main office and waited for security to escort me to my car, my principal strode by.
“Ms. S. I heard you had an incident.”
“I think that when put into its proper perspective, you’ll see that I was only—”
“Alright,” he said, walking off.
I climbed into my jeep and started the engine. As I looked through my windshield, I saw a single Hershey Kiss wrapped in silver tin foil staring at me from the middle of my Jeep’s black hood. I don’t know if this was a threat or a peace offering, but I ate it anyway.
“That’ll be $10.22.”
I swiped my debit card.
“You don’t want more candy?” Janice asked. She must have been working a double.
“No,” I said. Then, in a foolish plea for sympathy, I added, “A woman threatened to cut off my lips today.”
She picked up her magazine and opened it.
I grabbed my bottle of wine and silently walked away, head down, wondering how tomorrow would go.