My grandma dropped out of school in the second grade. Things were different back then. But one day, when women finally began to gain rights and when my grandmother finally began to gain the courage to unlock the chains that pulled her down from liberation my grandmother decided to take the GED test.
I had woken up full of excitement. I never liked waking up in the morning, but I was so excited for my grandmother to take the test. My alarm screamed and brought me to life at seven on the dot. I rolled out of bed and slipped on my lint-covered white bunny slippers and walked into the kitchen.
The smell of bacon, eggs, burnt toast, and coffee swam through my nose hairs. My grandma is sitting at the dining table with a thick pack of index cards and a cup of coffee with dark red lipstick painted around the rim.
She loved her coffee black–like the curly locks that draped around her head. Black, like the smooth, timeless, skin that hugged her bones.
I join her at the kitchen and her instinct is to fix me a plate of food. I munch and crunch on the crispy bacon as I quiz her on the presidents, the Pythagorean theorem, the American revolution, on metaphors, and the elements.
After filling our brains and tummies, we get dressed. My grandmother drowns her floral dress in perfume and puts on her favorite earrings. She slips on her big, black, evening coat that she wore out on the town. She was dressed nice, like she was going on an interview.
Grandpa let her use the car today for her test. She’s always hated driving, but she needs to drive to get around. I always offered to drive for her when I accompanied her on her errands, but she would always say not until I’m sixteen.
She turned the car on, and the engine of the ’91 Deville hummed to life. She drove with her hands at ten and two on the wheel, and kept her eyes on the road, sometimes peeking down at the speedometer. But somehow, she didn’t see the drunk driver speeding towards us as we crossed the light.
I don’t see how it happened. I jumped out of my Porsche and rushed towards the smoking, crunched up, Deville. A young girl with two braids, one on each side of her head, climbed out of the passenger seat and pulled an older woman, maybe her grandma, out of the driver seat with incredible strength. I rushed over to apologize.
“Hi, I’m sorry,” I said, feeling pitiful.
“You’re the driver that hurt my grandma,” The little girl said.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“It was a red light!”
To be so young and small, she had the attitude and knowledge of someone way beyond her years. I looked over at her grandma, expecting her to shush her granddaughter, but she sat slumped over moaning, wearing a big black fur coat that was covered in red streams of her blood.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to her, but she was barely conscious.
“Quit saying sorry! It doesn’t erase what you did,” The little girl screamed.
The pain in her hazel eyes broke my heart. I was on my way to work so angry and self-absorbed and reckless. I could’ve killed someone. I almost killed someone.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say,” I really didn’t know what else to say, so I apologized over and over again until the police and ambulance arrived on the scene.
I gave them my insurance information as the ambulance loaded the woman onto the stretcher. They removed the coat from her and her arm was full of gashes and cuts and small patches of black stuck to her from her coat.
“Were you drinking?” The police officer asked taking notes of my uneasiness.
“No. Well yes, but just coffee,” I said, with thick blobs of sweat racing down my face.
“We’re going to have to test you”.
I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to run the red light. I thought I could make it before it changed for their side. I just was running late to work.
“You’re lucky she’s in a stable condition. Just a little banged up. You will be getting a ticket for running the light though,”
“And your insurance company will be heading from us”, the little girl screamed crossing her arms over her faded blue overalls, “and don’t rush next time!”
I will never forget that little girl. I’m so glad my rushing wasn’t more destructive. She is going to go far, and I would have never forgiven myself for pushing her out of this world. I should have asked her name.
My grandma’s eyes had slowly fluttered open in the back of the busy ambulance, with her crunched up Deville disappearing with the blue and red sirens behind us.
“God gave me a sign,” my grandma moaned.
“Wh-what do you mean?” I asked confused.
“He’s punishing me for trying to get educated.”
“Ma-ma. No. No, he’s not.”
“I was kicked out of school when I was in the second grade. The teacher told me women belong locked up in kitchens, not in classrooms.”
“That’s not true. I’m in school. I’ll be in third grade soon.”
“I grew up in a different time, baby.”
“You can still take it. This is just a setback.”
“No. My genitals say otherwise.”
I remember nothing. Nothing but black. But I remember blurred men in white removing my black fur coat from me making me shiver.
I never liked driving. I absolutely despise driving. But what I hate even worse than driving is the doctor’s office–they bring nothing but bad news.
The last time I went to the doctor, they told me I had cancer. They found tumors in my breast, and they gave me the option of what I want to do. I decided to just let fate run its course, and whatever happens to me, happens. But, I never meant for my family to find out. I especially didn’t want my grandbaby Tallulah to find out.
“Grandma, I’m so happy you’re okay,” Tallulah said, squeezing me making me wince.
“Yes, I am”.
I couldn’t tell her the truth.
The doctors pulled me out of the ambulance and placed me in the hallway. Stretchers and stretchers of bloody, damaged people passed by me as I waited in the hallway. All my life I had to wait in the background. Being a black woman, all my life I’ve done nothing but be put in a hallway on hold as everyone’s life continues. I’m done living like this though.
I slowly raised up from the flat, cold, bed and grabbed my battered black fur coat off the edge of my stretcher, placed it around my shoulder and walked towards the light at the end of the hallway where the exit door resides. like it was my runway, and my granddaughter followed right behind–her small, innocent, hand in my aging one.
If my cancer devoured me today, I’d want Tallulah to remember this moment. To remember me not as I lived, but me in the moments before I died–brave, strong, and resilient.