“OK,” I began. “Look at the sentences on the board. Can anyone see where we might be able to put a semi-colon? Where do we need more than just a comma? Stan, stop talking, please . . .”
Lakita looked up from the desk she was tattooing with “Keda loves Tavon.”
“Yeah, Stan, shut your bitch-ass face!”
“Language, Lakita,” I warned.
“Damn, Ms. Roller . . .”
“Lakita, Language!” I said, aiming for threatening, but probably just barely succeeding at serious.
“’Damn’ ain’t a curse word, Ms. Roller.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Only if you use it like one. And I ain’t use it like one.”
Chante chimed in, “You f-ing retarded, Kita.”
“Shut the f- up, Chante. What’s your pregnant ass got to do with this? You think you a grown-ass woman at sixteen.”
“My, My,” I interrupted, trying a new technique—one of my mother’s favorite phrases, “You all are so cute at this age.”
Lakita looked me up and down. “Damn, Ms. Roller! You gotta stop all this Princess Diaries shit!”
I could see why Lakita might tell Stan to shut his bitch-ass face or Chante to stop acting like a grown-ass woman. But to tell me that I’m acting too “Princess Diaries?” To be honest, I didn’t know what exactly she meant, but I knew it wasn’t good. I decided to consult an expert and sought out Mr. Howard, an experienced teacher at Patterson High.
” . . . Princess Diaries shit.” I told Mr. Howard. “Can you believe that?”
“Sure. They have no filter. They call it how they see it.”
“They just don’t get me at all. I’m about as un-princess-y as you can get. I mean, you should have seen me as a kid.”
SECOND GRADE. SCHOOL YEARBOOK PICTURE DAY. GYM.
“OK, princess,” the balding photographer said to the girl in front of me. “Look up. Give me a smile.”
The bony girl straightened the pink bow that tied back her long, blonde hair. She gave a toothy smile. The photographer snapped the picture.
“That’s great! OK, princess, you’re done.” He turned to me and eyed my tom-boy bowl cut and beloved Michael Jordan jersey. “OK, Rambo. Your turn…”
“You don’t strike me as the princess type necessarily,” Mr. Howard replied as he picked up a couple of writing journals that had, somehow, ended up on the floor of his classroom. “You do coach and stuff.”
“Yeah. I’ve been a jock my whole life. I played rugby in college, for the love of Peter.”
SOPHOMORE YEAR AT YALE. AFTER A RUGBY GAME. RUGBY PITCH.
“Shoot the boot! Shoot, shoot the boot. Shoot the boot. Shoot, shoot the boot!” Nearly two dozen sweaty women stood around me in a circle. I hesitated just a moment.
“Why are we waiting? We could be masturbating!” They taunted. “Drink mothaf—-a! Drink mothaf—a! Drink mothaf—-a! Drink!”
I tilted the dirty cleat back.
“U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly! Yeah, yeah, you ugly!” The team cheered as I tasted my first beer—a disgusting mix of barley and bare feet. M-A-M-A! How you think you got that way? Your mama. Yeah, yeah, your mama!
I finished the cleat of beer.
“You played rugby? Really? You seem awfully small to play rugby,” Mr. Howard continued.
“Well,” I conceded, “I wasn’t the biggest gal on the pitch.”
“No. And not to be rude or weird or anything, but it was my impression that rugby girls were not, well, the cutest things.”
SECOND GRADE. AFTER YEARBOOK PICTURES CAME BACK. MY HOUSE.
“Aw . . .” My mom looked at the picture of me showing off my teeth, oh so proud of my Jordan jersey. “You’re the cutest thing! We have to make sure to get one of these to Mee-maw and Grandma and Grandpa and Nancy and David and Dana and…
“Cute?” I thought about Mr. Howard’s observation. “I guess that’s not the first word you would typically use to describe a rugger. And my teammates did sometimes call me ‘the prancing, effeminate back.’ But that was referring to my style of play more than my personality. They certainly never called me ‘princess.’”
“No?” said Mr. Howard, “But I thought ‘Princess’ was your mascot at that fancy Ivy League school you went to. Didn’t you all live at castles, dine on the fanciest cuisine, rub elbows with the rich and powerful?”
SOPHOMORE YEAR AT YALE. BEFORE THE RUGBY GAME. DINING HALL.
“I am a Brunch champion!” I announced to my roommate, Chase Hetherington Butler. I took a seat—bathed in early-morning sunlight from the high, arched windows that soared above large serious portraits of large, serious men—and tilted my tray toward her. “Look!”
I had filled two of my dining hall’s finely engraved plates with free-range scrambled eggs, two vegan apple pancakes, and a small arugula salad—to make it healthy.
“And this is just the first round. I’m gonna single-handedly keep this whole sustainable food project in business.”
“Hell, no!” I responded to Mr. Howard. “I mean, yeah, our dorms resembled castles. Our food was good. But we were the ‘Bulldogs!’”
“Bulldogs. Right,” Mr. Howard said. “Well, why didn’t you ask Lakita what she meant by ‘princess diaries,’ then?”
FIRST YEAR OF TEACHING. NORMAL DAY. MY CLASSROOM.
“Princess Diaries, Lakita? Really? What does that even mean?”
“Come on, Roller. You know,” she said, looking around the classroom for support and getting several nods and affirming murmurs. “Now, go ‘head and teach me ‘bout these mini-colon things. What’s that sentence say?”
“It says, ‘I dont’ like the taste of chicken boxes free-range chicken is better.’”
“OK, Roller. Put that mini-colon after ‘range’ then.”
“OK, then. I guess they just don’t get you,” Mr. Howard said. “Lakita would probably call any white girl ‘Princess Diaries.’ So would most of the class, most likely.”
“That’s what I’m saying. Can’t they see past this race thing? I mean, I get it. White people suck. But can’t they see that someone like me is OK? I’m not some foreign oppressor. I’m trying to help them . . . I’m not insulting them. I’m not dissing their lifestyle or anything. I’m just saying, you know. I’m just saying . . .”
Qu’ils mangent de la free-range chicken.