Seeing The Gray In A Black & White World

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Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week 13 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. 

My subject is “Tell us a story from your childhood”.  It was submitted by http://Bakinginatornado.  Here goes:

Like many others, my childhood was the foundation for the person I grew to be today. My mind swirls as clips of memories dance around, each highlighting a frozen piece of time before my innocence was lost and the harshness of the cruel world became a frightening reality. There were good times and bad times aplenty- some seemingly storybook perfect and some so ugly, they’re best left buried within the hidden passages of lost time. Still, they are mine. The index which precedes the multitude of chapters my adult life has written.

A police officer’s daughter, I was kept sheltered from the evils that lurk around every corner, hiding not only in the shadows but plain sight, as well. We lived in a predominantly white, upper-middle class suburbia on the outskirts of Detroit, where it was easy for my parents to pull the wool over my eyes about the ways of the world. I believed that everyone, everywhere, worth a damn, lived the same way we did or better. I thought to graduate high school, attend a good college, establish a career which would provide financial security, get married in a church and begin a family was the circle of life which only the good people of the world followed. That anyone who didn’t adhere to this plan were the bad people I was warned about, time and time again.

I was the epitome of privileged children across the nation.

Then the house next door to ours was put up for sale one day when I was 8. It was bought by a pretentious, ornery, fur-coat-wearing old lady who’s rouge could be spotted coming towards you long before her actual face was distinguishable. Only, she never moved in. A family with four young children did. The oldest being a girl who was going into the fourth grade that school year, just the same as me. I was swimming in my humongous, above ground pool the first time we met. Her mother had just talked to my step-mother and she was promptly sent to introduce herself to me. Like any kid, I immediately invited her to go grab her suit and come in with me. It struck me as odd when she turned down my proposal and sadly went back home. What kid wouldn’t want to jump in and cool off on a blistering late-August afternoon? Strange, indeed.

As the days rambled on, she continued to make excuses for not wanting to go swimming. We played tag, hide-n-go-seek, red rover, and dungeon master with her three siblings and my brother without a hitch. She came inside to play Barbies and house with me in my bedroom, but I had yet to go over to hers. They were still unpacking, she would say. Her mom wasn’t ready for a houseful of kids, yet. All the while, still refusing to go into my pool with me. I didn’t care, though. I was beyond thrilled to have a new friend. And a girl, at that. All the kids my age within a few blocks were boys. She was right next door to me, nonetheless, and that was just the coolest thing ever in my youthful naivety. We quickly became inseparable. Besties.

When school started, the icing on the friendship cake came when we discovered we had been placed in the same teacher’s class. Life couldn’t have been more perfect at that moment. At least, for me, that is. I had no idea of the truth was hidden behind her closed front door.

You see, the difference between kids and adults is the fact that children live directly in the moment, unaffected by either the past or the future. They don’t care where you’ve been or where you come from. They could care less about what hasn’t happened yet or what’s predicted to happen at a later date. Their only concern is the here and now unless it involves the anticipation of Christmas and the presents Santa will bring. It was months into our relationship before I ever wondered where my BFF next door had lived before moving in next to me. It had never really interested me enough since it wasn’t like she had come from someplace exotic in the mind of a newly turned 9yo- like another state.

Her revelation began the unveiling of the wool my parents had so carefully placed over my eyes.

My new best friend had come from Detroit. Whereas most major cities across the nation are flourishing to some extent, with only the inner-city areas reflecting the underprivileged, long forgotten about, outcasted members of society, Detroit is different. It is all one giant inner-city except a small protected area in the middle of downtown, where corporate businesses and entertainment arenas are sheltered away from the slums (especially at this point in time). No one with financial stability resided within its borders; a fact that even the most privileged and well-off rich kids knew about, regardless of how thick the wool was layered on fresh outta the womb. I actually thought this girl might have been lying to sound cool in an era where hip-hop and gangsta rap began flourishing across the airwaves with hits from NWA, Tupac, and Biggie Smalls. (Ahhhh….the early nineties. Good times, eh?)

She wasn’t, though. It wasn’t long after this that I was finally invited inside of her house. Fall was changing quickly to winter and the weather was getting too nasty for us kids to play outside. Walking in her front door for the first time presented a huge shock for my culturally-impaired, suburban brat self. Her home was nothing like my own – and my own was on the lowly end of what other classmates homes looked like on the inside, to begin with. Being shielded from the ugliness of the world on the wrong side of the tracks, I had never come face to face with anyone who was truly living in poverty, until I saw inside my best friend’s home. Worn out couches and crooked-legged end tables filled her living room. Outdated curtains hung limply across the windows. Shabby rugs, beaten out more times than they could withstand, lay scattered across the floors as if they had died in vain.

I instantly felt ashamed for every time I had ever wished my family was more well-to-do, for every tantrum I ever threw for wanting more than I could have, for every complaint I ever made because what I had wasn’t good enough.

My best friend never came swimming in my pool because not only could she not swim, she had never even owned a bathing suit before. My best friend “borrowed” all my Barbies and the piles of extra Barbie clothes I had for them because she had never owned more than one, with only the outfit it came dressed in. My best friend begged to eat dinner with us every night because there wasn’t enough food to go around at home. The most humbling moment came at the beginning of spring when her mother shamefully asked my father to pull our garden hose over the fence and into their kitchen window. They couldn’t afford to pay their water bill and their service had been shut off. They only lived in this pretentious suburbia of white privilege because their great-grandmother had taken pity on the kids being raised in the ghetto and bought the house for them.

The more I learned about her family, the quicker my eyes began to see the world as it really is- a cruel, heartless place where people only care about what directly affects them. Where people would rather have the best of everything and squander in greed than lend a helping hand to those who were dealt a shitty hand. Her mother had grown up poor, as well, and was forced to drop out of school to support her own family. She married young because of this, trying to escape the life of poverty. Her husband, however, was an abusive drunk. She had no choice but to leave with her four children after her youngest twins were born, to save her life. No matter how hard she worked, life was continuously hard on her. There was no privilege to fall back on. 

Opportunity had never come knocking at her door. 

My best friend and her family wiped the privileged attitude right out of me. I vowed never to turn my back on those with less than me. To always do what I could to support the underdogs in life for as long as I lived.

Now, as this country is at odds again with race, equality, and political and religious beliefs, with discontent and unrest rippling from coast to coast, I couldn’t be more grateful for the girl who moved in next door from my childhood. She changed my life in ways I could never have comprehended as a young child. Without her, the wool would have remained firmly in place until I, too, became another Sheeple who was blindly led to chase the pretty things falsely valued in this world. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to see beauty on the side of life deemed ugly by those of privilege.

My childhood best friend freed me so I could see the many shades of gray hidden beneath a black and white world.

Writing this as the world is today, I can’t thank her enough because I can’t think of anything worse than living in the lies of the privileged. Even living in poverty like she had, as I, myself, experienced first hand not that very long ago.

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Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts.  Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:

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11 thoughts on “Seeing The Gray In A Black & White World

  1. Which story you chose to tell says a lot about the kind and thoughtful person you’ve become. And it is kindness and thoughtfulness of those now raising children who give me hope for the future, especially in the bigoted and bullying climate we’re living in today.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have a gift of telling a story – very nicely done. I related in a few ways and also that I grew up in the inner city of Detroit. My family is still in Flint and it grieves my heart when I visit that ‘war-torn’ city. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and what you learned as a result. Do you know whatever happened to your friend?

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  3. There’s a really good book I read awhile ago titled “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” by Kristen Welch. Reading this post today reminded me about it. You did a beautiful job with your topic, thank you for sharing ❤

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  4. Whatever way we grow up, we consider it “normal” until we get to see it isn’t.
    How did your relationship unfold? Did you manage to stay in touch? I wonder if your friend was able to break out and create a better life?

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  5. I couldn’t stop reading this and it truly touched me, growing up I never gave any thought to my family’s financial situation my dad worked hard and we didn’t want for much but others thought we were well off, we had a large above ground pool, we had a colour telly and such but I knew dad worked hard and we always took holidays at Christmas yes often we stayed with family when we went away so no accommodation expense but as a child I didn’t get how hard my parents saved and worked to give us all we had.

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