by Lorene Cary
We'd been close to here before, Mommy and I. The problem was, she said, I had to stand up for myself. I'd have to learn to fight for myself. I had to stop letting people push me around.
The cement sidewalks smelled chalky, dirty, gray like they always did just before rain. How would I find the boy? What would I do if I found him? What would I do if I didn't? I put blinders on myself like they did in Black Beauty when they walked the horses through the burning barn. I kept going, distracting myself with scenarios. I'd walk until dark, until hunger and thirst made me cry. Maybe the boy would find me and beat me. They'd find my body in an alley. Then she'd be very, very sorry.
I did not get all the way to the stop when I saw it, the book bag, my book bag, tossed aside, like salvation. Dear Lord. Mine again, papers intact. I spun around to survey the street from all angles before I picked it up, closed the rifled compartments, and slung it over my shoulder that had missed the familiar weight. Pique surprised me as much as the sight of the thing itself. I told that boy I didn't have any money. I told him.
When I came home, my mother was proud of me, and I basked in that pride. She admired tough people, and for once, I'd shown some moxie. But I also learned what I could do myself. She made me walk away—from her. For a young mother to whom mothering was everything, it was the biggest sacrifice she could make, one that she chose to make again and again, each time with greater understanding of the importance—and loss.
Lorene Cary is the author of Free!: Great Escapes from Slavery on the Underground Railroad.
More from Lorene Cary
The essay Roll Up the Light of Love
Lorene Cary's Aha! moment
Four writers remember "The Talk"
The Next Great Moment in Mothering: The move dependence to independence
We Hear You!