Truth, As Strange As Fiction: Bothered, Part 2
by JD Holiday
Shortly after that, I joined a drum and bugle corps. It was a teen group for thirteen to seventeen year olds. My friend this time with Kathy Donahue. Her older brother, Mike was a drummer. Kathy was thirteen too, so she and I are joining together. Girls were in the Honor and Color guards. We would be in the newbies. That was where girls learn to carry the flag and twirl them in nice patterns to go with the instrumental music the boys made with the drums and brass horns. The girls in the newbies would join the Honor and Color Guard the following year when the older girls turned eighteen and would be leaving the corps.
So Kathy and I and about another ten to twelve other girls would spend that spring in training, and the summer would be our first time marching in parades starting on Memorial Day right behind the Color Guard and in from of the brass horns and drum sections. In good weather, the corp would practice on the community ball field across from the club house, a VFW post. At eight AM this one Saturday morning, the newbies gathered in the baseball area of the field. The Honor and Color Guards were already turning their flags in the outfield. The band played on the basketball court loudly performing their signature instrumental, Sentimental Journey in the shadow of Garrett Mountain. The brass horns and beating drums were hammering the song home across the field and ricocheting off the mountain and back again throughout the South Paterson neighborhood.
Our group leaders shouted our instructions over the music were we stood by the bleachers since it would be impossible for us to hear them out in the field. When we were told to line up and march to third base where we would be going over our drills I saw that my sneaker was untied. The others had run out into the field while I sat to tie my sneaker.
I saw the older black guy who had left the corps now that he was eighteen sitting on his bike not far away. I remembered I finished and was getting up when I was grabbed from behind and pushed down onto the bleacher again. I felt my blood pounding in my face as I struggled to push him away but the guy came around and over my body to sit straddle my legs. It was the guy with the small bike. He started saying, “I’ll show them. I’ll show them,” over and over again while pushing me down with a hand on my collarbone.
I fought hard and I turned looking for help. I glance toward third base but my group had their backs to me. No one else was near. I kept fighting to get him off pushing at his chest as the music continued and even sounding louder as it vibrated. With his other hand he began pulling at the snap of my jeans trying to open them. He was much bigger and I was powerless to get him off me.
Then the blaring music ended. And silence. Or I thought it was, until I heard screaming echoed through the air. I was screaming.
We continued wrestling until there was movement around us. Then the weight was lifted from me. Pete, who I knew was one of the drummers was there, and then the two of them were a blur as they fell to the ground and seemed to scrambled away from me. Some older girls came to me and dragged me off the bleacher toward the batting cage. Breathing seems hard. But I was already feeling some relief that it was over but I couldn’t focus on what was being said to me.
Many adults came from nowhere it appeared to me. Faces around me were frowning with concern. I glanced in the direction I came from to see my attacker up against the chain link fence surrounded by male group members and adults.
The woman who ran the drum corps came and wrapped her arms around me. She pretty much dragged me off the field. I heard her saying the guy was troubled.
Someone else walking with us across the street to the clubhouse added how he had behaved about having to leave the corps because he had reached the age limit and his fight with the group managers over it.
Inside the clubhouse I sat while they all talked. Some stared at me and I have to look away having so much attention paid to me. Things began to sink in as they asked questions and I nodded a lot. They asked what happened, what did he say, what did he do. And I started murmuring that I was alright a few times and had to turn away from them wishing that were true. I didn't want to be here anymore.
My attention sharpened when I heard them mention talking to my parents. While I was glad to be going home, I didn’t want to have to tell them about this. And at the same time, just wanted it to be me who told my mom and dad. But the adults had to tell my parents, to explain the situation to them.
At home, my father was the one who opened the front door. Somehow they all went inside, while someone ask me to stay on the porch. What was said I suddenly didn’t care. I wasn’t in the middle of all the attention anymore. I sat on one of the adirondack chairs. What thoughts I had I couldn’t tell you, though relief was setting in. Home, I would find, was were I would always come to be out of the storm from here on.
Once the club members left, most of the women giving me a hug before going, my mother and father came to the door. They had a short talk before my father stepped out onto the porch where I still sat by myself.
“Are you all right?” he asked in the doorway.
I glanced his way before turning back to watching the afternoon traffic on Madison Avenue. My father looked thoughtful.
“Yeah,” I said, not wanting to talk about it.
Looking back, I’d say he knew me better than I did when I was thirteen years old, for he said, “You don’t want to be bothered, I take it.”
“No,” was all I said as I realized my breathing was normal now and I wasn’t hurt. I was all right, at least for the moment.
He nodded, then he went back in with my mother leaving the door open a little.
It never dawned on me at that time if the kissing incident being brought up at school had anything to do with the boys being black and the girls being white. I did find out weeks after from Leslie that the two boys involved were in a bit of trouble that night but for Leslie and me being their alibis.
So you know, my parents never said anything about the kiss incident. And my parents never talked about race to us. Knowing them as I did, they thought there was no need to. Black people came to our house to have their taxes done all the time. And, over the years I’ve thought about that guy on the bleachers wondering if anyone had ever bothered enough to care about him.
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