March 10, 2008
The alarm clock began its daily unholy screech, causing Dakotah’s eyes to snap open. Without focusing, he reached over, and quickly shut it off. With a slight groan, he sat up in bed, and rubbed his eyes. He looked out the window, and from his 2nd story vantage point, he could see nothing but low clouds in the still dark sky. “Another perfect Monday.” he thought. He checked the clock; reading 5:20AM, Dakotah figured he was on schedule, and set out to make his bed.
Moving quickly and quietly, since his mother and Frank were still asleep, Dakotah fixed his breakfast of two cherry toaster pastries, ate, cleaned up his mess, went upstairs, showered, put on his clothes, and checked the clock: 5:50. Satisfied, he put on his shoes, socks, and overcoat, grabbed his organizer, and headed out the door.
A cold, damp, biting wind greeted Dakotah as he stepped onto the porch. High school was five miles away; he could’ve slept until 7:00AM, and taken a school bus, but after being constantly taunted, and having his belongings stolen or vandalized, getting up early and walking to school was the better option.
Dakotah really didn’t mind walking, even if it were raining, or snowing. He was able to talk his mother and Frank into buying him rain gear and galoshes by convincing them that if he got them, they wouldn’t have to take him anywhere by car; if he needed or wanted to go somewhere, he’d just walk. Walking afforded him the luxury of traveling alone, and in peace. No harassment from fellow students, or snide remarks from Frank.
Sometimes, on the worst days, his grandmother Elizabeth would pick him up, take him to her house for breakfast, and then deliver him to school. She had only came into his life again in the past couple of years; he vaguely remembered her, his grandfather, and his dad as a young boy, and after his mother and father divorced, she was not in his life until recently. Dakotah believed his mother and Elizabeth were on good terms, but Frank hated her, and he was forbidden to go over there for many years. One day, however, he was sick at school, and his mother and Frank were unavailable to pick him up. A nurse, who recognized his last name, contacted Elizabeth on a hunch, and she picked him up.
At first, Dakotah was wary of his grandmother; Frank had poisoned his mind with embellished stories of what kind of mean person she was. Over time, he realized those stories, as far as he was concerned, were false. More and more, Elizabeth’s house had become a refuge for him when things had become too crazy at home. She had even helped Dakotah get his driver’s permit, and taught him how to drive! However, Dakotah hadn’t been able to get his driver’s license because doing so would require him to be put on someone’s insurance. Frank wouldn’t allow it, and Elizabeth couldn’t afford it.
Since Christmas, Elizabeth had several times offered Dakotah a place to live, permanently. Each time, he refused. His mother needed him, he thought. She worked second shift at the GM plant nearby, and needed help keeping the house up, as Frank was supposedly unable to do so. If he left, who was going to help his mother?
The almost inky black sky had lightened to a steel gray; as Dakotah passed the gas station, he knew that he was on his last mile before school. Checking his watch, it read 7:30. First bell was at 8:10, so he felt everything was still on schedule. That gave him plenty of time to get to his locker, and get to his first class, World History.
Suddenly, a blast from a car horn and screeching of tires came out of nowhere, causing Dakotah to jump away from the sidewalk, and on to a city bus bench. He looked over to see a large African-American teenager exit from the car, a purple mid 70s Chevy Impala, grinning.
“Wassup, Daaa-koooo-taaaaa!?!” said the teen. “Howya like my new ride?”
“Andre?” panted Dakotah, catching his breath. “Where did you get that?”
“It’s my birthday present from my momma and my Uncle James. Got it Saturday.” said Andre, proudly. “Cool, isn’t it? I have to save some money for a good stereo, though. The previous owner kept his system.”
Dakotah could see his reflection in the huge wheels. “How are you going to keep gas and insurance in this thing?”
“Uncle James is going to have me detail cars at his car lot.” Andre replied. “He’s going to pay me real well, too.”
Dakotah looked at his watch. “Man, I’d better get moving. I’ll be late!”
“Easy, Dakotah, I’ll give you a ride. Or would you rather not want to be seen riding with a black man?” joked Andre.
“Are you sure you want to be seen with a geek white boy?” said Dakotah, grinning. “Think of your rep!”
“Well, mine is as about as bad as yours, so you might as well get in!” Andre said, also grinning.
Dakotah didn’t know Andre even had a permit, much less a license. He wasn’t sure if he could drive well; would he be putting his life on the line? Andre was one of the few true friends Dakotah had, and he trusted him.
“Well, don’t kill me, or anything, ‘Dre.” Said Dakotah, smiling. “I don’t want Frank to ground me!”
Andre laughed. “I’m not worried about Frank. It’s your mom and grandma that I’m afraid of! I wouldn’t want to incur their wrath by hurting their baby boy! I’ll make sure that we get to school safe and sound.”
It was a cold, gray, twenty degrees this morning; cold, even for Michigan standards. Dakotah had kept warm by walking quickly, but now that he had stopped, he started to feel the cold creeping in. “I guess I’ll take you up on your offer, as long as you don’t charge me fare!”
“That’s a deal!” Andre said, opening the passenger door from inside. Just one thing!”
“What’s that?” said Dakotah as he climbed in the car.
“Don’t call me ‘Dre!” shouted Andre, as both teens laughed loudly. Andre turned his left turn indicator light on, looked behind him, and to the left, and carefully pulled out into the street.
The Impala, and its occupants, arrived at the school without incident, shaving about twenty minutes from Dakotah’s commute. Andre pulled the car up to the front steps, and Dakotah exited, heading to the front doors. Turning back to his friend, Dakotah yelled “Thanks for lift, buddy! I’ll see you inside!”
“See ya!” Andre yelled back.
The school building was built as a WPA project during the Depression, and showed its age. Three stories tall, it featured concrete columns, stone masonry, and drafty windows. Improvements usually came when the local economy was good; however, that hasn’t been the case for several years.
Dakotah checked his watch; it read 7:43. He was about twenty minutes ahead of schedule; he didn’t particularly care about having to set in his first period classroom for twenty minutes waiting for class to start, but Dakotah didn’t want to be a target by hanging out in the halls, either. He picked up his pace.
Being early, the halls were mostly empty. It actually felt pretty good to Dakotah to be here early, as he didn’t have to maneuver around people to get to class. Making it to his locker, he retrieved his World History book, and stuffed his overcoat inside, using a bit of force to shut the locker.
Arriving at room 135, Dakotah tried to open the door. It was locked. “Dangit!” he thought. “I hope I don’t have to wait long!” He felt very awkward and conspicuous. He checked his watch again, which read 7:51. He tried to slouch and be inconspicuous, checking his watch every thirty seconds or so.
Finally, at 7:57, Mr. Williams, the World History teacher, showed up, carrying a cup of coffee, and a newspaper. “Good morning, Dakotah. You’re here early. Do you need my help with something?”
“Oh, no.” Dakotah replied. “I just got here early, and didn’t know what else to do, so here I am.”
“Well, come on in.” Mr. Williams said, smiling. “I usually don’t have students while I have my pre-class coffee, but you’re welcome to come in, as long as you don’t make too much noise.”
“Thank you.” Dakotah said as they entered the room. Dakotah took his seat, which was usually next to a window, about half way back. He opened his textbook to the chapter they were studying, and began to stare out the window.
Mr. Williams noticed Dakotah’s actions. He took a sip of coffee, and said, “Dakotah, where are you going to college? Have you found a place you like?”
“No, not yet.” Dakotah said with a hint of embarrassment.
“Not to plug my alma mater, but Eastern Michigan is a good place to go. It’s reasonably priced, and has a good faculty. What are you going to try to study?”
“Meteorology, I guess.” Dakotah said sheepishly.
“Hmm. I’m not sure if they have anything there in meteorology. Have you talked to Mrs. Johnson?”
“Yes, but we haven’t figured out anything yet.” Dakotah replied with a shrug. He had met with the school’s guidance counselor once, but he got the feeling she wasn’t interested in helping him.
“Well, Dakotah, I wish you luck. You’ve been a pleasure to have in this class, and I’m sure you’ll do fine in college, no matter where you go.”
“Thank you.” Dakotah said with a weak smile.
“Well, it’s time to open the door, and face the day. Nice talking to you, Mr. Lennon. Come by early any time, if you want to talk.”
“Thanks.” Dakotah replied.
Mr. Williams rose from his chair, and opened the door. While the classroom was never quiet, the room erupted with a cacophony from the hallway as soon as the door opened. Boys yelling, girls giggling, the sound of feet running, all this made Dakotah wince, and withdraw. He looked at the pages in his textbook. “Expansion into the New World”, the title read.
Finally, the second bell rang, and an all-too-familiar voice pierced through Dakotah’s ears, and settled into his stomach. “Hey, faggot. Seen where you and that queer homeboy rode in on some homo hoopty.”
“I’m not gay.” Dakotah said in a low monotone, barely audible above the din of students taking their seat. “Neither is Andre.”
“Whatever, faggot, you ain’t convincing me of nothin’. Ya’ll queer to me.”
Dakotah continued to look down. “Whatever.”
Mr. Williams rose, and cleared his throat. “Okay, class, please turn to page 352, Expansion into the New World.”
The hour quickly passed. Dakotah checked the clock, and being it was one minute before the bell rang, took his completed classwork, and put it into his organizer. At that instant, the bell rang. Dakotah quickly rose from his desk, and per custom, took quick, long strides out the door.
However, once Dakotah made it to the hallway, he was cut off by the boy who was sitting next to him. “Whoa, slow down, faggot.” He said, as they left the room. ”What’s your hurry? Off to see your boyfriend?”
Dakotah stopped, and stared at the boy. He was six inches shorter than Dakotah, stockily built, with a shaved head, a developing goatee, and a skull earring.
“C’mon, Tim.” Dakotah said, irritated. “I gotta go. I’m on a schedule.”
Tim pointed a finger at Dakotah. “I always thought you were gay, and now I know, after seeing you getting picked up by that queer gorilla. You’re going straight to hell!”
“Look. Dude. I am not gay, and neither is Andre!” Dakotah said forcefully. Now I have to get to Trig!”
Dakotah took a very small step to the left, and then almost instantly, took a giant stride to the right, circling around two girls. Suddenly, Tim ran up to the side of Dakotah, and slammed him into a row of lockers with both hands. His organizer and history book skidded across the floor as he crumpled to a heap.
Tim came up to Dakotah, pointed his finger at him, and shouted “You’re an abomination, and you’re going to hell!” With that, Tim stomped off.
Dazed, and staggering, Dakotah tried to catch his breath, and find his books, which were in the process of being kicked around by a couple of sophomores. Seeing his history book, he limped over and attempted to pick it up, and in the process, had his hand stepped on. Shaking his right hand, and in pain, he managed to pick the book up with his left hand. It was pretty roughed up, but still serviceable, as best as he could tell.
Looking about the hallway, Dakotah could not find his organizer. Panic started to creep into the pit of his stomach, as all his schoolwork and notes were in it and most of that was irreplaceable. Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun about, and before him was a girl, holding his organizer. She had red hair, petite, and wore thick lensed glasses, which fronted a pair of deep blue eyes.
“Are you looking for this?” she said in a soothing tone, a small smile coming from her lips.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” Dakotah gushed under a wave of relief. “I was so worried that I lost it!”
“You know, God doesn’t work that way.” The girl said in a quiet voice, barely audible above the din. “He loves everyone.”
“I know. Even Tim.” Dakotah replied simply. He then realized he was no closer to class, and checked his watch. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! I’m going to be late! Thank you, thank you, thank you, God bless you, I have to go!” With that, Dakotah took off, as close to a run as possible. The girl gave Dakotah a small wave, and then continued down the hallway.
Dakotah had three minutes to get to his next class, Trigonometry. His locker was close by, on the adjacent hall, but his Trig class was on a lower floor, on a different wing of the school. Darting in and out of the sea of students, he made it to his locker, opening his combination lock on the first try. “A blessing from the Lord.” He thought to himself. He quickly exchanged books, and shut his locker, locking it in one motion. Still almost at a jog, he checked his watch. He had a minute and a half before the bell was to ring, and he had a long way to go.
Mr. Griffin, the Trigonometry teacher, was not one to suffer fools, and particularly did not like students who were late for class. A write-up from him would mean a signature acknowledging the infraction would have to come from either his mother, or more likely, Frank. If the write-up wasn’t signed, he faced possible suspension from school. Dakotah put aside those thoughts, and concentrated on moving quickly.
Making it to the stairs, he skipped every second stair until he almost reached the bottom, where he jumped off the fourth from the bottom step. The hallway was now almost empty, and seeing no teachers or school officials, he began to run. He rounded the corner to the hallway where his class was held, three doors down and on the left.
He was twenty feet away from the door when the bell sounded. Reaching for the door, he tried to turn the knob, but it was locked. Breathing heavily, he knocked on the door. After what seemed an eternity, the door opened, and Dakotah was greeted by a middle aged man with thinning hair, and thick glasses. He carried a dour expression.
“Mr. Lennon, you are late.” The man said. “You know you are supposed to be here at 9:25.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Griffin.” Dakotah said with sadness. “I fell in the hallway on the way to class.”
“You should be more careful, Mr. Lennon.” said Mr. Griffin, his face remaining almost expressionless. “I’ll give you a pass, this time.” he continued, accentuating “this time”. “Now please take your seat.”
“Thank you, sir.” Dakotah replied, keeping a low tone while inside, every nerve in his body collapsed with relief.
Sitting at his desk, next to the window, halfway down the row, he felt the bruised area where he landed earlier. Dakotah gritted his teeth, and tried to not get angry. “Forgive him, for he knows not what he does.” he thought.
“Hey man, you alright? What happened?” whispered a familiar voice. Without looking over, Dakotah replied in a whisper barely audible, “I’m okay. I’ll tell you about it later.”
The end of third period bell meant it was time for lunch; Dakotah usually arrived and left early, making it to class before anyone else. Today was different; he had stopped at his locker and checked his history book to see if there was any chargeable damage. Flipping through the book, he found a couple of partially ripped pages, and a page with a footprint on it, but on the whole the book was in good enough shape for him not to pay a fine when he turned it in.
As it were, he had to stand in line for lunch. Dakotah generally disliked standing in line, as people tended to want to cut in line in front of him, sometimes even pushing him out of the line, the other kids making him go to the end of the line.
Today was different, as the students in the line he was in behaved as they should. This allowed Dakotah to reflect on what happened earlier. His mind did not linger on Tim’s accusations. Occurrences like this had happened off and on ever since middle school.
The memory of the girl kept running through Dakotah’s mind, however. He had been largely ignored by the opposite sex throughout his life, unless he was being teased. This girl was not only nice to him, but she went out of her way to be kind. What did she mean about what she said? Did she think he was gay, and God loved him anyway? He hoped not!
“Hey, you! Whattaya want?” A gruff voice barked, snapping Dakotah out of his reverie.
“Oh! I’m sorry, spaghetti, please.” He replied to the lunch lady, embarrassed. She promptly plopped a large spoonful of spaghetti on his tray.
Grabbing a piece of garlic toast and a carton of milk, Dakotah dug out his wallet, and took two dollars out. His mother tried to get Dakotah on the reduced lunch program, but she had made too much money. Frank was responsible for giving Dakotah lunch money, but sometimes he “forgot”. Fortunately, his grandmother became aware of Frank’s “amnesia”, and provided backup, so Dakotah wouldn’t miss lunch.
Dakotah scanned the lunchroom for Andre. Dakotah, usually being one of the first at lunch, had his pick of empty tables to sit. No one but Andre ever sat by him. Since he arrived at lunch late, he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to find an empty table, or that Andre had already eaten, and moved on.
Dakotah found an empty table, and he also found his friend. Andre, however, was not alone, but at a table with four African-Americans. He recognized two of them as football players from his grade; the other two, he didn’t know, but they were built like football players too, so maybe they were underclassmen, he thought.
This put Dakotah in a quandary. He didn’t want to slight his friend by sitting alone at the next table, but he was uneasy sitting at the same table with Andre’s friends. Not because they were black; Dakotah had found people of color, on the whole, were nicer, at least to him, than their Caucasian brethren. The reason Dakotah was apprehensive was because they were jocks, and he was a geek. He never got along well with jocks, who were apt to show off their athletic prowess at his expense.
Andre eliminated all thinking Dakotah had on what to do, as he spotted him, and waved. “About time you showed up, my brother!” he shouted. “I saved you a spot!”
Dakotah took the seat next to Andre. Although at 6’1”, he was as tall as the others, (except Andre, who about 6’5”) his lack of muscle mass made him look like a middle school student. Andre spoke first. “Fellas, you all know Dakotah, right?”
The others at the table grunted and nodded. Dakotah managed a low ”Hey.” , heard barely above the din.
Andre continued conversing.” Hey Tulio, did you make it to the game last night?”
The senior starting linebacker looked at Dakotah. “Yeah, man. It was cool. Big Shot went off on those damned Bulls.”
Andre continued. “Man, I heard Tay got hurt. Bad?”
“Naw, Tay’s alright. Got banged up a little, kept playin’. Shot better after he got hurt.”
“It’d be bad if he missed the playoffs.” said another. “Can’t get back to the Finals without Tay.”
“Tay’s always getting banged up. That’s ‘cause he’s got that chicken-wing body.”
“Yeah, he’s almost as bony as Dakotah.” Andre quipped.
Tulio’s eyes flashed bright, and pointed at Dakotah. “Hey, we can call him Chicken Wing!” he said, laughing.
All the guys at the table laughed out loud, save for Dakotah, who looked down and shook his head slightly while forcing a weak smile.
Andre noticed the stressed look on his friend’s face. “Hey, man. You know we’re just havin’ some fun, right? Tuli didn’t mean anything by it. We’re all friends here. Right, fellas?” Andre looked around the table.
Tulio spoke up, looking at Dakotah. “Look man, if Andre says you’re cool, you’re cool by me, too. How about you guys?” Tulio looked around the table, and got a couple of nodding heads, and a “Yeah, man.” from the other.
“Well, I’ve been called worse names than Chicken Wing.” said Dakotah, smiling. A light suddenly flashed in his mind, and he checked his watch. It read 12:16. “Whoa, I gotta go see Mrs. Johnson. Guys, nice meeting you. Andre, catch you later!”
Andre stopped Dakotah. “Wait, what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Oh, it was nothing important. Later!” Dakotah took his tray and left the table.
“”Seeya, Chicken Wing!” Tulio yelled out across the lunchroom. Dakotah hurriedly waved as he left. Tulio looked at Andre. “Dude.”
“Hey, he’s gold.” Andre said. “I’d trust him with my life.”
“So when you make it to the big time, he’s going to be your bodyguard? Man, you are soooooo dead!”
The table erupted in laughter.
Dakotah arrived at the administrative department of the school. It wasn’t very far from the cafeteria, so the walk was brief. He had visited here only a few times in the three and a half years or so he had been a student there. Although he was a senior, coming here was still out of his comfort zone.
Reaching Mrs. Johnson’s office, he checked his watch, and saw that he was on time. Dakotah emitted a deep sigh, partly because he wasn’t late, but mostly because he was here in the first place. He never cared for being any place where he was the main topic of discussion. Taking a deep breath, Dakotah lightly rapped on the door.
“Come in.” said a woman’s voice on the other side of the door.
Dakotah gingerly entered the room. Books upon books lined the bookcases behind the guidance counselor’s desk. Combined with dim fluorescent lighting, sunlight struggling through a small window with dark shades created a foreboding ambiance, thought Dakotah.
A small, thin woman with short dark hair was standing behind the desk. “Please have a seat, Dakotah.” She said in a monotone. Dakotah did so, beginning to feel more uneasy by the second.
“I’ll be brief, Mr. Lennon.” She said, coldly. “Why do you think you should go to college?”
The question caught Dakotah off guard. “Aaaah, s-so I could study meteorology?” he stammered.
“Here is the financial aid paperwork I gave to you to take home for your parents to fill out. There is no information on here regarding their income. How am I supposed to send this in if it’s incomplete? Do you have any idea how much they make?”
“No.” Dakotah mumbled, looking down. “I gave them the paperwork to fill out, but they never did, so I thought maybe I could do it on my own.”
Mrs. Johnson became irritated. “It doesn’t work that way. You live with your parents, right?” Dakotah nodded. “Well, if your parents made enough money, they could pay your way through college, and you wouldn’t need financial aid. If they made next to nothing, you could qualify for some, although with a 2.8 GPA, you’re not going to get many offers. The system requires that you show proof of income to prove you’re telling the truth. Do you understand?”
Dakotah nodded, dejected. The paperwork had sat on the bar counter for two months. He had tried to remind his mother to fill it out, but she never did. Frank could’ve also have filled it out, but that was a no-go.
“Mr. Lennon, although you do have good ACT scores, with your low GPA, and improperly filled out financial aid paperwork, I personally think you’re not cut out for college. I’ve seen many like you over the years. You have a dream, but you don’t have it in you to see things through. You could get student loans and take classes, but odds are you wouldn’t make it to graduation, and then you’d have to pay thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of dollars back to the banks for basically nothing. You’re better off getting a job after you graduate high school. If the dream is still there, you could save your money, and go to school in a few years. Do you understand?”
Dakotah nodded, almost imperceptibly.
Mrs. Johnson walked to the door, and opened it, handing Dakotah an excuse slip for his next class. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have several other students I need to meet with. Good day.”
Dakotah slogged out the door, and into the empty hallway, his feet feeling like lead. He felt as if all the energy in his body had left him. “Stupid, stupid!” he thought to himself. “Why did I even bother? It’s not like I was ever going to be a meteorologist, anyway.”
He thought about signing himself out, and going home, or to his grandmother’s, but he really didn’t want to hear what kind of loser he was from Frank, and he also didn’t want to get a scolding from his grandmother either. “Even when the odds are against you, and there is no hope, keep trying until the very end.” She always said.
Dakotah arrived at his locker. He retrieved his literature book, and with a sigh, slammed the locker shut, the door making an echo throughout the hallway. “Is it the very end?” he thought to himself as he began to walk to class.
The smell of pizza permeated throughout the house, as Dakotah transferred a load of towels into the dryer. He and his grandmother originally planned a meal at an Italian restaurant across town, but he called her and cancelled, saying he wasn’t feeling very well. Andre, sensing something amiss, offered Dakotah a ride home, but he refused, saying that his home was in the opposite direction from the school as Andre’s, and that Andre should save his money.
Dakotah started a load of darks in the washer, and headed to the kitchen to check his pizza. Cutting lunch short to see Mrs. Johnson had left him hungry. Dakotah stopped as he entered the kitchen. There was Frank with his pizza, sliced and on a plate in one hand, and a can of beer in the other.
“Hey, that’s my pizza!” Dakotah said in dismay.
Frank turned his head, and looked at Dakotah. “No, that WAS your pizza.” He said with a smirk. “There may be another in the freezer, or not, that’s your problem. Anyway, wasn’t that old hag supposed to take you out to eat?”
“We were, but something came up.” Dakotah said in discomfort. He didn’t like to deceive people, even people like Frank.
“Whatever.” Frank said as he was leaving the kitchen to go to his study. “Don’t forget to vacuum the living room.”
Dakotah walked over to the refrigerator, and checked the freezer. There was no pizza left, only some corn dogs. He took three out, shook most of the frost off them, and put them in the microwave.
Yum, yum.” he thought sarcastically.
Dakotah finished his chores, completed his homework, took a shower, and got ready for bed. Leaving only the nightstand light on, he opened his Bible to Matthew, chapter 5. Reading and studying the Bible gave him comfort when he was troubled, and tonight was no different.
He stopped at verse 22. “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,
shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall
say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
“Raca?” he thought. He’d never heard of that word before. He looked up the word in the Bible dictionary in the back. “An Armenian word of contempt, meaning empty-headed, worthless. Hmm. Sounds like me.” He thought with a sigh. With that, he placed the bookmark in the Bible, and turned out the light. Lying down, hands held together, he said a simple prayer. “Lord, look out for everyone, and please, help me to be the best I can be. Amen.”
Sylvia Howe opened the door to her son’s bedroom, and peeked in. Dakotah was sound asleep. Checking the clock on the nightstand, it read 11:52. “Good.” She thought. “I’m not too late.” She took a card out of her purse, and laid it on the nightstand beside the Bible. “Happy birthday, dear.” She whispered as she kissed him on the cheek. With that, she left the room, as silently as she entered it.