18: A Not-So-Faraway Reality

18: A Not-So-Faraway Reality

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

A Not-So-Faraway Reality

My mother’s gifts of courage to me were both large and small. The latter are woven so subtly into the fabric of my psyche that I can hardly distinguish where she stops and I begin.

~Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom

In the summer of 2003, my world was ripped apart. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had finally been released, and I had waited all day for my mom to get off work and pick me up to go to the bookstore. When she finally arrived, she honked from the driveway, not even bothering to come inside to change out of her scrubs.

The entire drive, she listened contently to my chatter as I summarized Harry’s adventures thus far for the millionth time. It was a story far removed from her reality, but she was happy I loved to read.

We parked outside the bookstore and I hurried my mom inside. Just as we were entering, a man was exiting with a shopping bag swaying at his side. The alarm went off and we paid no mind because we were entering the store. But then we heard a man yelling at us, and we froze instantly.

“STOP!” cried a man, his pale face splotched with red as he stomped toward us. “Wait! Don’t move!” he commanded.

Behind us, the man with the shopping bag was rifling through it looking for his receipt. But the man who was yelling didn’t even notice him. His beady little eyes were too focused on my black mother and me.

“Open up your purse!” puffed the man, stabbing his finger toward the worn leather bag slung over my mother’s shoulder. A pin on his chest glinted in the fluorescent light. It read: Assistant Manager. The man with the shopping bag shrugged and left.

My mother recoiled. “What? Why?”

It was as if a light bulb flickered on in his mind, illuminating the narrow pathway leading to reason. The assistant manager looked at the entrance, saw the white man exiting, and then looked back at my mother. The color drained from his face. It was then he realized he had made an assumption—a sick, hurtful assumption.

“Uh, let me see your phone,” he said, a poor attempt to undo the damage he had done. “S-sometimes they, uh, t-trigger the alarm.” But I already saw the proverbial steam shooting out of my mother’s ears.

This man had summed up my mother in a matter of seconds based on something as superficial as the color of her skin. My mother, the registered nurse, who had worked tirelessly on her feet all day attending to the needs of others and rushed home to take her daughter to the bookstore. My mother, who worked and went to school, while raising a daughter by herself, was nothing to this man but a common thief. All her sacrifices and accomplishments were nullified because this man saw only the color of her skin. And even though I knew he was wrong—so incredibly, disgustingly wrong—I pleaded with my mother.

“Please,” I whimpered, but to no avail.

“How dare you!” she yelled back, her voice a thunderous roar of pure outrage. I slinked a few steps away to the table covered with the deep blue covers of the latest edition of Harry Potter, and my heart felt heavy. Before all of this, I only cared about what was happening in the wizarding world. After all, Voldemort was back! But reality and its frothing hatred had reared its head and seared its way through the fantasy.

At that moment, I wished I had my own wand made of gnarled wood and dragon heartstring. I wished I could cry out Stupefy! to send the assistant manager flat on the cool linoleum floor in an immobilized plank, wide-eyed and mouth ajar. I wished I could cast Silencio! to render my mother’s words of truth into nothingness as if they didn’t need to be said. But I was helpless and confused, caught in the crossfire.

People stopped and stared on their way to the checkout line. Some shook their heads with disapproval. Did they care that my mother had been profiled the instant she entered the store?

Finally, a woman arrived on the scene. Her pin said Manager. She calmly asked what happened. My mother took a deep breath and explained in exasperation the injustice that had occurred. The woman looked at her employee, whose eyes had shifted downward, and then looked at my mother. She said, “I’m sorry.”

The man didn’t apologize.

We left the store without the book we had planned to buy. Back in the car, my mother looked at me with eyes reddened with suppressed tears and said, “I’m sorry.”

We drove fifteen minutes to another bookstore. This time I didn’t prattle on about Harry Potter’s world. We entered the store, and I plucked the book from the display in the entryway. But as we walked to the checkout line, I realized something had changed.

I had coveted this book for what felt like a lifetime, but the excitement I should have felt as soon as its velvety cover touched my hands had been diminished. In pursuit of this book, I had experienced racism for the first time in my twelve years. Before, racism was something safely tucked away within the shiny pages of textbooks. Those black-and-white pictures were of a faraway time, so far removed from my reality. But now, I had seen it firsthand, and I had also seen my courageous, indignant, hardworking mother be the victim of it, but also its conqueror. She became my hero, capable of stopping a bad man in his tracks. As Harry Potter would say as he cast a spell to ward off evil: Imperio!

~Cassie Jones

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