Dara Lurie | Longreads | January 2018 | 12 minutes (3,011 words)
This essay is published in collaboration with TMI Project, a non-profit organization offering transformative memoir workshops and performances that invite storytellers and audience members to explore new perspectives. By bravely and candidly sharing their personal stories, storytellers become agents of change for social justice movement building. Dara told an abbreviated version of this story onstage at TMI Project’s inaugural Black Stories Matter show in March 2017.
Peggi’s voice comes muffled through the closed door to her office. Her words come in rapid bursts with long silences in between. In the dance studio, my 6-year-old brother races his tiny Hot Wheels car across the floor. On Peggi’s daybed, I curl over the open pages of a worn fairy tale book kept on a shelf just for me. I keep my eyes fixed on the pages of the book, even when Peggi comes in the room. I am trying to forget the last two days of my life; the guttural terror of Mommy’s screams, my grandmother’s pitiful moaning and my Uncle Stanley’s grim-faced silence as he drove us back to New York. Now, Peggi is standing over me, speaking.
“Your mother had a cerebral aneurysm,” she says. “A blood vessel exploded in her head. She might not survive the operation.”
Peggi speaks in the flat tone of naked truth. One day, I will understand Peggi’s courage; her rare ability to look life straight in the eye. But at this moment, I hate her truthfulness, and I wish she would go away. I look back to my book to signal my lack of interest, but Peggi continues.
“Even if she does survive, the doctor says she might be a vegetable for the rest of her life.”
“When can I get my Halloween costume?” I ask when Peggi stops talking.
The slap comes as quick as lightning, scorching the side of my face.
“I hate you!” I shout, hurling my book into a corner.
One evening, a couple of weeks later, Peggi sits down on the edge of the daybed where, as usual, my 10-year-old face is buried in a book. “It’s impossible,” she begins, “for me to run this school and take care of you both.” I look up from my story. “I’ve found a place where you and your brother will stay for the time being.” Her voice is soft, asking me to understand. “It’ll only be for a little while,” she says. I look back down at my book. “Until your mother gets better…” she continues, but I let her words dissolve into the background rumble of distant traffic.