Another excerpt from the story of Jett. This one is more sentimental and I actually wrote it for Father’s Day. )
The exhibit was crowded when they walked in. Ashley had helped Jett pick out an appropriate outfit. She was wearing gray slacks and a black blouse with flat dress shoes. Her dad was wearing a pair of black slacks, with a red dress shirt and a matching black blazer. It didn’t take long for Ashley to find them. She had arrived shortly before they did. She was wearing a black skirt, white blouse and black jacket.
“Hey Little Chica,” she said and gave Jett a hug, “I got finished early and came straight out.” To Jett’s dad she said, “I can see why you chose this exhibit. Good call.”
Jett, her dad and Ashley walked around the exhibit and looked at some of the pieces. The theme of the exhibit was “Strong Black Women: Mothers, Leaders and Warriors.” The artist was a young African American artist and each piece depicted black women in various stages of life and in various situations. Some were simply portraits that portrayed strength of character and beauty. Jett’s eyes widened as she took them all in. She said nothing until she saw the one of a woman with a young girl on a busy sidewalk.
“That one reminds me of me and Mama, back in Baltimore. When we were homeless.” Ashley worried that it may trigger some difficult feelings in the girl and shot her dad a look. He waved her off and asked Jett, “Your mom took good care of you, didn’t she?”
“Yea, Mama did. It was hard though. She cried a lot.”
“She was a strong black woman, your mom.”
Jett nodded and looked at a few other paintings. Ashley took the girls hand and said, “Do you want something to drink? A soda or something? Or a snack? I’m about to get a glass of wine. Would you join me?”
“Okay,” Jett said, and went with Ashley to the refreshment room. Her dad, meanwhile, went looking for one particular painting he had seen in a picture advertising this exhibit. He hoped he wasn’t too late. By the time he found it, he also ran into the director of the gallery, who was an old friend of his.
“Whoa! Who is this guy?” he said excitedly, “It’s been years brother. Where’ve you been?”
“Hey!” Jett’s dad said, “Good to see you. I’ve been running the business, working late nights, solving cases and all; and raising a daughter.”
“You have a daughter?? No way! Didn’t see that coming,” he said.
“That’s her over there.”
“With the attractive Latina women? That your girlfriend by the way?”
“Nah. Business partner and friend. And she’s good with my daughter.”
“That’s your daughter with her? You did good.”
“I got lucky to have a good kid. She does well. Speaking of, I need to talk to you about this painting. Who is the artist?”
With this he and his friend went off to an office and talked quietly a moment. The artist joined them and they talked momentarily as well. While they were talking, one of the volunteers placed a red sticker under the painting they were talking about, indicating that someone bought the painting.
When Jett and Ashley returned, Jett handed her dad a cup of coffee and they resumed looking at the paintings. The director of the gallery approached them and introduced himself.
“I hear you’re the daughter of this crazy guy here. It’s nice to meet you, Jett. I’m the director here. And you Ms Garcia.”
Jett and Ashley shook hands with the gray haired man. “You know my dad?” Jett said.
“Oh do I. We go way back. We used to run around downtown together in the same crowd when we were young. Your dad was quite the guitar player, you know. He used to sit right back there in that corner with his guitar, his amp and all of his gadgets and play some amazing guitar pieces during exhibits like this one. He was the man.”
“Cool,” Jett said, “he still plays. He taught me some guitar.”
“Well, he’s the guy to learn from. Haven’t seen him around in forever. Good to see him and really great to meet you Jett.”
As they walked Jett’s eyes widened and she walked quickly across the room to a particular painting. It was the same painting her dad was looking for earlier.
“What do you think of that painting Jett?” her dad asked. Jett just stared at it. In the painting, a young girl, about Jett’s age, was holding a book in her hand. Around her were several books surrounding her, some open, some closed, and musical instruments, a microscope, and other items indicating the arts, science, literature, etc. The girl was looking to the upper left though, day dreaming. In the upper left was an older woman dressed as an Amazon warrior. She looked confident and strong, her eyes were bright and she had a fierce look on her face. She stared off into the horizon as well.
“It’s awesome. I want to be her so bad.” Jett said.
Her dad’s friend, the director, touched his arm and said, “I’ll be right back,” and smiled as he walked off.
The painting was called “The Fierce Warrior.” Ashley put her arm around Jett’s shoulders and said, “She’s beautiful like you.”
“More like you. You’re a fierce warrior,” Jett said.
“I wish Little Chica. But thank you,” Ashley said.
“Jett,” her dad said, “I brought you here today because I wanted you to see these paintings of strong black women. It’s because you are growing into an amazing young lady and one day you are going to grow up and be a strong black woman yourself. I want you to see this so you can know how amazing you are, not just through my eyes, but through your own as well. You’ve had to deal with so much adversity that I thought this would inspire you. When I saw this painting, I saw you. You’re the girl in this picture and you are going to grow into the woman in the picture. You’re going to be a Fierce Warrior one day. You’re going to be a strong, beautiful and intelligent woman just like the women in these paintings. You’re going to accomplish so much that you don’t know yet. It seems the world has so many ways to push people down that I want you to always be reminded of who you really are and who you are going to grow into.”
Jett’s lip quivered as her dad spoke and she started crying. She reached over and hugged her dad as he spoke. When he finished she said, “hormones,” and laughed through the tears. “Thanks dad. I love you,” She said next.
NOTE: This story takes place before Jett confronts the bully, Mike, for the first time.
Mike, his girlfriend, Angelique, and a few of his guy friends, were walking towards her again. Mike was looking at her and sneering as he approached. Her heart sped up and she looked down to avoid eye contact. She was anxious every time when she saw Mike and his friends. Mike was taller than her. While Jett was almost 5’2, Mike was 5’8. Mike was on the football team and lifted weights all the time, so he had muscular arms compared to Jett. Jett was small; a petite 14-year-old girl; Mike was a larger than average 15 year old.
As they walked by Mike reached out and knocked her books out of her hands. They did this about 2 times a week. It would be easier if it happened every day, but it was random and Jett never knew when to expect to see them. Jett’s books went flying from her arms and she stopped to pick them up. Mike stopped too, laughing, and started kicking her books as she tried to pick them up.
“Come on half breed, get the books. You’re making a mess,” he said, laughing at the girl. His girlfriend laughed nervously but Jett could tell that she didn’t really like this. Then Mike dropped one of his books on the ground. Jett looked up him, annoyed, but said nothing.
“Pick it up!” Mike ordered sternly, “Pick it up now.”
“I’m getting my books Mike,” Jett said, “Get your own book.”
“Listen half breed, pick up my damn book or I swear I’ll kick you in the face!”
“Mike,” his girlfriend said, concerned, “Don’t threaten to kick girls. You’re being kind of a dick.”
Jett just grabbed his book and handed it to him. It was usually easier to just give in and get it over with.
“There, thank you. That’s not so hard,” Mike said to Jett, and then to Angelique, “You have to know how to talk to them. Let them know whose boss. They’ll fall in line. Half breeds are like that.”
Jett exhaled in frustration and rolled her eyes at this. She wanted so bad to say something, but she was just too scared. Years of bullying from the same kids had worn her down.
“Did you make a face at me? Bitch.” Mike said, “Go ahead, make all the faces you want. Nobody likes you. You’re not anything and you don’t belong here. You aren’t like us and you aren’t like the kids at the other schools. No one likes you or wants you around. So, pick up your damn books and get out of my sight.”
As Jett finished picking up her books Mike knocked them out of her hands again. “Damn,” he said, “You can’t even get that right. Nobody fucking cares about you.”
With Mike it was personal for some reason. He was relentless in his bullying of Jett. The other kids may join in at the beginning but would start to get uncomfortable and try to distract him or get him to move on. Being biracial made Jett a target for Mike. He would also say terrible things about her dad. Jett identified as a black girl, but that just made it more intense for Mike. He wasn’t shy about his racist tendencies. This had gone on since Jett first started school with these kids when she was ten years old. They would bully her and bully any kids that attempted to be friends with her. Ultimately, Jett felt isolated most of the time and spent her down time either alone or with whatever teacher would offer her company. This year it was Ms Henderson, who would allow Jett to eat lunch with her in her classroom sometimes.
“Dude, let it go. Come on, let’s get to class,” one of Mike’s friends said, nervously, “you’ve fucked with her enough.”
“Fuck you, she deserves it,” Mike said as he walked off with his friends. Jett continued down the hall, nervously clutching her books to her chest and trying not to cry. The other kids looked at her sympathetically but said nothing.
At lunch Jett sat at a table by herself. Ms Henderson had lunch duty so she couldn’t sit in her class today. A couple of other girls and one boy sat at her table, said hi to her, and then started talking to each other. At times they would try to include her but Jett just didn’t know what to say. She would nod her head or say “cool,” and then they would continue talking. At least they tried. Jett sat and ate her usual sandwich and chips. She generally wasn’t hungry, but she would be hungry later so she made herself eat.
After school Jett left her last class, put her back pack on her back and walked towards the drive, where her ride would be waiting. She almost made it to the door when she felt someone pull on her backpack to pull her backwards. When she stopped walking, he pulled the back off her back and dropped it on the floor.
“Whoa. . almost made it half breed. But you dropped your stuff again.” It was one of Mike’s friends.
Jett was tired and frustrated. She looked at the boy and said, “I’m not half breed. I’m black. My dad is white and my mom is black. You can call me biracial if it makes you feel better. But I’m not a half breed. I’m not any kind of breed.”
“Well you’re not fucking purebred, that’s for sure,” Mike said as he joined his friend. “Black, biracial, whatever. Your dad is white, and your mom is black? That’s fucking white genocide. You’re dad’s a piece of shit.”
“Don’t talk about my dad,” Jett said, “He could kick your ass. He doesn’t take crap off anyone.”
“Well, apparently you didn’t inherit those genes. Wait.. Are you sure he’s your dad? I’ve heard about your kind. Hardly ever really know who your dads are. Fuck you Jett. And fuck your dad. You’re a half breed, an animal.” Mike appeared to get angrier as he spoke. One of his friends noticed it and said, “Come on man. Let’s get to football practice.” The two boys walked off. Jett noticed other kids were watching their conversation. She also noticed that two teachers who were in the hallway were trying not to watch.
Jett stifled her tears again and walked outside to the car where Ashley, her dad’s assistant and friend, was waiting to pick her up and bring her to their office. She didn’t want Ashley or her dad to see her cry. She took a deep breath, walked outside and just got in the car.
“Hey little Chica,” Ashley said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jett said, and went silent.
“Okay,” Ashley said, concerned, “Let me know if I need to kick someone’s butt for you, ok?”
Jett didn’t say anything.
All the way to the office Jett didn’t say a word. She was afraid if she started talking she would start crying. Today was a particularly bad day. When they arrived Jett got her backpack and walked quickly to the elevator. She didn’t say a word all the way up to the fourth floor. She burst into the room and walked quickly past her dad without saying a word, headed straight for the conference room.
“Hey kid! How was your day? Hey! ” Her dad tried to say, while holding his coffee mug and watching her rush by. Jett didn’t say anything. She walked into the conference room, slung her back pack onto the floor and slammed the door behind her. Ashley walked in behind Jett and approached her dad.
“She didn’t say anything all the way home. Something happened that upset her,” she said, “but she won’t talk about it.”
“Ok. Let me go see what’s going on,” he said, concerned, “that’s not like her.” Her dad followed her into the room and just took a moment to observe her, to see what was going on. Jett was sitting at the conference table with her head in her hands, crying. She tried to stifle the tears when she saw him watching, but it was too late. He walked over to her and started to put his arm around her to comfort her.
“No. I don’t want a hug. If you hug me then I’m going to start bawling all out of control,” she said firmly.
“Okay. I can respect that. What’s wrong Jett?”
“I hate that f.. I hate that school. I f.. Ugh!”
“If you want to say ‘I hate that fucking school,’ just say it. I’ll give you a pass on the language this time. Sometimes you just have to say what you feel like saying to say it right.”
“I HATE THAT FUCKING SCHOOL!!!!” Jett said, loudly, with emphasis on the word ‘fucking.’
“Ok. What is it you hate about that fucking school so much?”
“Dad, no. It’s just kind of weird when you use the F word.”
“Kid, I’ve been using that word since before you were born. What happened at school?”
Jett’s dad sat down in the chair next to hers and she turned her chair to face him, so she could talk. “I hate it. The kids are terrible. I’m always alone. I don’t have any friends. I get picked on and bullied all the time. I’m a nobody.”
“Bullied? Who is bullying you?”
“A group of boys. Mainly one named Mike. He’s a year older. He calls me ‘half breed,’ ‘animal,’ ‘mongrel,’ and a lot of other names. He pushes me, tells me that no one likes me, knocks my books out of my hand, every week. His friends just go along with it.”
“Mike. On the football team? Quarterback? His dad’s on the city counsel? Bigshot local attorney?”
“Yes. That’s him.”
“I know his dad. He’s an asshole too. Have you talked to the teachers or principle?”
“And be a snitch? Everyone already hates me.”
“Then you got nothing to lose.”
“They act like it doesn’t happen. They try not to look.”
“The other kids don’t talk to you?”
“They try, but I’m always so nervous about what Mike may do that I don’t know how to act. And, if he sees other kids talking to me he will threaten them too. He hates me for some reason. He’s racist.”
“How long has this been going on?” her dad asked.
“Since Texas dad. Since Texas. Started when I was ten.”
Her dad looked at her incredulously, “This has been going on all this time and you haven’t said anything?”
“I didn’t want to look weak. I figured I could deal with it. Or it would change. Or something.”
“Look weak? By not telling me about this? You have to be weak before you can get strong.”
“I guess it’s because you and Ashley are always in control and know what to do. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“Jett, look at me,” he said, looking the girl in the eyes, “You don’t disappoint me at all. Telling me this, or crying, or being weak, whatever that means, is all part of being a kid. So, you’ve been keeping this to yourself for four years?”
“Yes,” Jett said, and she started crying again.
“I’m sorry Jett. You never have to keep things from me. It’s too much of a burden for a kid to carry all alone. You can always come to me, or Ashley, with anything. We’re your family.”
Jett looked down, and then up again. “I just don’t know what to do to make it stop,” she said.
“I’ve never had to deal with racism before. Obviously, I’m white and that hasn’t been a problem for me. I wish I could just take it all on, so you don’t have to deal with it, but we both know that’s not possible. Let’s get Ashley in here, I’m sure she’s dealt with this before. Ashley!”
Ashley walked into the room and approached Jett and her dad. “What’s wrong honey?” she asked Jett.
“Jett’s being bullied by a group of kids and they have isolated her from the others. But the worst of it is that the main kid is racist.”
Jett started crying again and Ashley approached her and put her arm around here and held her a moment. “It hurts. I know. But we have to be strong. Both of us, as women of color we have to be strong for ourselves and for each other.”
“But how?” Jett asked, “I’m just so nervous all the time. Nothing works.”
Jett’s dad regarded the girl a moment, deciding how to carefully say what he was about to say.
“Kid, I’ve never experienced racism directed at myself. But I have dealt with bullies. One thing you must remember about life: The world can be a shitty place with shitty people. That’s never going to change. No matter what you do or where you go, you’re going to run into that. And it’s going to be hard for you sometimes. That’s just reality.”
Jett looked up at her dad, confused and said, “You’re not making me feel any better.”
Her dad looked back and then said, sternly, “I’m not trying to make you feel better. It’s not my responsibility to make you feel better about how shitty people can be towards you. It’s my job to prepare you for it; to teach you how to deal with it, to teach you how to excel and to do what you want to do in spite of it. When you start learning that, then you will feel better.”
“How? They won’t stop.” Jett said, clearly frustrated.
“No, they won’t. But you can’t let that get in your way anymore. It’s time for a change.”
Jett looked at him, confused, and said, “if they won’t stop, then what’s the point? It’s hopeless.”
Jett’s dad looked at her again and then said, firmly, “Stand up.”
“Stand up. Now. Do it.”
Jett stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“They don’t like you either Dad, just so you know. He hates you for having me.” Jett said.
“Good. I’m glad. If you’re hated by bad people then you must doing something right in life. Anyway, this guy, and his friends, are assholes. Simple as that. I don’t care why, or how they got that way. Not our problem. They can figure that out for themselves. But, they are assholes.”
“He’s racist dad,” Jett said.
“Then he’s a racist asshole. Anyway, we don’t give people like that more time or attention then we think they deserve. If my goal is to get from point A to point B, I’m not gonna let some racist asshole distract me from my goal. My goals are a lot more important than something some racist asshole has to say. So, I’m going to stay focused on my goal. Fuck that racist asshole.”
“Dad! Language!” Jett said, “It’s weird hearing you say that.”
“Well, you’re going to say it next. And you’re going to mean it, young lady. Say. Say ‘fuck those racist assholes.’”
“Dad, I don’t wanna..”
“SAY IT! I’ll give you a pass on the profanity, so you get the big picture.”
“Ok f-fuck those racist assholes.”
“Say it like you mean it.”
“Fuck those racist assholes.”
Ashley interjected, “are you sure you should be encouraging the use of those words?”
Jett’s dad ignored her and said, “Say it again. With attitude.”
“Fuck those racist assholes.”
“Hold your head up when you say it. Stand up straight. Don’t look so defeated.”
Jett straightened up her posture and said, with more emotion, “Fuck those racist assholes!”
“Good. Now you have some attitude. You need that to deal with bullies. They respond to fear and anxiety. Give them confidence and attitude. They won’t know how to react.”
Ashley interjected again, “What if they react by getting violent. What if he decides he is going to put his hands on her?”
“If a boy puts his hands on you without your permission, you have MY permission to hit him in the mouth as hard as you can. I don’t want you to start a fight, but you have every right to defend yourself and to enforce your own personal boundaries.”
Ashley interjected again, “Are you sure?”
Jett’s dad responded by saying, “She’s my kid. She’ll know how to throw a punch. Trust me.” To Jett he said, “Don’t walk around looking scared. Stand up straight, keep your head up, look people in the eyes when you talk to em, say what you mean and mean what you say. Confidence and attitude. Once you decide you need to defend yourself from some boy trying to hurt you, then don’t second guess yourself. Commit to it and follow through.”
“How do I throw a punch? I don’t think that kind of knowledge gets genetically transmitted,” Jett said.
“Ok. Start with your feet. You need a solid foundation. Now, make a fist, and when you punch, know exactly where you’re going and get there by the shortest possible route. Don’t throw some round house punch if he’s standing right in front of you.” Jett’s dad then worked with her on throwing a punch the right way, how to put all of her force behind it. This was basic self defense stuff that he’d learned as a kid too. “Now, understand, that this is the last resort thing you do when someone is trying to hurt you or about to try to hurt you. You will not start a fight. You will only defend yourself. Understood?”
“Understood,” Jett said.
Jett and her dad worked on throwing punches, with Jett punching him in the hand. As her form improved and she punched harder, her dad reminded her of what she needed to think to herself when she comes across these guys.
“Dad,” she said, between punches, “can’t you just go to school and talk to the principle?”
“I can, and I probably will if this continues. But it won’t help. That won’t stop them. The principle will make some excuse and talk in platitudes and those assholes will just wait until no one is looking to do something. Sooner or later you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with them.”
Jett rolled her eyes at her dad and kept punching.
“Now, here’s the deal. I don’t want you to hit anyone. I don’t even want to talk to those kids. Just say our little catch phrase to yourself, in your mind and keep on going to point B. Ignore those racist assholes. Ok?”
“I’ll try,” Jett said.
“NO. Do or do not.. There is no try.” Jett’s dad said in his best Yoda voice.
“Ughhh!” Jett said, and then laughed.
Later that night, when Jett was in her room with her tablet, she looked up karate punches. Sure enough, she found something similar to what her dad taught her. She also learned a combination of punching in the face, kneeing in the crotch, and using the person’s momentum to get him to the ground. Jett acted out the moves quietly in her room. She didn’t want to have to do anything, but if she did have to, she decided that she was going to be ready.