A Sunday Story, told to me by many.
“Did you see all those heads turn in your pearly white Christian conservative church tonight when I filed in behind you guys?” I ask my friend.
My friend of twenty-six years.
My friend I grew up with and am now growing older with.
My very best friend.
“Oh stop, Shawna. They did not.”
“They did. But like always you didn’t see.”
“Maybe I don’t see because it’s not there.”
“Or maybe you don’t see because you don’t look.”
This is an argument, or a debate and she likes to call it, that we’ve been having since we met in third grade, when I was the new non-white kid in a school ninety nine percent white. Heads turned then. Heads turned tonight too.
Things haven’t changed so much.
“Listen,” my friend tells me. “Can we just enjoy Christmas Eve and your visit without getting all political? For once maybe. Could we just leave the politics out of it?”
“Fine,” I say, but not without adding that everything is politics.
Every word, every look, every dollar spent.
She disagrees. I know that. But I add it anyway because it is the truth and I make her consider it once again while she stands in her nine hundred thousand dollar four car garage home, fixing a bunch of uppity food for all of her uppity neighbors, food that I also remind her the baby Jesus would never eat.
She tells me to mix the punch and she reminds me to use the right measurements for the alcohol and she reminds me of all the ways I have loved her since that day I entered third grade and she got up out of her seat and came to the door, led me to the cubby area and showed me where to put all of my things.
The doorbell rings right then, right when I am about to bring up another childhood memory, one of her being the only light in a town that didn’t understand how my family ended up there, how we had enough money to live beside them, go to their schools and their stores and their churches.
Grace said back then that she didn’t see it. Just like she said she didn’t see it tonight either, me walking into that church among all the whiteness of her and her husband and their three kids.
But I don't believe that. I think she just doesn’t know what to do with it, so she says it’s not even there.
I hear her now in the foyer with neighbors who are not her friends and they are exchanging all sorts of pleasantries I never hear Grace use with anyone else, and when I peak around the corner there are big fur coats and stiletto heals and blonde hair and makeup for days and I don’t belong here.
And Grace doesn’t either. Not the Grace I know.
“Auntie Shawna,” Jacob yells now, Grace’s six year old who is my Godson and one of the loves of my life.
“What baby,” I say, scooping him up against my Gap sweater and jeans.
“Daddy wants you in the living room.”
“Oh yeah? What electronic equipment can’t that numbers guy get to work now, huh?”
Jacob laughs and laughs and runs toward the enormous living room that my entire little house back in New York could fit into, and I long for that place. Grace’s home is everything a person would think one would want. But it’s not. It’s too much. And sometimes I can’t even find her in it. I mean I know where she is. I just don’t recognize her as much.
Ten minutes later I am headed for one of the many bathrooms in Grace’s too large home and I hear the bustle of the guests in the kitchen and think I’ll stay a while in the bathroom, check Facebook and post a Christmas Eve selfie maybe.
I head down the little back hallway that leads to the powder room and I hear talking so I stop. I don't want to be alone with any of these women. I think I’ll head upstairs and use my own bathroom, but then I hear his name. Loud and clear. I hear it.
“No way she knows,” someone says.
“I mean Grace told me she’d never tell her, that she wouldn’t understand. But I think it’s bullshit. Grace should own it and if they're real friends then she’d get it.”
Grace should own what?
If who are real friends?
What will she get?
This is about Grace and me and something I’ve known isn’t it?
I turn around to go upstairs to my own bathroom where nobody will be saying things I don’t want to hear, but I’m too slow. One says, “Like Mark isn’t going to support whatever the fuck Republican they put in there and like Grace isn’t going to support Mark.”
They laugh. And their voices get further away as I hear someone say, “Right, you think a few Mexicans in cages at the border are going to have her risk all of this?”
There is giggling then and sharp heals clicking on Italian marble and my blood pumping too fast in my chest and a friendship as long as I can remember spinning all around my head and heart.
“Listen,” I think of her saying. “Can we just enjoy Christmas Eve and your visit without getting all political? For once maybe. Could we just leave the politics out of it?”
And she says that every time. Every time. And she says she doesn’t see things I see and I think she sees them but she just doesn’t know what to do with them, so she says they’re not even there.
But this isn’t that.
This is different.
This reminds me of the day in third grade when nobody in the classroom but Grace got up to greet me. It’s like nobody is getting up to greet me now. Not even Grace.
I think about how she said she couldn’t get away for the Women’s March.
I think about how she said she couldn’t get away for the Climate March.
I think about how in these three years she’s never donated to my birthday fundraisers for the ACLU. She sends me expensive Yoga clothes instead or reserves a four hour spa retreat for me but she doesn’t use her money for these causes I thought we both believed in.
But why would I think that? Besides being my friend, has she ever given me reason to think she believes in the same things I do?
I think about this past summer when she picked me up at the airport and used a joking voice to ask me to change my Bernie tee shirt. I brushed it off and asked if she’d align more with the Elizabeth Warren look or maybe the Marianne Williamson vibe, given all of Grace’s fancy yoga.
But she just laughed and said she’d keep her plain white tee, and we didn’t go anywhere that day.
I talk all the time about health care and student loans and border security and police brutality, but Grace doesn’t. She just listens. She doesn’t speak. I let that mean she agrees.
I get to my room, the place I’ve been staying at least twice a year since Grace and Mark moved here fifteen years before, and I don’t recognize it anymore. Or I do. I recognize it for the first time.
For the very first time I see what it all is and some would say that I can’t let an entire friendship go over political differences, but I know that’s not what this is.
There are no such things as political differences.
There are only different ways of being human in the world.
A soft knock is on my door then and it’s Abby. She pokes her head in and says her mother is looking for me, but then she asks what’s wrong.
“Auntie Shawna why are you crying?”
“Oh baby I’m not. I’ll be right down.”
But Abigail Shawna Masterson knows better. She knows.
“Aunt Shawnie,” she says timidly.
I don’t speak. I can’t.
Abby comes to the bed and sits beside me, looks exactly like her mother did in high school, makes me wonder what was ever real.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“What are you sorry for sweet girl?” I ask her softly, placing my arm around her shoulders and leaning in so that our heads rest against each other.
“I’m sorry about my parents’ friends and who my parents are when they’re with them.”
I breathe in so deeply, a breath full of surprise that she has said this and a breath full of years of ignoring too.
“I know my parents are really good people who love you so much and who love lots of things. But . . .”
I don’t understand how she knows this and why she’s saying it and I don’t understand what we could have ever possibly talked about before now. What? What else could have mattered?
“They just don’t see certain things. Or maybe they do but they pretend they don’t. I’m not really sure. I even asked mom how she could have voted for that fucking asshole.”
And there it is.
“Especially with everything we know about you,” continues my sixteen year old sweet girl who I love so much.
I try not to burst into tears then, tears made of shame and rage and fear and regret and betrayal and longing. I just ask her what her mother said to that.
“Oh well she just said he’s better for our economy and that everything else would work out, and that I shouldn’t talk about it with you because you just wouldn’t understand. But I’ve hated not talking about it with you.”
She leans more into me then and she starts to cry and she tells me that if she had been old enough to vote she would not have voted with her parents and she says that she wouldn’t vote the way they do every day either, with their money and their friends and all of their stuff.
And I turn and look at this beloved girl, stare so deeply into her young eyes with gratitude and knowing. I know that she knows what I know.
She knows that there are no such things as political differences.
There are only different ways of being human in the world.