“What you mean you ain’t going? You betta go!”
Diane paced back and forth while squeezing the phone so
tight her palm began to sweat. If only she had the ability
to hang up on her mother she would have pushed end that
very second. But she knew better.
“Now you known Cora all your life, and you’ll get to see
Madison,” her mother added with a softer tone. “I’m sure
she’ll be there too.”
Diane sighed. If that point was supposed to persuade her
to go, then she was still trying to find a valid excuse as to
why she shouldn’t. She loved Cora and Madison. As little
girls and teenagers they’d spent many Saturday hours in
Mrs. Mary’s beauty shop reading old Jet, Ebony and Black
Hair magazines, laughing and gossiping under the harsh
heat of the dryers while waiting to have their kinks
straightened with a steaming hot comb.
“Ahh! You burned my ear!” Diane would always yell when it
was her turn.
“Dat’s just the heat,” Mrs. Mary would reply sharply. “Keep
The three of them shared their dreams of the perfect man,
the number of children and the type of house they wanted,
believing that they would be best friends forever to see it
all happen for one another. But, people change and one
day playing a good game of hide and seek or house with
your baby dolls isn’t the only thing friends argue about.
“Ya’ll grew up on the same street,” Diane heard her mother
continue. “And that poor chile—it’s been Cora’s cross to
bear to have her womb strong enough to hold babies. But
now the good Lord has finally blessed her with one. So,
you will be goin’ to her baby shower. You hear me girl?”
She heard her loud and clear. But she also heard the even
louder voice in her head telling her that she did not want
to see Madison. What had transpired between the three of
them the last time they were together had not been pretty.
“Danisha! Are you listen’ to me?”
“Huh? Yes ma’am.” The call of the name she had laid to
rest a long time ago brought her back to the present. Very
few people still called her by her given name and that was
the way she preferred it.
“Mmm hmmm. One last thing: I know you like your ‘foo
foo’ fancy ways, but don’t go round there shamin’ me,
actin’ like your mess don’t stank. You hear me girl?”
“Yes ma’am.” All she wanted to do was hang up the phone.
“For the life of me, I can’t figure out where you got them
funny ways of yours. Just be you, okay?”
If she had been bold enough she would have sucked her
teeth. After all she was thirty-three years old. But
instead she remained silent for a moment before replying
“Yes ma’am” one more time. She wasn’t sure which was
worse: her nervousness about seeing Cora and Madison
again—after all it had been a year since she’d spoken to
Madison—or her anger that her mother still represented the
highest authority over her, her power sometimes neck in
neck with God.
Clap…clap…clap your hands…shouted the speakers as music
boomed and voices and laughter spread beyond the
backyard. Her nerves pulsating as she stepped out of her
car, Diane began to sing Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” She
stood outside the galvanized chain link fence in her five
inch black strappy sandals, her skin giving off a nice
downpour of sweat in the July heat that held onto the wind
and released it to drip through the trees like molasses.
She lifted the latch on the gate, her legs feeling like they
were moving through water four feet deep. She picked up
speed along the narrow cement path to the front porch. No
turning back now, she thought, her emotions not much
different than those of a child determined to swallow
vegetables fast to avoid regurgitating. When she finally
had the nerve to push the doorbell she turned around to
see three children running in the front yard and thought
their lives would surely end once Cora’s father found out
they were on his award winning lawn.
“Ya’ll kids come back in this backyard where somebody can
see you!” panted Cora’s mother from the side of the house.
Diane watched from the porch as Mrs. Weston rested the
outsides of her wrists on her full, curvy hips, custom made
by years of neck bones and rice, jelly layered cakes and
macaroni and cheese. The palms of her hands stuck out
like dog’s ears as she watched the children run past her
before she noticed Diane.
“Danisha! Is that you? Sure ‘nough is!” She asked and
answered her question at the same time in her normal
fashion. “I was just checkin’ on Mr. Weston at the grill and
tryin’ to keep up with these kids cause they mamas all in
the house playin’ baby shower games while the men are
halfway payin’ them any attention. Come on in! The party
has already started. Good Lord, ain’t it hot?!” she added in
one labored half breath as she made her way from the side
of the house to where Diane stood.
She debated whether to remind Mrs. Weston that she
preferred not to be called Danisha any more, but before
she could decide what to say she pulled her into the icy
cool house and into a room full of women laughing, talking
and yelling all at the same time. She was able to form her
lips into the resemblance of a genuine smile as her feet
crackled on the plastic runner leading to the den. As her
nose took in the smell of garlic, butter, fried pork chops
and Gain washing detergent soaked into the walls and
carpet, she instantly recalled all night sleepovers and
many days of running into the Weston home for refuge
from the sun.
A cell phone rang. “Hold on a moment sweetie,” said Mrs.
Weston, holding up her pointer finger. With her other hand
she reached into her bra for her phone.
“Ha-llo?” she yelled. “Yeah, we just getting started. The
kids with you?” she asked. “No, because it’s the third
Saturday,” she said, again answering her own question.
“They with their grandma, right? Alright baby.”
“That was Madison. She should be here soon.” Mrs. Weston
snapped her phone shut and put it back into the side
corner of her bra. “Ahhh, Cora will love that all her friends
are here together. Just like when ya’ll were little. Danisha,
I’m so glad you came,” she proclaimed as she wrapped
Diane in a hug. Upon releasing her she shouted right into
her ear, “Cora! Danisha’s here!”
Diane bit her tongue so she wouldn’t yell, MY NAME IS
DIANE!! Even if she could, she knew better than to
actually do it. The twenty women in the room—who by now
had paused working on the pink and white notepads on
their laps that challenged them to figure out scrambled,
baby words—ran their eyes up and down her body. She
could clearly see the look of Who does she think she is?
registered on many faces.
“This is Danisha, Cora’s best friend since she was a little
girl,” Mrs. Weston announced to all in the room as if
reading their minds. “Is Cora in the bathroom again!?” She
waited for no one in particular to answer, then turned back
to Diane. “Cora must have gone to the bathroom again
baby. She should be out in a second. You want somethin’
“No ma’am. I can’t stay too long,” she mumbled.“I…I…have
a thing…to get to. It was planned months ago.” She still
had time to get out of there before Madison arrived. “Here
is my gift.”
“Ohhh thank you sweetheart. I’m so sorry you can’t stay.
You want me to fix you a plate to take with you? Yo’
skinny tail—I’ll fix you a little something to take. Okay?”
Before Diane could answer, off Mrs. Weston went toward a
table covered in pink, laden with fruit and vegetable trays,
meatballs, sandwiches, salads, chips and a full sheet cake
decorated with pink baby booties.
Diane stayed close to the door, slowly taking in the crowd
of women in the room—various hues of brown, from khaki
to chocolate. The pit of her stomach began to feel like it
contained an erupting volcano. She found herself feeling as
she always had in school when Madison and Cora weren’t
around: left out.
She wished Mrs. Weston had introduced her as Diane. She
hadn’t been introduced as Danisha in years and couldn’t
remember a single time in the last fifteen years when she
had met someone and didn’t offer her right hand and say
the name Diane. She had always hated that name. Too
ghetto, she thought to herself. She took a seat and
remained outside of the crowded baby shower arc formed
in the den. Even though society’s unspoken rule stated
that she should be able to blend in with a crowd of black
people, she couldn’t have been more culturally insoluble if
“Danisha baby?” Upon hearing her dead name again she
looked up and saw Mrs. Weston pointing at her plate. “I’
ma go and get some meat off this grill. I know it’s got to
be done by now. I’ll only be one minute. Cora! You got
company waitin’! Hurry and come out that bathroom, and
you bet not be in there on that phone!” She closed the
French doors and headed for the back yard.
Diane nodded to those still taking glances at her and tried
to look comfortable in her seat. Since she decided to
change her name her words never seemed to flow easily in
a room full of black people. She heard her mother’s words
in her head: Don’t go round there shamin’ me. Wishing she
could jump into the already ongoing conversations like a
game of double dutch—a game she could never play—she
looked around the room as the women whooped and
hollered. With her white friends, it had always been
different as she found it easier to segue into a
She shook her body to contain a wavering shiver through
her spine and held her head higher while numbing the
sadness that came upon her from time to time for giving
up her chameleon diction. As her eyes circled the room she
knew it was a dialogue she no longer had the ability to
“Dag—I almost had that answer!”
“Stop lying Monica. You know you wasn’t nowhere near
“Don’t worry,” someone else responded, “cause I’m gonna
win this here game.”
”Not if I beat you first. You already have more wrong than
“WHATEVER!” a voice in the corner yelled. “What’s the next
The entire room broke out in enough laughter to fill a
stadium. Diane felt like she was looking into a fish bowl as
she listened to and watched the conversation bouncing
back and forth across the room. It wasn’t entirely on
purpose that she could speak with white girls better than
the black girls. Having grown up with Cora and Madison,
they were by default her first true friends. But once they
hit high school they were bused to a school where she,
Cora, Madison and anyone who looked like them were in
the minority. She liked hanging around with the white
cheerleaders on her squad while Cora and Madison still
found comfort in neighborhood friends and organizations
like the Black Student Union. Because she wouldn’t join
she got all kinds of flack.
Look at her. Always think she so cute swinging hair that
ain’t even hers, some of the black girls would say as she
walked down the hallway.
Shoot, I heard her in class the other day, talkin’ bout Oh
my God guys, I got ketchup on my uniform, a girl repeated
in a Valley Girl tone.
Jealous, Diane would always think to herself, always too
scared to voice a comeback. And she also didn’t have
anything to say to the boys who teased her after being
outside for cheerleading practice. Damn, girl! You need to
stay out the sun. Look how black she got outside.
So what if she liked the white girls’ hair and wanted hers
to look like theirs? She looked at her watch for the sixth
time. In elementary and even in middle school she always
had a white friend whose hair she could just run her fingers
through, wishing her hair to have the same smell of sweet
perfume and pretty pink or yellow ribbons. Nobody ever
wanted to touch her immobile black coils plastered with
thick yellow TCB grease and rich rainbow plastic barrettes
and hair balls applied by her mother or Mrs. Mary. She
swung her hair over her left shoulder and played with the
extensions she faithfully replaced every two or three
She hadn’t consciously started killing Danisha off until
college. It had been like severing an extra head, a twin
that never separated at birth. She quickly came to realize
that while people were pleasant to Danisha, they seemed
more relaxed with Diane. She began to develop new
patterns, starting with swallowing the habit of flowing in
and out of the language she spoke fluently growing up—
abandoning it like one does a dog on the side of a
highway. No one she worked with or was friends with
elongated their r’s and o’s in conversation, nor did they
sand off t’s and s’s when they needed to bring emphasis to
a point or laughter to the listener.
As does one when recovering from a habit, she decided to
separate herself from the people she grew up with. In time
she no longer improvised on verbs and adjectives, no
longer entertained conversations thriving on banter, which
she always felt was sometimes raspy and even rough.
Others, however, saw it filled with love, bouncing colors of
red, orange and purple around in a conversation. So she
gave it all up, tired of seeing the white people at her job
replacing the image of her in an Anne Klein black
pinstriped suit with one of her in a jungle, a bone in her
nose and shells or chains around her neck and feet if she
missed an “s” in a word or stumbled on a verb tumbling out
of her mouth.
She looked around some more and shook her head. She
was probably the only one who always fully formed r’s and
staccatoed her t’s, her lips and tongue rolling over every
“Hey girrrl!” she heard Cora call out. She lifted her gaze
from her sandals to see her old friend waddle across the
room in a strapless green and white floral dress.
“I’m so glad you could make it.” Cora panted into Diane’s
ear as she gave her a hug.
“Ahh, Cora you look absolutely beautiful,” she began. “I’m
sorry…I can’t stay long…I have this thing I have to get to
across town for…”
“Don’t worry about it. I know you are a busy woman. You
just make sure you come by to see my baby when she gets
Diane nodded. “How’s your husband?
“How’s Mama Lucille?” asked Cora. “I saw her out walking
in the mall the other day.”
“She’s fine. I was talking to her before I left. She would
have come but she and Daddy had to go to something for
the church.” Her brain spun like a merry go round on her
list of polite conversation.
Diane tried again. “Have you spoken with Madison lately?”
“Sure did. She should be here any minute now. I wish you
and Madison would talk. We used to all be so close. We all
just had a bad day,” she added, lowering her voice and
placing her hand on Diane’s arm. Diane nodded in
politeness, knowing good and well she had to get out of
there before Madison arrived.
The last time they were together was at Cora’s house a
year earlier after she lost her first baby. When Diane went
to visit Cora, Madison arrived shortly after and once they
took time to cry and hug for Cora’s loss Diane announced
that she preferred they both stop calling her Danisha. She
knew it wasn’t going to be pretty when she saw Madison
roll her neck in her direction, raise her eyebrows and cross
her arms all in one motion.
“What’s wrong with Danisha?”
“I just like Diane better.”
“Puhlease. You just think it sound white and that makes it
“Just leave her alone Maddy,” interrupted Cora. “If that’s
what she wants to be called, then…”
“Cora, puhlease! Danisha always been like this. Swinging
her fake hair extra hard, barely noticing us when she would
be with those white girls on her cheerleading squad in high
school, changin' her eyes from ‘emerald’ to ‘topaz’ to
‘amber.’ I’m tired of not saying anything.”
“Because you know everything,” countered Diane, picking
up her pocketbook and heading toward the door.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Madison shot at her back.
She turned to face Madison. “It means that you need to
stop whining about the bank you’re working at being racist
and just work your ass off!” she yelled back.
“Oh why? Because we got a black president now so every
thing is supposed to be all good? Puhlease. Danisha you
are so lost, sounding just like them white people at my
“Lost! Lost!? I’m lost when I make over eighty thousand
dollars a year? I’ve figured it out—you need to get with the
“Figured out what!?” screamed Madison.
“This white and black thing. It’s stupid. I mean my friends,
they see me as one of them.”
“Yeah, but behind your back I betcha at least one of them
has called you a nigger or at least let one of their friends
call you that. You think they love your black ass so much
that they done forgot all they ever heard their family and
friends say over the years about us?”
Diane shook her head. “You don’t understand. You’re so
closed minded, Madison, and you always have been. Cora I
am so sorry to have upset you. I meant to come over here
to make you feel better, not for this.”
The room held onto silence for a few seconds before Diane
made one last attempt at resolve. “All I was trying to say
is that you can do better Madison.”
It was Madison’s turn to shake her head, “That’s the
problem. You feel sorry for me when I like my life. I
wouldn’t cut my dreadlocks off to get a promotion. I love
my dark skinned husband and even though I know what
correct grammar sounds like I don’t go round correcting
someone if they say ‘skreet’ instead of ‘street.’”
“Don’t go there Madison,” said Cora, attempting to slide
some gentle words into the conversation. “Dani—I mean
Di—well…she already apologized for correcting your brother
at that Fourth of July cookout.”
“So you took some courses on African American history,”
Diane threw back, “cut the perm out of your hair and now
you’re qualified to determine what is black enough?” Her
hand was on the door knob, her anger rising from simmer
to full blast again.
Madison didn’t respond.
“Well why don’t you say something to Cora?” asked Diane.
“She still straightens out her hair like we all did growing
up. I’ve heard her at her job. She speaks as ‘proper’ as me.
Why are you not giving her flack about it?”
“Because she ain’t asking me to call her Coreen instead of
Cora!” Madison’s temper was now like a tea kettle that had
“Well I want better.”
“Humph. No matter the cost.”
Although Diane had called Cora later to check on her, she’d
not spoken to Madison since that day and she wasn’t about
to make today the day to make amends.
“Here you go baby.” Mrs. Weston appeared with the plate
while Diane rummaged through her brain for more
conversation with Cora.
“Cora! It’s sooo good to see you,” said Diane as she
walked toward the door. “I gave your mother my present.
Call me when the baby arrives.”
“Thanks. I will.”
“By the way, have you and your husband decided on a
“Yes. We are going with Francesca Danisha.”
Stunned, Diane could only mouth the word what.
“I’ve always loved your name. I hope you don’t mind me
stealing it—since you’re not using it any more,” she added
with a slight smile.
Diane was still speechless.
“You take care now. And keep in touch.”
She nodded and fought back tears as her sandals crunched
once again on the plastic runner. She shook her head all
the way to her car while thinking, That poor child. At least
she’ll have Francesca.
Sharla Benson is a
seventh grade social
studies teacher and a
Ph.D. candidate in
educational research at
the University of South
Carolina. She has
written for The
newsletter and has
articles for the website
of an Atlanta nightclub.
This is her first