Somewhere between the second — which hit just above my right ear — and third blows, I realized I was being pelted with eggs, and tried to get up. It was too late. In less than a minute I was wearing close to a dozen eggs. In less than a minute, I had experienced disbelief, shame and humiliation. I sat on the ground as yolk dripped from my nose and into the corners of my mouth. As the tears fell, I wondered if the stinging was from the eyeliner or the eggs. I couldn’t remember ever feeling such pain, but physically, I was unhurt.
There was silence initially. Then came the laughter. I was afraid to look around, because I didn’t want to know who was being entertained at my expense.
I’d wanted to be able to do this for so long. Hang out with my friends at the Lake Avenue park on Halloween, talk about music, who was cute and how much our parents got on our nerves. The fact that I had the only black face in my circle of friends didn’t matter. I had worked hard just to be part of this group, and this was it. I was “in.”
When we moved to the apartment complex in Yonkers, we were the only black family there, which meant that most of my friendships were conditional. Allison and I had been friends since we were about 8. Her treatment of me didn’t depend on the acceptance of my skin color. I didn’t know at that time that the name Mandel made her Jewish. She looked like my other friends, but she was different. No matter what, Allison could always come outside.
Just an hour before the egg assault, I had watched Allison hold her blonde hair straight up, point the hair spray and take aim. I was always ready before my friends, because achieving the punk rock look involved only a lot of black eyeliner and some safety pins in my ears. For Allison, Maribel, Dawn and Darlene, there was the spiky hair to consider.
My Mom didn’t ordinarily let me out late, but since it was Halloween, and a Friday, I had begged her until she relented.
Darlene, Maribel and Dawn were waiting for Allison and me at the park, where they usually hung out.
There were a group of guys, including Darlene’s and Dawn’s brother, sitting a few benches down. They half-glanced at us as we walked up, but said nothing. They gave no indication of the assault that would follow.
My friend Allison’s voice softened as it whispered in my ear.
“Dre? You OK? I can’t believe those assholes did that. C’mon, we can leave if you want.”
I looked over at the four white guys sitting on their bench. They had gone back to smoking their Marlboros and drinking their Budweisers, as though they had seen a funny commercial, and were now back to watching their regularly scheduled program.
“Dre. C’mon. Let’s go,” Allison said.
I stood up and began to walk away with Allison and my other friends. I stopped, turned around, and headed back to the bench of guys.
I had experienced so much mistreatment growing up because of my race. Little girls looked me square in the eye and told me they wouldn’t play with me because my skin looked like chocolate, not cotton candy. Another time two white boys trapped me in the laundry room of my apartment complex, spat on me and called me nigger. I had endured these things and said nothing. But this time I had to know why. I needed to understand.
I looked at the four of them, at their clothes, their leather and denim jackets, their steel-toed boots, their Levis. I focused on their eyes as I spoke.
“What did I ever do to you?” I said, my hands trembling. “I guess you don’t like black people. But what did I ever do to you?”
No one said a word. I waited, half-expecting a derogatory response. But there was nothing.
Not long after that, safety pins resumed their intended purpose. I lost touch with Allison. And I never longed to hang out on Lake Avenue again.
Eight years later, while I was standing in a store checkout line, I felt someone watching me. I glanced over my shoulder, then bit my lip.
The leather jacket was gone. His hair was shorter. He had more gut. The boots were the same.
My lip was close to bleeding and my hands trembled. I got my change and tore out of the store. I was almost out of breath as I neared my mother’s Buick. I fumbled to get the keys into the door.
“Uh,” was all I heard and I spun around. His green eyes shifted from me to the ground.
“I want you to know that I’m really sorry. You didn’t do anything. I think about that night, and well, I’m just so sorry.”
“OK,” I said, and got in the car. He stood there as I pulled off, speeding from the parking lot.
He looked like Atlas, standing there, as if he were apologizing for more than giving me an unsolicited protein treatment. A modern-day Titan he was, forced to uphold the burden of his sin, just as the character in Greek mythology was forced to uphold the heavens for his role in the Titan war. He was Atlas, desperately wanting to shrug, but believing it was his responsibility not to.