Just Before the Stop Signs Break

If you walk down the avenue fast enough, you might think that today is an ordinary Easter Sunday, filled with joyous laughter and terrible church music. But if you are an observant individual who enjoys slow strides along the Brooklyn promenade, you may hear my friend Dolores's shrieks coming from the blue-fenced yellow house on the corner.

If you are coming to our house from the left side of the hill, the one that separates Tutor Avenue and Strawberry Street, you can see Dolores and my Uncle Wayne naked in the purple-painted bedroom from the back window of our house. Dolores and I are 16 and we have been friends for most of our life. You will first see the hairs on Dolores's scaly white skin sticking up and out like the needles of a cactus. If you are coming to our house from the right side of the hill, the one that separates Tutor Avenue and Peabody Lane, you can see my Uncle Wayne's powerhouse body, long legs accompanied by a broad set of shoulders and thick, sculpted biceps.

My uncle is sitting next to Dolores, biting the rough patches of eczema on the left side of her neck. Her thin, angular body is dotted with sun freckles, the ones that typically appear pink in bright light. Her breasts are full and round, supple as they spill into his firm-grasped hands.

It's hard for me to focus, considering today is a day of prayer. It's hard for me to focus any day of the week Dolores is home, but today is the one day she promised to let me get ready for church in peace. She lied, and she is with him inside my room.

Outside that room, I am waiting. My skin is cracked and rough, similar to the texture of an old, gnarled tree trunk because Dolores took my lotion. She said she was just borrowing it. She says this every time my uncle comes over. When he leaves, I buy a new bottle of lotion that I wait for her to borrow and never return. My hair is frizzed and sticky, similar to the texture of a used, wet Brillo-Pad. I tell myself all I need is a shower to distract myself from scrutinizing the way my skin doesn't gloss over like Dolores's.

Dolores emerges from my bedroom, her reddened cheeks reminiscent of the lipstick color I used to buy. If you didn't know her any better you might mistake her for an innocent, embarrassed girl, but I know she is just giddy from hours of penetration. Her wire-like arms remind me of snakes, hard in their unforgiving bed. She laughs at the way the tight-fitted brown dress I purchased hugs my body. Dolores heads toward the bedroom again, her bodily fluids staining my comforter.

"The pink shirt is my favorite," he whispers to her while softly clapping. "Put it in on again."

"I don't like the pink one," Dolores rolls her eyes as she rummages through more of my clothing. She understands her privilege as the favored friend, the friend whose pink skin and tiny bones can thaw every frostbitten part of his body.

"The pink one," he says as his body juts upward, knocking the rocking chair my mother gave me behind him. "Just put it on, Dolores."

I hate him.

You would hate the way his words fall together too, chipped and broken like Dolores's teeth after he hit her that one Sunday afternoon. I covered Dolores up nicely with some unused, cheap makeup.

I walk out of the house, slamming the door behind me. Our yellow house has become more dilapidated throughout the years, and my neighbors are beginning to wonder why my family hasn't begun renovations. I want to tell them it is because of the money, but I know that would be a lie.

Sitting on the bench, looking at the budding wisterias mom started to plant, I wonder if she will be back in time to make Easter dinner. I wonder if she will even remember it is Easter. I collect the mail and walk back into the house. Dolores is dressed in my favorite black, polka-dotted jumper. She looks like one of those models one would see in a Victoria's Secret store. She's white, pretty, and wanted; her skin and body are not cloudy like mine. Growing up, mom always used to tell me I was no different from the boys and girls with white skin on Tutor Avenue. But now as I look towards the sky and balcony, it is alarmingly clear how much she has lied to me.

"Get out of my dress," I say, raising my pathetic index finger. "Get the fuck out of my dress and out of my house."

I run towards her and pull her hair. But I feel someone grab me by the back of my neck, forcing me to the floor.

"I said go down," my uncle says as he holds my arms and shakes my head. "And what do you think you are doing?"

"Let me go, Uncle Wayne," I bite the hand covering my mouth and he slaps my face.

"Little nigger girl is upset," he says. "She wants some attention too."

He punches me in the mouth one final time. I stay still on the floor watching Dolores lean on the couch.

I think of the way Dolores's family greeted me when I came to her house to make cupcakes. Her mother, Sandra, always left the kitchen smelling like sautéed onions, black beans, and baked jalapenos. I remember the days she would ride her bicycle around the pathway outlining the park near the old baseball field, a piece of green chalk in her left hand. Our parents would take us to the swimming pool near the kiddy swings, as we watched the tiny feet of children accelerate through the air.

It wasn't until Dolores's father passed away that I began noticing the subtle shifts in her demeanor. Dolores's family prided themselves on being outstanding American citizens, especially her father. Her parents made sure Dolores and her siblings were physically and emotionally well-equipped but their support turned into control. After my 16th birthday party, the party where she first met my uncle, I knew I would never again see the Dolores who rang my doorbell asking me to braid her hair like the mermaids she saw on television.

It is Easter Sunday and I am home with two human beings: one who is supposed to be my best friend, the other who is supposed to be my uncle.

I try to tell the voices in my head that he is not a bad man. The voices in my head are angry, they tell me I have been a bad person for not telling mom what my uncle and Dolores do. I wanted to tell mom, really, but I wasn't sure if it was necessarily a bad thing that Dolores wanted to have sex with my uncle. My own mother always told me that age is just a number.

Uncle Wayne didn't start developing feeling for my friends, the ones that could potentially be his children that is, until after I turned 16. I can remember the way he would talk about my white female friends, drooling over the ones who had fine, straight strands of hair and big blue eyes to complement them.

"It's the way they are," he said as he read his newspaper. "The way they look against the light. "

"What?" I asked, biting my bottom lip.

"You just don't get it." The volume in his voice raised and his eyebrows furrowed. "You'll never get it."

I never understood why white girls were favored by my Uncle Wayne. I desperately wanted to know the answer, but it seemed each time I would try to pry a little further into my uncle's box of hidden truths, he would love me less and less. After his wife divorced him, he thirsted for women who were often much younger than him. He loved to comment on which one of my physically developing friends he thought would turn out to be the prettiest. He always chose the friends of mine who were white with blonde hair.

"What's wrong with ones with darker skin?" I asked him, nervously awaiting his response.

"Nothing wrong with them" he said. "Nothing is particularly right with them either."

Uncle Wayne collects stop signs and hangs up in our basement to make him feel powerful. The police would often knock on our door asking if we were aware of the acts of vandalism pertaining to the missing road signs in our town, but mom always shrugged off their questions with soft, "I didn't notice anything" statements.

It is 5:00 p.m. and mom should be arriving soon. Our neighbors, the Vernons, saw something they weren't supposed to see and they called the police.

Dolores and my uncle are fully dressed. They make their way onto the back porch. Dolores begins to cry as the puffs of his cigar sting her eyes. Uncle Wayne looks tired, ready to fly back to Arizona, where I imagine him having sex with more white, innocent 16-year-old girls. Dolores will go back to her home, call me crying on a Wednesday afternoon because that is her favorite day of the week, and tell me that I should have stopped my uncle from raping her. Today, though, you will soon see me crying, my hands bloody with guilt and shame. You will see the braids in my hair come undone like the strands of the dress. You will see Dolores's mother Sandra spewing angry phrases at my mom again, who has pretended to know nothing about her brother all these years, as she collects Dolores's things from my bedroom.

The police officers on Tutor Avenue have shiny red guns that they use to fire cotton candy for the children on Easter Sunday. When I was a small girl, I would have dreams that one of the police officers would surprise me by putting a shiny red gun in my mailbox as a birthday gift for being a polite pedestrian. Today, these police officers will arrive equipped with both the red guns and the real ones, and I pray no one hears a gun shot too loud before suppertime.

You can hear my uncle rattling off lies to tell the police. Dolores's face is as bright as the Vernon's Easter cherry pie they always offer to my cousins. The police cars pull up in front of our sad, yellow house. You can see Mom start to cry. You can see Uncle Wayne running across Tutor Avenue, the bigger police car chasing him with their armed anger.

We are all out tonight, this Easter afternoon, and the space between our lives grows bigger and smaller as each teardrop reaches the cement. I am looking at a particular cloud while Dolores is weeping and her step-father looks like he's going to light my house on fire. You can see the stained pages of this day littered with sunken ships and quivering lips. Before mom's blackout, you can see me clutching the skin on my hips — my fingers are stretching, reaching for some kind of reconciliation.

Sabrina Sarro is a student at SUNY New Paltz. She hopes to continue writing about her experience as a biracial female growing up in New York City. The names of the people and places in this piece have been altered.

[Image by Tara Jacoby]