TONI. GOD'S DAUGHTER.
With Jocelyn as my dorm mate I was in the habit of waiting before I climbed out of the top bunk. More times than I cared to remember, I found Herschel sleeping with her in the bottom bed. I learned to listen for snoring, or any other noises coming from below. I didn’t hear anything so I peered over the bunk. The coast was clear. They must have slept in his dorm last night.
Riffling through my underwear drawer, every panty, every bra has my name on it. My mama made sure she labeled everything with Antoinette Trammell. Even my towels are labeled. “Your clothes may get mixed up in the laundry,” she reasoned. The sight of seeing my name written on everything felt like a burden. I know my name! I don’t need a constant reminder. Maybe mama did it to remind me of who I am so I won’t get caught up in…. in what exactly? College life? Sex, drugs, all night study sessions? A couple of freshmen did approach me for a hook up, they weren’t even subtle. I guess seeing me and my baby fat as papa calls it, made me easy prey to the roving jackals. But I’m God’s daughter and I don’t play that. I don’t think I play that. It’s not like anybody asked me before. Found it! I snatch the mini Snickers bar from under my folded 36DD bra.
I’m busty and I’m fat. Always have been. Have come to accept I always will be. When I was in the 5th grade, my breasts were bigger than my belly which made me self-conscious so I started eating more to draw attention away from my boobs. In the 7th grade, kids were calling me ‘bootydo’, which meant my belly stuck out more than my booty do. That didn’t end until I punched Marcus Scott in his bootydo. It felt good to punch him and I kept punching him till he had two black eyes and a broken nose. That day Marcus learned that big girls are strong girls. Papa made me apologize to Marcus and to the Lord but the Lord knew I wasn’t really sorry and I felt guilty about not feeling guilty.
I’m the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher. I had rules and restrictions that the other kids didn’t have so I was an easy target. But after I beat up Marcus, papa and mama pulled me out of school and home-schooled me. They didn’t have to. The other kids left me alone after that. At least when they teased me I had some interaction. Being at home, all the time, I thought I’d go crazy. But I studied hard and learned not only the Lord’s way but also Einstein’s theory of relativity, the great ancient civilizations of Africa and how to cook.
I loved baking and my reward for doing well was learning how to bake home-made cornbread, monkey bread, dumplings and my favorite red velvet cake. I wanted to go to Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school in Paris, but papa wouldn’t have his only daughter so far away. So the University of Santa Barbara was the compromise. It was only an hour away from Ojai. I had to promise to attend his church every Sunday and help mama cook the buffet. They bought me a new 1998 Toyota Corolla to make the drive. I thought my car would be my chariot to freedom but it was actually a long leash to keep me tied to home.
Later that afternoon, I was done studying and ready to sit with my bible when Jocelyn burst in, pulling the sheets off her bed. She asked me to go to an Alpha Delta Zeta toga party with her. That was a surprise, she never invited me to do anything before. I didn’t think she liked me. Jocelyn was up to something. I carefully placed the bookmark in my bible and got down from my bunk. Ever since she came back from spring break, she’s been different. Uppity, my mama would say. I caught her more than once practice laughing in the mirror holding her neck like a high society rich white woman. She didn’t even eat like a normal person. She’d put granola in her hand and peck at it like a pigeon. I guess that should have influenced me to stop eating but why would I starve myself? I’m short and round. My mama’s short and round. The Trammell women are short and round. We cook. We eat. And we fear the Lord. Praise Jesus.
“You’re thinking about pledging Alpha Delta Zeta?” I asked, putting my bible on the desk.
“Yeah. It’ll be fun.” She said. “You should pledge too.”
“You shouldn’t make fun of me.”
“Hey, I’m just being nice. I thought you’d want to get out of your bible and actually get a social life. Aren't you lonely? Forget I mentioned it."
At 5’2” and tipping the scale at 140 pounds, I wasn’t exactly sorority material, especially the Alpha Delta Zeta sorority. They are the first Black sorority in America and real strict on who they let in. They were known for maintaining a coterie of well-bred young women who married well and maintained good breeding in the Black community. There was even a hair and skin test one had to pass but that was generations ago back when my grandmama pledged. Before she married grandpapa and became a devout Pentecostal. So if I did decide to pledge ADZ, they couldn’t refuse me.
I watched Jocelyn throw her blue sheet back on her bunk. She shifted through her dirty laundry and held up a dingy white sheet. “Oh, by the way, Herschel’s coming over tonight.” She said without turning around.
“It’s Friday night. You usually go to his dorm on Fridays.”
“Well tonight he’s coming to mine.”
“Ours.” I corrected her. “He’s coming to our room.”
Jocelyn turned fully around to face me and studied me for a moment. “You know Antoinette, if you had your own social life, or boyfriend or even friends, you would have something to do on Friday night instead of keeping track of me and my man.” And with that, she flipped her head around and turned her back to me.
“You’re mean!” I blurted out.
“You’re weird and boring and you act like you’re a hundred years old!”
We were silent for a while. I looked out our 6th floor window to see the sun setting and students walking around in togas. They looked like they were having fun.
Jocelyn broke the silence. “I know one of your relatives is an Alpha. I saw the pearl pin in your drawer.”
“You went through my drawer?”
“The point is, I can’t go to their toga party unless I go with a Greek or a legacy. You’re a legacy. So be my roomie and go with me. It’ll be fun. Don’t you want to have fun?” She said holding the dingy sheet against her body.
“But why do we have to wear sheets?”
“It’s not a sheet, it’s a toga. Here I’ll show you.” She ripped my white sheet off my bed releasing a confetti of candy wrappers. “We’re gonna have ants if you keep eating in bed.” She stepped out of her clothes, unsnapped her bra and twisted my sheet around her waist, tying a knot over her shoulder. “See? Cute, right? Here. Let’s do you.” She wrapped the bottom sheet around me. Unlike Jocelyn, I kept my bra on. I have too much bosom to let loose. “What do you think? I think you look cute.”
I looked in the mirror. “I don’t know. I have a test on Monday.”
“You’re a legacy Toni. You have to come with me.” This was the first time Jocelyn had shown any interest in me. “I’ll do your make up.”
“I don’t wear make-up. It’s against my religion.”
“I won’t tell if you won’t.” Jocelyn opened her make up kit and smiled at me.
I actually contemplated forsaking my teachings. I shook my head. “My parents might call.”
“Tell them you were out having fun.” She continued.
“Fun? Oh no. I’m here to get an education. The church gave me a scholarship, I owe them. I’m not supposed to squander my time having fun. This is an opportunity and a privilege.”
Jocelyn stared at me blinking. “I think you’re having a nervous breakdown.”
I looked at myself in the full length mirror and saw my mother staring back at me. Same disapproving frown. Hair pulled in a tight bun, two ringlets coiled near my temples. I felt a panic attack coming on. Jocelyn snapped the make-up kit closed and dropped all pretense of caring about me. I was clearly a lost cause.
“Fine. Can I use your sheet or is sharing against your religion too?”
Herschel knocked. Jocelyn brightened and swung the door open. He had a gold crown around his head, gold sandals and a white sheet. “Cleopatra.”
“Ceasar.” Jocelyn replied and mock bowed. “You changed your mind.”
“I aim to please.” He stepped over the sheet on the floor and looked at me finally noticing I’m in the room. “Studying tonight or bible study?”
“My parents might call so … “
Jocelyn cleared her throat. “Toni, will you give us a minute. I need to talk to Herschel real quick.” She smiled at me. Her mouth was smiling but her eyes told me to beat it.
“How much time do you need? I’ll just take my notebook if you…”
“Take everything. We have a lot to talk about.”
“Oh, sure, okay.” I leave with my backpack and blanket and bible.
Just as I closed the door I heard Jocelyn laugh and say, “She’s so tragic.”
I stood by the door and heard them kissing and Jocelyn giggling. Talking to Herschel! Ha! If she’s not careful she’s gonna get an STD. Herschel was in our room almost every night, forcing me to once again tell Jocelyn, that it was ‘of course okay for me to sleep in the hall lounge. No problem! I’ll just take my books and blanket and well thumbed bible and mosey on down the hall. See you in the morning. No, I don’t mind dressing in the dark so as not to disturb your precious Herschel’s sleep. No problem!’ Oh Lord, I’m getting hangry. Think happy thoughts! Think happy thoughts. What’s a happy thought? Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The bible tells me so….
A group of students wearing togas stumbled down the hall, whooping and hollering out Toga! Toga! Toga! Red beer cups in hand. They stopped laughing when they saw me leaning against the door trying to disappear.
“You know where the toga party’s at?” One of ‘em asked me.
I shook my head and scuttled to the hall lounge. I stayed in the 6th floor lounge so often I started getting my mail there. Sure enough, on the table waiting for me was a care package from home. A Pentecostal book of hymns, jelly beans and M&Ms that somehow managed not to melt and underwear and socks with my name written neatly in small block letters in mama’s penmanship. And a note: Daughter, I know our Lord Jesus is looking after all you do. Trust in Him and His will.
After a good while, I returned to my dorm, pressed my ear against the door to make sure they were gone or at least decent. I knocked and called out “Jocelyn?” No answer. My bottom sheet was on the floor where Jocelyn dropped it. I could hear the toga party from across the quad. It was only nine o’clock. The party would last until midnight. I had three hours to wait it out. I reached for my stash between the mattress. Just what I needed. A friendly face. I ripped the wrapper off the bite size Kitty Kat and made my bed. Humming a hymn to drown out the revelry drifting in from the window, I crawled into bed and felt exhausted. I wasn’t physically tired I just collapsed from the weight of expectations. The church. My parents. Myself. A Twix bar oughta curb the loneliness. This is what happens when you’re home schooled. No social skills, I thought. I laid in bed surrounded by an explosion of candy wrappers. The music and the laughter increased. I couldn't escape it. Oh, what the heck!
I put on the sheet, making sure it covered my bra and look at myself. I look like a dumpling. I was about to take it off when Jocelyn walked in. Stopping in her tracks, her mouth dropped open then she snapped it closed. She didn’t say a word, she just picked up a brush and freed my hair from the tight bun. “Tension kills hair. You have to let it be free every now and then.” She fluffed my hair into an afro and put a sparkly headband on me. She looked at me and smiled a genuine smile. “Ready?” Before I could answer, she took my hand and led me out of the dorm room.