Today I rode the train wearing a short plaid skirt and black sweater, my long hair pulled back in a pony tail. Today I had the culture of a community that was ancient, passed down for centuries. They valued male children and looked upon females as little more than servants, and even in this country after establishing their own communities, making certain their children spoke the language, and amassing a great deal of wealth and power, they still treated females as less important. I headed to my job. I was not in a hurry. It would be there when I arrived no matter how I looked. I had arranged it this way as I often was not sure what state I would be in on the morning next.
I sat and did my 8 hr shift and walked the 4 or 5 blocks it took to get to the train for me to ride home. I sat as men eyed me, some with admiration, and others with mixed messages. I was too aggressive for an Asian girl. I was not supposed to feel comfortable looking people in the eye. But I was comfortable doing a lot of things that others did not expect.
The next morning my hair waved and as I looked in the mirror to brush it into a simple ponytail I decided to stop at the corner store to pick up snacks for my trip across town. I put on a long floral skirt, my cowboy boots and a sweater then headed for the store.
“Hola,” said the clerk in the store. And continued in Spanish asking a question she knew already I could not answer.
“Hola Esme, you know I don’t speak a lot of Spanish, my parents are black and white, and they do not have any language skills.”
“Why you don’t take a class or two, it’s not good for Hispanic girls not to speak the language no matter who their parents are.”
“You’re right, maybe I will consider it. Gotta go, see ya. Adiós, muchacha.”
I went to the station and waited for my train. Two young Latino men flirted in Spanish. I smiled, but I did not understand them.
“I’m American; born and raised, I’m sorry I don’t understand you.” I said.
“It’s okay, I teach you beautiful, many things.” one guy responded.
“It’s okay, really I have to go. This is my stop.” I said.
“Oh you think you too good for me eh?” he asked almost hostile.
“No,” I said, “but I really have to go.”
He stood in front of me, but as the train stopped the train police encouraged him to leave me alone and I stepped off the train.
I spent another 8 hour shift listening to the other Hispanic girls talking about the quiet little Asian girl who sometimes temped at the office. It was strange how they interpreted her quietness as aloofness, and accused her of being rude and acting as if she was better than them.
I rode the train home in silence and sat with an elderly Asian woman who kept eyeing me as if I were about to take off with her purse. I felt sorry for her.
On the following day I could practically sport a curly Angela Davis Afro. I pulled it into a curly ball on the top of my head and wore my giant loop earrings. I wore a turtle neck and a fitted pencil style skirt over tights with pumps. No matter how attractive I felt, today would be a difficult day.
I walked to the train. No one spoke to me, and no one bothered me. This was the only time I ever seemed to have concerns about how people responded to me. On a day like today when the train was filled with people I could be certain some guy was going to call me a bitch because I wouldn’t talk to him. I could also be certain that white women would look at me funny or make comments about my clothes, and I had a pretty good idea how things would go at work. I had been dealing with this type of thing for a long time now and could sort out how my day would be based on the state I was in when I woke up in the morning.
When I walked in the door I could already hear the heavy sighs and whispers. One of the girls said. “I hate when she comes, she always has that angry look on her face and that attitude.”
Like anybody else wouldn’t get an attitude if the first thing they heard every day was someone talking about them. And as far as angry, well let’s just say on this day in particular my work load was heavier, people found fault with everything even if it was correct, I got shorter breaks, and on top of all that they were rude and even nasty to me. At the end of this eight-hour shift I often had to remind myself of the reason I kept this account. It was bad if I had to do more than one day of this. But oftentimes the day following would be the flip-side.
When I woke I showered and washed my hair, no pony tails today. I wore it loose and covered it with a baseball cap. I wore my jeans and a pair of sneakers. I walked briskly to the station, ignored everyone on the train, and when I got into the office all the girls were running around kissing my ass. Depending on how awful the previous day was, I did damage control. I resubmitted reports that were rejected as perfectly sound and refused to redo them. I defended against comments and criticisms, especially about clothes. I threatened to tell management about gossip, and accused the staff of reverse racism. I even had the nerve to feign illness and leave early.
When I woke the next day I felt more like myself. My hair was always a good indicator of what state I was in, and I reached up to feel it’s curly resistant mass. I reached over to the bedside table and grabbed a brush. In the bathroom I ran it under warm water took a finger of petroleum jelly and brushed the belligerent curls into submission and after smoothing the front and sides pulled it into a ponytail in the back. I put on a pair of black skinny jeans, a fitted top layered with a t-shirt over it and a pair of high heeled boots.
My name is Fille Chameleon. I am in many ways just like any other 27-year-old female executive. I own my own temp agency and help other young women like myself to find employment. I am a go-getter, a motivated, focused, intelligent and aspiring young woman no different than any other woman that is in every way except one. Let me take the opportunity to tell you why and explain a little about myself.
I was born in a small town called Rochester, Illinois. There is nothing out of the ordinary about it. It is small, a population of less than 4000 people. My growing up there might have been a wonderful thing except for the fact that I was out of the ordinary. The year I was born my parents lived between a couple with a boy genius named Thaddeus whose IQ was greater than Einstein, and a women the town would have stoned as a witch if such things were legal. My parents had moved there thinking a small town experience would be a wonderful environment to raise a family in, and it should have been, but after my birth that idea changed drastically.
You see, I am something of a freak of nature, not odd-looking in fact in most ways quite pretty. But to people I am a bit of a mystery. Our housekeeper was the first to notice. At 2 weeks old she had been shocked to happen through my nursery and discover an Asian baby in the crib where once an African-American and Caucasian racially mixed baby used to be. She ran to tell my mother who first had been ready to call the police to report me as kidnapped, but waited until after having gone to my room to see what had happened.
It was true, there was an Asian baby there, but my mother had carried me full term and recognized me right away. After some convincing, our housekeeper grew accustomed to my occasional deviations from my ethnicity. In my first years, I changed racial makeup on a regular basis. It was hard for me to attend school because my parents never knew what I would look like from one week to the next. They decided it was best if they sought a special school for me and in the meantime decided they would home-school me.
The boy next door had grown accustomed to my changing and had begun theorizing that it was due to some molecular instability. He had decided that genetic patterns for a particular ethnicity would accumulate while I slept, and whatever was most abundant would be dominant and it would be what I reflected when I woke in the morning. The variety he found was based on those in my heritage, which could be endless considering my mixed culture. He also theorized that the distance in my history from that heritage affected the length I stayed in a particular ethnicity, based on the fact that I could stay weeks in my actual form, but only days as others.
The witch next door had another opinion. I was either gifted or cursed. There were many days when I felt both of these. By the time I was seventeen I had been the victim of every racial slur known to man. It was silly to think that other races of people didn’t experience racial tension or oppression, or some difficulty based on their ethnic, social, or cultural differences. No matter what female I was when I woke up, there was always someone who had some comment or treatment based on a stereotype, a cultural belief, or some social norm that dictated how women of that background should be treated.
My parents had thought that it would be necessary to find a solution to my problem. I chose however to embrace it, and upon finishing high school decided to begin my own temp agency. I chose assignments who did not mind a different temp everyday and I employed ladies of all ethnic backgrounds. I chose this route so that when I changed it was not an issue. I could sometimes keep one assignment until the company began looking for a permanent employee. Often they would request one of my selves but I would decline saying that person only takes temp positions and offer them someone else.
I made a pretty decent living and aside from the social difficulties I had a pretty good life. It did have its difficulties. I could not generally have a steady boyfriend though I had worked out ways to date. If I wanted to see someone more than once I would simply call him in the morning to check his plans after knowing who I’d be that day. People who enjoyed my company usually didn’t mind making spontaneous plans and if they had plans I would chalk it up to scheduling at my job and promise to call the next time I was free. I never let men spend the night.
There were other things too, like tattoos or piercings that were obvious impossibilities. I mean, how did one explain that every single employee had the same tattoo in the same spot, or a nose ring? I was lucky not to have visible birthmarks to explain away. It’s also why I never chose hairstyles particular to my ethnicity. Some things were just not worth having to cover for or explain. I learned about clothing preferences, mannerisms, speech patterns, and even behaviors. Some I mastered, others I avoided.
My phone rang early one Saturday.
“Hey “Girl”, drawled a Creole voice at the other end of the line, “How are you today?” Francesca was my best friend. She was the only one here in the City to know about my odd circumstances. Her family practiced black magic so she more easily accepted things that were out of the ordinary.
“I’m just laying here, why?” I asked impatiently. I knew her mannerisms, and was well aware that it would take the next ten minutes of pleasantries and formal good mornings before she would get around to asking, “What you doing today?” in her slow drawl.
“Housework,” was my bland answer.
“Met a guy yesterday that knows you from childhood. Claims to know about your issues; Says he used to live next door to you in the Midwest.”
I sat up in bed, “Oh my god is he like really smart and nerdy.”
“Well he does the smart part, but he looks kinda dreamy, if I didn’t get the impression he was interested in you, I’d be trying to keep him for myself. I guess you want the number then, I didn’t give him yours.” she drawled.
“How did you get on the subject of my issues?” I asked.
“Oh well, he never told me exactly what they were, only said you were a unique sort of girl too mysterious for a small town not equipped to deal with rapid change, and that your special differences made it necessary for your parents to move to somewhere they could find help for you. I just assumed he knew.”
I tried not to sound too excited, since she sounded disappointed. “Maybe he has dreamy friends.” I said. Francesca perked up quickly; the prospect of trickle down always made up for anyone who was interested in me. But this was different, most of the guys I dated I couldn’t have real relationships with, this guy actually knew about my unique circumstances.
She waited another five minutes before giving me the number. I talked another ten minutes so as not to appear too enthusiastic and waited another five or so before calling just in case she had actually been on the line with him when she called me. Francesca was the type of girl who enjoyed doing such things.
I picked up the phone and dialed the number. I’m not certain why I felt nervous. I had known him all my life. But now he was not a boy he was a man and from what Francesca said he was a knock out. And she was a woman who knew man flesh. She never used the word dreamy unless a guy was thoroughly attractive. She liked muscle, but she preferred tight compact men not big. She liked athletic, but not like football players, that is unless it was soccer. The phone rang multiple times and then the machine picked up.
“Hi, it’s Fille” I was just calling to leave you a number where you can reach me. Call when you have time.” I hung up. I hoped I had managed not to sound too disappointed. I got up and made myself some coffee.
At noon while I was playing my music and cleaning my kitchen the phone rang. I turned down the music then answered. “Hello.”
“Hey, it’s Thaddeus, I was on the other line with my mother when you called, how are you?”
“I’m well, how are you. Are you the smartest man at your university?” I asked.
“10th, but it’s not about how smart, it’s what you do with your smart. I hear you have leveraged your smart and created a fabulous Temp Agency. That was an ingenious way to figure out employment. But now that your all grown up I’m curious to know how you manage relationships.”
“And I’d like to know if you’re interested in Francesca?” I said.
“I was until I discovered she knew you. She’s a woman who’d make any man curious. Just the same, I wouldn’t risk choosing any woman who’d ruin a possibility of getting to know you better.” I could hear his smile through the phone. “Why worried?”
“No, just don’t want to get in the way.” I answered.
“When can I see you, can we have dinner tonight?” he asked.
It was the first time a guy had asked me out that I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like when I woke up.
“Sure, look for the Fille with the curly brown pony tail.” I said.”Where would you like me to meet you?”
“Is there a mall you like, I have some shopping I’d like to do.”
I gave him the directions and the name of the mall and hung up the phone. I was excited though I’m not sure why. I showered and put on something neutral though I was tempted to wear something more fetching. This was a man I knew, but I didn’t want to play the games other girls played, not with him. I wanted to really get to know him.
In an hour I was in the mall looking around for him. I felt a weird sensation that raised the hair on the back of my neck then I realized there was a really intense, handsome guy staring at me.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. But you’re fun to watch.” he said and smiled.
We walked through the mall occasionally stopping to purchase some clothing item or special electronic item he needed. It was easy to talk to him. He was intelligent and respectful, interesting and considerate. He didn’t rush or complain, and when things weren’t right he managed it with aplomb.
“Where would you like to eat? I like pasta but you can you can pick the place.” he said.
We found a restaurant that had lots of variety and sat and talked and ate like we hadn’t been away from each other for the last ten years. The time sped by and we rose to leave.
“I’d like to see you again soon if that’s possible,” he said before going to his car.
“Sure, you just let me know.” I said.
“How about tomorrow, is that too soon?” he laughed nervously.
“If you don’t mind a late start, I like to sleep in on the weekend.
“That’s fine.” he said. He dropped me at my car and drove off.
The next morning when I woke, I was the Asian girl. I laughed and put on a silk top and some jeans. I waited outside instead of letting him search for the house.
“Hello china doll,” he said followed by, “breathtaking.”
I smiled and followed him to his car.
“This will be interesting, how often do you change?” he asked.
“It varies, sometime every day, sometimes once a week. It depends on what I am changing from too. I believe what you said when we were little is true, the more prominent the ancestry the longer I can maintain it.”
“So how long do you stay Asian?”
“About three days usually, if I don’t have stress; I think that affects me too. When I’m the Black girl she can only take one day of punishment. Right after her the White girl shows up and usually cleans house. Then I go back to my own self. I stay a few days sometime a few weeks.” I said.
“Then why the change, you were just yourself yesterday?”
“Yes, and I had been so for days before, maybe seeing you yesterday altered my chemistry. Do you do that to women, change their chemical balance?” I smiled.
“Not to my knowledge, but you never know. You look Asian, but behaving like you do would get you in trouble in an Asian community.”
“Sometimes, but sometimes Asian men find my Americanized values exciting.” I laughed, “And some drop me like a hot potato, saying I’m too aggressive, too forward. I tell them I’m fine with that, that I plan to marry a black man anyway. One guy even slapped me.”
“What’d you do.” he asked shocked.
“I had him arrested for assault; the precinct chief in my neighborhood has a lovely Asian wife. He didn’t like the fact that he had put his hands on me.”
“Does he like you?”
“Not like that, but I know lots of different kind of people who help me from time to time. Of course I can’t be certain he would have helped if I had been the black girl, but maybe for him it’s about a man putting his hands on a woman, not just about that woman having been Asian.”
We spent the entire day together, after that we talked every day when we couldn’t see each other and made plans for the weekend. I spent time with him no matter who I was, no matter who he was with. I met his friends and he would introduce me as his girlfriend when I was myself. I smiled even though we had not talked about whether we were an actual couple. His friends often questioned me about our relationship. Some of them even tried to hit on me, saying, “He’s always got a different girl every week, sometimes more often than that, you don’t want a guy like that, you deserve somebody better.”
“That doesn’t seem like a very good thing to say about a friend. It doesn’t seem like you have his best interest in mind.”
“I’m protecting you both while serving my own interest.” Marcus had said.
Though his friend Marcus was the biggest asshole, I knew that this was mostly about competition, and sex. They were only interesting in knowing whether we had actually slept together so they could see if their own chances would improve. Each had tried in a turn after seeing him with someone else. I told them we were getting to know each other and it was perfectly okay for him to date other girls. We weren’t mutually exclusive.
“So you can go out with other people too?”
“Yes, but I would never date his friends, if I decided I wanted to have a relationship, that might cause me some problems now wouldn’t it. Besides, do you always press up on his dates to see who he’s sleeping with?”
“No, but if I meet a girl who I think is special and he doesn’t seem to me to value her I don’t see anything wrong with trying my own luck.”
I had no way of knowing if the others were all me, and even if they weren’t we had not reached that part of our relationship. The cuter ones I aimed toward Francesca, she could choose who she thought suited her. Despite the ego competition stuff they mostly seemed like nice guys.
“Your friends all want to know if I’m sleeping with you.” I said one day at dinner.
“How many of them have hit on you?” he asked.
“So far, all of them, but anyway who’s counting?” I smiled.
“They like you, that’s all and they think I’m treating you wrong because I see so many different women. But if they knew me they would know I would never do anything to hurt you, and that in reality I only have eyes for you. I can’t help that what my eyes see is not the same every day.” he smiled back at me in a dreamy lovesick sort of way.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were getting sort of attached,” I said trying to keep things light.
“Well if I didn’t know better I’d say I was in love and you were avoiding the point. So tell me, what I should do?” he asked.
“That depends on if you can stand the effects of a gift and a curse. People change how they treat me just based on how I look, some days better some days worse. They don’t understand that though I may look different on the outside I feel the same way they do inside. That human beings are not different because of their skin color, or ethnicity, or culture, or financial status, or belief. They are all the same inside.”
“And if I said I could deal with all that.” he said.
Then I kissed him.
“I love who you are no matter what you look like. Besides what man in his right mind would turn down the opportunity to have a different woman every day and never leave home. I can’t wait to spank that pretty little black girl.” He said and laughed.
I didn’t know when our relationship would get to that point. But it was the most wonderful thing to know that when it did no matter what I was when I woke, he would always love who I am.
Girl Chameleon © DJuna Blackmon 2014, All Rights Reserved