The movie was wonderful, but I should have known it was a mistake. I only went because I wanted to see Susan again. It's been so long since I saw her, and my world has gotten so small lately. I knew it was a risk, but I had to get out of this place, even if it was just for a few hours. Mike hardly ever gets home before seven or eight, so I figured it would be safe to catch the matinee with Susan. And of course, I had heard so much about the movie I just had to see it.
Susan hated the movie, of course. She said it was just like Hollywood to make the princess all virginal and helpless, wearing that pristine white dress and needing to be rescued by the men. She hated everyone in it, even the Wookie (she said he was a Tonto for Han Solo's Lone Ranger, and represented a furry subliminal "Good Injun" stereotype.) But that's Susan for you. I loved the movie. I thought Princess Leia was brave and sassy, and if the good guys hadn't rescued her she would have gone out fighting with her last breath. I didn't want to tell Susan, but the princess reminded me of her.
After the movie was over we took a bus back towards our place and hung out in Wooster Square for a while, just shooting the breeze like was old times. I was so happy just being with Susan, but pretty soon I started to get worried about how late it was getting. I guess Susan saw me looking at my watch, and she got angry with me.
"For God's sake, is he really going to give you trouble just for coming out with me?" she asked me. I told her it wasn't that, it was just that I had to make dinner.
"You're lying. I know you better. You probably have chili in a crock pot or something like that."
She knows me, all right.
Why did I ever leave her? Can somebody tell me? I know we argued all the time, we never saw eye to eye on anything, but now I'm not so sure that mattered as much as I thought it did.
Was it just because she's a woman, and I couldn't live with a woman? That's the big question, I guess. My parents would have flipped if they'd ever found out that Susan was more than a roommate to me, and I think I must have picked up some of that mentality along with all the rest of the hangups I inherited. I loved Susan -- I think I still love her -- but I think I never really stopped thinking it was wrong for two women to "be together". I told myself it didn't matter, but it did. That has to be why it was so easy for Mike to take me away from her when we had the big fight.
I wish I was more like Susan. I wish I didn't care about these things. I wish I was brave, and not so afraid of everything and everyone. Susan's not afraid of anybody. While we were sitting in the park, three Black guys came over to us. Two of them had big Afros and cut-up jeans jackets with all kind of embroidery and patches on them, were tall as trees; the third guy was shorter than me even, but bulky, maybe because he wore a big green fatigues jacket. His head was shaved, and gleamed in the sunshine. All of them wore combat boots.
I thought we were about to be mugged -- yes, in Wooster Square in the broad daylight I thought that -- but Susan just smiled at them, and they started calling her "Susie Q" and talking to her like they had known her for years -- like she was one of them.
Susan introduced us, and I found that the tallest was named Calvin, the little bald guy was Royal, and the third was Jimmy.
"Hey, I gotta borrow Jimmy for a second," Susan suddenly announced. "You two be nice to Carol, will you?"
"When were we ever not nice, girl?" Calvin asked her.
"You call us if you need any help, Jimmy," Royal laughed. Which could have sounded really nasty, but he didn't say it in a nasty way, and it was clear that the joke was on Jimmy and not on Susan. She gave him an arch look, anyway, just on general feminist principles. Jimmy took her arm gently, and with most men Susan would have bristled, but she accepted his gesture and they ambled off towards the fountain, leaving me there looking from Calvin to Royal like a rabbit caught between two pairs of headlights.
"Hey, we're not gonna eat you," said Calvin gently. "Not on a Wednesday, and never without an invitation."
I looked away, feeling my cheeks burning.
"So, you Susie's old lady?" he asked. I looked at him again, caught off guard by the question. This time I noticed the buttons on his jacket. There were three of them. One was a little picture of Jimi Hendrix in purple, one a yellow smiley face, and one said simply "Frodo Lives!"
I couldn't be afraid of a guy who wore a Frodo Lives button. It just didn't work that way. Maybe it was just as shallow as my initial fear had been, but that button spoke to my heart. It told me that Calvin had spent his nights reading Tolkien just like me. With that, he stopped being a boogeyman (what an awful word to choose!) And became one of "us". I'm not going to say I had some kind of epiphany about how we are all brothers and sisters and I would never be scared of a Black man again, because I'm sure that would be a lie, but it certainly changed the way I saw Calvin and his friends. Which is as good a start as you can hope for, I believe.
"I guess so," I told him. "I mean, I used to be. We're still friends."
"Uh-huh," he said, nodding. "Ya went back to the other side, huh?"
"Yeah, back to the Dark Side," I said bitterly, without thinking.
"Ooh, Star Wars reference!" Calvin chortled. "Looks like Carol's one of us, Royal!"
"One of us, my ass," Royal grumbled. "I didn't see no black people in that movie. Not unless those Jarwas was black, which would be fucking typical."
"It's Jawas, Roy," said Calvin.
"Like I care."
"Darth Vader was Black," I said. "I mean, his voice. It was James Earl Jones."
"Oh, sure, the bad guy is black. The one verifiable brother in the whole damn movie is the most evil scum in the universe. Tell me that don't mean something."
I didn't have an answer for that, so I just said, "Susan didn't like it either. She said it was sexist."
Calvin laughed again. "I bet. Ya got to watch that white patriarchy. Some people just can't just sit and watch a movie. Everything's got to be politics, have some kind of hidden meaning, some message. I think real life's complicated enough -- when I go see an adventure movie, I don't want to be thinking about what kind of negative stereotypes it subliminally reinforces."
"God, that sounds exactly like Susan," I told him.
"Yeah, Susie and my man Royal got the same way of thinking."
"Somebody's got to be thinking," said Royal with a sour expression.
"And you know I respect that," Calvin shot back. "Don't be acting like I've got my head in the sand. I care as much as you, and I fought for that. I just don't think Star Wars was anything more than a fantasy, that's all. I don't see any hidden meaning in it, just an adventure."
The argument sounded like it had been going on for years, and they could have kept at it until the cows came home, but Jimmy and Susan came back first.
"These guys bothering you, Carol?" Susan joked.
"No, we're getting along real well," I told her. But seeing her reminded me that I had other things to worry about, like getting home before Mike did. Susan caught my glance at my watch, and said, "well, I hate to break it up, but we have to get Carol home."
"We'll see you around, Carol. It was nice to meet you," said Calvin as he and Royal stood up and took positions on either side of Jimmy. They looked for all the world like soldiers setting out on patrol.
"I hope I do," I told him. Then, inspired by that mental image, I added, "not all those who wander are lost."
Calvin's face lit up. He smiled from ear to ear and answered me, "may the Force be with you."
Royal rolled his eyes. "It's gettin' like a God-damn Star Trek convention round here, Jimmy. We better keep these two separated from now on, before they start playing Dungeons and Dragons."
I smiled. It was corny, but damn, it was just so good to be exchanging nerd shibboleths with a man like Calvin. I couldn't resist telling Royal, "be seeing you," while making a circle with my thumb and index finger and looking through like a telescope. Calvin's smile got even wider, but Royal only saluted me humorlessly before turning away.
I guess Royal's not a big Prisoner fan, either.
As we walked back to my house, I felt like the queen of Helium. Of course, it couldn't last. My Barsoom had a Warlord, but he was no John Carter. And it was just my luck, that day, of all days, he happened to get home early. He'd been waiting for me since before the credits rolled on Star Wars, and he was not a happy man.
... Unlikely Orpheus...