People with wandering eyes.
I grew up a very small town in the California San Bernardino Mountains. The thing about growing up in a small town is that there is a huge lack of diversity. Which is fine for some people, but not so much for me. The second I set foot on the mountain in Big Bear at 10 years of age I told my mother I was getting out. It was my dream, my plan. I had no intention of spending the rest of my life stuck up on that mountain. And at the age of 17 I kept true to my word. Funny thing is, sometimes I wish I hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave. Because I left some really wonderful people behind, but you know what they say, hindsight is 20/20.
But then there are the other times I’m so glad I’m gone I practically want to hug every Black and Mexican person I come across. Why, you ask, would Stacy say such a strange thing? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the neighbors I grew up with that lived across the street from me were racist. Shhhhhhhhhhh. It’s a secret. And not just “Hey I like to make a joke or two about people from other ethnicities,” but jaw-dropping n-bomb slurring racists.
Listen, I get it. We’ve all got our biases. For instance, I have a problem with people who have a wandering eye. Freaks me the fuck out. Especially when you’re talking to them and all you’re thinking is, That is so rude. The least he could do is look at me when I’m talking to him.
There was the time when I was at Cerritos College, when I had an instructor who had a wandering eye. Trying to cheat on one of his tests was so frustrating because you never knew if he was looking at you or not.
But nothing was as frustrating as when my mother died and I was forced to sell her house. This house, that had been built by my grandfather, where I had grown up, was the love of my mother’s life. I had always promised my mother that I would never sell it. But then she got sick, and the two things she left me were this house and $30,000 in medical bills. I was newly married, and Poptart had just started graduate school. I didn’t know if I had a choice.
My husband and I did everything we could to try and figure out a way to keep the house but it was literally falling down around us. It needed a new roof, a new floor, the chimney was cracked, and the house had a ton of dry rot. We had two choices. Option one was to take out a loan against the house so that we could pay for the repairs. Not a bad idea. The only problem is that you have to technically own the house to borrow against it, and we hadn’t gotten there yet. My mother, God bless her, had never made out a will. She was under the mistaken assumption that since I was an only child, she didn’t need to put anything on paper. Not so. As a result, I was put into probate, and in probate I couldn’t own the house until I paid off her medical bills. The only way I could afford to pay off her bills was to sell the house. Which leads us to option two: Sell the house.
“Just don’t sell it to any Blacks or Mexicans,” was the first thing out of the mouth of the woman who lives across the street.
“Uuuuuuhhh oookaaaayy,” I replied, dumbfounded. What year is this? Is she fucking kidding me? Poptart just stood at my side with his mouth hanging open like he had been turned into a statue by Narnia’s White Witch.
“I just can’t stand to see your mom’s house go to any of those people,” she continued. Those people. Who are those people? You mean like people who can afford to pay the mortgage and upkeep? Like THOSE kind of people? Oh my God! Wouldn’t that be a travesty! My husband and I walked back across to the street to our poor old house, stricken by a certain amount of shock.
“Was she serious?” Poptart whispered under his breath to me.
“Oh yeah, she’s serious.”
Once we got back across the street and inside my mother’s house we both just stared at each other for a bit.
“I wonder if we can find a Black Mexican to buy your house?” Poptart asked.
“How about a Black, Jewish, Mexican?”
“Who’s also gay.”
“No not just gay. Like REALLY gay.”
“Yes. Oh! And a Buddhist.”
“Oh that would be perfect! A flamboyantly gay Black, Mexican, Jewish, Buddhist must buy this house!”
“Yes, and he must also have a speech impediment!”
“And a wandering eye. Those always creep me out.”
“Your neighbors will freak out!” Poptart said.
“I actually feel bad for the buyer, to be honest with you. Do you think we have to disclose “racist assholes for neighbors” when we put it on the market?
“Probably. We’re screwed.”
But most likely it wasn’t going to be up to me who bought the place. If I could have got the flamboyantly Black, Mexican, Jewish, Buddhist who not only had a speech impediment but also a wandering eye life would have been perfect. But I was going to have to get a realtor and I was not going to get to choose. Damn it!
I had one realtor come by to give me a quote on the house, and he was ready to sign the paperwork and get the process started. But I was still sitting on that thirty thousand dollar medical bill and was still in probate. So I wasn’t able to sign anything just yet, and I was okay with that. To be honest, I wasn’t ready to let go of the house I had grown up in. The house where I had shared so many memories with my mother. It was all I had left of her. But what I could do in the meantime was start the long process of going through over 50 years of stuff that had accumulated in the house. And stuff I found. I found beautiful poetry my mother had written when she was young and full of romantic notions. I found anything and everything that had ever been written about me in either playbills or newspapers. I found a funny prank letter my uncle had written to my grandparents telling them that he was in jail and that my mom was on the lam with one of her boyfriends, but not to worry. Everything would work out once he was cleared of his murder charges. My mother and my uncle had been estranged and he had actually died two years before my mother did. I had never met the man but I think I may have picked up some of my writing style from him.
I also found two sets of untouched China in the garage. One was sent from my uncle to my mother when he was in the war. I didn’t even know my mother owned China, let alone two sets. But why would she own two sets of China? Turns out my mother had been married before she met my father. Did I know this information? Hell no. But there it was on little napkins and matchbooks. My mother’s name, right next to the name of some man I had never met or even heard of, and the date of their wedding. Who knows? Maybe my uncle’s letter was not a joke and this was the guy he was trying to beat the murder rap for. All I know is I learned a lot about my mother going through that house and I cherish every single minute of it. I had only known her as my mother; now I got to know her as a person. A person who has poetry in her heart and secrets in her head.
I kept the things that were important to me but still had a ton of things I needed to get rid of. It was almost two years after my mother’s death when we held our first yard sale. I put everything out on the front lawn. Furniture, clothing, dishes. Anything we didn’t already keep for ourselves. We went up to Big Bear weekend after weekend and put on one yard sale after another and many of the Mexican families in the neighborhood came by and bought our stuff. All the while the woman who lived across the street never bought a thing. Then one weekend I had had enough. It was time to end it. My heart was tired and so was I. I had spoken to my dad who offered to help me out financially to pay off the medical bills so I could finally sell the house without any bill collectors breathing down my neck. In exchange I would pay him back once I sold the house. He and my mother hadn’t been married since before I was two years old but he had been there with me in the hospital during her illness and was there for me when I needed him again.
As Poptart and I lugged what was left of everything in the house out on to the front yard for the last time I finally felt at peace. I did all I could and I fought the good fight, but like the song says, you got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them and it was my time to fold. Poptart and I raked in what money we could that day but as the sun started getting lower in the sky I put out a huge sign that said FREE. And people came running. All the things I couldn’t sell in the past were now going like hotcakes. And as many of the Mexican families in the neighborhood filled up their arms with clothes and other things they couldn’t afford the first time they came by the yard sale, I felt good. I felt good until the woman from across the street came over and started grabbing what she could so all the “Mexicans” couldn’t get it. “I can’t believe you’re just giving your mother’s things away for free,” she said looking at me like I was the worst person on the planet. What I don’t think she understood is, my mother grew up in East Los Angeles. She loved the Mexican people and the Mexican culture. Being American Indian when my mother grew up was not in style like it is now. So she would often pawn herself off as Hispanic when she was younger to fit in. What my mother would have wanted is for someone to pay what they could. Not to just come by when shit was free.
I did sell my house. I sold it to a woman who knew my mother and loved her house. So I feel better about the whole thing knowing it went to someone who may love it hopefully as much as my mother did. No she’s not Black, or Mexican, she doesn’t even have a wandering eye. But she’s taking care of the roof, the floors, and the dry rot. As far as the neighbors go, well she already knew them before I sold her the house so that’s her problem. Oh but did I mention, I do think she may have voted for Obama and if that doesn’t drive the woman across the street crazy nothing will. But shhhhhhhh… that’s also a secret.
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