Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lovers and fighters.

Warning: 100% Non-medical post ahead.

"Keep it together in your family
They're a reminder of your history
Brothers and sisters - they hold the key
to your heart and your soul
don't forget that your family is gold."

~ Madonna


Psssst. I have a not-so-secret confession to make. . . .

Are you ready for it?

Okay. Here it is:

I don't like fighting. At all. There. I said it.

Wait. Confused, are you? Okay. Let me explain.

When I say I don't like fighting, I'm not talking about arguing. I'm talking about fighting. As in ball-up-your-fist-and-punch-a-heifer-in-her-mouth fighting. I'm referring to the kind of brawls that happened at three o'clock after school next to the  lockers. The kinds that were unavoidable if you grew up where I grew up.


Why don't I like fighting? Hmmm. Well, first of all, my wrists are sort of smallish. More than smallish, actually. They're the kind that aren't made for punching out lights. Instead they're ones better equipped for more delicate things like playing a flute or carefully flipping crepes in a non-stick pan. But not fighting. At all.

JoLai has those same dainty wrists and (which she will admit) that same angst when it comes to any kind of physical altercation. But Deanna? She wasn't afraid of NObody, do you hear me? This worked out perfectly considering her younger sisters were secretly quite the yellow-bellies.

Mmm hmmmm. 

Which reminds me of this remote memory I thought about today. . . .

When I was a high school senior and JoLai was a junior, we both cheered on the varsity cheer squad. Football and competition season were the most grueling but basketball season was rough, too, since there were always so, so many games. Since I was taking AP classes and trying to keep up with my job at Foot Locker and my school work, sometimes I couldn't make all of those games--particularly the midweek ones. Anyways. There was this one away game at a nearby school that I didn't make because I had to work that night. JoLai, however, did make it. And nothing about the evening was eventful.


Yeah, until I get a call at Foot Locker. Yes. A call at my job where we were preparing to close for the evening. It came from another (rather messy) member of our cheer squad calling (in the pre-cell era) from a pay phone to let me know that someone was trying to fight my sister JoLai. Yes. Fight her. At this away game. Which I admit, due to my lack of interest or skill in fighting, first made me feel slightly relieved that I wasn't there in person.

But that girl on my squad? She was determined to make sure that I didn't miss a thing. Much to my chagrin, she told me every part of the scene in painstaking detail. Which pretty much translated to this: Some really big, really angry, and really violent-looking girl was towering over my little sister and letting her know in no uncertain terms that she was going to kick her butt.

Yes. JoLai.

"JoLai?" I asked. "Are you sure it's. . . JoLai?" And I asked that because this sounded crazy. JoLai is the one person we all know who does not ever have enemies. In fact, to quote Harry, "anyone who has a falling out with JoLai is, by definition, an automatic asshole."

That JoLai? She's just a good egg, man. She's the original friend hoarder, the person loved by nearly everyone and pretty much stays on every person's good side. So this (messy) girl telling me of JoLai being in the middle of one of these ridiculous rumbles made absolutely zero sense.

"It's definitely JoLai." Her voice was emphatic and I could imagine the exaggerated sister-girl head nod she added for emphasis. "It's JoLai."

"Who on earth would want to fight. . . JoLai?" This confused me. Wanting to fight JoLai was like wanting to fight. . .I don't know. . .the most non-fight-provokey person ever.

"Her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend and some other chick are all up in Jo-Jo's face! They got on old sneakers and got their hair in pony tails and everything. The other chick is big, too! She was popping off her fake nails and she even put some Vaseline on her face. It was about to go down!"

Sidebar: Girls around the way who were preparing to fight? Oh, they really. . well. . . prepared to fight. They pulled their hair (real or extensions) back so it wouldn't get pulled. They cut down or even broke off their Lee press-on nails to keep them from limiting them from making fists. And Vaseline? That was when someone was serious. It made faces slippery and harder to scratch.

Mmmm hmmm.

Dead. Serious.

Not. Even. Kidding.

"Oh my God! What did JoLai do when all that happened? Where is she? What happened?" My heart was racing. I knew that JoLai was totally a lover and not a fighter so the thought of that scene made me panic.

"Who Jo-Jo? Girrrrrl, she just turned and walked away. You know her. But, girrrrrrl, they said they gon' be waiting for her when the bus drops us back off. Waitin' to knuckle up, for real."

I felt my voice getting tinier and tinier. "Really?"

"Yeeeeeeah, girl. So I was just telling you, you know, so you could meet the bus up at the school when we get off. I mean, we got her back, too, but in case somebody try to jump yo' sister I knew you'd want to know."

I tried to sound everything other than how I felt inside when I responded. "HELLS YEAH!"*

*(And by "hells yeah!" I meant "please God let those girls get lost on the way to our school.")

Errrr, yeah. (I could always talk a good game. That's for certain.)

Draper girls, circa 1987

And so. Fully clad in my black and white striped Foot Locker uniform, I clocked out and hurried out to the parking lot.  Next, I jumped in my VW Beetle (which all three of us had, by the way) and drove up to Morningside High School at like, nine in the evening, to wait for the bus.

Wait. I take that back. I did not "hurry" at all to the parking lot. In fact, lingered at the cash register, wishing I hadn't been so efficient that evening and praying that my manager would come up for some additional task that I couldn't get out of.  No such luck. Also, I so did not "jump" into my VW Beetle. A better description of what I did would be something akin to a dude walking the green mile or some medieval thief making their way to the gallows to be hung. Um yeah, like that.  After sitting with my hands quivering on the steering wheel for like ten minutes, finally I drove up to the school.


Dude. That was the longest thirty-two minutes of my entire life waiting in that parking lot, do you hear me? And eventually, the bus came chugging along and when all of the cheerleaders came trotting out of the door, I am 94% sure that I suffered immediate incontinence of all bodily fluids.

Scared? Chile please. I was more than scared. I was scurrrrrred. But that was my sister. So if somebody was going down, it would be either them or both of us together.

I carefully unglued my butt from my carseat and walked toward the bus with my knees knocking and heart pounding.

Please God give me some kind of super human power. Please God let me turn into the Bionic Woman right this second. Please God let Deanna be pulling up to at Morningside to surprise us in the nick of time to assume her role as eldest (and ass-kickingest) Draper sister. 

Yeah. So JoLai comes down the steps with this scowl on her face the minute she saw me. She was obviously wondering what I was doing up there, especially since she had a way home (her own Beetle, remember?) When I explained my reason, she just rolled her eyes and zipped up her coat. After about ten terrifying minutes of us watching and waiting, it was obvious that no one was coming.


"I don't even know why you came up here," she said to me, "You knew I wasn't going to be in a stupid fight."

"But they called me at Foot Locker and said you were. Or rather that somebody was coming up here to jump you or fight you or something."

"And what did you think we going to do when you got here? Fight somebody? Fight those girls? Kimberly, the only way that would have happened would have been if Deanna drove home from Scripps. And even then she would have been doing the fighting not us." (Before transferring to Tuskegee, Deanna spent a year and a half in Claremont, California at Scripps College for women.)

And you know? She was right.

Deanna was the ass-kicker. The fist baller-upper, the trash-talker with something to back it up with. Yeah, man. Dee was the one who always, always had our backs and who scared off any and all riff-raff that came to try and "handle" us. And unlike her younger sisters, her wrists were fully equipped for swift upper cuts and right hooks straight to the kisser.

Us? Not so much. But we had Deanna. So it never really mattered.

I clarified the story with JoLai as we walked to our cars together. I was trying to sort out whether or not our (messy) squad member (who interestingly was no where to be found once that bus emptied) was exaggerating or not.

Well. It turns out that she wasn't. Yes, it turns out that those girls truly did surround JoLai at the game right near the concessions. And they yelled in her face and bumped up against her with their shoulders, all things that usually get a girl in inner city Los Angeles knuckling up in no time. But not JoLai. Even though she had plenty of fight in her, she refused to let it be the physical kind.

At. All.

"I am NOT FIGHTING YOU!" JoLai exclaimed straight into their angry, bullying faces. She said it in that exasperated tone aimed at letting them know how asinine she perceived even the idea of fighting to be. And since I know her, I know the scene. Her fists were balled up on the ends of those tiny little wrists and her eyes were laser focused. She meant it. She wasn't fighting them. (I think she forgot to factor in the part about how sometimes people will fight you any way.)

And. Turns out that was that. She walked away and, I think, those girls were so stunned by her Ghandi-slash-Martin-esque approach to the whole situation that they were in complete shock. Hell, they're probably still standing out there with their mouths hanging wide open.


Now. As much as I love this story as well as this zen-like quality of JoLai's, I equally love Deanna's more. . . uhhh . . . .hands on approach to things. She was a little more Malcolm X than Martin and, I assure you, had that been Deanna, there would not have been any need for me to drive up to the school with an alleged plan to help fight. That ship would have already sailed from the moment somebody said the first word.

Which reminds me of one of her more famous altercation invitations for trash-talking girls on playgrounds:

"Run up or shut up."

Which meant, stop talking and let's do this. And where we grew up, that often meant that somebody, somewhere was going to be fighting very soon. Which, for us, often meant Deanna settling scores for us. And hallelujah for that.

As we grew older, of course, there were less and less opportunities for hand-to-hand combat.  But that didn't stop Deanna from having all of that spunk. Nor did it stop her from being fully prepared to go all Rocky Balboa should "self defense" call for it.

"When you're over eighteen, you can catch a case for fighting, girl. They call it assault unless you're defending yourself. But don't think I won't defend myself!"

That was one of Deanna's takes on fighting once she got older. "But what about you punching JoLai's freshman year roommate? That wasn't self defense!" I loved to rib her about that one.

"That b@%ch tried to steal from my sister! You attack my sister, then you attack me. That is self defense!"

And we'd all just laugh and laugh. Because in her mind, this was 100% true. Any wrongdoing to her sister or her close friend was something she took personally. Which meant any retaliation on her part was done so in "self defense."

Maaaan, that dude Liam Neeson has NOTHING on Deanna, do you hear me? She's probably up in heaven settling up a few vendettas as speak. That thought makes me chuckle.

Hmmm. What was even the point of all of this? Hell if I know.

You know? I was just thinking of my sissy today and missing her. I was laughing at how rigid her loyalty to us could be and how fearless she often was. But mostly, I was just thinking about how glad I was to have her on my side for all of those years.

Especially in Inglewood, California in the 80's. Ha.

Oh. I know what my point was! My friend Shanta sent me this amazing article from last Sunday's edition of the New York Times. It's this wonderful piece on the gift of siblings and, now that I think about it, is likely why I have these sorts of random tales on the brain. Those words summed us up, my siblings and me. If you haven't read it, you should--especially if you have brothers and sisters but even if you don't.

Yeah. I guess these are the kinds of things that wove us together as kids in ways that stayed intact even into our adulthood. Things like driving while terrified up to a high school parking lot to (almost) participate in a fight that, given the flimsy wrists of the two defenders, would likely not end so well. But it also means knowing that I had no choice but to do that. Because that's what we did. Even when afraid, we had each other's backs.

And you know? We still do. And sometimes, I'm still scared. Even more scared than I was for those thirty-two minutes waiting on that almost-fight. But when I am, I just call JoLai or text Will or simply close my eyes and feel Deanna. And then, like always, I feel stronger, bolder and even more ready than ever to fight.



"When I look back on all the misery
And all the heartache that they brought to me
I wouldn't change it for another chance
'Cause blood is thicker than any other circumstance."

~ Madonna

Happy Wednesday.

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . Madonna's "Keep it Together". I love this song, the lyrics and especially this version of it from Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour (one of the best tours of all time, bt dubs.) She hybridized it with Sly and the Family Stone's "It's a Family Affair" -- another of my favorite songs. 

And I had to add this trailer from one of Deanna's favorite movies "Three o'clock High" which is totally fitting for how I felt waiting for those mean girls and our bus that night! This movie was right up there with "The Princess Bride" for us. Ha. . . 


  1. This truly made me smile! :-)


    1. Yeah, Renee. You knew and loved her so you can relate to that loyalty! ;)

    2. I see that you attended Morningside HighSchool. I was wondering if you knew Amy Daugherty, my best friend from the late 80's. She also attended Morningside High.

  2. There's so much in this post to comment on -- the riveting story, the humor, the sibling stuff, your mourning and loss of Deanna, her spirit -- oh, lord, there's so much! I think I just about keeled over, though, at the photo of you and your sister and your TWO BEETLES. That is wild! Oh, and the preparations to fight: the Vaseline, the Press-On Nails? Just wow.

    1. Isn't the fight preparation funny? But I swear to you I'm not exaggerating one bit. And bt dubs, that's THREE BEETLES (didn't you peep Deanna's blue one across the street?) Dad went through a VW phase. . . ha ha

      Thank you, my friend.

  3. LMBO at your small wrist ..hahahahahaah Classic!!!!! YOU are SOOOO right. WHO would want to fight Jolai ??? The most loving person I have ever known. Maybe Songleaders were not there or I was somewhere being fast(smh) because NO WAY would I let someone jump her. Funny thing is, I would have never thought. I always thought you were the fiesty one. The confidence you had around school gave me a feeling of, "Don't try her!" Damn those little wrist. Great story.

    1. Yes! I had you fooled, too, Daphne!! Girl, please. I was constantly praying nobody would want to fight me at Morningside. Because you soon would have known my secret. I'm feisty indeed but SO not a fighter.

      Funny thing is, I'm married to another Deanna. Harry is scared of NO ONE, do you hear me? NO ONE. So I hide behind him, too. ;)

  4. I suspect that phone call was a heads up for this post??? I mostly smiled, but that first picture of the painting got me. Will posted that photo on Facebook November 15, and I went home, found the painting, and posted a picture of it...., and then all hell broke loose. Crazy, huh?

    Hilarious post! I am SO not a fighter. And I remember I rode home on the bus with the basketball team instead of with the cheer/song leaders that night. I was dating Don Don & he took me with the team to ride home on their bus. LOL! Why do I remember that vividly???

    Besides my fragile wrists, I bruise too easily to be scuffling with someone. LOL! Thanks for this post. The image of Deanna waiting in my dorm room was excellent.


    1. Girrrrl. Deanna was hilarious with that roommate of yours. That is one of the funniest things ever. I almost told the whole story but the post would've been too long and I couldn't remember all the details. I recall something about her "moving in" as the new roommate or something. That is so, so Deanna and so funny. That girl. Ha ha ha!

      Now. Will you be fighting for me if necessary? You better with those flimsy wrists.

    2. Have no fear! God brought us Claudine for that. She has more "hood" in her pinky than you and I have combined. LOL! She has both of our backs!

  5. Love the three of y'all and your Beetles, love the four of y'all on the brocade couch, and love that I can swap Deanna for Nicole in this story and the story remain the same.

    1. I love that, too, Nancy. Nicole had the ass-kicking gene, too. Love that about her. We need the Nicoles and the Deannas to stand up for us!

  6. Loved everything about this post. I read this post yesterday but I had to come back and comment that in the young family picture where all the girls have diamond print dresses on (love those Shugsie!), Deanna looks SO MUCH like Isaiah. Can you see it?


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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