For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When Popeye’s Chicken Was Enuf
I couldn’t even make it past the drive-through window at Popeye’s without being recognized.
“Are you that lady?”
I almost didn’t hear her, but she said it again. This second time she grew more confident and spoke a little louder and the question was enough to shake me out of the mopey daze I’d been in since my life had begun to crumble away from me.
“Are you that lady on the news?”
She was smiling and serious about getting an answer. Much more serious about that than getting me my wings and biscuit.
This woman intended to hold me hostage with her gaze and my chicken in her hand until her curiosity was satisfied. As I became more focused on the confrontation, I recognized the mean smile behind her eyes and the stupid grin on her face. They both said she knew exactly who I was before she asked. The whole question-answer bullshit was merely a formality.
“Chicken Girl” only wanted me to answer so she could laugh in my face.
Then she’d ask me the questions that hadn’t been addressed on TV, especially since every news outlet had a different accounting of what happened, all of them sensationalizing an eccentric story, but none of them reporting the truth.
I really couldn’t believe that any of this was happening. I had driven through this Popeye’s virtually every night for most of three years before going home after my daily commute. It was conveniently close to my home and always open, but this was the first time anyone ever attempted to engage me in conversation about anything other than chicken. Quite frankly, no one ever even made eye contact. . .
Every night, I pulled up to the speaker and said, “Give me three wings, mash, no gravy, and a biscuit. No drink.”
The speaker replied, “Pull around for your total.”
I’d pull around, pay, grab my chicken, and go home, eating my meal quietly right before laying back, conking out, and then coming to consciousness the next morning. Just so I could do it all again. But like everything in my world, things had somehow changed, even at Popeye’s.
In this moment, the chicken girl was acting as if she was someone to whom I was accountable and she was waiting on me to humiliate myself in one of three ways:
One, by being ashamed.
I could burn rubber and get the hell away from Popeye’s and she’d laugh and tell her friends, maybe even post it on social media.
Two, by lying.
I could say I wasn’t that lady when we both knew I was the one in the mugshot, even if the story wasn’t true. Then she’d laugh, tell her friends and still post it somewhere on social media.
Three, by conceding my identity.
I could admit who I was, defend my innocence, giving the chicken girl an exclusive she’d be sure to laugh about before posting it on social media and telling all her friends.
Although I found the entire exchange tasteless and inappropriate on her part, I thought it was an opportunity to regain my footing. I mean, I had been hiding out in my house for days. It had now been two weeks since the story first hit the media and spread like wildfire and in that time I’d even had a reporter knocking on my door while the camera man tried setting up his equipment so he could get an angle on my humble little house. Of course I watched from an ever so slightly raised corner of a venetian blind I had taken ten minutes to painstakingly situate to avoid detection.
I stayed indoors as long as I could before I had to venture out to restock my groceries and supplies, but because I feared another public shaming at the grocery store, I had opted for drive-ins where I could make my order and receive my food with a fast get-away as many times as I needed until things blew over for me.
Four years ago, I had left the comfort of coaching in small-town Indiana and had moved to the ATL where I had acquired a coaching job in a large predominantly middle class community. I just knew in my heart that the opportunity would be the finishing touch on what I thought was an already admirable, if not gleaming resume. I truly envisioned this as the short walkway to my dream of retiring from public education to become a full time basketball coach at a small college somewhere.
After over twenty years in public education, I decided I’d done my time in the “trenches.”
I’d taught, mentored, mothered, and coached for most of my career in a community chronically dubbed the murder capital. I’d had my fill of breaking up fights, responding to letters from incarcerated students, and viewing the bodies of teenagers who’d barely had a chance to live. Shit, I’d even had a student murdered by a serial killer. Yes, I had “done my time.”
In this moment, however, I was at a loss. I really didn’t want to cause a scene by verbally chastising Chicken Girl in an angry black woman kind of way. I’d already had enough negative press and I had no intent on walking into the restaurant to formally complain to the manager. That was too much exposure and exactly why I was in the drive-through in the first place. I was basically paralyzed in this space of scrutiny because I honestly didn’t know what to do.
Here I was being judged by people across the country with my mugshot trending on social media when I’d never thought I’d ever be any more than a blip on the radar of women’s basketball. Now, here I was at Popeye’s, hungry, annoyed, and ready to take back what was mine, but clueless as to how I could.
I met Chicken Girl’s gaze with tears of hurt in my eyes and said, “Yes, that’s me, but you can’t believe everything you see on TV. Did you know that in the two minutes it took for you to watch that story on the news, my career has been ruined and my life has been changed forever?”
No longer smiling, the chicken girl had to close her gaping mouth to say, “No m’am.”
“Well, it has and I don’t know how I’m going to get it back, but you can help me by giving me my chicken.”
She quickly handed over the bag.
Right before I pulled off I caught her eye, looking deeply, searching for the ridicule she had initially pushed out at me through her throne-of-a-drive-through-window.
Finding none, I said, “And pray for me, why don’t you.”
“Yes m’am,” she whispered and nodded her head. “I will.”