Education Opinion

Reading Toni Morrison

By Jim Randels — March 20, 2008 7 min read
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Our students at both Douglass and McMain have read Toni Morrison’s Beloved this spring. Many of them are in the middle of working with some of our staff and graduates to develop a play that incorporates their writing about violence against women and their reading of Beloved.

Hearing them talk about the writing they are doing calls to mind a writing that Brittany Philson, a 2007 graduate of Douglass and Students at the Center, completed last year when we were discussing Toni Morrison’s novel. Brittany’s essay, featured in today’s blog, represents another of the many ways that our students write in response to class discussions about the literature they read.

My Dream (Pass Me Over)
Brittany Philson

It’s cold; I’m sleeping and singing to myself. The only reason I’m asleep is because it was boring today. I was kind of upset, because someone didn’t invite me to her birthday party. I guess she was having so much fun that she forgot about me. So I just went to sleep.

While I’m deep in sleep, I’m trying to think of places to go for Thanksgiving. My sister, Centrelle, called me a lil’ while ago with an invitation to come help her cook for turkey day, but I don’t know if I want to have good food with no conversation to go with it. And besides, Baton Rouge is just too boring for me and my wild ways. So I decided to just wait and see if I got any more offers, excluding the ones that I’d have to work for food.

Then it happened; someone violated my silence.

My “Me” time.

My Brittany vs. herself session.

I was awakened by this woman whom I first thought was Della Reese from the TV show Touched by an Angel.
She was standing over me with light shining from her body like someone was standing behind her with a flashlight. She looked surprised that I was actually looking back at her.

When I rose up to give her my attention, her eyes popped open real wide like she hadn’t seen me in ages.

Now I’m standing here wondering, “Who’s this lady who just woke me up and is staring at me like I’m a brand new car she brought home from the car dealership?”

I think she wants to say something.

I hope she says something, since she woke me up.

It must be important.

It better be important.

I gave her a few more seconds to give me a once over, since she couldn’t stop looking and wouldn’t start talking.

Then I started to do the same thing she was doing to me, except I would glance at her. And every time I got a good look, I would see a certain thing that she had that would remind me of this special lady I knew when I was younger.

She was a fairly tall woman with the best chocolate skin I’d ever seen on a woman of her age. The aroma that came from her body was the familiar smell of someone who would spend hours in the tub on a Saturday morning with vanilla lingering behind her with every move she made. And I couldn’t help but notice that her fingers were just as long and narrow as mine. Her wardrobe looked very similar to what my mama was wearing when she went to church that Saturday morning and wasn’t home the next day to cook Sunday’s dinner. She was well groomed and seemed like she had never worked a day in her life. Her character seemed free from the hardships of life.

The last thing I remember that I was thinking before she spoke was, “I hope I look like her when I get to her age.” I’ve never seen anyone look this perfect in person, except for the celebrities I’ve seen on TV. They don’t even have anything on this angelic woman standing in front of me.

The first thing that came out of her perfectly shaped lips was “Brittany.”

“Yeah,” I responded while rubbing my eyes, making sure that I was seeing correctly.

“Do you remember me?” she asked, smiling ear to ear.

“I don’t know.”


“Am I supposed to remember you?” I said a little too violently, not meaning to sound that way. It must have been my body telling me to get rid of this stranger interrupting my beauty rest.

“You don’t have to be so mean to me,” she said while cuing me to sit down next to her on my bed.

“So how are you doing in school? Still making A’s on that report card like you’re supposed to?”

Even though I didn’t know her, I felt the need to lie to her because she knew me. So I told her, “yeah,” knowing I hadn’t seen an A since the ninth grade.

“I know,” she said, staring me in my eyes.

“You know what?” I asked, looking at her like she was crazy and hoping that she did not just respond to me, when I was thinking to myself.

“I know you haven’t been doing your duties in school lately, and I know you’ve been hiding from your Marine recruiter. I know you’re desperately trying to give up and run away from the two things that mean most to you, because you think no one cares about what you’re doing for yourself.”

Then I slowly turned my head towards the floor, wondering who told her this, feeling like I’d just been busted for a criminal offense. I know I would never tell anyone that I’m basically trying to screw up my life. Damn, where did she come from, and why is she spying on me?

“You’re right, you didn’t tell me. I’ve been watching you. You can’t get away with everything. You do know that, right?”

Then I looked at her. I laughed because by now I caught on to her listening to my thoughts. Then that laugh soon turned into a despised look when I suddenly realized that, if she’s listening to me now, then she’s been listening to me think when she’s not around. I wanted my thoughts to disappear like Dorothy did when she tapped her heels three times. Something told me to sleep with my shoes on. I cracked a mischievous smile.

“You’re just like your father with your own inside jokes to yourself. I can’t help but laugh at you when I see you laughing for no reason.”

That was nice of her. Comparing me to the man who didn’t call me for my 18th birthday. She really hit a soft spot there. Talking about watching me, you should’ve been watching him, making his ass suffer. Reminding me that I was living in a world with a worthless father.

“Brittany that’s not my child, and besides you never cared for that man anyway.”

I wanted to laugh so badly. Because she knows me better than I know myself.

She was right, but he could have called.

Now I’m sitting here stuck within the conversation, not knowing what to say next. I don’t want to give her false information, so she can bust me in my lie.

My mind just started to feel different, like someone was knocking on it, telling it to pay attention. Something deep down told me to ask myself if this was her: The woman I promised myself to never forget.

I felt her hand touch mine. She was looking at me again with joy in her eyes. I think she was happy that her slow-minded child finally came to her senses.

I don’t wanna cry. I’m not gonna cry. I don’t want her to see how soft I am over her.

“It’s too late for that you big crybaby,” she said, laughing her eyes out at me.

“What are you talking about? I’ve never cried for nothing a day in my life.”

I felt grateful that god had finally answered one of my 4,017 cries to let me have just one more memorable conversation with my favorite lady.

Looking at her, I was surprised that she was actually sitting there laughing at me. That moment made me reminisce about the last time I made her laugh.

“Yeah! You wouldn’t cry over something somebody did you, but you’ll cry like there’s no tomorrow when it comes to me.

“You remember that day you were crying because you missed me terribly. You was in the bathroom on the floor between the toilet and the tub when you asked me why did I leave you here, why didn’t I take you with me because you didn’t like being in this world with a bunch of people who don’t understand you.

“Or the time when you was sleep, and you started to cry because you was wishing that I was there with you.

“And my favorite one yet was when after you read the story you wrote about me, you went home and cried, because you didn’t know you were ready to let the world know how I left my baby here alone so suddenly.

“Ooh, and you know what else I know?”

“What else?” I replied anxiously, wanting to hear more from her since she was making my spirit rise with every true word she spoke.

“I know exactly why you didn’t mention my last request in that story.”

“Why?” I looked at her confused, like she was a foreign language that I was getting tired of trying to learn. I wished she would just tell me.

“Because you already knew all I wanted for you was to live right. And besides that, I also wanted you to know that I love you no matter what you choose to do, so stop letting simple things get to you. Now stop crying for me and be the strong young lady that I know you are.”

That’s her. She’ll break you down and pick you up while doing it.

There was no need for me to open my mouth and spoil the moment.

She got up, looked at me, smiled and shook her head, and kissed me on my forehead.

“Good night Brittany.”

She must know what I’m about to ask her.

Walking off, singing a song, reassuring me that she heard what her daughter wanted.

I wanted to see her again.

So I lay back down, excited and disappointed at the same time, like I was one of those people who was going to be waiting in line for a big Christmas sale after the Thanksgiving Holiday.

“Mom I want to tell you one last thing,” I said turning towards her while leaning on my elbow.

She stopped dead in her tracks and stood tall like she was about to be announced the winner of a million dollar award.

I smiled at her proudly and told her:

“Happy Birthday,” and Thank you for keeping (My Dream) alive.

The opinions expressed in Student Stories: A New Orleans Classroom Chronicle are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.