by Myles Abroad
A story about fitting in at college.
What About Your Roots?
Monica arrived late to the party; deliberately. She stood on the doorstep of the luxurious home in one of the most opulent neighborhoods in the city. A warm spring breeze caressed her bare arms as she rang the doorbell. Her stomach fluttered and her heart raced, waiting for someone to answer; tired of pretending to be someone she wasn't, afraid she would be found out. Her 'friend' from college, Crystal, answered the door with an exaggerated smile, followed with the flourish of a kiss on both cheeks.
"Monique! How good to see you. Come in," she said.
"Thank you, Crystal," Monica replied, as she followed her in; no longer batting an eye at the glamorization of her name, Crystal had dubbed her Monique, on the first day of college, simply based on her assumption she was wealthy. It had stuck and Monica did not object, after all, she was instantly embraced by a group of popular socialites.
"Your dress is fabulous. You have to tell me where you got it," Crystal said.
Monica looked down at her green flowing evening gown and smiled, thanking her lucky stars she had a natural talent for fashion. She wore a combination of items she picked up at the local Goodwill, carefully tailoring them to resemble fashion designs she had seen on the internet.
"Mother surprised me with it. I begged her to tell me where she bought it, but she wouldn't say. It must have been expensive though," she replied
"I can tell!" Crystal said as she led her towards a set of double doors, the jarring sound of jazz and a hubbub of voices emanating from within. They walked into a huge ballroom, which Monica guessed was larger than the house she grew up in. A jazz band was playing at the side of the room, tables were laden with hors-d'oeuvres and elegantly dressed guests mingling on the floor and the veranda at the end of the room. A waiter appeared at her elbow offering glasses of champagne which she took quickly, masking a, "Thank you", with a cough. Old habits die hard and ignoring the less privileged was imperative to maintaining her fade.
"Are you ok, darling," Crystal asked, taking her by the arm and guiding her towards the veranda. Monica nodded with what she hoped was a relaxed smile. "I'll bring you out to our friends. They're outside enjoying the fabulous evening."
They made their way through the guests and walked out into the fresh air of the open veranda, overlooking the carefully manicured garden. Monica saw the small huddle of five of their 'friends' from college, all impeccably dressed in their evening wear. She was relieved to see that Brad had arrived. Of all her 'friends', he was the only one she felt comfortable with, but not enough to let down her veil.
"Look who joined us," Crystal announced, as they turned towards Monica, warmly greeting her.
Sheila, the self-appointed leader of the group, came forward, hugged her and kissed her on each cheek. "It's so good you could make it, Monique. I was just saying to Brad that I hoped you would come."
"I'm glad you came, Monique," he said smiling. "Perhaps we could take a stroll across the garden later?"
Monica wanted to say "Let's go now," but caution dictated a more reserved reply. "I would love to, Brad." She said with a noncommittal smile.
Sheila laughed and raised her glass. "Before you love birds wander off, I think we should raise ourselves a toast since this will be our last social this semester. We made a mark in our first year in college."
"We certainly did," Crystal said, as they each took a drink, Monica taking a small sip and suppressing the urge to spit it out.
"They're building the transgender bathroom now and we started the petition." Brian piped up, nervously pushing his glasses back up his nose.
"I made sure we were all mentioned in the college rag," Lisa said.
Sheila smiled and gently put her hand on Lisa's shoulder. "It helps when you're the editor, doesn't it Lisa."
Monica smiled, relieved, the paper didn't have wide circulation. What would her family have thought?
"Or what about the protest when Trump was elected," Gwyneth said, smiling. "Monique, you said you didn't like to get involved in politics but I bet you're glad now since the picture of you holding the 'Not My President' sign made the front page of the local paper."
Monica struggled to maintain her smile, cringing from the embarrassment and guilt she still felt. It had been a day she wanted to forget.
Lisa started to laugh. "You remember the audacity of that guy who said he supported Trump."
"That was stupid," Gwyneth said. "He learned his lesson when he was jumped and beaten up. What was his name again?"
"Rob McKenzie," Monica said a little too quickly, and everyone gave her a questioning stare. His name plagued her, though. He stood up for what he believed and paid for it. Something she should have done.
"That wasn't right," Brad said quickly. "He had every right to state his opinion."
"I'm surprised at you Brad," Lisa said, staring sternly at him. "After all, he was just one of them Christian nuts."
"Yea, and he didn't believe in evolution." Brian squeaked.
"What a nut," Crystal said, shaking her head. "I'm glad he dropped out. We don't need any ignorant rednecks around here."
They all laughed, but Monica was finding it hard to play the charade anymore. She masked her lack of humor by taking another sip of her drink, looking across the rim of the glass at Brad who wasn't laughing either. He noticed her glance and smiled warmly at her.
Sheila quickly waved her arms to get their attention. "Brian and Gwyneth came up with a great suggestion," she said.
Brian, cleared his throat while Gwyneth gave him an encouraging rub on the back and then held his arm. "You heard about that football player kneeling when the anthem is played, right?" he said in his high-pitched, nasal voice.
They nodded, and Lisa spoke up. "He's making a stand against the indiscriminate police shootings of black people."
"That's right." Gwyneth piped up. "But his latest move is to walk out on the field in socks with cartoons of pigs dressed in police uniforms. Radical, isn't it?"
"Police are pigs," Sheila chimed in.
Brian, gaining some confidence, straightened up excitedly. "We bought the same socks for all of us to wear at the field and track meet tomorrow. We can pose in the socks and maybe we'll end up in the last issue of the college paper. Our grand finale."
"I'll make sure that happens, Brian," Lisa said.
"That's great," Crystal said. "We'll really make a statement."
Gwyneth reached into a bag and handed each of them a pair of knee length socks depicting the political sentiment. Monica accepted the bundle trying to hide her disgust; the pig caricatures jarring with her conscience.
"Thank you," Monica said. "How... thoughtful." She attempted to smile, took another sip of champagne and grimaced again at its taste. 'What's wrong with a can of Coke?' She thought, furiously squeezing the socks in her hand. She turned to Brad, maintaining her smile. "Maybe we can take that walk now," she said.
"Certainly," he replied as they gracefully nodded at the others and walked down the steps into the garden. They followed a path through flower beds, meandering in between elegant hedging, the late spring blooms filling the air with their scent. Dethatched from her surroundings, though, her thoughts were spinning in her head. After all the compromises she had made, just to be accepted, wearing those socks was something she wouldn't do. The proud memories of her Father coming home from work in his immaculate blue uniform filled her mind, the gun holstered and the badge shining. He was a respected man and deserved it. She clenched her hands into fists and walked faster.
Without thinking, she took a sip of champagne, spat in disgust and angrily flung the glass into the bushes, realizing she had just thrown away sixty bucks, equivalent to an eight-hour shift at the fast food restaurant she worked. 'Who was she kidding?' she thought bitterly. She was taken by surprise when Brad gently pulled on her arm to stop her. She had nearly forgotten he was there.
"Wait up a sec," he said. "Why are you so upset?"
She whirled around and faced him. "I just can't-do this anymore." She said, tears starting to sting her eyes, overcome by the guilt of being ashamed of her upbringing. She was proud of her parents though, proud they both worked hard and sacrificed. As she left for college, her Father's parting words echoed, "I'm proud of you, Monica. Don't forget your roots." In frustration, she threw the socks into a rose bush, where they hung glaringly amongst the flowers.
Brad started to laugh. "I guess you don't like the socks, then."
He cut his laughter short, though, as she glared at him. "Look," she said, "I have something to say and I don't care what you think of me. I haven't told anyone, but I'm not rich. In fact, I got a scholarship and I work part-time. My parents both work hard. We supported Trump. I voted for him! I don't care about transgender bathrooms or anything transgender and I'm a Christian. I hate jazz, champagne, and all that fancy food. And on top of all that, my Dad's a cop. I'm proud of him and I'm not wearing those stupid socks!"
She stood there, glaring at him, her hands on her hips and breathing heavily. Brad smiled at her and apprehensively put out a hand to her.
"But, Monique...," he started.
"And my name is not Monique, it's Monica!" she shouted.
"Ok, Monica?" he said, as he offered his hand again, a smile breaking out across his face. "I'm Brad and I'm pleased to finally meet you."