Shades of Grey in the Circle of Life
Tammy Elizabeth Southin
Estelle beamed with pride as her daughter Tonya walked across the stage to receive her university degree. Tonya’s hard work over the last four years had been worth every ounce of struggle, both for herself and her parents. As Tonya flashed her dazzling smile and shook hands with the academic staff, Estelle glanced at her husband Mark. He was too busy snapping dozens of photos to see his wife’s look of pride and admiration, but he knew anyways. He had always been Estelle’s rock, her safe harbor when the storms of life lashed around her, and made every one of the past twenty-six years an incredible journey.
But for a brief moment, Estelle no longer felt like the proud mother of a Harvard graduate, but more like a young woman ready to take on the world – the woman she had once been. Her dreams of writing about the kinds of relationships she knew were ahead of their time and she stuffed them away.
After the ceremonies Tonya ran towards her parents, her face glowing with the relief of never having to write another essay again, or at least until law school.
“Oh Mom, Dad, this has been the best day ever! I can’t believe it is finally here!” Tonya’s arms wrapped around her mother’s strong shoulders, shoulders that had carried the family through some very tough times when the world was less understanding.
“My baby girl is all grown up now,” Estelle sighed. “It just seems like yesterday that you and I were…” Estelle’s reminiscing was cut short as a tall young man with short blond hair and large green eyes came over to Tonya and put his arm around her.
“Oh Mom, Dad, I want you to meet Josh. We have been dating since our junior year and well, it looks like he’s a keeper.” Tonya smiled as she hooked her arm around Josh’s free arm while he shook hands and endured the usual parental scrutiny.
“I am so pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Miller, Mrs. Miller. Tonya has told me so much about you; I feel like I already know you.”
“Tonya is heading to law school this fall. What are your plans Josh?” There was Mark being the dad again, as he pumped Josh’s hand.
“Oh, we are both going to the same school. We both plan to study human rights law.” Josh squirmed a little under the quizzical looks from the Millers.
“Oh, Tonya never told us she was going to have a study partner. Welcome to our family, Josh. I hope we can get to know you before the summer is over.” Estelle’s words flowed about as easily as sticky molasses. Tonya had never once mentioned this Josh boy, and now here he was. Why had she kept him a secret for so long?
Estelle knew full well why, for she had been through all of this herself. Meeting Mark had been the best thing that happened to her while studying at Yale. But that fateful meeting set the stage for a lifetime of oddities that most of her friends never knew. While Tonya and Josh stepped away to hug some fellow grads, who should happen along as if on cue but that old snoop Mrs. Davis, who loved stirring the pot.
“Why Estelle, so good to see you. You too, Mark. You must be so proud of Tonya. I don’t know how you both do it. It must have been so very difficult raising a child when one of you happens to be whi-”
Estelle knew the drill and cut the word in half with the precision of a table saw. “Wild, yes wild with pride. We both are just wild with pride for our daughter. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have to get going to make our dinner reservations.”
“Estelle, you didn’t have to defend me like that. I don’t want you to ever feel somehow lacking for my being, well you know, wild.” Mark smiled a nervous smile at his wife. In all their years of marriage, they had witnessed just about every kind of taunt, stare, whisper and glare. But Estelle was the strength that pushed all that aside.
“Mark dear, I just figured we needed one less comment on what we are.”
“Looks like our daughter is about to follow in our footsteps. Do you think she’ll have it as rough as we did?”
Estelle remembered watching her daughter dancing the other day while the Rhianna and Maroon 5 video was on MTV. Estelle was mesmerized by the glamour and the thrill of watching a black woman and a white man perform together; how their voices blended into one sound of sweet unity.
“I certainly hope not, and it looks like things might be easier if not perfect.”
Later that night Estelle wandered over to the hall closet, dragging her dining room chair. Standing on it, she reached to the back of the closet’s top shelf and pulled out a long, flat box. Hesitating for just a minute, Estelle glanced around feeling like a kid who had just located her hidden Christmas presents. No, those footsteps were only the dog’s. Mark was upstairs surfing the net. Estelle sat at the dining room table and carefully opened the dusty box. Its lid was slightly cracked with age. She peered at the contents.
Dipping her toes into the sandy beach, Diana smiled as she watched Troy warm up for his dip in the ocean. Diana felt her heart race as she studied his strong sculpted arms and tight flat stomach. He waved and blew her a kiss. Diana was thrilled that they had broken with convention and…
“Darn it, these pages are out of order. This is chapter three. What is going on here?” Estelle frowned. No one ever knew this even existed. It was her private manuscript of the story she wrote as a sophomore. The official one for her literature class was the safer version where two similar people got together. But she was told to write about what you know. Well, what she knew was falling in love with a man who loved her and how they wanted to spend a lifetime together. Only thing was no one else saw it that way.
Estelle located the pages and shuffled them into the correct order. Forgetting about her trespasser, she began to read and felt the words leaping off the page. They didn’t flow as nicely as they did in the many books written by Dahlia Rose. Estelle loved ‘Paradise Found’ so much she read it twice. Now here was a woman who could write about love and family and focus on the people, not just their outward appearances.
Estelle was so absorbed in reading that she never heard Mark come down the stairs and stand behind her. He peered over Estelle’s shoulder; his glasses perched on the edge of his nose.
“What are you doing, Stell?”
Estelle jumped in her chair before turning to confront her intruder. But it was hard to stay mad at those bluer than blue eyes under that shock of grey hair.
“I just thought I would go through some old junk.”
“May I see?”
“It’s nothing. Just some stupid old papers from college. I should have tossed them out long ago.”
“Don’t be silly. Tonya told me they were great and…” Mark realized his slip and felt his face redden.
“Tonya? What was she doing with this stuff? How did she…?” Estelle’s eyes widened as she pictured her daughter rummaging through the papers, giggling at the wrong times.
“Tonya asked me a few months back why you never had that published. She thought it was great seeing two people together, like us.”
“More like an episode straight out of the Jeffersons,” Estelle sighed. “It was something no one would ever touch back then.”
“Times change and Tonya’s in a whole new world. Maybe now is the time to give this gift to the world.”
“Times change do they? Just look at today and that old Mrs. Davis. Listening to her was like stepping back three decades ago.” Estelle recalled Tonya singing a song by Beyonce and Justin Timberlake, although Estelle had no idea who those people were. Tonya had been doing a lot of that lately, pointing out interracial relationships. Now it all made sense. She was preparing her parents for Josh, just as they had prepared their parents years earlier.
“That woman is a walking time warp. She can’t stop progress no matter how hard she tries. You know, in a sense, you and I are pioneers. We forged the trail for Tonya.” Mark sat beside Estelle and touched her arm.
“So this story is a workable premise after all?” Estelle smiled at Mark.
“You should know. Look at the years of research you’ve done. Now I’ll make the coffee so we can get down to sorting these papers out.”