(An excerpt from the yet unpublished book, Coats in the Summertime, by Devron Grant)
Reflecting on my years and the actors who’ve participated in the screenplay that is my life, I’ve always been most intrigued by the supporting cast I’ve spent so little time with, yet whose faces I can’t forget. I can’t even call them ‘relationships’. They’re a more like acquaintances. Extras. Passers by. The people you never really got to know. Faces you only had passing contact with. Folks with whom you may not have ever shared a word. For me, Stephanie Moses was one such person.
Before you reach age five, your circle of friends is relegated to the kids your parents bring around — usually their friend’s kids. I was a bit too young to really interact with one of those kids. Her name was Stephanie. She was about two years my senior. Being that young during the time that our mothers were friends, I never really knew her personally. We never said ‘hello’ in passing as we got older and I’m pretty sure she didn’t know who I was. But I knew who she was.
In one of those strange six-degrees-of-separation coincidences, during my teenage years one of my best friends growing up (we’ll call him ‘James’) happened to live right next door to Stephanie. We were about thirteen at the time and in our teenage lunchroom chats about our ‘exploits with the women in our lives that weren’t students at our school’, James would occasionally talk about her.
For some reason, parents always feel it’s their responsibility to keep you informed about the events happening in the lives of kids you grew up with, but rarely even think about now. And in this way, I was kept up to date with the play-by-play details of Stephanie’s life by my mother. One such update came when I was about fourteen.
“Devron – do you remember Stephanie Moses? Billy and Janet’s daughter?!”
(I knew that regardless of whether or not I acknowledged knowing this person, I was going to hear this update.)
“I think so. Why?”
“I just got off the phone with <fill in name of girlfriend who gossips>. She’s having a baby. A BABY!”
Because we were so close in age, admittedly it did take me by surprise. I was only beginning to learn about the connection between sexuality and conception and it came as a pretty big surprise to know that someone I even had remote contact with was capable of both.
Through my other source of information — James — I would hear additional details about her pregnancy. Although the details James provided about this time in Stephanie’s life were a bit more visceral…
“Dev – remember that girl I told you about next door? It’s wild – her and her parents are screaming at each other all the time. She got pregnant by some dude. My mother even shook me down — askin if it was mine. Yeah, right! But it’s bad man. They are really going at it. Every night.”
Despite the fact that I’d never visited James or seen Stephanie’s apartment, I developed very vivid images of what these arguments must have been like. And the footage my fourteen-year old mind produced weighed heavily on my mind.
In those days, I hadn’t really given as much thought to the religious implications of abortion. It was just this word that meant, for all intents and purposes, ‘fix the mistake’. What seemed strange to me was the fact that Stephanie didn’t seem to be ‘fixing any mistakes’. On my teenage trips to the candy store to buy comic books, jaw breakers and football cards, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of her. The bulge around her midsection was almost undeniable now.
During the times when I would pass Stephanie close enough to steal a glance in her direction (perhaps hoping that she would recognize our childhood connection), she always seemed to be staring someplace else. And because of this, in my fourteen year old mind, I was unquestionably certain that Stephanie didn’t know me. She certainly wouldn’t recognize the fact that our parents were friends. However, reflecting upon life now, I wonder if perhaps she did? Perhaps her mother would fill her in on the play-by-play details of my boring teenage life in the way that mine did about her more eventful one.
There was a day when I passed Stephanie that I remember very clearly. It was one of those ordinary moments that is forever imprinted on the surface of your brain. I wouldn’t read The Scarlet Letter for a few years from then, but when I did read it, she came to mind and particularly on this day.
It was a clear autumn afternoon. Strangely, there weren’t many other people around. Nobody to steal our attention away from anything but each other. As we drew nearer in passing on a narrow concrete walkway, my shy, fourteen year old self conscious nature took hold. I tried with all the acting skills I could muster up to focus on something else — a tree, the green park bench, the clouds, the monkey bars with the chipping orange paint in our playground, – but in a moment that may have been destined, my subconscious curiosity must have gotten the best of me. Our eyes met. We probably locked eyes for less than two seconds, but in a look between ‘almost strangers,’ the glance that she shared with me imparted a deep sense of pain and despair. We spoke no words, but her look said everything…
‘Yep, I’m the one your mom talked about. The one who fucked the guy and made the mistake. Devron…(I CAN call you ‘Devron’, right? I mean, we grew up together), it all happened so fast. I thought it would be fun, but it was scary. And it certainly wasn’t worth the changes that it put my life through. And I can tell by looking that you probably aren’t in the same position and can’t really relate. But despite how boring you think your life is and how everybody else is out doing stuff that’s far more interesting than going to buy football cards, hoping to get a Tony Dorsett or a Terry Bradshaw, just remember that things can be worse. A whole lot worse. You can be me. Now, I’m going to look away and continue on my path as we always do. But someday I’ll need you to remember this look we exchanged. Don’t forget me. I don’t know you that well, but please — friend — don’t forget me.’
As the years went by (and as my mother continued providing me with the play-by-play details of the lives of kids I didn’t really know or care about) I would see Stephanie with a pretty little girl in tow. Her daughter was beautiful. If the truth be told, Stephanie herself was beautiful. And her mother was beautiful. And looking at the family, it was this beautiful chain of succession seeing three generations of women. But sadly, it was never all three of them together. It would only be the child and one other.
When I saw Stephanie’s mother during the time that Stephanie was pregnant and shortly after, she always seemed to carry a hint of detachment from the rest of the world. At least that’s how the camera in my mind captured her. I don’t know that she ever recognized me as the chunky kid she’d see when she visited my mother. And that was a bit odd. Most of my mother’s friends recognized me. They always made sure I knew who they were. But as for Mrs. Moses, it was a bit different. Perhaps she just didn’t make the connection. But it felt more like she was just creating this shell between herself and the rest of the immediate neighborhood who knew what happened. For me it wasn’t a big deal at all. I just thought she was pretty. But she had already decided — at least when it came to folks like me — to just focus on the clouds until you get where nobody can see you and then take the mask off.
It’s been about twenty-five years since I gave thought to Stephanie Moses, but tonight I was forced to revisit my childhood. My mother calls with one final play-by-play detail about her life:
“Devron – do you remember Stephanie Moses?? Billy and Janet’s daughter. They lived in Building 5. You kids used to play together when you were very young! Well, I just got off the phone with <insert same name of gossiping friend…probably same one who brought the news of the pregnancy twenty-five years earlier>….”
“She killed herself!! She shot herself in the head tonight. It’s even on the Internet. Oh my God! This is terrible!!”
My mother is truly a compassionate soul. She can’t make it through the evening news or a Lifetime made for television movie the way that I and everyone else does by detaching ourselves and our lives from the faces and the stories. She still sees the family whose mother won’t be coming home because of a car accident. Or the country that lives with warlords forcing eight year olds to work like slaves. Or the little girl she remembers babysitting who just took her own life today.
I went to the world’s knowledge authority (Google, duh) to attempt to find these ‘Internet stories’ that my mother talked about. I didn’t need to search long. There was a story about a local hometown girl who became a police sergeant and who got into a fight with her girlfriend and then shot herself at her home in Long Island. She is pictured with President Obama during a September 11 commemorative event, as she was a member of the ‘ceremonial unit’.
I’m not going to pretend to know Stephanie. And there’s no way I can fill in the blanks of twenty plus years. Beyond a certain point, there wasn’t anybody left to fill me in on the play-by-play details of her life. But I guess my sadness comes from the feeling I can’t shake that somehow this tragedy has roots back to when we were kids. Maybe all she really needed was a friend to help her through the rough period of being a 15-year old with a child.
I wonder if somehow the community that saw her and probably pointed and whispered at her isn’t the least bit complicit in all of this as well. Why didn’t we embrace the family and maybe lend a hand? Could things have been made just a little easier for a mother dealing with the social embarrassment of being talked about and for a child learning to become a mom?
I know it’s a ridiculous bit of unnecessary guilt to bear. She probably became a completely different person in the years that I hadn’t seen her. And I only had the smallest piece of the puzzle that was her life to begin with. Perhaps I peeked in at only the most tumultuous of times and drew an inaccurate conclusion — like flipping the channel and finding the shower scene in Psycho and imagining that the entire movie was about stabbing blond women in compromising situations. I hope that the scenes of her life that I happened to catch were just ‘shower scenes’ in an otherwise amazing life where she became a high ranking police officer, found a home in the suburbs, and lived a wonderful life with her daughter and girlfriend until a situation arose that she felt she had no way of dealing with.
Despite the ridiculous sentiment that somehow a suicide in 2012 is in any way related to an experience that happened twenty-five years earlier, my heart is reminded of a clear autumn day and a knowing glance from a girl I probably should have known.