The craft aisle at CVS was Tyra’s favorite. It was as overwhelming as that of an office supply store and infinity more interesting than a grocery. She especially loved opening the packets of crayons and markers to test their brightness, fluidity and smells against one another. A CVS stock-boy in his employee smock walked into the aisle as she opened yet another pack of markers. They made eye contact for a few seconds, but he turned around and walked away.
While deciding which box of markers to pick, some movement in the next aisle caught her eye. Looking through a slot between items on the shelf, she could see Lonni on the other side. She was holding two boxes in her hands and Winn was standing very close to her. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, but she knew it was an adult conversation that her mother would tell her to stay out of. But she couldn’t help overhearing the word “pregnancy”. That’s a big word. She thought it had something to do with babies, and almost blurted out a question before realizing that she’d blow her cover. She often got scolded by her parents for wandering in the store alone.
“Is that your kid?” the store clerk said to Lonni, pointing his thumb to the right of him. “She’s opening our merchandise.” Tyra ducked down in her aisle, as if she was tall enough to be spotted over the shelving, trying to hide behind her box of markers.
“I’m sorry, sir, she must’ve lost me,” Lonni said nonchalantly. She walked around the shelving and stood Tyra up with a disapproving glance. “Miss Cruz, please come with me,” she said in her best principal voice. Then, holding her by the wrist, she led her toward the checkout.
At the counter, Tyra waited in line behind Lonni and Winn like an adult would, waiting to give the cashier her money and count the change like her mom had taught her to do. She took the five-dollar bill out and examined the fine print, sounding out words aloud as best she could. Her recitation was interrupted by Lonni and Winn arguing over which debit card the cashier should take.
“No take mine,” Lonni was saying, but it was Winn who aggressively pushed his card toward the cashier.
Tyra squeezed in between the two and handed her five dollars to the clerk. “Just take mine!” She chimed in, which made all the adults laugh.
The clerk accepted Winn’s card and Tyra’s cash. He handed back her $2.38 change. She cupped her little hands together as she took the small pile of cash, then she dropped the thirty-eight cents into the cancer donation jar.
As they were walking to the car, Lonni and Winn were walking closely together but silent.
“Go ahead and get in Tyra,” Lonni said pressing the key fob to unlock her car.
Tyra jumped into her booster seat in the back and fastened the seat belt. She saw Lonni and Winn exchanging words before Lonnie got into the car.
“I saw what you were holding in the store,” said Tyra while Lonnie closed her door and buckled in. Lonni acted like she didn’t know what Tyra was talking about. “You know, the pink box you were holding – it’s my favorite color – can I see it?” Tyra thought she had bought crayons too.
“No, you can’t.” Lonni responded, a little exasperated.
“But boxes that color aren’t for adults. Obviously. It’s for a kid,” Tyra explained, matter-of-factly.
Lonni tried to ignore her, looking at her through the rearview mirror, but curiosity got the better of her and she asked, “Okay, please explain to me how the color pink is for kids.”
“Well, girl kids, anyway,” Tyra corrected. “You know, it’s like when you’re a baby and they give girl kids a pink hat, just like I had. And Barbie likes pink, and little girls play with Barbie, and it’s just a cute color. But adult girls like adult girl colors, like red. My mom wears red. Her lipstick is red, her purses are red, and even her bra is red. I can tell you one thing; my mom never washed any red underwear of my dad’s.”
“TYRA!” Lonni interrupted. She’d didn’t like where this was going. Too much information from a six-year-old. Kids these days – they seem to know so much at such an early age. Lonni couldn’t remember being like that. Would here own child be even more precocious?
These were the things that Lonni found annoying of Tyra. Of course, Tyra could trigger all the non-conservative views Lonni supported, like disassociating from people who used labels and gender-bias. For instance, there was the time that Tyra asked to see her closet. She then insisted that Lonnie was not a girly girl because she didn’t own many dresses. Or even worse, Tyra once overheard Lonni and her mom talking about wanting to make Tyra a big sister very soon.
“What about you Lon?” Angela asked, “When are you thinking about settling down?” Lonni firmly explained that she did not want any babies.
“You don’t want babies?” Tyra exclaimed as she walked around the corner to where her mother and Lonni sat. “You know you’re supposed to have babies, right? You’re a girl!”
That was the time Tyra learned to “stay out of grown folks’ business.”
The car drove on in silence, and Tyra began coloring with her new crayons in her book. She glanced up to see Lonni with a furrowed brow, as if she was thinking hard about something.
Tyra tried to guess. “So, is that guy your boyfriend?” she asked. “What are boyfriends, Tyra?” Lonnie challenged.
Lonni sighed and rolled her eyes, turning up her music louder to block out any further inquiries from the backseat. Young Tyra had no clue why Lonni wasn’t answering her questions like she usually would. Just then, Lonni’s phone rang. She saw the ID, swiping right to answer before the voicemail did, while simultaneously extending the phone to Tyra.
“Here, it’s your mom.”
“Hey mom! I just bought my crayons and I counted the change too! But I gave some of it to the poor kids on the jar. I thought that would be nice!” Tyra spoke excitedly.
Moments later, however, Lonnie could see Tyra’s face fall. She mumbled a few more words into the phone, then handed it back. “Ms. Lonni, my mom wants to speak with you.”
Lonni took the phone back. Angela was informing her that she would to be late again tonight, and if Lonni could watch her for a little longer.
Tyra overheard Lonni’s half of the conversation and asked, “Am I going home?”
“Not just yet. Your mom won’t be back until later.”
This news threw Tyra into a fit. She burst out in tears – screaming and yelling the rest of the ride home. Although she had quieted down some by the time they pulled into the driveway, Lonni still had to pry her from the booster seat. But Tyra’s fit returned in all its glory once Lonni had her on her hip, resisting and kicking. By now, they both had enough.
Once inside Lonni’s house, Tyra settled down. She threw her backpack on the floor and ran to the TV as fast as she could. She knew that her favorite cartoon will be on soon. At her house, every time she would come from school she would watch the same TV show and eat cereal while doing homework. She was content, at least for the moment, until her mom got back from work.
“Do you have any cereal?” Tyra asked. “My mom always give me cereal when I come home.”
“Just a second. I will be right back,” promised Lonni as she headed upstairs with Winn.
Twenty minutes passed, and Tyra got tired of watching TV. Now she wanted some cereal. She left the den and headed to the kitchen. She thought she was old enough to make cereal; she’d seen her mom do it all the time. While passing the stairway, she heard Lonni and Winn talking a bit loudly, much of which she couldn’t make out. Curiosity got the better of her, and she proceeded up the steps to where the voices sounded clearer.
“Why are you acting so awkwardly, Lonni?”
“Me? No, it’s how you think you control this situation that’s awkward.” “What do you mean?”
“I just peed on a stick that I never thought I’d have to buy any time soon. Just the thought of waiting to see the verdict makes me feel anxious. I feel that I could be out of control like a baby in a few months. It’s a feeling I don’t want to have.” Lonni poured out her soul. “I don’t know how I feel at this point, Winn. I don’t know if I have lived my life enough. I don’t know if I’m ready to settle down. Our relationship hasn’t even reached its potential yet. I don’t even know how completely I feel about us co-parenting when our love is still so young – are we even in love, Winn?”
The room was engulfed in silence. Suddenly, Tyra felt a little guilty at the top of the stairs. She knew this was adult talk, and she’d better knock on the door and not barge right in because her mother taught her not to interrupt adults when talking. When Lonnie opened the door, Tyra could see Winn sitting on the edge of the bed, hands wedged between in legs, biting his lip and looking down at the floor.
“Can I have cereal now?” Tyra asked.
“What?! Oh, can you give us a second more?” Lonni asked. Glancing at Winn, she knelt and took Tyra’s hands. “You’re a big girl, right? Big girls
make cereal…” she said, echoing the earlier conversation. “Go ahead and make yourself some, just don’t make a mess. Okay?”
“Yes ma’am.” Tyra went back downstairs to the kitchen. She looked in the pantry and didn’t see any of the cereal she was used to eating, but she knew her grandma liked raisin bran, so she picked that. Then over to the refrigerator to get some milk, and a bowl from the dishwasher. She felt so grown up. She poured the cereal and milk together in a big bowl, splashing a little on the floor. When she was finished, she got up to put the milk back in the fridge.
Suddenly, a loud shout of “I’m pregnant!” from Lonni upstairs startled Tyra. She dropped the milk jug to the floor, spilling and splashing everywhere. Then a thud shook the walls as Tyra slipped on the vinyl and landed on her back. Lonni and Winn heard the commotion downstairs and ran to see what had happened.
Lonnie scooped Tyra up from the floor and cradled her in her arms. Although Tyra wasn’t really hurt, she began to cry anyway as Lonni rocked her and asked her if she was okay. This was the first time the two of them had been so close, and Winn was there to observe how she soothed the child.