It’s been over forty years and I can still remember her. She’s probably forgotten about me completely, and I don’t blame her. I didn’t make much of an impression.
“What do you think of it, Jeff?” Diane showed me her completed art project. “Think she’ll get first prize in the Senior Art Fair?”
It was our Senior Year in High School. I’d been taking art classes there since I was a Freshman, and she’d transferred from Tucson at the beginning of the year.
“I think it’s great. Is it a self-portrait?”
“Well, sort of.” Her soft, brown eyes sparkled with delight. I remember wishing it was because of me.
“That is, I did have my own face in mind when I painted her, but I really want it to represent all Afro-American women…strong, proud, totally out there in the world.”
“I think you have a winner.” I was looking at her, not her painting, adoring every tiny detail on her face. Suddenly she became serious.
“Oh, I don’t mean that your collage couldn’t win. It really could. You’re very talented.”
She put her hand on my forearm to be supportive the way a lot of women do. I froze and hoped she wouldn’t notice my embarrassment. I’d wanted to touch her for months, even just hold her hand.
Somehow we got on the topic of dating. Most of the class was still working on their projects and our teacher Mr. Manners had stepped out for a few minutes, so no one was listening to our conversation.
“If you like a girl, you’ve got to woo her, let her know how you feel.”
I listened to her advice and wished I had the nerve. I’ve always wondered what she would have said if she realized she was trying to tell me to woo her.
“I don’t know. I’m pretty shy around girls.”
“You’re not shy around me.”
If only she knew.
The class submitted their projects to the Art Fair a week later. Bernie Peterson won First Place. Diane’s piece got an Honorable Mention. I don’t think mine won anything. Afterward, we took our projects home and over the years, mine was probably thrown out. I wonder whatever became of hers…or of her?
We graduated in May of 1972 and never saw each other again. I suppose it wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Back then, interracial couples weren’t exactly the norm, and I have no idea how my parents would have reacted if I had asked her to go out and she’d said ‘yes.’
I suppose she’s lived a life like mine. Married, children, grandchildren, work, home, aging.
All I have left of my High School crush on Diane is my memories of her and of her painting, “The Woman is Africa.”
This morning I read Joyfrida’s blog post The Lady at the Park which was inspired by the image at the top of the page.
I was disappointed to find out that it wasn’t part of a photo challenge hosted by another writer, since I’ve come to enjoy those projects. However, she encouraged me to write my own story based on the prompt and then send her the link.
My story is very slightly autobiographical. I did graduate high school in 1972 (yes, I’m that old), I did take art classes, though I never submitted any of my work for competition, and I did have a crush on an African-American girl, not in art class, but in gem cutting class (yes, there was such a thing).
I don’t actually remember her name or much about her anymore, except for the “wooing” advice she gave me. Yes, I really did want to woo her, and I really was shy around girls.
Thought I’d use the prompt to walk down memory lane just once more.
4 thoughts on “The Woman is Africa”
Wow, this brings back memories. I dated a boy, Johnny, in 1980 (I was 16) that my parents didn’t know about. Apparently, someone from my school saw us together and told my mom and dad I was dating a black man. He was confident, gentle, and had a great smile. Maybe I’m romanticizing him, but I never had a chance to find out his bad traits. My parents were so horrified that sanctions came down hard. I had to stop seeing him.
Wow! That was harsh. Of course, my relationship never developed into a relationship, so everything was stuck in my head. Sorry you had such a rough time of it.
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Wow this is beautiful. I have heard stories like these ones from older white friends of mine. The African girl he liked or the African boy she had a crush on. It makes you sit and appreciate how far we have come as humanity. In this century here in Kenya there is still some stigma associated with marrying a foreigner. It must be for their money or because you want a visa or things like that. But people (parents) are more welcoming to other cultures and races intermarriage right now. This story is quite a treat to me.
I’m glad you liked it. The main inspiration is the image itself. It reminded me of art popular when I was in high school and early college.
I agree that we’ve made great strides socially, but we still have a long way to go.
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