The late Nina Simone's haunting, defiant song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black" was an anthem in the struggle for black pride. "When you feel really low - Yeah, there's a great truth you should know - When you're young, gifted and black - Your soul's intact."
Though a work of fiction, Ann's Story is based on an all-too-true event.
by Bill Fullerton
"It's just not fair."
From the tone of her friend's voice, Gwen knew Ann was only half-joking. "What's not fair?" They were in Gwen's cramped, one-person dorm room, preparing tuna fish au gratin on rye toast for supper.
"It's not fair that you actually met a good-looking single guy under ninety on that geriatric unit disguised as an ophthalmology ward." Ann was in the midst of opening a large can of tuna fish. "And while you're making out with this ‘Nam vet, I'm stuck on the urology ward with a bunch of old farts who can't pee, and jive doctors who keep coming on to me."
Gwen carefully placed slices of rye bread in the combination toaster/broiler that was a fixture of her room. She was beginning to wish she hadn’t told Ann about that afternoon’s kiss. "Now don’t exaggerate. We haven't been making out. Mark kissed me, once. That’s all.”
"Of course you haven't been.” There was blatant skepticism in Ann’s voice. "After all, you’re engaged to Johnny DeWopdedo. And we all know making out with a patient would be so very unprofessional, especially for a lowly Bellevue nursing student. Just tell me this, will you go back to see him?"
"His name is DeAngelo,” said Gwen, correcting Ann for the second time that day. “And talk about lowly. We’re just summer-relief Nurse Techs, remember? Maybe you get to set your own schedule, but I sure don’t. So if I'm assigned to his room, I’ll go back."
"And you're always assigned to his room, right?"
"Well, okay, I am.” Gwen pulled out the toast and began to spread on mayonnaise.
"Which means you'll be going back. And when you do go back, you two will end up kissing again.”
Gwen tried to ignore the tiny quiver in her stomach. The problem was, her friend might be right. But she didn’t want to consider Ann's logic. It was time to change the subject. Besides, she was curious. Ann Elmore was short and cute with skin that was a smooth, rich mocha. She wore her hair in a fashionable afro that, while neatly trimmed, was just a bit bigger than the school dress code deemed appropriate for a student nurse. Guys were always coming on to her.
"What's wrong with those doctors?” asked Gwen. “Are they married or creeps or what?"
"Oh, they're no creepier than most doctors." Ann piled tuna fish on two pieces of rye toast. "And I think one’s single. The problem is, they're all white. And you know how I feel about dating white guys."
After putting cheese slices on top of the tuna, Gwen shoved the concoction back in the toaster oven and then gave her friend a concerned look. "You've mentioned that before, about not dating white guys, but you've never said why. I mean it's none of my business. It’s just that Robin, Sue, and I are white, and we're your friends, aren't we?"
"True, but the last time I checked, I wasn’t dating any of you.” A lascivious grin spread across Ann’s face. “Although with the luck I've been having with dudes, you're beginning to look better and better, child."
"Get away from me, you deviant.” Gwen waved a mayonnaise covered dinner knife in Ann's direction. "My mama warned me about girls like you."
The toaster went off, interrupting their teasing. The latest rendition of the famous “Tuna Fish Au Gratin on Rye Toast a la Bellevue School of Nursing” was extracted and placed on plastic plates. They opened cans of Tab diet soda, then set on the bed to watch a "Star Trek" rerun on Gwen’s small black and white TV. It was one of their favorite episodes, but Gwen sensed her friend’s mind was elsewhere.
Afterward, they cleaned-up. While Gwen put the plates away, Ann looked into the tiny refrigerator. "Where'd you hide that wine I left in here?"
"It's on the bottom shelf, in the back, behind the bread.”
Ann pulled out a half-empty bottle of apple wine, filled two tumblers requisitioned from the school cafeteria, gave one to Gwen, then sat by the desk in the room’s only chair. Waving grandly, she said, "Go ahead and make yourself comfortable child, 'cause I've got a story to tell."
As instructed, Gwen sat on her narrow bed and scooted back while trying not to spill any of the wine. She shoved a pillow behind her back and leaned against the green plaster wall to wait for Ann's story.
"You asked why I won't fool around with white boys. Well, I'm about to spell it out for you, sordid details and all."
Ann took a long sip of wine and began. "When I was a senior in high school, I needed an A in honors English, if I wanted to snag a college scholarship. No A, no scholarship. No scholarship, no college. It was that simple. I mean my folks are great, although my mother can drive me just as crazy as yours does you." Both girls laughed in mutual sympathy and understanding.
After another sip of wine, Ann continued. "It's not like my folks don't love me and work hard. Dad’s a delivery driver and moonlights as a security guard while Mom's a part-time receptionist. The problem is, I'm the oldest of five kids. So if I wanted to get into nursing school, I had to land a scholarship.
"Well, that was the situation when Mr. Pervis came into my life. He was a skinny white guy and the only one at my school who taught the honors English Lit. course I absolutely, positively, had to ace. It didn't take long to figure out I was in trouble. I mean, I'm no brain, but I’ve always done okay if I bust my butt. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't pull an A in English.
"You know how it is." Ann got up and refilled her glass. "English, especially English Lit, is so damn subjective. I really tried, I even told Pervis about why I needed to pull an A. But at the end of the first term, he gave me a damn C+."
Gwen expressed her sympathy, but passed on more wine.
"So I arranged to have a conference with him right after school.” Ann plopped back into her chair. “I played it straight and tried to explain my problem. But when I finished, he just looked at me, and suggested that I might benefit from some personal tutoring at his place, for about four hours every Saturday, either morning or afternoon. He said that if I did what he suggested at our sessions, he was sure I'd have an A at the end of the year."
"Are you telling me what I think you're telling me?” There was a note of incredulity in Gwen’s voice.
"Right on, child. If I wanted to make an A under the good Mr. Pervis, I had to spend every Saturday, for the rest of the damn school year, under Mr. Pervis."
There was a moment of strained silence. Finally, Gwen asked, "So what did you do? I mean, did you report him or, or what?"
"Well, I'm here talking to you in the quaint old dorm of the world famous Bellevue School of Nursing. So what do you think? I did the ‘or what’ of course."
Gwen couldn’t think of anything to say and just shook her head in sympathy. After a moment of silence, Ann continued. "However, I should point out in defense of my virtue that I did manage to negotiate my visits down to only once every other week. I mean, I might be cheap and go down for grades, but I'm not easy.”
After another silence, Gwen asked, "Was it terrible?"
"You mean having to ball Mr. Pervis? If you don't count not being able to sleep the night before, then feeling sick that morning and dirty afterwards; no, not really. He was a single white dude, but other than that, not really a weirdo. I never asked, but I guess he was somewhere in his mid-thirties and he wasn’t really that bad looking, either, for a white guy. Have I mentioned that he was white?"
"Thought so. Well, there was a story going around school that his wife had wised-up and left him the summer before. I guess by the time I came along, he was horny enough to risk doing it with one of his students."
Ann finished her second glass of wine. "It wasn't like I was some sort of pure virgin. I had already done the dirty deed with a couple of dudes from school. Both were okay, at first. But then they got real possessive. You know the type. So I dropped them.”
Gwen didn’t know the type. Johnny was the only person she’d gone out with for the last four years. But she nodded.
"Actually, to tell you the truth, having to do it with Pervis wasn't all that bad. Like I said, he was no weirdo or anything. In fact, he taught me a thing or two, especially about oral sex."
Ann grinned at a startled look on Gwen's face. "That's right, child, he even performed the big "C" on me. That's cunnilingus not cancer, in case you haven't figured it out.
"What really bugged me about making it with Pervis, was that I ‘had’ to make it with Pervis. What I mean is, the thought that I was being forced to put out for that damn A just about freaked me. I mean, if he’d come on to me like any other guy, I might have been interested. Older guys aren't really my thing, you understand. But like I said, he wasn't that bad looking and doing it with a teacher might have been a trip."
"How did you explain to your parents, I mean about being away all those Saturdays?"
"Told 'em I had to go to the library to bone up for English, what else? That way it was only half a lie."
Ann got up, finished off the bottle of apple wine, stuffed it under some papers in the overflowing wastepaper basket, and sat back down. "Anyway, every other Saturday, I'd get up early, make myself pretty, then head over to the Pervis Passion Pad, home of Pervis the Pervert.
Emptying her glass in one gulp, Ann gave Gwen a silly smile. "Well, to make a long, boring story a short, boring story, I'll skip anymore gruesome details about our sinful Saturdays. However, before I go tuck myself into my lonely little bed, I do want to tell you about the last Saturday I had to visit Mr. Pervis.”
Gwen sat down her empty glass, repositioned herself on the bed, and braced for the finale.
“What I decided to do was embarrass him in front of the entire school. On our last Saturday together, I brought over a little bottle of cognac as a present and made sure there was a double slug of it in every cup of coffee he drank. Then I proceeded to lay some serious loving on that sorry-assed honky. I really had him going, if I do say so myself.” A sarcastic smile made a brief appearance, then vanished.
"Well, in the middle of it all, just when he was about to go outta his gourd, I gave him a hickey to end all hickeys and made sure to put it way up high on his neck. It was May and already pretty hot, but I knew he'd have to wear a turtleneck to school on Monday to cover it up.”
Ann’s laugh was humorless. "Sure enough, on Monday he shows up in a turtle neck, even though our school wasn't air conditioned. Just before my last class with him ended, I stood up and said that without his help, I'd never have made an A and gotten my scholarship and that I wanted to come up and show my appreciation.
"You could tell he was getting nervous and he started babbling about how that wasn't necessary, but I kept insisting and finally he said okay.
“Let me tell you, child, I had on the shortest dress I owned. Most of the time, it would have gotten me kicked out of school. But I was a senior and it was the last day of classes so what could they do to me?"
Ann flashed an ear-to-ear grin. "So I sashayed my young ass up to his desk, walking real slow and sexy. By the time I got there, I had everyone's attention. Then I leaned over and planted a big kiss on his cheek while I pulled down his collar.
"Everyone immediately saw the hickey. Hell, there was no way they could have missed it, I made sure of that. It was big and dark and seemed to cover about half his scrawny white neck. The whole class broke up. I just acted cool, like I hadn't noticed a thing, and kept holding down the collar while he tried to push it back up without looking too obvious.”
Both Ann and Gwen giggled. "All that went down during first period. By the end of second period, the whole school knew what had happened. They let us out after lunch, but by then, I was a school legend. Who knows, if I had pulled that stunt earlier in the year, I might have been homecoming queen.
"Anyway, to conclude this sordid tale, I got my A and my scholarship and admission into this fine bastion of higher education. As for Mr. Pervis, I know for a fact he quit or got fired later that summer. I've heard he's out of teaching, back with his old lady, and selling insurance somewhere upstate."
After a short struggle, Ann stood and walked unsteadily to the door. She paused there and then turned to face her audience of one. "So that's why, dear Gwen, I don't do it with white guys. Mr. Pervis turned me off the breed."
Taking a deep breath, she clenched her fists and stared at the floor. Her body began to tremble and a torrent of bitterness burst forth. "That sorry bastard turned me into a kept woman, a whore, a damn slave. I hate me for not saying no. But I hate him even more for making me do it.” Tears of rage broke through her protective wall of cocky, street-wise cynicism.
The room fell silent after the outburst. Ann’s trembling body slumped back against the door as she struggled to regain her normal, sassy demeanor. “I suppose it might be possible to meet a white guy who doesn’t remind me of Pervis. I mean, for a redneck, this Mark character you made out with today seems okay. But child, with so many fantastic black dudes out there, why bother?”
Ann tried to grin even as she wiped at her tears. Gwen was already off the bed and walking over to her friend. "I don't know about you, but I need a hug.” For a few moments they embraced, one sharing her pain, the other her sympathy.
"Look, do me a favor," said Ann, as she released Gwen and reached for the doorknob. "I don't care if Robin and Sue learn about all of this, but I sure as hell don't want to go through telling it again. So it's all right with me if you pass along the word to them in the fall, okay?"
“If that’s what you want.”
“Why not? Maybe it’ll give Sue a rush. And take my advice. Before you get into any real heavy breathing with old Mark, make sure he doesn’t want to be an English teacher.” They both giggled.
“I would,” said Gwen, “but there’s not going to be any heavy breathing between us.”
“Bet a Tab there will be. And when it starts, you better give me all the juicy details.” With her facade back in place, Ann opened the door, winked, and made her exit.