Pray for Danielle
Tuere T.S. Ganges

Pray for Danielle, mother said, because anyone who needed to be so mean and so cruel could not be having a happy childhood. That night, I kneeled beside my bed, putting my forehead on my Raggedy Ann and Andy top sheet that didn't match my Holly Hobbie bottom sheet. I knelt and I prayed that Danielle be blessed with a happy childhood so she wouldn't call me "Nappy Nora" in the lunch line anymore. Mother said I had to stop praying for the long, blonde ponytail Danielle had because my hair was just fine. So, I thanked God for my rough hair that didn't grow so fast and was hard to comb. I pretended that the bush that surrounded my head after my hair got washed was an earthly halo God had assigned to his special angels, and I wrapped my white towel around my naked body and it became a glowing robe.

I prayed for Danielle, asking that she be blessed and have a happy childhood so she wouldn't point at my baggy blue jeans when everybody else wore them so tight you could make out the shape of their private parts as though no fabric was on them at all. Mother said I should be grateful to have clothing considering there were naked children in the Amazon who wished they could have blue jeans and thrift store sweaters and sneakers from the supermarket that didn't have logos or spokespeople to attest to their super powers. I thanked God that I wasn't hiding behind palm leaves and hoping mosquitoes wouldn't bite my bare behind. I pretended that Brooke Shields would wear baggy blue jeans on a Parisian runway and pose for billboards in old sweaters; and the girls at school would look down at their tight pants and realize they'd lost all circulation above their waists. They'd fall over grasping for snaps and buttons and zippers to be free. They'd reach for me in their dying breaths and I'd untie my hair to release my afro/halo, healing them all instantaneously.

I had to pray for Danielle to have a happy childhood so she wouldn't tell Scotty Jenkins that I smelled like corn chips anymore in homeroom. Mother said I was too young to go falling in love and boys like Scotty got girls like me pregnant and then lied about being with us at all. I decided to thank God for being the kind of girl Scotty would even consider getting pregnant and then hoped He'd bless Danielle with a baby before the Prom so I'd have a better chance of getting a date. I went to sleep imagining Danielle going into labor while trying to squeeze her belly into her designer dress and calling her best friend saying, "Just give the crown to Nora, she's the only one who deserves it now that I'm an unwed mother who embarrassed her family's good name because regardless of all the money we had, I was never happy." The vice principal would need a step ladder to put the crown on top of my afro, but no hair pins because it would rest perfectly.

Two weeks before graduation, when I'd received my third college acceptance letter and Danielle went to the hospital in an ambulance, I led the prayer among the crowd of confused students in the parking lot watching her get taken away. It seemed that while everyone was praising her for being so pretty and popular, she'd developed an eating disorder and lost consciousness during fourth period gym class. Scotty was there. He'd just thrown a dodge ball that hit me in the back of my head making Danielle laugh so hard she'd gotten lightheaded. When it was time for laps, she collapsed, and everyone tried to help her get up, except me. I walked behind the crowd who walked behind the teacher and paramedics. As the ambulance doors closed and all we could see was a glimpse of Danielle with an oxygen mask over her face, I pulled the band from my hair and fluffed out my halo with my fingers. "We should pray," I said and waited for them to bow their heads. "No matter what happens," I began, "I'm sure she had a happy childhood." I didn't tell them that I'd been praying for Danielle for all these years; that I'd prayed for Danielle that day; that I'd prayed for Danielle just after she laughed at me as I was on my knees on the shiny, wood floor by the half-court circle, rubbing the back of my head and whispering, "Dear Lord, I pray that you bless Danielle with a happy childhood where she can be at peace so we won't keep having these battles anymore where she's picking a fight and I'm fighting not to give in." I was standing beside Scotty, hoping my hair wouldn't spring out into his face and tickle his eyes. With Danielle gone, it wasn't a time for laughing. Scotty needed to be comforted. I took his hand and thanked God that I could be there for him.

Tuere T.S. Ganges lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She's a June 2009 recipient of the Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Foundation Scholarship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.

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Illustration on main page courtesy of Roy Blumenthal.

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