The Last Black Unicorn(2)

I went to a school called El Camino Real. It was 3 percent black. It was mostly white and Hispanic and Asian—and pretty much all of them were rich.

I got bused from South Central LA. I woke up every morning about 5 a.m. to catch the bus at 6:15. I had to walk to the bus stop in the cold every morning. I mean, this is LA, so it’s not like there was snow. But for me, sixty degrees is freezing.

What was funny about high school was that all the things that got made fun of in elementary school, they were valued in high school. I was a great talker and had a unique style—“poor as fuck chic”—these were good qualities in a rich suburban school, where everyone else was the same. I stood out.

But the truth is, the main reason I ended up being successful in high school was because of everything I did while trying to get with this one dude, Audie.

I was stalking him. I would send him candygrams. Remember candygrams? I sent him A LOT of candygrams. I gave him a Snickers every week, till we was in twelfth grade. That dude probably has a mouth full of cavities because of me. I would try to write him notes, but I was illiterate, so everything was wrong. It was the worst:

“Audie, yo how bout we date er som fing?”

I was in ninth grade, and straight up I could not read or write.

I could only read three-letter words or things you see on TV. It was like first-or second-grade reading level.

You wanna hear some real crazy shit? I was in AP classes (where you can get college credit in high school), while not being able to read!

I could not spell or read, but I knew how to talk. I would game people. I would game everybody. It’s easy to game school, once you realize that the rules are bullshit and you can get around them.

For example, whenever I had to read something, I would get someone else to read it to me. There was this one dude who was really smart, and he had a deep voice. I would be like, “Oh my God, Curtis, could you read this to me, I love hearing your voice.” I had the greatest memory, so if he read to me I would memorize it instantly, and then if we had to read out loud in class, I would just say what he had said.

The problem would be when I would “read” the wrong paragraph. The teacher would say:

Teacher: “What are you talking about, Tiffany? You read the last paragraph. I want you to read the first one.”

Tiffany: “I got to pee, I’m sorry.”

I’d get up and run out the classroom. I had a lot of those types of emergencies my ninth-grade year.

Multiple choice tests were easy to fake. I would make people laugh, make ’em want to be my friend, and then, they would let me copy off of them. Essay tests were harder to fake, but I found a way. Here’s what I did:

I would just tell the teacher I was sick, or find a way to take the test later. Then I’d ask a friend, “What’d you say on your essay? Tell me everything.” They would tell me, I would memorize their words, and I’d just repeat them. My essay would be full of misspellings and grammar mistakes, but it would pretty much have whatever somebody else’s essay had.

Now, it seems crazy that I could not read or write. My memory was really good, so it didn’t make no sense. I just couldn’t read. You know what it was? I just didn’t believe I could. I thought I was stupid.

Before high school, I was told I was stupid every day. My stepdad used to tell me I was stupid all the time. My mama said it every day. My grandma sometimes. Definitely other kids at school. I believed I was stupid, so I guess I just didn’t think I could do it. I never tried.

I used to hate when people called me stupid. That would make me so angry. I would want to fight you for calling me stupid. But you know what’s so funny? As an adult, when I was working at the airline, one of my coworkers called me stupid. I said:

Tiffany: “You call me stupid one more damn time, we’re gonna have a straight-up fight in here.”

Coworker: “You do realize I’m trying to tell you that you’re funny. I think you’re funny. That’s why I’m saying that. Like, you stupid funny.”

Tiffany: “Oh, shit. My bad. I won’t fight you over no compliment.”

I started thinking, maybe all these years people been trying to tell me I was funny. Here I’m thinking they were trying to say I’m dumb, ’cause I felt dumb.

But back to being illiterate and trying to date Audie:

Audie ended up outing my lack of reading and writing, but not on purpose. Audie was in drama class, so I got into drama class. My thinking was that Audie was the only black dude in drama, and if I joined, I would be the only black girl in drama. I thought to myself, I bet we going to be kissing. We’re going to have to be husband and wife or something. They’re going to have to put us together. This school racist. They’re going to have to put us together.

But no. These motherfuckers had to be all liberal and integrated and shit. Audie got to have a Hispanic wife in the play. But I’m going to have to be a single mom?

Tiffany: “Why do I still got to be a statistic? This is not fair. I want to kiss Audie.”

Teacher: “What?”

And the shitty part was that Audie was cool with it. Man, I sent him so many Snickers, and he never gave me any sugar.

It was the drama teacher who figured out I couldn’t read. It was the end of my ninth-grade year. She asked me to stay after class, and by this time, she knew my hustle. She trapped me.

Miss Gree: “Tiffany, I want you to try this part. It’s a role opposite Audie.”

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