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How to Do the Twist
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Winter 1997
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An invisible line separated me and my friend Mary Beth. We were the daughters of very different families.

By Greg Sarris '78
Illustrations by Carol Fabricatore

"Don't let white people impress you," Mother told me. "Win because you want to win." We lived on Macdonald Avenue. The nicest street in town. Wide and lined with tall eucalyptus trees that smelled so sharp and clean even a blind man would have known what street he was on. Rolling green lawns and square-trimmed privet hedges surrounded the old Victorian houses with their double front doors and long rectangular windows. In the late thirties and early forties, 10 years before the time I lived there, Hollywood used Macdonald Avenue as a location for "every street America." Of course, Mother's and my getting there was bumpy, and our presence, well, conditional. We lived behind four-zero-five in a two-room house without a stove or refrigerator -- a servant's quarters. Mother was a maid.

Before that it was a shack behind a house on B Street, not too far from Macdonald, but not nearly as nice. And before that in a room that Mother had rented in the Hotel Figueroa, a dump tucked in that stretch of neon dives, pawn shops and used-clothing stores on lower Fourth. Yes, we'd moved up, a steady climb since the hotel. But now things were beginning to change again. I was becoming steadily aware of how little of that plant-green and sky-blue space outside my windows was mine. Day by day the world was shrinking and, before long, would hold itself against the corners of my small house.

But I found someone to help me. I found a companion: Mary Beth Polk, the daughter of the people in the big house, Mother's bosses, Mr. and Mrs. Polk. No matter that Mary Beth was white and rich. She had everything and nothing. She was a girl in a family where the sun rose and set on the boy. In school she was the dork with glasses, having graduated from her earlier status as cootie bug.


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