Monday, I was driving to the the trail, where I usually run. I parked, and before I got out of my car, I checked Facebook, for nothing in particular, just like I always do. Then BAM! One of my closest friends in middle school, posted a picture of her mother. My friend, Cory, had her arm draped around her mother’s neck. Her mom, had her head tilted in Cory’s direction, and she was smiling. They were both smiling. “Bliss” would have been an appropriate hashtag for the picture. Cory posted the picture because her mom died earlier that day.
Many people called Cory’s mom “Jet,” as I learned this through the comments section of the picture. I actually don’t remember Cory’s mom’s name. I don’t remember if I called her “Ms. [Cory’s maiden name]” or “Ms. [Cory’s dad’s last name].” I don’t remember if I called her “Ms. [first name],” like how many of my friends addressed my mother.
I haven’t seen Cory’s mom, or Cory, in person for about 20 years, but when I saw the picture of her on Facebook, I knew it was Cory’s mom. I remembered her face, and I could even hear her voice in my head. If she were still living, and I saw her out somewhere, maybe walking down the sidewalk of a busy street in Downtown New Haven, I would recognize her. I would stop her and remind her who I was. “I’m Cory’s friend from Hopkins!” I would probably say excitedly. And if she didn’t remember, I would take the time to reintroduce myself, and I would give her a big hug, because she was the type of person you would find any reason to talk to again if you had the opportunity.
Cory and I became friends in seventh grade at Hopkins, a private school in New Haven. I was probably one of the two or three black students in my class out of like 60. Cory was white, like most of the students in my grade. I don’t remember how Cory and I became friends. We just were. We both laughed all the time. We both wore glasses, except I hardly ever wore mine. We both liked to listen to music with swear words. She knew all the words to Biggie Smalls’ “10 Crack Commandments,” but she still made me listen to Ani DiFranco, a folksy, alternative singer.
One time I spent the night at her dad’s apartment in Downtown New Haven. We walked to a local thrift store. We picked out all of the clothes that we liked, tried them on, and modeled them outside of the fitting room. We laughed at some of the funny-looking things we picked up, like a punky Brewster zip-up vest and a blinding orange sweater. We bought a lot of the items that we tried on, as loud as they were. We were so excited about our $10 shopping spree. If we ever wore the clothes to school, we would talk about that day all over again. We never left out the part where a lady in the store asked us if we were models.
The first time I spent the night at Cory’s house was the first time I met Cory’s mom. Cory lived with her sister and her mom in Fair Haven, a New Haven neighborhood that is known for having a large low-income Hispanic population. Before spending the night at Cory’s house, she told me where she lived, but it meant nothing to me. I lived in Hamden, the suburbs, and I never had a reason to go to Fair Haven.
I don’t remember how we got to her house. We either took the city bus or one of my parents dropped me off. I’m hoping we took the bus, because I loved taking the city bus then, and that would make this a cooler story because we were 13.
I remember meeting Cory’s mom once we got inside the house. I remember her mom wearing glasses and a low ponytail. Her hair was straight-ish and a grayish, blondish color. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but she asked me basic questions about myself. She waited for the answers. She listened. She smiled. She wasn’t an adult who already knew all of my answers. She wanted to learn about me.
She didn’t ask me questions about my black girl hair, like my other white friends and their moms did. She didn’t ask me about my parents’ relationship or other gossipy adult questions. She didn’t try to serve me collard greens because she heard that’s what black people ate, like another white friend’s mom did. (Just imagine how those tasted.) She also didn’t make sure her sister invited a black friend over at the same time I was there, you know like “bring your black friend home day,” which also happened at another white classmate’s house. Cory’s mom made me feel like I was a member of their family for the night I was there. I knew I was safe at her house.
That introductory conversation was my longest encounter with Cory’s mom. She only came to see what Cory and I were doing like once or twice, mostly to remind Cory to do something…or not to do something.
That may have been the first and last time I spent the night at Cory’s mom’s house, not because anything went wrong, but life just continued. Cory and I made different friends the next year at school, and she eventually went to a different high school. We kept in touch over Facebook, and I never forgot her mom. She was just so warm, so nice, and so genuine. I may have seen Cory’s mom once or twice after that…or maybe never again. But I never forgot how welcome, safe and unjudged I felt in her presence.
It’s crazy to think that those few moments with Cory’s mom, 20 years ago, are bringing me to tears now.
Thank you Cory’s mom.