“And it's important to me to be the mother
'cause there's so many little kids that I have to look out for.
Although they don't listen to me and they buck my authority,
I still think I rule it pretty well. They like me.”
- Pepper LaBeija, Paris is Burning (1990)
Lulu prided herself on being classy.
She walked with her head held high, she dissolved conflicts with a soft voice and a healthy dose of shade, and she could cut someone to pieces without raising her voice.
As she walks down the block, in her finest clothes (half of which she stole in ‘96), clutching Candy’s tired and true hammer like it’s the thing to do, this isn’t her at her classiest. The looks of men, women, and children enunciate that this isn’t classy at all. This is some banji shit, reserved for the girls who ain’t got a lick of sense and will slice your face if she thought you were prettier than her.
She isn’t a girl anymore; she’s a woman. A woman with a whole identity, a career, a spouse…
She clutches the hammer tighter.
She eyes the run-down house to her right and turns.
There, eyeing her, are men twice her size, strewn around the porch, dressed in tank tops and socks that touch their knees. They, these walking stereotypes, are smirking and whistling at her like a piece of meat.
“Ay, chica, what you doin’ with that hammer? I got a long, nail you can drive home.” One of them comments, humping the air.
She really wants to crack him upside his head. Lord knows she wants to. But she’s not here for him. She’s here for that piece of trash staring her down, thinking his tear-drop is going to frighten her.
“You,” She points the hammer at him like a gavel, “I want my shit back.”
“What shit?” He asks, jutting his chin at her.
“Don’t play dumb with me. The box. You have it. Either you give it here, or I’m cracking your head open like a coconut.”
Ooh’s and laughter erupt.
“That why you brought that old ass hammer?” He asks. He takes a sip of his Red Bull. She charges at him, only to be hoisted up by one of the men. She swings the hammer as hard as she can, connecting with flesh and hearing a satisfying shriek. She’s released, and she charges again.
She’s in his face, now. Candy’s hammer perched under her chin. Within this moment, the sounds of guns drawn feels like white noise.
“The box,” She hisses, “Now.”
The moment of truth.
He can stare at her all he wants to, he’s far from scaring her. She’s fucked drug dealers, she’d danced for men in the cartel, and she’s faced death more times than this snot-nosed punk ever could.
He doesn’t know shit about fear.
The man backs away from her and retreats to the house, slamming the door shut so loud the bars on the house rattle and the men flinch.
Lulu clutches the hammer and prepares herself when the door swings open, only to be knocked back by the force that hit her in her stomach. On reflex, she clutches the box with a vice grip, wrapping her arms around it and pulling it closer. After gaining her composure, she sucks her teeth at the man.
“Stealing out of women’s apartments, taking their jewelry and finery like you don’t have a mother or a father.”
Her Bronx accent peeks through, making the man prick his ears up.
“I’m old enough to be your mother.” Lulu muses, eyeing him up and down. It’s a Californian summer and he’s wearing a dark blue flannel, buttoned up, with black shorts that stop under his knees with crisp white socks and canvas sneakers. Despite his questionable fashion choices and lack of class, his face almost makes up for it. In another time, Lulu would find him cute. Attractive, even; give Ricky a run for his money in the Butch Queen category.
She sees his eyes for the first time and her bitterness melts away.
She sees a motherless child, staring right back at her.
Call it mother’s intuition, or Blanca’s spirit haunting her, she reaches out and to touch his face. The man slaps her hand away.
“Where is your mother?” She asks, her soft tone foreign to her. She hasn’t used a tone like that since…
“Get the fuck off my property.” The man snaps. Gone was his calmness; he’s angry, a rage in him that she knows she’d created.
She turns her nose up at him, shoving Candy’s hammer and marches off the porch, letting these hoodrats get a good view of her red bottoms as she sashays down the block to her apartment.
“I’m home,” she announces to her empty living room. She turns on the lights, sets down the box and opens it.
Newspaper clippings, photos of years that had past, obituaries that she laminated, all made way to a small Polaroid.
It’s a woman with dark skin and voluminous hair that fans over the pillow she’s on. She lies on her stomach, sleeping.
Lulu thumbs the photo, trying to bite back the tears.
“I miss you. So much,” her voice cracks. She settles for kissing the photo and sticking it to her refrigerator.
She sits at the dining room, fingers holding onto the remote. She turns to her right, greeted by an empty armchair with a crocheted doily that’s collecting dust.
Looking away, she presses play.
“I like to think that...when you come to New York, you...you reinvent yourself.” A black woman says, holding Lulu’s hand. Lulu leans on her shoulder, looking off into the distance.
“You become whoever you want to be. You can start over here and become someone new. There’s no place like New York.”
As the documentary goes through the motions, Lulu drifts off to sleep, holding onto her wedding ring like a lifeline.