Over Thanksgiving, I had the chance to volunteer with Occupy Sandy. While helping out at St. Luke’s Church, I met a pretty phenomenal woman. Her name is Tawana, and no, I don’t think that’s how you spell it.
When I first walked into St. Luke’s last Wednesday afternoon, I was sent to help a woman pack hygiene bags which were being sent out to displaced people. The first thing I noticed about the woman was her size. She was large. The second thing I noticed was her industriousness. She was in charge. Tawana told me that she’d come up with the idea of the bags herself, after noticing several boxes of travel sized toiletries. She sat balancing carefully on a small folding chair, filling Zip Loc bags with soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, nail file, and nail polish (Tawana knows her essentials).
I sat down, pleased to help.
“So where do you live?” Tawana asked me.
“Crown Heights? Isn’t that a bad area?” She gave me a once over. “You don’t look like you would live in a bad area.”
I explained to her how Crown Heights 2012 wasn’t the Crown Heights she’d heard about. Tawana lived in Long Island, and hadn’t spent much time in Brooklyn until now, when she’d decided to help out with the hurricane relief efforts.
It turned out that Tawana was a full-time student, in her last year of a Psychology degree. She was also a full-time mother of four, the oldest being 17 and the youngest being one. This blew my mind. Having a series of children between the ages of baby and college student seems absolutely insane to me, but Tawana did not seem phased.
“They always textin’ me. ‘When you gonna be home?’ ‘I don’t want to eat without you.’”
I was like, “Um, I think they love you.”
She was like, “Mhhhmm.”
I have no concept of how long I was there, but Tawana and I must have packed about 100 bags and talked about everything. Well, Tawana did most of the talking. She liked me, because I laughed at her jokes.
“These other people was looking at me like I was crazy. They just don’t understand my dry sense of humor.”
Luckily, I did. And she was funny. She kept talking about one of the workers who kept coming by.
“He ain’t come by not one time til you got here! I think he like you.”
He kept coming by in an authoritative way, sporting his Occupy faux-hawk proudly. If anything, he was keeping us from doing work.
“He better be glad I’m in a church, because if not…huh.”
I think she meant she would have hurt him very badly. Very badly.
Eventually, Tawana got to the important stuff.
“ALL my kids are virgins.” OOOOOK. I, of course, hadn’t brought up the subject of her children’s sexuality. Even the one-year-old? I wanted to ask. But I dare not go there with TT.
“Good for them,” I said. “That’s great.” What else was I supposed to say?
“Mhm, my oldest son and daughter both said they are going to wait until they are married,” she divulged. “I don’t know where they got that from! Must be the church.” Damn church.
Pretty soon, our shift ended. Tawana said that she liked me and suggested that we get lunch or something. We exchanged numbers, and I imagined that one day she would text me saying she was at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Atlantic Center and I had to come, NOW!
But that wasn’t the end of Tawana. Naaaaw, girl! When I went back to volunteer on Friday, with my boyfriend in tow, I ran into Tawana again. She had told me she’d be there with her kids, and indeed, she was.
“Hey, Tawana!” I said walking up to her. She was in a spaghetti strap and jeans, same as before. It was absolutely freezing in the church, and most people were working with their coats on.
“Oh, hey girl!” Tawana said hugging me.
“This is my boyfriend, David.” David waved.
“Oh, he is white!” she shouted. “Damn, and he got blue eyes!” Always the kicker. “Girl, I don’t normally go that way, but he cute, you better watch out!” David laughed nervously, afraid I imagine.
She pointed out her kids spread throughout the church working, but said that she couldn’t find two of them. I think the baby was among the missing, which was disconcerting, but she didn’t seem worried. Unfortunately, our task that day was not the same as Tawana’s, and the next time I saw her was when she’d herded her children together to go home. We hugged goodbye.
Two days ago, I got a text (unedited):
“Hi love this big sexy from the church how are u and brad pit doing? Well u was on my mind so I wanted to send u a smile :)”
Boy, was I excited! She liked me, she really liked me! I texted her back, saying that I hope she was well and that I’d say ‘hi’ to David for her. I really do hope that Tawana and I stay in touch. She’s resilient, and raunchy, and so much fun. Though on food stamps herself, she understands that there are lots of people right now who needed much more help than she does, and she hadn’t thought twice about giving her time. I want to learn so much more about her; about her kids and her sisters (there are four of them, and they are just like the Braxtons…Tawana is Toni, she assured me). I want to know how she found herself in school with four children. If I don’t hear from her soon, I may have to give ‘big sexy’ a text and suggest that we split an appetizer platter and get our talk on.