Massachusetts, 1969. When Tracy Burrows leaves Bakersfield, Alabama, to attend university at the prestigious Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it was with the intention of making it to Harvard Law by keeping her head in the books and without causing any waves. Little did she realize how impossible this might be…
Tracy finds herself in the midst of the Student Movement, on one of the most active college campuses in the country. As a young, black woman, sitting out isn’t an option, especially when she casually begins to date Kurt, a white, affluent, law student with his own ties to the South. Tracy is startled to discover that she’s revolutionary without even trying.
As Kurt and Tracy’s relationship grows more serious, a secret from Kurt’s past threatens everything that Tracy is working toward. Questions arise about race, relationships, and Tracy’s own growing social consciousness. As she struggles with how much she’s willing to give up to achieve her goals, Tracy realizes that the biggest lessons in life are the ones learned outside of the classroom.
Brilliantly capturing the tumultuous spirit of the late 1960s, A House of Cards explores the gambles often taken when it comes to love.
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A House of Cards
By Jacqueline White
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Jacqueline White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE SHUFFLE
September 15, 1969
At this very moment the world is in the process of converting energy....
This was the pearl of wisdom that I discovered in those wee hours between midnight and dawn when all of the truth, mysteries, and questions of life and the universe are revealed to us mere mortals. In other words: I couldn't sleep.
In the morning, I would be moving into my room at Wolbach Hall, officially on my own for the first time in my life, and in only a few days, a few short days, I'd be starting my first year at Radcliffe College. I was excited. The first days of school were always exciting to me, and I had been waiting for this one a long time. Ever since I was little I wanted to attend Harvard, walk the Square, take study breaks along the Charles, swap ideas with the most preeminent minds in the country, and finally I was here! Okay . . . so maybe Radcliffe wasn't exactly Harvard, but that was merely geography. On Monday I wasn't just starting another day of school, I was starting the first day of my future! Who wouldn't be excited about that?
Unfortunately it wasn't excitement that was keeping me up: it was images of a past that would never convert into the future.
I switched on the lamp and located my composition book from the last spot that it had been before I'd made an attempt at sleep. At the moment it was brand new, nearly empty, the pages fresh, white, and ready to receive the many mysteries of the world. The only thing that had been written in it so far was the one question that my philosophy teacher, Dr. Geiger, had started and ended the summer term on: What is duty?
All summer long we'd discussed ethics in the modern arena. We discussed the War, the Woman's Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement, and all semester he questioned, "What is duty?"
He had hurled that question at us as if it were the most important one we'd ever be asked; as if the answer were life and death.
"Oh, but it is," Professor Geiger would insist passionately. "Eichmann claimed that he was only going to work every morning; that he was only doing his duty. The slaughter of 11. Million. People." he would say slowly, each word its own sentence. "As merely the course of duty. Boys grow from playing with toy guns to becoming toy soldiers convinced that they must serve their duty in order to become real men."
Professor Geiger had lost two brothers during World War II: one had enlisted willingly the day he'd turned 18, and the other had been drafted and had died in a bar fight the night before he was supposed to be shipped out. They'd died within several months of each other while he was in college busy obtaining his degree. "It is a matter of life and death," he'd repeat, with more gravity.
Underneath that one, solitary, question, I wrote an oversimplified answer: Duty is doing what you are morally obligated to do.
What is obligation, then? I mused. Do we have a social responsibility, a social conscious? When should social responsibility evoke civil disobedience? If we are merely acting on that which we should be doing morally are we really being disobedient? Is doing what you should do morality, or is it just complicity? Those that are complicit do what they're told to do, when they're told to do it: they are potential until they are called to motion.
That sentence, particularly the word "potential" brought me out of my current string of musings. As long as I can remember people have told me that I had the potential to do anything I put my mind to, that I held promise. Whenever I heard that, it used to make me feel prideful, special even; that is until my very first ever physics class made me forever hate that word. Potential energy is merely energy that exists, at rest. Potential, then, is only the capability of mobility, not the actual movement. Potential is a wedge.
I am not potential energy, I wrote, I am kinetic, and as such I will not wait until my back is against the wall before I act!
I decided to make that my mission statement for the upcoming school year: Energy!
I turned the page and wrote that word down at the very top of my notebook wondering if a one word mission statement was too perfunctory. I wrote down "perfunctory" beside the word "energy". Perfunctory =.
I decided then that there should be a general mathematical equation to simplify life. Like Life (L) is equal to experience ((recreation (r) multiplied by enjoyment (e) /divided by consequences (C)) plus the effort that you put into it drive (d) multiplied by determination (T))/ 1 plus your accomplishments (A) times companionship (w)) all to the (y) power (y for length of years alive).
Or more simply:
L = ((re/C) + (dT)
1 + (Aw)(y)
And there: the meaning of life explained in simple terms! When calculated properly, the perfect life should be equal to the golden mean. Some might argue that you should leave room for chance, but without a sine there's no need for tangents (for reason see appendix).
I yawned at the thought, realizing that I must be tired if I was making bad math jokes. I wished there was a clock nearby. I knew it was late; but I wondered just how late it was. As it was, my eyes were heavy, but I could still keep them open which meant that I wasn't tired enough to not see images that didn't exist when I closed them: like Derek in a tux.
He would look amazing, immaculate, dashing even. It'd be one of those rare times when he was all dressed up, starched, and pressed with no sawdust or paint, no pencil stuck behind his ear. His cheeks would be red with that blush that he couldn't help showing, and his face would be transformed by the force of his smile. He had one of those smiles that fully complemented his face; completed it like the last and most important puzzle piece of the jig-saw. Usually, it didn't take much to put that smile on his face, and of course he would be wearing a smile on this day. What was a wedding without a smile? Men always smiled; it was a moment of triumph for them, and Derek was nothing without my smile.
Only ... he wouldn't be smiling at me.
The woman who met him at the end of the aisle wouldn't be me, it wouldn't be my face that he gazed endlessly upon, and after they exchanged vows, it wouldn't be my forever that they disappeared off into. In this vision, I knew, he wouldn't even look back as he disappeared into that future, the way he hadn't looked back at the train depot to see me standing on the platform, watching him walk away: kinetic energy moving away from potential.
It made me think of Newton's law of motion in more simplified terms: a body, a train for example, will not, once the passengers have been boarded and the engine has been cranked up, stop on its path (track) without an outside stimulus to halt it, such as love.
As I'd watched him walk way from me, I couldn't help thinking that if life were like the movie pictures my fiancé wouldn't have been boarding a train taking him back home to Alabama. The only reason he'd be getting on that train without me would be because he had to, because of circumstances beyond his control. If this were on the silver screen, he would have been dressed in army fatigues, his hair would be the buzz cut they issued when he was drafted, and his train would be taking him to Fort Dix before he was shipped overseas to secure for all the freedoms of liberty, to save the world from tyranny and communism.
I would stand on the platform and watch, my dress billowing around me as tears poured resolutely from my eyes. He'd square his shoulders with the weight of the knowledge that the only reason he was leaving was because his responsibility to me dictated that he had to make sure that I could live in a better world; because real Americans didn't run from their obligations. Before he disappeared, though, he would pause in his stride, turn back to me, and scoop me into his arms to deliver one last pan-around-kiss as the symphony swelled ... before he jogged away. My two best girlfriends, Susie and Jane probably, would be there for me to cry into their arms as I watched his train disappear into the horizon, and they would have just the right words to tell me to make me feel better, to make me feel more proud then abandoned. If this were a moving picture, his ring would be on my finger, and not balled up in his fist at the bottom of his pocket keeping company with the lint.
But then, if this were a moving picture, Derek and I wouldn't have ever been together in the first place because Lena wouldn't be the one standing on the platform of South Station while Burt walked away from her. It would be Elizabeth Taylor, or Debbie Reynolds, or Audrey Hepburn. There were no movies with couples like Derek and I unless you counted Sydney and his onscreen fiancé Joey Drayton, and she had run off with him wherever he went. If life really were a movie, I wouldn't be heading off to college instead of getting married.
But life wasn't a movie, and Derek and I were neither of those people: he wasn't heading to Vietnam, just back home, and I'd stood on the platform and watched him board the train, hoping that his feet would slow, or that he would look back even once, but he didn't.
He was just gone.
I picked up my pencil again.
What was a mission statement without goals to substantiate it? I reasoned.
Beneath the word 'energy' I wrote out:
Things I wish to learn:
1) A non-major required science.
2) Boston maritime laws.
3) How the new Bell touch system works.
4) A musical instrument.
5) A non-romantic language.
6) Why fools fall in love.
I re-read over my words, and they made me think about my mom arriving back in Bakersfield alone. I wondered if she cried. She was thirty-eight years old and living by herself for the first time in her life. She'd moved from her father's house, to my father's house, and since she moved out of my father's house, we've been keeping each other company for the past couple of years. How strange it must have been for her, her first night back to the house to realize that she was the only one in it, and would be, possibly forever?
Thinking about that, I added another item to my list.
7) Learn the Art of Living Alone
I didn't want to be thirty-eight and just getting that chance. Number 7, like number 6, might, possibly, take more than a year to figure out, but it was doable.
Thinking about my mom only reminded me of the words of wisdom she had left me with as we said good-bye. Idly I wrote those down beneath my list for the year:
1. Stay in Roxbury and Cambridge.
2. Don't talk to strangers or ride the transports alone.
3. You are here to learn!
4. You can call your aunt for anything.
5. You can always come home.
My mom hadn't said the last one, but I assumed it to be true so I added it to the list. I reread over the words, and put two very neat lines through that statement. I'd been trying to get away from Bakersfield and Alabama since my forced migration there when I was nine. Hell could freeze over first; I didn't care what happened in Boston, I wasn't going back.
Instead I reiterated my mom's words:
6. You are here to learn.
Beneath her words and mine, I added an explanation:
Make the right kind of friends
Don't get involved in the "counter" culture
No sit ins
Make your family (dad) and your church (mom) proud (get straight A's)
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU ALLOWED TO BE ARRESTED
(I speculated, though, that my aunt would post bail if I did).
I remembered my mom's preamble to her parting words and realized that they should have been added to the list first. Unfortunately it was too late for that, so I wrote it underneath everything else.
7) This is a good thing!!!
At the top of the list with a nice 1) behind it, it made much more sense, but at the bottom, beneath everything else, it just seemed out of place. The thing, what I was trying very hard to avoid, was over. And this far at the bottom of the page, it was hard to figure out if it was good.
Have you ever listened to someone paint a picture of hope for you in terms of summertime? There is that which is expressed not by paper printed items, but by heart, and there are things that transcend simple human thought processes: there are matters that unite all creatures across all color lines, across all gender lines, even across the sands of time. There are secrets to be found in life that you can only discover when you don't spend time looking for them ...
My thoughts trailed, and with them they took my eyes, bringing them away from the pages of my notebook to force me to appreciate the not-quite-autumn day that surrounded us. It was one of those bright and sunny days, cloudless; the type of day that brought most people out of the dorms, and the libraries, and their residences, to do something, anything, in appreciation of the amazing weather; sun worshippers. It was the last few official days of summer, and even though it was still somewhat hot, there was a certain coolness to the air. It wasn't a chill so much as the tiniest hint of a secret, as if autumn was letting us know that it was right around the corner and the crippling heat of the summer would soon be gone; nature was ready for change.
I wondered if humans too went through our own seasonal changes every quarter, mere reflections of our surroundings. Did we have a yearly time of growing, of shedding, of cooling off, and heating up, as organically a part of our nature as breathing in and out? I wondered how many relationships ended at the end of summer, unable to last even the hint of the drop in temperature. Were Derek and I, then, just simple functions of biology after all? I'd said something to him along those lines once and he'd gotten angry at me. I think that day was the first time he'd ever told me he loved me.
The thought had me reaching for my pencil again and I looked for something else to distract me. Beside me, Erin was stretched out along her faded blue and white cotton blanket, her long, tanned, legs making a precise 'X' in front of her. One of her school books lay open in her lap, ignored, as she took in the mostly male student body around us. In that moment, particularly, she reminded me so much of my best friend, Patrice.
"Why'd you choose Radcliffe?" I wondered casually. I looked up as I posed the question, meeting Erin's curious eye, knowing that in-between boy watching she'd been watching me clandestinely.
Her eyebrows knitted together as she considered my question. She bit down on her lip. "I can't say that I ever really chose here," she said, thoughtfully. "I applied on a dare, and once my guidance counselor found out, she did everything in her power to help get me here." Her voice halted suddenly, thoughtful. "God, Ms. Lender was an evil woman," she stated cheerfully, "but she took to me for some reason."
Her statement made me think of my own high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Rupert, a short, stout, blonde-haired woman with constantly appraising brown eyes. She was younger than my mom, not fresh from college but not quite old enough to have children high school age. Two weeks into my freshman year of high school she had called me into her office to discuss my schedule for the year. The look she had greeted me with had been one of concern, mingled with apprehension, all with the air of trying to seem casual. In her voice there had been the right amount of encouragement as she told me that perhaps taking on so many advanced classes wasn't such a good idea, and that maybe I should reconsider my plans for the future.
Excerpted from A House of Cards by Jacqueline White Copyright © 2011 by Jacqueline White. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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