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Good Reads

Dallas Summer Reading Series: Twenty Years

Author LaToya Watkins revisits NorthPark Center after two decades.
Tatjana Junker

August 28, 2001

I didn’t plan to be here on my 21st birthday, but Ree and them decided at the last minute, early this morning, that they was gone throw me a party tonight, and I ain’t have nothing new to wear. When we got here, I thought The Gap was the only store we was gone hit. It’s the only store I ever hit in NorthPark. A mall that got the nerve to be the closest one to where I live on Skillman but ain’t got nothing in it I can afford. The Gap one of the only stores that ain’t a big department store, like Dillard’s or Neiman, that got its own entrance and exit. Ain’t even got to go all the way in the mall. The Gap the only store in NorthPark I mess with like that.

And then Ree decided to cross the threshold and go into the mall. Decided she wanted to get me some perfume for my birthday. I told her I wasn’t going with her; I’d wait for her on the bench outside the store. Tried to talk her out of going, but Ree ain’t that type of person you can talk into or out of anything. Last week, she asked me for a ride to Mervyn’s in Garland. Was only posed to get outfits for our kids’ day at the zoo. After I had safely, carefully, outsmarted the dressing room clerk, popped the sensor with my pig-nose driver, and stuffed a single outfit into my bag behind the cover of the curtain, she told me to pull the car up front. I wasn’t expecting her to run out the store with her arms fill of clothes, but she did. I didn’t expect her to apologize for making me an accomplice to her theft over 50, and she didn’t.

So today, when she announced her plan, when I failed to talk her out of it, I asked her to let me say a prayer for her, and she got mad with me.

I haven’t been here in 20 years. I sit in the parking lot and try to gather myself, willing my breathing to slow.

God ain’t in this mess. Ain’t got nothing to do with no boosting. I don’t play with God like that.

And for a long time after, I done stood here watching the guy that walked out the store behind her, the guy that said, Excuse me, miss, let me holler at you, the one she smiled sexy for right fore he revealed himself as loss prevention and led her to the security folks. The guy laughing with one of the store clerks. I know they laughing about what happened with Ree. That she, with her around-the-way look and obvious boosting bag, actually thought he wanted to “holler” at her. That she thought she fooled him into thinking she belonged in a place like that.

I stand here and watch him longer than I should, listening for any details that’ll give me an idea of what’s gone happen to my friend before I slink back into The Gap and leave. 

August 28, 2021

I haven’t been here in 20 years. I sit in the parking lot and try to gather myself, willing my breathing to slow. This place is different, even the parking lot. It all looks so grand. Where I used to park, close to The Gap, that place is gone. 

I push the start button on my car and make my way to the valet that I saw when I first got here. Even after all these years, this place still doesn’t feel like it’s meant for me. And yet, I exit my vehicle and hand the valet my keys. I slide my designer bag onto my shoulder and make my way to the mall entrance. 

I think of Ree, still living raw, still boosting, still standing out in places like this. I think of her children, one in prison and one living with a drug dealer in Arlington. I think of mine, both away at Ivy League schools, with no memory of the life we lived two decades ago. I think of the world that is in me and the one that will never truly be behind me, no matter how much money I have to spend. 

I nod a thank-you to a masked man who holds the door open for me. When I step inside, I make out the hollow sound of voices and fountains and I remember my fear of this place. I’m spit out into the center—the atrium—and I gasp. I don’t remember escalators—these two majestic floors. There are sculptures and exotic plants and so many people—so many different kinds of people. Everything seems out of place. Everything has changed.

Many of the stores have long, roped lines of masked people standing, waiting to get inside them. And I wonder if this is pandemic-related or if this is normal.

“Excuse me, miss,” I hear someone say, somewhere near me, and I feel my heart rate speed up. My body stiffens, and I turn my head in the direction of the voice. “Are you in line?” a masked man asks, pointing a finger toward the line next to me.