Saturday, November 25, 2006

James III Comes to Town

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here

2
On August 18, 2001, at 4:52 p.m., James was the last passenger at Mitchell International Airport, gate D51, to deplane US Airways Flight 509 from Pittsburgh. Craig and his cousin, Bernadine (his mother’s older sister’s daughter), waited on tiptoe while Job stood nearby, pointing the video camera at the gate. Wearing a blue tie, a black leather jacket, black dress pants, and black pointed-toe loafers, James walked toward Craig.



His head, close-cropped and balding, was egg-shaped, just like Craig’s. His breathing seemed labored. Like a robot’s, his bifocaled eyes darted side to side, up and down, deciphering, processing every visual stimulus in his surroundings. Craig recalled the image of James in the 1967 Oakwood College yearbook. Thirty-three years had little mercy on the man who walked right up to Craig and said, “Christian.” They hugged. “That’s the first thing I thought when I first saw you standing at the end of the corridor. You look like Christian. That’s my brother’s son. You look like Christian.”



Craig introduced him to Bernadine and Job. On the way to the baggage claim, James asked, almost in a whisper, “Who is Job?”

“My partner.”

“What kind of business?”

“The business of life.”

“Oh. I see.”

“I’m glad that you see.”

James collected his gray Samsonite suitcase and they left the airport and drove to the Hotel Wisconsin. Job and Craig had booked him a room down the hall from theirs.

“Seven eighteen,” said James, looking at the number on the door of his room. “Seven eighteen: that’s my brother, Josh. His birthday is July eighteenth.”

“Job’s is the sixteenth,” said Craig.
When they got inside, Uncle James opened one of his carry-on bags and took out a book of baby names, obituaries, photographs, yearbooks, and other family memorabilia, including James the Physician’s original business card, which pre-dated zip codes.

“Wow,” said Bernadine. “How did you keep that card in such good condition. And how did you find it so fast. You musta collected some pictures, found the card and said ‘I’m ready to go.’”
James cackled. “You can keep that.”

“Are you kidding me?” Craig stared at the card.

“Will you look at that.” Job stood over Craig’s shoulder, zooming in on the card with the video camera.



In the “Ocadian,” the Oakwood Academy (high school) newsletter, Craig saw pictures of Frank East that looked identical to pictures of himself as a youngster at Rufus King High. The newsletter also included Frank’s birthday and middle name. Now Craig could find him too.

“Here is a picture of your grandparents at their fiftieth wedding anniversary,” James handed Craig two photographs, “and them again when they were first married in forty-six. December seventh, Pearl Harbor Day.”

“Oh, my word, that’s the day between my mother’s and my birthday.” Craig studied the first one. “Bernadine, come take a look at this.” Bernadine rose from the bed, came near, and looked. Craig pointed to the image of England. “Doesn’t she look like Grandma Magnolia?”

“Mercy.” Bernadine eyed the image with raised eyebrows. “She does look like Grandma Maggie.”
“Who’s she?” James looked at Bernadine.

“She’s our grandmother, my mother’s mother and Aunt Mary’s mother. She passed two years ago now I think it was.”

“And look on the picture when they got married.” Craig passed the picture to Bernadine. “My grandfather looks like my father, same hairstyle and everything. My parents were married in forty-six, too. June twenty-third.”

“That’s my oldest sister’s wedding anniversary as well,” said Job.

“That’s my wife’s birthday.” James cackled.

“My, my, my,” was all Bernadine could say.

They talked about more coincidences between all their families, which, by now, didn’t seem to be coincidences at all. Their families were closely woven textiles whose lattices—metaphysical, ineffable, undeniably real—astounded the mind.

The Weavers’ work was of the highest artistic expression. “Let’s take all this stuff with us and go see my parents. They’re simply gonna die.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Tree According to James III

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here


1
Armed with the ten digits that possessed the potential to bring in all sorts of light, Craig thought his heart would jump right out of its container. With the two-hour time difference between Milwaukee and California, he decided to wait a few hours before making the call.

Meantime, Mary mother of Craig came to him while he sat rocking in the chair that once belonged to his never-met grandfather, the rocking chair his Granny Alma had given them, the chair that had become his father’s favorite place to rest while awake. Mary stood in front of the television, blocking whatever insignificance flashed on the screen. She turned to her son, looked him in the eyes, cocked her head subtly to the right, but not so subtly that he didn’t notice. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m gonna call that number. There’s no turning back now, Mama. What’s the worse that could happen? That I’ll find her and she’ll slam the door shut in my face? At least I will have seen her face, Mama. If nothing else, I will have seen it. I wanna see it, Mama. I wanna look her in the eye.” He paused, found his mother’s eyes. “I’m as ready as I’m ever gonna be.”

She focused her eyes intently on his. Satisfied that what she saw there was real. “Then when are you gonna call Uncle James?”

For the next few hours, every five minutes it seemed, one of them—his mother, his father, his husband—asked if he’d called the man in California yet.

Three times he tried; three times the voicemail greeting greeted him. He left no messages.

“I will try again when we get back to the hotel.”


*

At 8:50 p.m., Central Standard Time, Craig phones James while Job goes to the hotel concession area to get ice. This time, a man says hello.

“Is this James White?”

“Yes.”

“Let me jump to the point. My name is Craig Hickman, but I was born Joseph Bernard White.”

“Joseph White?”

“Yes.”

“And could you say that middle name again?”

“Bernard.”

“Hold on one second.”

Job returns with a bucket of ice, pours himself a drink, and turns on the video camera.

“Joseph White. Madison, Wisconsin?” asks James.

Craig hears a rattling sound in the background. “Yes,” he replies.

“December nineteen sixty-nine?”

“Nineteen sixty-seven.”

There is a pause.

“Boy, have I been wanting to talk to you. Man, do I have a lot to say to you. There’s so much that I wanna tell you.”

“There’s so much I wanna know.”

“My whole life has been all about you, man. Just today, I finally finished a book and took a video I watched last week back to the video store. You know what they were called? The book was called The Bourne Identity and the movie, A Stranger Among Us.” James laughs and continues:




“You are African, Jewish, Irish, German, Cherokee, African, and Geechie. You are a direct descendant of William Penn. Now your great grandmother, Madree Penn White, was one of the founders of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a nationally known black sorority. You’ve heard of them, I’m sure. I have to find her obituary and read it to you. She was quite a woman. Somewhere in here, I have my father’s and grandfather’s, too.”

While James looks for obituaries, Craig grabs his briefcase-cum-shoulder bag and retrieves a pen and the journal where he keeps most of his research notes.

“Now your great grandfather, Madree’s husband, although they got divorced—actually, she divorced him, which hardly any women did at that time—your great grandfather was one of the first black physicians in the United States. He lived in St. Louis with Madree before their divorce when she then moved to Cleveland. He lived in Mt. Vernon, New York where he took up with a young mistress before he returned to St. Louis, which is where he died. Now Madree, which means mother in Spanish, went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. I wish I could remember where my grandparents met, but I can’t. Now my father, your grandfather, worked in his mother’s print shop in St. Louis when he was young. Now your Aunt Grace, his sister—matter of fact, I just talked to her today, she just had eye surgery—lives in Cleveland and her son James Otis Ware, who changed his name to Oloye, is like you. You would wanna meet him. I hope you get a chance to meet him. Aunt Grace is gonna die when I tell her about you. Her son Oloye is a genealogist and has done a lot of research on both sides of his family, but mainly his father’s father’s side and his mother’s mother’s side, that’s how we know Madree is descended from the William Penn who founded Pennsylvania. He lives in Cleveland, too. He traced his father’s side of the family all the way back some thirteen hundred years to Nigeria and the Yoruba people.

“Now the Geechie in you, that comes from my grandfather’s side of the family. He was from Edenton, North Carolina, near an island off the coast where the Geechie still live and speak their own language. Gullah, I think it’s called. They are direct descendants of African tribes from Sierra Leone. Now they were brought over to work the rice plantations along the coast of the Carolinas down through to northern Georgia. Now one of your great great, or is it great great great, I’m not sure—actually, it’s not great at all, but maybe your third or fourth or fifth—but you have a cousin named George Henry White who was a North Carolina US Congressman during Recon-struction, the first black in the House of Representatives in the nation. Supposedly we still have a relative in that area, just outside of Edenton. Her name is Mignon Jenkins. Mignon Jenkins, I’m pretty sure that’s it. Yes. Mignon Jenkins. My travels haven’t taken me there yet, but I hope to visit her someday to see where we all came from.

“Now the Cherokee—I consider the Cherokee Nation the Jews of the Indians—the Cherokee also comes from my father’s side. Your great grandfather’s mother was half Cherokee from Tennessee.

“Now the Jewish comes from my mother’s side of the family. Now my mother, your grandmother, was from the other side of the tracks and, in fact, my father’s parents thought he married beneath him. Her people are from Mississippi. Her grandmother Mary was married to a man of African descent, however, she was pregnant before she got married by a Jewish man who was passing through. His name was Howard Rosenberg. My mother doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks he was from Russia. The Irish and German also come from her side. Her mother Rosie, who was the daughter of Mary and Howard, was married to Herman Turner and his mother was part German, part Irish.”

Craig struggles to keep the phone between his shoulder and ear while writing as quickly as he can.




James speaks fast and doesn’t seem ready to stop anytime soon. His words are silken threads spun into a beautiful web. Craig is all caught up. “Every major event in my life it seems had something to do with you. By the time I get off this phone, I hope to show you how. We were both rejected from the family. But it was harder for me because I was rejected from the family but still in the family, whereas you were rejected from the family out-side of the family. I don’t know if it was harder for me, but it was different, and the same. You understand what I’m trying to say?”

“I think so.”

“Now I’m ill. I’m on disability. I’m ill now. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in nineteen eighty-two and had to sell my practice and go on disability. I have nothing but time on my hands now and so I’m on a quest for God and the truth. I do a lot of reading and I love religion. I’m on the quest for God and the truth. My religion is family. I study all religions in the quest for truth. I’m a Jew. I’m more Jewish than a real Jew”—he laughed—“I’m James Eathel White, so my initials actually spell Jew. How many Jewish people you know can say that? That’s how I sign my name. J. E. W. My Jewishness defines me more than anything else. I’m a Jew.

“I’m here to try and make unity out of diversity. My religion is family. Now, religion is supposed to teach love, its ultimate theme and purpose, but this mission has been subjugated by institutional madness and dogma. Family is about love. Religion is about love, or it’s supposed to be about love. If a religion isn’t about love, it’s not about anything. That’s why I had to get out of the Adventist church. Nothing but a bunch of hypocrites who believe everything Ellen G. White wrote and prophesied, and she was known to suffer from temporal lobe epileptic delusions based on a head trauma she endured as a little girl in Maine. I was in Maine once.

“Nobody in my family understands me. Nobody wants to understand me. Now my mother, your grandmother, probably understands me the most, but she likes to act like she doesn’t. I’m into numbers, the meaning and significance of numbers. I have a whole theory about life that can be distilled right down to numbers. My mother is into numbers, too, but she tries not to let anybody but me know because Adventists don’t really believe in numbers. And that’s crazy because the Bible is full of numerology.

“Did you know? Craig. Craig, right? Now did you know that you were supposed to contact me first? You were supposed to contact me first. You were supposed to find me first. You know that, don’t you? You were supposed to find me before you found anyone else.”


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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gratitude

I am grateful for the exquisite meal I've just inhaled: beer-brined, pesto-encrusted roasted turkey, juicier than a rotisserie chicken, with giblet gravy that made me wanna slap somebody; fresh cranberry ginger relish; sausage and apricot dressing; ghetto green beans with smoked turkey wing; macaroni & cheese with six cheeses and a puree of secrets; and orange-candied yams. No dinner rolls necessary. I forgot to cook the creamed pearl onions, but they weren't missed. Later, I'll indulge in a sinful wedge of Heaven's Cheesecake with a side of brandy-spiked egg nog.

I'm grateful for the friends and my dearest husband who are cleaning up the kitchen as I sit and type this, and my lovely family in Milwaukee who I'll call while eating dessert. Not to mention a whole host of birth relatives all over the country who probably won't get a phone call but who, nonetheless, live vividly in my heart this evening.

Mostly, I'm grateful for the gift of my health. As I sit and reminisce about all of my ancestors and my close friends who are now ancestral, I must be thankful for still being here, alive and well and enjoying this heaven on earth.

And last, but certainly not least, I'm grateful for all of you for stopping by and reading my musings.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Call

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here

2
Craig wrestled with his angels. He knew there were other ways to locate Jennifer, avenues that didn’t require him talking to the woman in Dalton, Georgia. But those paths were more complicated, more time-consuming, more frustrating.

Later that evening, alone in the kitchen, Craig pondered these things. Hazelle had just closed the swing door between the kitchen and the living room. Hazelle knew that his son needed a brief and quiet separation from the family sitting on the other side.

Alone in the kitchen, Craig told himself to keep it simple. You can do this. If she won’t give you the information you need, you will be in the exact same place you are now and you can try another route.

And so it was that on Monday, April 16, 2001, at 5:25 p.m., Central Daylight Time, alone in the kitchen, he called the woman in Dalton, Georgia.

His heart begins to palpitate. She answers the phone on the second ring.

“Hello, ma’am. My name is Melvin Dixon, a friend of James from Oakwood College. I promised to keep in touch with him after I left Oak-wood, but I’m afraid I haven’t done so. It’s been twenty years since we last spoke, and I’ve no idea where he is. I hope you can help.”

“When were you at Oakwood College?”

While talking, Craig tries to visualize the woman who possesses the smoky voice he hears on the other end of the phone. How weary she sounds. He already knows that England is virtually the same age as Mary, but England sounds twenty years older than his mother.


It is hard to visualize this woman with that voice. This woman who has put darkness in places where there ought to be light.

Craig thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and his heart palpitates faster. He thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and he remembers how he and his friends Gail the Writer and Darlin the Musician tried to visualize this woman in the living room of their apartment back in 1997. How Darlin sat down and played gospel riffs on the piano. How Gail mimed donning a big hat and sat down on the couch, testifying from the congregation. How Craig aged his face and his voice, preaching the wages of sin is death to the falling-out-in-the-aisle, caught-up-in-the-Holy-Spirit wo-man in the congregation. He thinks about the Documents of His Genesis and he remembers that, within five minutes of reading them, he came to hate this woman.

And now, four years later, over the phone, he is listening to a hated woman whose voice sounds so weary, so full of woe, it nearly breaks his heart to hear it. He wants to tell her who he really is, how he really feels about her, but he suspects his search will end right here, right now, if he reveals himself, even devoid his hate, to her. With another lie, he answers her question instead.

“Um, I was at Oakwood for just two years, sixty-seven and sixty-eight.”

“Then you must know my daughter Jennifer?”

And his chest is heavy with pain.

He takes a moment before he can continue. Job peeks through the swing door, sees the telephone at Craig’s ear, and quickly disappears back to the other side.

A single moment contains the then, the now, and the hereafter. As though the bottle shatters and time begins to spill everywhere at once. As you sense time spreading uncontrollably around you, you exist with an awareness unmatched by anything you’ve ever known. You might want to run around, frantically, gathering it up, pouring it back, sealing it away. But it’s too late. Or too early. Time will do what time has done when time does it. If you are wise, you allow it.

“I knew James had a younger sister,” he answered at last, “and I’m sure I must have met her once or twice, but, no, I didn’t really know her.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Boston.”

“And how did you get my number?”

“From the Internet.”

“The Internet? I don’t think so. This number wouldn’t be listed on the Internet. Not this number.”

“Well, it was.”

“And where are you calling from again?”

“Boston.” He hears the sound of pages rustling in the background. “I have twelve numbers for a James White and this one is the eighth on the list.”

“This was the eighth number you called?”

“Yes, the eighth number.”

“The eighth number on your list?”

“Yes. The eighth.”

“And how many numbers are on your list?”

“Eleven.”

“I see. The James White that lived here was my husband, who is now deceased.”

“I know. I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”

“How would you know about my husband?”

“From the Internet. Same place I got your number.”

“I see. What did you say your name was again, young man?”

“Essex Hemphill.”

For another spilling moment, England says nothing. Craig still hears the rustling. “Here it is. Here is James’ telephone number.” He writes it down as she reads it. “You can call him directly. He’s out in California. I hope everything is okay.”

“It will be. Thank you for your help, ma’am. And God bless you.”

“God bless you, too.”

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Deed

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here


1
The Milwaukee Public Library, with its ornate columns, stands majestically on Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it recalls the greatest libraries of the world. Built in 1898 for all of seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars, the one-block-long limestone monument mixes French and Italian renaissance styles commonly known as Neo-renaissance.

Inside, Job and Craig navigate its wide, sky-lit hallways and expansive rooms until they locate the rows and rows of flat drawers full of boxes and boxes of the nation’s archived newspapers. Craig searches through volumes of the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel, looking for the obituary of James E. White where he hopes the full names of his children will be listed. Job searches through editions from 1970 to 1985 hoping to find a Jennifer White in the marriage announcements. After two hours of loading up, scrolling through, and unloading countless cartridges of film, they find nothing, pack their notes, and move on to the courthouse.

The Milwaukee County Courthouse stands just behind the Milwaukee Public Library on Ninth Street. Its architecture nearly eclipses the restrained beauty of the library in grandiosity and scale. Like the library, the court-house’s architectural design resulted from a nationwide competition. Faced with Bedford limestone, the courthouse features columns on all sides, stone owls, lioness’ heads, and inscriptions, all of which reminded Craig of the renditions of the pre-ruin Parthenon he’d seen in books from his high-school Latin class. The courthouse was completed in 1932 for eight-and-a-half-million dollars and in 1976, it was designated a National Landmark.


Craig and Job walk through the dark bronze anodized revolving door and follow the signs for the Register of Deeds, which is on the lower level.

“I wanna know where I can find historical property records for this address,” Craig says to the woman with the dark-brown bob behind the help desk.

“Is the property in Milwaukee County?”

“Yes.”

“Then the first thing you’re gonna need to do is go back upstairs to the treasurer’s office and get the legal description of the property. Once you have that, come back to me and I will show you where you can find what you’re looking for.”

“Thank you,” says Craig, turning away. He turns back to the woman. “By the way, what is your name?”

“Ann. I’m the only one here today.”

Job walks around through the stacks of case-bound books while Craig goes to the county treasurer’s office to get the legal description. When he returns, Craig rings the help-desk bell. Ann comes over and tells him how to proceed. “How far back are you looking?”

“I need to get information from the sixties, maybe the fifties.”




“All records before ninety-six are on microfiche. Follow me.” She leads Craig over to a row of computers. “Here you’ll follow the instructions on the screen. Type in the legal property description. You will get a number. That number includes the book number and page number of the documents you want.” She leads Craig into the stacks where Job still looks around. “Over here, find the number of the book. Go to the page with your property description. You’ll see a column with volume numbers and a column with film numbers. Each time the property changed hands, or there was some event at the property, a foreclosure perhaps, there’s an entry in the register. Select the ones you want and then come over here,” she leads Craig back to the help desk, “fill out these cards and give them to me. I’ll bring you the microfiche, which you take over to the viewers just opposite the computers. Do you know how to use the viewers?”

“I’m sure I can figure it out.”

“Well, let me know if I can be of any help. Good luck.”

Job has come out of the stacks. “Did you hear any of that, honey?”

“Some of it. What do you need me to do?”

“Nothing, I don’t think. I guess I’ll just go ahead and get started.”

Within half an hour, Craig is sorting through microfiche on one of the viewers. Ann has given him the deeds from 1950 to 1992. During that time the property changed hands only three times.
The third time was the charm.

For there, on the third transaction, are the instructions, the text a constellation set against the midnight-blue sky of film, able to be seen as the light filters into its spaces from the bulb behind the screen. The stars say that after the sale of the house in 1992, Iretha Starr-Johnson, the new owner, whose tiny signature is almost indiscernible, was to send all loan payments to the address at Ella Lane in Dalton, Georgia. James E. White, Jr. and England White, the sellers, also signed the deed.

“Job, come here.” Job rushes right over when he sees Craig’s face, transfixed by the heavens. “Look.”

“Wow. There they are.”

There they are, or what Craig can see of them, smell of them, feel of them through their signatures. James’ signature is entirely legible, executed with perfect penmanship, the neatest signature of any man, except perhaps his own father’s, that Craig has ever seen. It is the signature of an artist. England’s signature, also entirely legible, nonetheless, seems marred by restraint, as though her hand could not flow freely through the strokes as it created them. It is the signature of a person under perpetual duress. For what seems to Craig like hours, he stares at these signatures—dissecting, re-arranging, tracing them—as though they are the DNA on which his own genetic code is signed.

“I’m gonna take a picture.” And so Job does.


Now they know it without any doubt. Craig rifles through his briefcase, finds the Internet printout for the deceased James E. White and studies it; the woman in Dalton Georgia is, indeed, his grandmother. He holds her telephone number in his hands.

Sitting in the bowels of a building that will, without a doubt, someday be considered a classic, Craig holds another whole world in his hands.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Jennifer Hudson Sings the Hell Out of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"




I couldn't be more exicted. This Christmas, the long-awaited film version of Micheal Bennett's Dreamgirls will open in theaters nationwide. The film needs no other introduction. Surely, everyone must be wondering what Jennifer Hudson of American Idol fame will do with the show-stopping number at the close of Act 1, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" made famous by the incomparable Jennifer Holliday (how ironic that both singers have the same first name; same initials!) in a powerhouse rant/rave/exorcism that tore down Jericho's Walls back in 1981. The song became the defining moment of Jennifer Holliday's career, and to this day, she sings it whenever and wherever she performs. Jennifer Hudson proclaimed after she was booted from American Idol that she wanted to play the role of Effie White on stage. Well, grace shined upon her, and she was cast in Bill Condon's film version of a story based loosely on the life of Diana Ross and the Supremes. Can Jennifer Hudson bring her own mojo to a song many consider will always belong to Jennifer Holliday?

I say: Most Definitely.

Here is the audio clip from the movie:



Jennifer Hudson

The latest Hollywood buzz has already pegged Dreamgirls as the frontrunner for best picture. I also have a feeling that Jennifer Hudson is going to steal the show and garner a nod as supporting actress for her screen debut. Anika Noni Rose was nothing short of a miracle in her Tony-Award winning performance in "Caroline and Change". Beyonce has lived the live of Deena Jones and was born to play this part. I'm not sure she'll be respected enough by the voters to garner a lead actress nomination, but if she turns it out, there can be no denying her. Insiders say this movie will resurrect Eddie Murphy's career. He's perfect cast as James Thunder Early and the man can sing! And is there anything Jamie Foxx can't do? Surely he won't fall victim to the snub Richard Gere received for "Chicago" and he'll be receiving his third nomination in a few months. Can this highly anticipated movie be the second film adaptation of a blockbuster broadway musical to take Tinsel Town's most coveted prize this century?

I say: Hell Yeah.

Here's the trailer for the movie:




Going to Milwaukee

excerpt from Fumbling Toward Divinity continued from here

1
On April 11, 2001, Craig and Job loaded up their black Jeep Grand Cherokee and pulled away from their house on Ridge Street in Roslindale, a hilly neighborhood in the southwestern part of Boston. They began the thousand-mile journey to Milwaukee in search of the house on Sixteenth Street and where it might lead them. They decided to traverse Pennsylvania on Interstate 80, intending to return to Boston through upstate New York a week or so later.

Somewhere in Pennsylvania, Craig looked at his husband and felt a surge inside, a surge he had not felt in a long, long time. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, his love began to breathe again, breathe again, so full he was with the ease of coming back to love again, so satisfied they had finally come back to Paradise. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, fulfillment lulled him into a slumber where all he could dream about was how they had gotten to Paradise in the first place.

When Craig woke up, they were already in Chicago. He drove the rest of the journey, while Job took his turn at sleep in the stretched-out-flat passenger seat. They arrived in Milwaukee late Saturday morning and tired as a mule, Craig drove by Sharon Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Teutonia Avenue on Milwaukee’s north side. Services had just ended and Craig wondered if any of the people, clad in white and pastel Easter raiment posing in front of the church, were his relatives.

“C’mon, honey. Let’s just get to the hotel. I need to stretch all the way out,” said Job, awakened by the slow tempo of the car as they passed the church.

“I’m so tired I could fall out, but I wanna drive by the house first. It’s only a few blocks from here. After that, I promise, we’ll go to the hotel. It’s a quick dash downtown on the highway.” Craig drove about half a mile up Teutonia Avenue, turned right onto Burleigh Street and left onto Sixteenth. Almost at the end of the block on the right side of the street sat 3232, the house with white siding and green trim.


“It looks like your parents’ house, Craig,” said Job as they pulled up. Craig stopped in the middle of the street. “It’s smaller because it’s a single-family, but it’s just like your house. Same color and everything. The only thing missing are the pine trees.”

“Surreal.” Craig looked in the rearview mirror and saw no car coming behind them. “Take a picture.”

Job retrieved the Canon from the camera bag, rolled down the window, and snapped two photographs. Craig tried to imagine the family that had lived behind the front door thirty-three years before, but nothing came into view. He sighed and pulled away as Job put the camera back in its case.

Craig drove downtown where they checked into the Hotel Wisconsin, one of the city’s oldest. It was the same hotel where Craig once met a man whose number was written neatly on the stall of a bathroom in the Grand Avenue Mall, which stretched for three blocks right across the street.

The Revelation of Craig the Adopted



I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me
To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’…

—Isaiah 65:1

1
The first time he sees her face, the first time he looks into her eyes, the first time he feels her arms around him and his around her, his water will break, and he will wail three decades and three years of tears.

And time will stand still.

2
And it came to pass on the twenty-seventh day of April in the nineteen hundred and sixty-ninth year that Craig Von Hickman went permanently to the home of Hazelle and Mary Juanita Hickman on Thirteenth Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was sixteen months of age.

He grew up fast. Way too fast according to Mary Juanita.

In elementary and high school, although many suspected it, and Craig did very little to hide it, no one really knew the truth about him, about him and the boys, about him and Juneau Park, about him and his savior Seldon called Roy.

Oh yes, many knew that he was adopted. That was no secret. And yes, anyone could see he was black. That was no secret either. But no one knew that other truth about him, not his girlfriends, not his would-be girlfriends, not his wannabe girlfriends.

Only his dear friend Joseph the Swimmer knew the truth. Or, perhaps, they all knew the truth, but only Joseph accepted it. Whatever the case, Joseph was the only person to whom he actually told the truth. And though Joseph knew the name Mary and Hazelle had given Craig, Joseph called him Craig van den Landenberg, a name with a bit of Dutch in it.

3
On April 16, 1993, Craig’s alter ego and stage persona was born. And he called her April Marie Lynette Jones, but he didn’t know why, and she was a hairdresser who worked in J’s His and Hers Salon, but he didn’t know why, and she appeared wise, and seemed to give great advice, and talked about how everyone else could fix their lives, but she had some deep, mysterious, unspoken pain inside her. And he didn’t know what it was all about, and he didn’t ask her, and she didn’t tell him.

4
On April 16, 1996, he went to see the film secrets and lies at the Kendall Square Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When he saw how the black woman in the movie sought and found her birth mother, a white woman, he could hardly stay seated. Could hardly contain the rumblings and tremors and trembling within, signifying a great internal quake. He knew his earth was about to open for all those around to see, and for this, he was not ready.

When the film ended, Craig left the theater and went home. There he allowed a bit of earth to break, but not too much, for he was not ready.

For the next two weeks, he would lie on the floor of his apartment, in the fetal position, unable to function—yearning, longing, waiting, hoping for the day when his eyes would be opened.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” God had said, and so he did. His beloved friends and roommates, Darlin the Musician and Gail the Writer, picked him up off the floor and held him.

And so it was that they began walking with him on his journey toward the light.

5
On January 11, 1997, the Documents of His Genesis came from the Children’s Services Society of Wisconsin, the agency that handled his adoption. The Documents provided his medical and social history, but any information that would identify or could be used to trace his people was blacked out, stricken from the record with what must have been a thick, black magic marker.

The next day, Craig met again Jacobus called Job on the Internet while he was looking for colleges in Huntsville, Alabama (the striker of record slipped up and left that location uncovered), the place where the Documents said she had attended college.

Eight years had passed since he first met Job and he knew then, as he knew now, that this was the man with whom he would spend the rest of his life.

A photograph, which he had found that very morning, of Seldon called Roy sat atop the computer looking down on him, bearing witness to this Internet reunion.

Seldon called Roy was his savior. A savior rarer than the name Seldon was given but never called. Craig had misplaced the photograph five years prior and had not seen it since. But almost out of nowhere, it appeared. When Craig moved his desk in order to retrieve his favorite pen, which had fallen behind it, Roy’s photograph was right there, face up, lodged between the heating pipe cover and the white brick wall.

And so the photograph of his savior also bore witness to him finding Oakwood College on the Internet. Oakwood College. The only religious-affiliated college in Huntsville, Alabama. Affiliated not with the Latter Day Saints, as the Documents of His Genesis erroneously indicated, but with the Seventh Day Adventists, who base their religion on the Three Angels Message from Revelation 14:6-13. Besides, Craig knew no black Mormons, several black Adventists, and the Documents of His Genesis identified his people as Negro.

Oakwood College. This must be where I was conceived, thought Craig. And so, along with Gail the Writer and Darlin the Musician, he poured through the Documents of His Genesis looking for any sign that might tell them who she was and where he could find her.

The social history was typed. Craig realized that they could count how many letters and spaces were behind the black streaks simply by comparing their length to the lines above or below. Sometimes the marks left tiny bits of letters discernable to their six eyes.

When they finally calculated that her first name was eight letters, beginning with the letter j, an i, or a t and ending with an r, and that her last name was five letters ending with an e, the first thing they thought was Jennifer White. The second thing they thought was Jennifer was right, but White was not. That would have been too easy. Much too easy.

And so they dismissed White as quickly as they thought it up in the beginning and Craig retreated to a place with no light.

6
On February 13, 1997, secrets and lies was nominated for an Academy Award™ for Best Picture, as were the actresses who played the seeker and the sought in their respective categories. Job asked Craig if they could see the film together, and he replied, “I don’t know if I will ever be able to see that movie again.” Certainly if I never find her, he completed the thought to himself.

On October 28, 1997, Job took Craig to see Lloyd Sheldon the Revelator at Black Star Enterprises in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To Lloyd Sheldon, Craig revealed his date of birth. He revealed nothing else.

Among other things, the Revelator, who kept his eyes closed, revealed to Craig, speaking while writing:

Your psychic number is 8; your life number is 7.
You have lived 100 years in 30!!
You are most complex! Very few people understand you.
There is distance from your father; your natural father is far away from you. He has strong features and you look just like him. There is some connection to the family in Maryland / Washington D.C. / North Carolina / Virginia / Georgia. You’ll go to France, Holland, Belgium?? Germany in nearly 2 weeks, 10 days to 2 weeks. Be sure to take a camera on your trip. You have been searching long and hard for information. This has taken a lot of time. It is very important, tracing family. One ancestor is bi-cultural—*African American and Caribbean. You are not looking in the right places. If you really want to know—look. Your name was different. Birth certificates were changed. There is a Great Book inside of you that you have yet to write. It comes after you find what you are looking for. You have manuscripts that will be considered. If you are wise, you will collapse two into one!

*You will be reunited with your origins inside of four years. You must do the research!! Yourself. In person.

Lloyd Sheldon spoke and wrote many other things on the three pieces of wide-ruled paper he folded like a letter and put in a gray number 10 envelope. On the face of it, he wrote the date and handed it to Craig. On their way home, Craig read its contents to Job. He wouldn’t read it again until October 25, 2001. While compiling primary material for the big project he was about to undertake, Craig found the envelope stuck like a bookmark in the black journal he thought he’d lost years before.

7
On Craig’s thirty-third birthday, December 8, 2000, Job made more than a mess of things.

And so Craig told Job that this would be the very last birthday he would ever allow a mess to be made of, his birthdays being already so empty.

In the first three months of the following year, Craig lost himself in his work; he became short-tempered and ornery; he separated emotionally from Job. For more than forty nights, he could not sleep.

His boss, Octavio, had a baby boy, his firstborn son, and everyone in his office was able to hold the newborn, except Craig.

And he saw himself in this firstborn, held by the newborn’s mother, and his chest was heavy with pain.

And so she appeared in his daydreams, for he could not sleep at night, her face shrouded with hair.

He could not see her face, which was shrouded with hair, and his chest was heavy with pain.

And somewhere in the midst of this, Job took three weeks off from work, completed and defended his dissertation at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Thus, after an eight-year journey to receive his Doctor of Philosophy, he would graduate the Sunday following Mother’s Day.


And somewhere in the midst of all of this, the 1967 Yearbook came from Oakwood College Archives.

And the yearbook revealed that he and Darlin and Gail had been right in the beginning: she was, indeed, a White girl. Jennifer White. So he was a White, too. Joseph B. White. And his uncle was a White, III. James E. White III. All J’s. His and hers.

And there, near the back of the book, in the college directory, it was—the permanent address where Jennifer lived when he was conceived: 3232 North Sixteenth Street on Milwaukee’s north side, just around the corner from the first home he lived as a Hickman on Thirteenth Street.

He used the address listed to search for James White, III on the Internet. It took a month, but all he could find was the telephone number of an England Martanna White, who lived on Ella Lane in Dalton, Georgia, and had been married to a James E. White.

This James E. White, born October 25, 1924, had died August 24, 1998, and had apparently lived within the past ten years at the same address on Sixteenth Street.

Was England of Ella Lane in Dalton, Georgia his grandmother? The woman who had orchestrated, according to the Documents of His Genesis, the entire drama unfolding therein?

The real estate archives in the Milwaukee County’s Register of Deeds could tell him.

8
On April 1, 2001, Craig shared the Documents with his beloved friend and next-door neighbor, Joseph the Leo. And Craig said, “I must find her. Will I ever find her? I just have to. I wanna know things that only she can tell me. Do you think she’s thought of me all these years?”

And Joseph replied, “You have sisters. And she has told your sisters about you.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I just do. You have sisters. You have three sisters and she told them about you. And yes, Joseph, you’ll find her.”

Craig could hardly contain the earthquake. So he ran home to Job, who he had been separated from emotionally for three months, and he fell on their bed, and more water came.

And Job, saying nothing, held him, and Craig broke wide open and cried a river. When it dried up, Job asked, “What is it that you need from me? What can I do?”

“You need to take another week off from work. We need to go to Milwaukee. And we need to drive.”

And so it was that, without hesitation, Jacobus called Job, a man of hesitation, simply replied, “Okay.”

They knew the time was near.

(To be continued...)

From Fumbling Toward Divinty, copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Most Versatile Word in the English Language




I simply could not resist.

Guess Who Came To Dinner

The following story is an excerpt from Soul Weaving, my current novel in progress that explores the relationships between black gay men and black women. The excerpt will be published as a monolgue in the upcoming anthology, Voices Rising, edited by G. Winston James and Other Countries.




THESE TIGHTDRESSED HEIFERS is always lookin for a full meal ticket, while these homosexuals don’t want nothin but appetizers and will try anythang and everythang on the menu, many times over. That’s the majority of folks I see: these little heifers ain’t got nothin on their minds but trying to get them some man and don’t know no other way except to throw him the goods, and these damn homosexuals who ain’t seemed to learn nothin from all these diseases goin round.

My own boy Richie and that boy he’s been hangin around with: Lord have mercy, in all my years I ain’t felt the need to worry and now this. Well, it makes me wanna scream. But I’m too damn old, too damn tired. And besides, I done screamed enough to last this lifetime and a few more down the road.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky though. When Richie’s mama, my sweet baby sister Sadie, passed on some time ago, God rest her soul, I took in her cute little bundle of joy and raised him as my very own. He ain’t never really caused me no trouble, but everybody from old Hattie Mae Holierthanthou over at Mt. Zion Baptist, to all the ladies I’ve played Bid Whist with over the years, told me that Richie was different somehow. Hattie Mae went so far as to say, “That child sure is strange that way. You better watch out for him Dessa Rose.”

Different. Strange that way.

Well, what child wouldn’t be different or strange that way if his mama was taken to the Lord before he could barely walk, and he never even saw his daddy. Which was no fault of his. No fault of his daddy’s, I mean. That’s right: Sadie never even told the man she was pregnant. Now, back in the day, you didn’t see womens actin like that: not even tellin the daddy about the bun in they oven. But Sadie, God rest her soul, was always doin things her way. Some might even say she was ahead of her time on some matters. Like most babies of the family, she was the independent one. Now, I know, these days, girls havin babies, babies havin babies, and ain’t nobody tellin the daddies till it’s way past any time appropriate. Well, I, for one, ain’t into all them politics and such, but if this is what women’s lib was all about, then we messed up somewheres. Any daddy’s better than no daddy, and it’s about time we got that through our liberated heads.

Well, I was gone make sure that little boy got it all from me, no matter what my friends were trying to warn me about. Like Mildred. Now, Mildred is good people and all that, and I don’t like to talk about folk like they do me sometimes, but Mildred would spit the stupidest mess out her mouth with nary a thought for nobody. She comes round the house to drop off her famous coconut cake for Richie’s tenth birthday party. She finally got some real respect from the folk down at Mt. Zion after the first time she brought that cake to a bake sale down on the church lot. After she tasted a piece, I thought Sugar Waters was gone start speaking in tongues right out on that parking lot. She fell over. Umh-humh. Yes she did. A small woman she was not; it took three or four Deacons to scrape her off the concrete and hoist her back up on her feet. Most of the congregation out there flocked round the table to partake in Mildred’s special taste of the Holy Ghost.

The first time Richie laid his lips on that sucker, I could hardly get him to eat regular food. I had to wean him offa that mess for a while. But for his birthday party, I decided to have Mildred make a big one—special too.

She comes in the house with her prize-winning recipe, gives Richie the once over, as if she’d never seen him before, and Lord knows he’s been up in church with me more times than a heathen, flashes her diamondstudded gold teeth, nearly blinding me back, and declares, “Dessa Rose, baby, is you sure that nephew of yours is all right? He so timid and mosta the times he act too sissified for a boy his age. He needs a man around this house. But if that ain’t possible, girl, you better find him some boys to play with.”

If she only knew.

And it wasn’t like Richie was far enough away to even act like he didn’t hear Mildred’s blasphemin. Old Mildred, or Miss Muffet, like I calls her, to this day, might be able to bake her silly little ass off, but she sure can’t see. There was a house full of boys from Richie’s school at the party. Well, a couple at least. All right, it was mostly girls, I guess. It was so long ago I can’t remember all the details. My memory has been known to play tricks on me. Well, you know, the boy just always seemed to be more comfortable playing with little girls; boys could be so mean at times. I know Richie was a quiet child and all. And Lord knows, my father didn’t raise no fool. Do I seem like a fool to you? I knew exactly what little Miss Muffet was trying to say, but I tried not to pay her no mind. I’m sure she thought she meant well.

Doesnt everybody who meddles in other folks’ affairs?

It was kinda embarrassing, though. Not that I was ever really ashamed of Richie. Disappointed would be more like it. But I would look at him trying to cope without his mama and daddy, and know he was already going through a lot. I don’t usually take no mess—don’t like to let folks know they gettin to me. You can’t let’m see you sweat. I’m sure I’ve been too kind to most of my friends, and mosta the times folk wanna confuse kindness with weakness, but they don’t know how strong I knew I was. Strong enough to protect my boy from ridicule:

I told that bitch to shut up and get the fuck out of my house.

That was only after I got that delicious cake.




AS RICHIE GREW OLDER, I got closer and closer to wantin to find out if he was the way I felt he was. But I had to keep back. Not wantin to push too hard. Try to figure out how Sadie woulda handled it and do the same. And sweet Sadie was one of the most patient womens I ever knew, God rest her soul. So I just figured her little bundle of joy wouldn’t want me breathin down his neck tryin to figure out if he was, what he was doin, with whom, and for how long.

Well, when he enrolled in that beauty school, suffice it to say, I didn’t have to ask any questions. And it’s not like he didn’t useda sit down in fronta that TV and watch all them silly beauty pageants when he was growing up. I couldn’t see what that child saw in all that fake mess. Of course, this was before anybody thought Black was beautiful, so there was nothing but a bunch of skinny white girls prancin around, showin off too much cleavage, wearin way too much makeup. I guess the winners were supposed to do something for the human race and become somebody later on in life.

Whatever.

I knew you didn’t need to be no white Miss America to do somethin good for folk. That’s why I became a nurse. I got the calling to help people at a really young age. Everybody look at me knew I was gonna be a nurse or doctor, one. Not too many women doctors back in the day, so I always felt like I’d have a better chance at becoming a nurse. Especially since so many folk expected Black womens to take care of’m. Daddy always told me and Sadie we could be whatever we wanted to be, something to make Mama proud and respect her memory. Mama died givin birth to Sadie, so whenever Sadie got sick, I took care of her. I was tenyearsold going on thirtyfive. Daddy did the best he could, but it was hard raising two girls all by himself.

All the kids in school useda call me the First Aid Girl cause I was always the first one who wanted to and knew how to clean up the little cuts and scrapes a bunch of high energy kids was liable to get during a fifteen-minute recess. I was set up to put the school nurse out of business at the ripe old age of twelve. Once, this white girl called me Florence Nightingale. I didn’t know who the hell she was, but I figured she musta been somebody special with a name like that.

I started nursing down at Deaconess Hospital in the emergency room. A lot of trauma. After seventeen years, that wore me out. As much as I felt alive and important, this woman knew when to stop. In the early eighties, I left all that behind and ended up working at Boston City Hospital in the STD Clinic. I thought there would be less trauma.

That was about the time when all these folks, mostly young boys, started comin in with all kinda diseases. Diseases I hadn’t seen the need to treat since I started nursing. Usually, a shot in the butt or a week or two of drugs would cure’m up, but the same ones be back in a matter of weeks or months with something else. I don’t wanna bore yall with the clinical names of these things, but I hadn’t seen the likes of this in all my years nursin. Later, I’d see some of the boys I treated walkin around the hospitals with splotches all over their bodies, looking old and skinny. Some were admitted one day, dead the next.

Folks in the business started callin it gay cancer. Gay cancer. I didn’t know much at the time, but I knew it was more than some gay cancer. Nobody wanted to say anythang about the street folks, a lot of’m with tracks running all up they arms. I tell you a fool knows what that’s all about, and it’s a damned shame, I tell you, a damned shame. Nobody wanted to say anythang about the young girls and their babies who was comin in with the same symptoms. Nobody wanted to say anythang about that woman who got the blood transfusion. She was a young, white, married woman with three children who turned up in the emergency room with the same kinda pneumonia they found in one of them pregnant prostitutes. I tried to find out all I could, but there wasn’t too many places I could read about it that I could really understand.

Then the church started burying all these young Black boys. Mt. Zion Baptist Church was having more funerals than revivals and prayer meetings. There was Ronelle from choir. And I’m telling you that boy sang like a bluebird, yes he did. We lost something really special when he passed. And there was Charmain, the organist before Paulie. He could raise the roof off the church the ways he made them organ pipes testify. And then there was Dwayne Mcghee, Arthur and Wanda’s only son who had just won a scholarship to Yale that he never got a chance to use. And these boys wasn’t being shot up in the head on the streets neither.

Before you knew it, folks started burying sons you never even knew they had.

Right now, there’s this frail child that sits in the front pew most Sundays who nobody talks to. If he takes communion, nobody drinks after him. Now it’s been said that he Hattie Mae’s boy, but you’d think the two of them didn’t even know each other. Like I said, I don’t like to talk about folk like they do me sometimes, but if that there downright uptight righteous woman can’t even deal with her own flesh and blood...

Don’t get me started.

Being down at that clinic and treatin all those young boys, I got to worryin bout Richie. Like I said, my Daddy didn’t raise no fool. Do I seem like a fool to you? I put twoandtwo together real fast. That’s when I really wanted to ask Richie some questions. But I kept tellin myself to be patient. I wanted to find out how others was dealin with all of this, but nobody—and I mean nobody—was really talking. Not about the weekly funerals, not about the young girls, not about the babies, not about nothing. Even now, we know what’s causin AIDS and how folks can keep from getting it, but only a handful of folk in our community wanna talk about it. And for all the information and scoldin I’ve given out to a bunch of strangers over the past seventeen years, I still can’t bring myself to raise it with my own hard-headed boy.

And it’s not as if Richie hadn’t given me the opportunity to say somethin. He moved outta here not too long ago so he could have some privacy—that’s what he says anyway. He used to bring me by flowers every weekend, but lately, he ain’t been comin by as much. He calls to tell me he’s been busy.

But I know better. So I pushes him on it a little bit. He finally admitted that he been seein somebody. “This is the Real Thing Rosie,” he says. That’s what he likes to call me. He wants me to meet him.

Humph. Real Thang, my ass. I still can’t see how homosexuals can have the Real Thang. I try not to let it matter. But Richie won’t let up. Here he is tryin to get me to cook dinner and have’m over.

Now, I ain’t no fool. This must be something serious. I don’t get how they do things, old fashioned as I can be sometimes, but I know this must be making him happy, because when I do see him, he’s walkin round glowin like a pregnant woman.

I do worry, though.

Did I tell you that in the midst of all of this confusion and loss, I became famous? No, not because I was one of a handful of Blackfolk tryin to do anything about AIDS. That woulda been too much like right. This was different. I walked into the Talented Tenth, that Black bookstore we had some years back, and staring back at me from the shelf was a book with my name on it in large print.




I like to fell out. I don’t who I was named after, if anybody, and I never known nobody with my name. But then here I was on the cover of a book written by some Black girl named Sherley Anne Williams. Well, Alice Walker had nothing but good things to say about it, and since I liked that The Color Purple so much, I decided to pick up my namesake off the shelf.
Fifteen minutes of fame for a book I didn’t even write.

It don’t get no better than that.




I FINALLY GAVE IN. I decided to go on and cook dinner for Richie and this Real Thang he was talkin about. I don’t know what got into me, whether it was God or the Devil himself. Whatever it was, I couldn’t beat it. So I used it.

On that Friday, I had a most interesting day at the clinic. My last patient was this young, pale white boy who came in for a gonorrhea treatment. He had it in rectum. Yes, this may be more than you want to know, but even in the age of AIDS, folks are still gettin gonorrhea in the back side cause they ain’t using precautions. Most boys seem to be immune to the shame that goes along with this, especially when I wrinkles my brow. But I could see this boy was different: he was wracked with guilt: so I unwrinkled my brow. I didn’t want to get all in his business, but I have to do a brief interview about his recent history of sexual partners anyway so they can come in for treatment. I try to be as understanding as a woman like me can, but I didn’t hesitate to have a serious discussion with him about his choices in this day and age.

He didn’t really wanna focus in on what all his guilt was about, but I got the feeling it went much further than just not using precautions. But I didn’t push. He probably wouldn’t tell me any more than I needed to know. Not really my business no how. So I scheduled his test-of-cure appointment, sent him on his way, wrapped things up at the clinic, and went on my way. I had enough of my own goin on anyhow. I had to pick up my groceries.

Everything seemed like it wanted to take forever that Friday night. I waited on that bus stop for what seemed an eternity. I swear that bus didn’t wanna come, no matter how many cigarettes I lit up. When I finally got to the store, the clerk behind the register, this new girl I’d never seen before, had to check on the prices for nearly everythang I bought. She was slow as molasses in January. I knew I shouldna got in her line. It gave me much more time than I needed to get nervous about dinner. Hell, I went on and splurged a little bit and got me a cab home from the grocery store.

Now, no matter what the situation, I wasn’t gonna let no friend of my boy get secondary treatment, so I decided to cook up a nice downhome meal for us: collard greens with smoked turkey—I don’t use ham hocks no more, not since my cholesterol has gotten kinda high—country fried chicken, hotwater cornbread, candied yams, smothered corn, fried green tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, some hot peppers, a little leftover ham, and sweet potato pie for dessert.

Since everything was takin forever that Friday night, I got a late start: I’m sure you must know that the doorbell rings much earlier than I want it to. I turn down the stove, pull in a good breath, and go to open the door. Richie comes on in, and here comes a skinny little white boy after him. I do a doubletake and wouldn’t you know, it’s the same boy I saw not three hours earlier at the clinic. I like to fell out.

You shoulda seen the look on his face.

“Rosie—Rosie—Rosie!” is all I hear Richie say at first. Once he gets my attention, he says, all proudlike, “Auntie Rosie, this is my lover, Timothy.”

Lover? Humph. And white at that. You gonna try and tell me? Now you can call me old fashioned, but I still ain’t understandin nothin bout men, or womens for all that matter, truly lovin each other in that way. Mavis Mannery told me Agnes Head’s boy went off to Washington D.C. some years back and got married, or somethin like that, in some mass ceremony they had during some political march or rally or some such. And I’m lookin at the two of them wonderin if they gonna go off and...

Let me not even think about that.

Well, you could imagine dinner is much more difficult than I already expected it to be. I forget all about what’s on the stove and get to wonderin where Timothy picked up that gonorrhea. I can’t let myself even believe it coulda been from Richie. But since Timothy didn’t tell me nothin at the clinic, my mind starts to wandering. I know I really shouldn’t be gettin in to all his business, but my Richie’s involved and I have to talk to somebody. So when Richie comes back up in here, don’t you dare let on that I told any of this to you, all right. I don’t know what I would do if he ever found...Well, he won’t. You got that, sweetie?

We go on ahead with dinner as planned, with me and Timothy swallowin much more than the food, while Richie just sits there, still a glowin, oblivious to everything. Honey, they don’t write’m like this on them trashy TV shows. Fortunately, I didn’t burn any food, and it turns out to be the kind of meal any boy would wanna wrap his lips around. But Timothy looks at his plate like something’s growin on it. Richie shoots him a look as if to say, “Don’t ask. Just eat.” I know my boy can cook, but I’m wondering what, if at all, he’s cookin for Timothy, among other things, cause Timothy sure don’t look like he had any downhome cooking before.

By now, the pauses is pregnant enough for triplets. My mind is a spinnin out of control, and halfway through my chicken I just blurt out: “You know STDs amongst homosexuals are on the rise these days.”

Timothy drops his fork and spits out his cornbread. Richie tries to clean up the cornbread but his elbow knocks his wine all over the tablecloth and in his plate. I reach over to try and save his food and get corn gravy all over the front of my new blouse.

It’s a mess all right.

“Rosie this is not the appropriate dinner table conversation,” Richie says, pretty calm for the situation, which, I must say, surprises me. But I’m even more surprised when I look closely at the two of them: I reckon from how they each react that Richie don’t know nothin bout Timothy’s little visit to the clinic and I look at Timothy in a completely different way. He excuses himself to go to the bathroom. That’s when Richie goes off: “Whada think you’re doing? You ain’t never brought any of that safe sex preachin at me—ever—much less to the dinner table and in front of my new—have you lost—? I know you care, Rosie. I do. But you need to save that partyline for the faggots who really need it and leave me and mine out of it!”

“Now baby, I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me. I told you this wasn’t gone be easy. But I just—Look. Are you bein safe? Ain’t no tellin what you might pick up from this here boy,” I say. I’m trying my best to watch my mouth. I don’t know whether to blurt it all out or not. After so many years of nursing, of course, patient confidentiality keeps my mouth closed about some things easier than others. But my own flesh and blood could already have some infection or might get something from this boy this very night, seein as it takes a couple days for that treatment to get rid of everything, and I feel as if I oughtta be able to say something.

Timothy comes back from the bathroom and puts a momentary end to my confusion. He tells Richie he thought it best that he get going. He comes over to me, looks all sheepish in my eyes, and thanks me for the meal. Now, under the circumstances, this is quite gracious, so at least I know he was raised right. He and Richie exchange something over by the door. Richie comes back and tells me that he’s leavin too. And I’m left sitting there, alone, with a big old mess on the table.

How many places a day can go.

Richie ain’t been back by to see me since. I don’t know what to think about any of it. Maybe Richie’s the reason why Timothy seemed so guilty. Or maybe even Richie is the one—Oh no, no, no: I can’t think that about my boy.

Please don’t tell him I told you all of this. But when he comes in tomorrow, please tell him that I miss—well...

No. Don’t say nothing.

I just hope my boy’s gonna be… all right.


©2006 by Craig Hickman. All rights reserved.