A wee bit after midnight finds me in my usual place. I am nestled safely within the evergreen alcove that surrounds my front porch. My location on my porch cannot be seen by any passersby. Resting there, cloaked in darkness, I am comforted by the huge greenery standing watch over me like fragrant centurions.
Exhaling plumes of cigarette smoke, I take this time to be present with myself. I marvel at the shadow of the smoke dancing against the other elements of the night. The world at night is a place of shadows and I question if any of it is “real”.
“If the stars are still in the sky, then this – no matter what the “this” happens to be in the moment – is all still part of the plan. I am right where I am supposed to be,” I remind myself. “For this time in my life, this season… everything is just as it should be.”
Snapped from the thought, I am brought upright and alert. Small sounds flutter to my ear and I can hear that someone is approaching. I take a drag from my cigarette and exhale in a shallow soundless way. I must be careful not to let the sound of exhaling alter my ability to hear. I must quickly gather information about who is approaching.
My constant companion, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, forces me to analyze the situation to assess the level of danger. They walk at a leisurely pace. It affords me time to map out an escape. There will be no need for a fight. The footsteps are slow and I am able to make out at least three distinct sets of cadence. One is dragging their feet. The rhythmic schlepping sound denotes the movement teenagers. I keep my seat and soothe my emotions until I am moved from “high alert” to “alert and vigilant”.
Bursts of laughter ride on the wind and find my place of refuge. The tip of my cigarette glows like bright amber neon as I take a deep drag. As I let out the second exhalation, words like fiery darts pierce my ears through the night.
“YOU FUCKING NIGGER!” It was a girl’s voice. It was so clear and light and sharp. It was bright like the sound made when metal strikes crystal. Had it said “I LOVE YOU!”, it would have made my heart melt.
I freeze. Did that REALLY just happen? Was THAT real?” I fight the urge to turn and look around for a studio audience. My mind starts firing in rapid fire quick secession.
“Should I say something? Should I stand up and make my presence known? Should I be angry and outraged?” I square my feet on the ground beneath me and wait for my gut to tell me what to do.
I cannot seem to muster anything past the sound of the voice. It was all treble without an ounce of bass. There was no adult weight to it. The tone was as light as the words were heavy. They are an inch off babies and yet they say such grown up and violent things.
Rage had been my lover of choice for many, many years. I had to let it go as of late so I must now constantly check to find which fresh and new and less vengeful emotion has taken its place. I stop all movement, even breathing and search within to find what I am feeling. At first there is nothing where rage would normally rest.
My insides seem endless like I have trapped the night sky within me. Deep down, I feel something begin to rise. This is my answer. This is what will tell me how to react. Eagerly, I watch it begin like the grainy first frames of an old 8mm movie. My mind keeps asking, “What is it? What is it that you feel, Dee?”
Slowly, the feeling sharpens and comes into focus. It is not a new feeling. It is familiar to me. It is sorrow; my old friend has come to join me once again. My eyes feel a biting sting as they begin to fill with tears.
“Why do you feel sorrow, Dee?”
Am I insulted by the words? No, it is not that. Am I sad because we have Obama and Oprah and still have racism? No. I made my peace with the irony of America many years ago. I press myself to become really still so I can hear what my inner most voice is saying to me. I am surprised by what I hear.
“I am sad because she is just a baby. That was the voice of a baby. Had it been said with that intention from an adult, perhaps I could have found myself angry. Hearing the venom of those words in the voice of a child makes my heart so sick with sadness.”
“It is the voice of a baby; it is a child using such heavy, grown up, violent words. And yeah, I know about hip hop and Quentin Tarantino movies, but damn! REALLY?!?!
“Does she know she is speaking darkness into the world? Does she know there are millions of words more powerful she can use to tell the world how she feels? Does she live in a world of violence and chaos where these words and their intent are common place?”
By now, tears pouring from my eyes and splashing onto the concrete near my feet. My head is bowed and shoulders curved and I feel as if I am made of lead. In the darkness of midnight, I can see huge drops darkening the place on the ground where they land. I am weeping for a “would-be offender”, my head shaking from side to side. I flick ashes from my cigarette still wrapped in this sorrow.
“Will my baby grow clumsily into her teenage years heaving darkness into the world because it is cool or tough or the thing to do?”
I wipe my tears understanding I will not be able to let this teenager know how I feel. I am a strange woman to her, cloaked in darkness, crying over her soul and mourning her right to be “just a kid”. As I brush each tear, I strengthen my resolve. There with only evergreens to bear witness, I make a vow to myself.
“I will raise my child, and those children in my care, to know they are special. They are vastly too intelligent to limit themselves to small and hateful words. They were sent here to Earth on purpose by God to bring light and hope and joy. They should speak and carry themselves as such.”
I find myself beginning to speak a prayer for the voice hurling hurt through the darkness of midnight. “And Father, You know what she – your daughter – needs. Let her find peace. Let her know she is better than her behavior. Let her know love.” And with the utterance of the prayer, I am released to go into my home, rest my head on a pillow and sleep with peace that night.