along the way.
all she wanted was the same opportunity as folk with lighter skin. we worked just as hard, if not more. we got the same amount of education. we had to go south to get our education after being run from the south with our parents. we go back to that south, it never let you think of yourself nothing more than a slave, a descendant of slaves. not a human, from humans, just slaves.
we get our southern education in more ways than one, i tell you. none of us know what we signing up for. we think we gone get some books, read’em, learn’em and one day have a piece of paper to show for it all. we get way more’n that. that was the easy part. the more you learn about your people, about the ways of the world you born into, the more you wish you ain’t know. make it hard to sleep at night. sometimes, you just stay up looking at the sky to see if it’s laughing at you or crying with you. when it ain’t doin’ neither, you sitting there, wondering how and why not?
she want to prove herself while escaping herself. she know she more than her blackness but all it look like to folk around us, is she passing. white folks think she think she white. black folk think she trying to change the ways of all black folk and cause trouble for’em. they think, she think she looking down on them and being too good for our ways. these was never our ways, you see? we inherit a game we gone lose at. she not passing. she trying to keep going. she can’t pass in lighter skin. her beginning toast her skin a smooth caramelized pecan. the south roast and double bake her into silk molasses walking. no, she could never pass. she ain’t never tried.
with the things she know, the way she know she was meant for more, the way she kept at it, like she trapped in the wrong time always beating against brick walls screaming to the gods to let her loose! and she gone get loose somehow someway. she come here and she believe, a mistake made putting that big old soul in that limited little black body. she would never want to pass for anything other than who she is. that black skin make her. don’t get me wrong, she ain’t want it to be the end of her story. she used to think that bout all black folk. we got longer stories. our souls too big. we in the wrong times. maybe we get lost in transition and such. we should making our own stories. not tryin’ to stuff our self into ones made for us. how they tell us who we can be or how far we can go? where we come from? my wife ain’t never been made for boxes that our people didn’t make for us.
we get older and we gotta help our children on their way. we stop thinking of ourselves so much and try to tell them about the ways of the world. we start to settle and such, ain’t nothing more a good christian can do. you can’t fight the world. you can’t change the world. we all settle in our places ashamed and enraged at the same time. you know what i’s like to live in both those emotions at the same time, all the time? sometime, it don’t leave you right in the head. it don’t leave you right in the heart. you stop thinking straight.
she couldn’t settle into being both. she see what it to do people over time. throw you into dark places you can’t get out of. into thinking you born into this life, exactly for this life. she never believed it. she fought the world. what nobody ever tells you is, you ain’t fighting the world as much as you fighting yourself. she fight herself til there ain’t no more fight left. she lost her voice on the way.
she got a voice. she don’t speak. 20 years and she won’t utter a word. her tears come quietly, if they come at all. her ma and pa died and she stood like an anchored ship that would never see the sea with all the water she’ll ever feel, coming from her eyes. her shoulders didn’t heave. her knees didn’t bend. she stood steadfast and neatly packaged for death her self. not one sound come through her.
people try and get me to tell them some big secret about her: something must been done to her to get silent like she do. she must done something to somebody else. god done punished her for her evil. or maybe god punished her for her freedom. she done been cursed by some voodoo woman for smiling at her husband. she had a breakdown. ain’t no big secret. she ain’t damn herself in no way. one day, she wake, and she wake up in silence.
i should have said something. but i hear her silence and i let her be. i know i love her the most a man could. i give her five children. she ain’t always been happy about it but she love them and she love me. ain’t no question about it. i thought her silence was gone turn into words. three months turned into six. six months turn into two years. i should have said something. i learnt early on, let black woman folk be to they self if they so choosing. i let her be. taught the kids to let her be. until one day, i forget what she sound like. i watch her sleep. sound try to get out but she got her body so locked only soft moans make it into the air and she snatch it on back inside of her and turn over in the bed.
i love my wife. love her more than I feel able. at night, we’d sneak some time for our self. i love my wife. she big mama’s sunday dinner, a full moon and the end of the earth at the same time, as a woman ought to be. i sit there and wonder how god come up with all this goodness. how he figure i deserve it. all this time, i get to a point where i ain’t against god being a woman. the god i see in man, ain’t a god i always want, don’t always mean me good. her god, it find goodness in beasts right before she kill it, if she must, if she gone use it. or she will let the beast devour her. she don’t care about control. there are pieces of the world, she don’t want control over. that’s a god i can stand to say “morning” to when i wake and know that if she got her will and wits about her self, she gonna greet me right back. that’s just common courtesy.
my wife, she always been full of life. it seem the only time she could have that much life was in the dark with me. she would whisper things she ain’t say in the daytime, you know, married folk talk. that’s what i missed most. i wouldn’t hear her in the dark no more. i try, you know? she hold me. it still feel the same but with only the sound of my voice. she would only breathe. that’s when I knew not only was the world losing her but so was i. i ain’t touched my wife in the bed in 20 years, more than that. i lose count over time. i stay close to her. she knows i’m there. but there ain’t no wifely duties. i don’t mean to make bad with my wife. i love her the most. she couldn’t give to me what she ain’t have to give, what ain’t been given to her. there ain’t been no deposits in the way she wanted. i don’t take nothing else from her.
people walk by and they shake they head like they shame for us. they carry pity in they eyes like i’m over here feeling sorry and sad. i got no regrets about the woman i love. i still love her same day i laid eyes on her on campus in mississippi over fifty years ago. some nights, she turn into me, her head leaning on my back, curve herself around me like i’m deserving of her protection in the nighttime. she reaches over and search for my hand in the dark, she holds my hand. i miss her fingers. she breathes against my skin and i know, i ain’t got nothing to be sorry for. nothing at all.
way I see it, the world didn’t break her. i used to think that. the world took her, renege on they end of the deal and just leave her to rot. no, the world didn’t break her. this is her rebellion against the world for not treating her the way she deserve. it tell her how to speak so she don’t speak at all. some of us, we lose our fight. we try to find our peace in other ways like a friday night fish fry, sunday in the pews, saturday in the saloons,… we lose our fight and say to our self every time something get us all ruffled up inside, “that’s just the ways of the world.”
not my wife, she don’t accept that. she show them, she got her own way of dealing with it and it ain’t gone steal her pride from her. leave her feel shame about her skin. no, sir. this way, she can sleep at night. she didn’t give up her whole self. she made her own rules for their game. it’s different, that’s for sure, but she do it her way and she still survive. she still hold her head up. she look them in the eye and keep standing. and everybody know she ain’t mute. she decided she control her own voice. she ain’t gotta, “say yes sir, no ma’am”, and gotta explain herself or defend her actions. that’s more than half this life with white folk. trying to explain why you doing a thing the way you want to do it instead of the way the tell you to. or telling them why you out so late when you on your way home. or defend your smarts when you outsmart them. my wife, never had to do that again. no matter how mad they got, she wouldn’t part her lips to say a thing. she just look at’em and go her own way.
i watch her out in the garden sometimes. i remember her from all those years ago. she be on her knees pruning and weeding through the rows of carrots and cabbage, trying to make sense of the tomato vines and she just be humming all those cares into the wind.
well, she silent now. but her body still speaks. her face, it’s humming. the corners of her mouth sit on her face like she a second sun. when the great grands come to visit, she wear stars in her eyes just for them. she let’em sit in her lap, hold her hand, she wrap them up right in her. oh, she speaks alright. she so big and mighty, she communicates right clear without words and she don’t write a thing down for us to read; we just know.
i wonder if she think about all those years ago when she was trying to prove that she was more than capable to black folk and white folk at the same time. i wonder if she think about how she could be equal to both if no one paid particular attention to her skin. sometimes, i wonder if she regret us coming north for some equal opportunities when chicago was still half fields and most industrial for italian and irish folk. i wonder if she blame herself for the silence she made a part of her like the bun of hair sitting at the back of her neck smelling of sassafras and jasmine. it was her that wanted to escape the stifling stank of southern segregation that never let you forget your colored skin and what not. it was breaking her then. i was trying to keep her while we dragged our self north like the slaves did on roads we couldn’t stop on because we ain’t know if they would let us get gas and water.
she the brightest star i ever did see and i been her sky. i saw her dim no matter how bright i keep the ways so she could see her way. when she wake up silent, she was shining again. and i can’t be mad she shining again. she shining different but she shining. it’s all i want. i wish i been more particular in my dealings with god, i didn’t ‘spect she cast away her voice. but that is the beauty of her, too! she shining for herself now. i don’t think she ever did that before.
no, i ain’t bent out of shape bout it. the woman folk that rear me, i guess they was telling me along, let woman be who ever they choosin’ to be. don’t try to change’em. you try to change em, you lose’em. the world tell her to be down trodden and shameful and it change her cause that ain’t the way she meant to be. the world lost her. she fight against the role she supposed to play. it be way too small for her. me? i just lose her voice. but she still in there, looking out at the world, still saying, “i ain’t just a colored woman. i’m human.” no, no sorrow in me about her silence. i signed up for death do us part. i’m aiming to keep my words. and i love her more than i deserve. i look at my children, my grand children, my great grandchildren, i see her in them. they doing things we could only dream of. they dreaming and pushing. the world did change a little, i’d like to think people like my wife, who didn’t bend to the will of the ways, had something to do with it.
sixty-four years and counting. we getting older than we’d like to be but we still going. as long as i got breath, i’m gone love her the best i can and wait for the nights when she hold my hand. all these years, she make me feel loved and she ain’t gotta say it. i’m still her sky always making sure she got a place to shine.
today our anniversary, again. folks come to celebrate us put us in the town paper like they know about the special we got. all they see is the numbers, is the time we put in. we bigger than that, i assure you. we can’t be measured like we gone eat up in some cake. ain’t no formula to get here. some thing can’t be put to words. i’ll try, cause you asking and aiming to make us into somebody’s in your book. we just regular folk. regular black folk. we done been to war and back, a war we ain’t never stop fighting. everywhere we go, it’s still war. sometimes, we get somewhere, they use different kind of tactics but it’s still war. we always been targets. we work hard as folk can work and no matter how hard and how long we work, we still in the same war fighting just to live.
we get along fine, always have ’cause we never forget we in the same war on the same team. we only argue about the ways of the world. but we love each other like the sound of the city train in the middle of the night. it’s soothing. it’s peace and comfort. it’s reliable. it’s coming same time every night. and you used to it’s ways. after time, you can predict it’s ways. you know when the horn gone blow at the light because some young fool gone try to race it.
that’s how we was way back then. we know each other’s ways. it don’t get boring. it gets practical and safe. my wife, we safe. we have to be. the world was hurting us more than enough. we couldn’t be each other’s pain. we never was. we understand our ways. we don’t try to change it. we don’t try to change each other. what we don’t like, we just wait it out. it always pass us by. she used to laugh at me when i was actin’ and leave me to stir in my own boiling waters, “i’ll come back when you turn your fire down”. when she would come in, tears in her eyes, rage in her arms, and flight in her legs, i tell her to go walking, “just go, i’ll take care of the children.” we wasn’t tryin’ to change each other. we wasn’t tryin’ to fix each other. we was trying to hold each other up all those years ago. i think in some ways, we still are.
through the day, i’m here. making sure nobody bring they pity and sorrow through my road and onto my land. taught my kids long ago, she the same. talk the way you do, she hear it all and in her own way she take it all in and somehow show you how she feel with her expressions, with her gestures, with her body language.
she take care of me too! she ain’t never stop. she cook for us everyday and i cook for us on sat and sun. it’s always been that way. nary, a word said about it, we just do. maybe that’s the secret. in this house, we equals. we do for each other. if she too tired i go on out there and make sense of those tomato vines. if i feel heavy, she go and finish painting. we pick up each other’s pieces. maybe that’s what it’s all about. finding somebody you can be one and two with at the same time. knowing how to find that balance. i don’t love the silence but i make my peace with it, long ago. her voice, it be just a small part of her. it don’t make her less. it make her more.
she done something i ain’t never seen no colored woman do. she change the rules. now? nobody make her do a damn thing. she was a law secretary all those years. she stopped talking. they ain’t cut her loose, she did her job, kept doing the research and typing. they got questions, she present answers in her work. they never let her in the court room to begin with so she didn’t miss out on that. they could have let her go. they wanted to. she retired from there. those lawyers, they bring they families out here to visit. they send Christmas cards in the mail talking about their respect for her standing up against segregation. she ain’t never tried to fight the whole of segregation. she was just thinking about getting her foot in the same doors, is all.
the mayor come on out here on our 50th anniversary. back then, all those years ago, he was dean at her college. he hated the likes of any negro getting some learning about they self. he come on out here and my wife, she ain’t have to say a word but she was right irate about him venturing here to ease his own guilt before he pass on to the other side. he was older than time by the time he come, with somebody helping him out his car and into a wheelchair on my land. my land ain’t made for wheelchairs.
time show us where we wrong, you know? people don’t want to die taking he wrong they know they was wrong for. sometimes, folks just cowards. they can’t stand up for what’s just and fair ’cause they got they own wounds they still lickin’. somewhere inside, they don’t want you better than them. that go way past color. husband and wife live like this. a wife could be better with her knowing of books and if her husband all hurt over his own ways of not learning, he gone make sure he dumb her down like he feel he dumb down. the mayor, he be a coward. we know it. he know it. now it be time for us all to look at each other knowing what we know.
time show us where we wrong. it always do. show us the ways can be wrong too! humans make the ways. and humans are wrong. i stand there in front of my wife the whole time. she refusing to sit so we all standing up like we ain’t have no sense bout our self. well, the mayor ain’t standing, and we don’t help him onto our porch. he come on out here to apologize to my wife. he apologized for the ways of the south, the college that he kicked her out of because of her voice. my wife didn’t leave that campus quietly at all, let me tell you. he apologized and gave her an honorary degree. he leave it right there on the step. she go nowhere near that man. if we all still living, we ain’t forget the things he said about her. it still sit in her trying to break her. he get pushed away and i think she win. i don’t think she was trying to win but she did.
after he leave, a long time after he leave, my wife she fall in a heap at my back. she had to go walk first. i get on out the way and watch her walk away. she glance at that degree but go by it. because of him, she go to another college and start all the way over. all the classes she take, it was like she never take’em. he wouldn’t let her have nothing that she earn. her dorm room, he trash her stuff. she leave owing the school money for vandalism but it be him that vandalized her. i pay it off but i know my wife ain’t destroy that room.
i watch her walk away. but i know she coming back. she always come back. i take that degree inside. i hang it up on the wall when you walk in. she won and i want her to never forget it. i go to making dinner for us. i’m standing there making us dinner. it ain’t sat or sun but it’s time to eat and my wife ain’t cooking so i cook for us. we still gotta eat. i’m frying us up some fish in the middle of the week. my wife has loved her some fish since before we meet. she love her some fried fish more than she love me. don’t matter the kind. she won’t catch it, skin it or gut it, but she cook it and eat it if ain’t no head on it.
she come in and i hear the door swing open and close like it do when she come in. come in like a soft fall breeze. not cool or hot, it’s just there moving around the air taking up space. it don’t waste the space it’s in. it do it’s duty in going back and forth, and that’s all that matters. she come in, her spirit feel like a mixture of relief and pain mixed together. like she done made a mud pie and added some brown sugar to it to eat it for dinner because that’s all she got to eat. it get the job done. she lay her head on my back. i keep battering the fish in cornmeal. we still gotta eat. i hum for the both of us. i know all these years she carried the heaviness of a time she can’t change or fit properly into. that day, I feel her get some closure. it be like saying, “you right. you wasn’t crazy. you was right.”
every time some person come down our road bringing their guilt and shame about the ways of their people, it’s like they putting her back together again. all these years she said they was wrong, the time was wrong. no one could hear her then. they didn’t want to. they come in and tell her she was right about something she knew she was right about in the first place. i think it bring her more and more peace. make her feel she did the right thing in keeping her voice. make me love her even more because she did it for herself and it turn out to spread to all these folk. remind us, we got a voice even if we don’t speak.
well, let me get on back in here. we done talked enough for one day. the sun gone shine bright and hot today. it be about lunch time and we gotta eat round here. you ought to go get lunch yourself. i offer you some with us but my wife ain’t keen on much company outside folks we been knowing for years. we can pick up on this another day. our children, grand children and great grandchildren coming along for this anniversary and it won’t be time for no storytelling then. come back on tuesday. we gone need plenty rest after this evening.