BY: Jeremy in Louisiana
Have you ever spoke with someone, heard their voice, and immediately knew that they were a part of you? The words they said, the tears they shed, every syllable could have been you when you were eleven, talking to your 30 year old self over the phone. You want to tell the young version of you everything you’ve learned over the years, all at once. You think of all the warnings and wisdom you have to offer. A million things bounce around inside your head. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, be nice to people, don’t be mean to Tommy. It’s overwhelming. But the young voice isn’t a younger you. It’s another life, in another time. A life you helped to create.
When you were eleven years old, it was 2001. It’s 2020 now. The world has changed so much in nineteen years, but when you hear the young part of you, your mind and heart go to your past. You see your mom, waiting in the kitchen for you and your brother to get off of the school bus. You see yourself sitting with granny before school, drinking a big glass of coffee milk, loaded down with sugar. You see all the trouble you got in and want so bad to keep the young one from following in your footsteps. You remember your mom and dad, granny too, saying you better not date a black person, so you go to tell the young one the same thing, but something in you remembers that it isn’t 2001 anymore and only your dad is still alive. You’re not eleven anymore. You shake off the old hatred that’s been taught from generation to generation and promise it will end with you. You won’t pass that on. You want better for the young one.
You recall riding around in trucks in Indiana with rebel flags waving in the wind, drinking beer and not caring who you hurt. It took years to cleanse your heart of that hate. At times it consumed you. You recall the black lady who used to clean your mom and Granny’s house when you were even younger than the young one. How your mom and granny used to call her nigger behind her back and chuckle. You and your brother doing it. The nicest lady in town. She always took you to the store and let you pick out any candy you wanted. You wish Mrs. Celestine were still alive, so you could apologize, beg for her to forgive you for calling her hateful names, tell her how much you love her and how nice she was to help your crippled mother. You hope she’s somewhere in the afterlife smiling down on you. You know she’s watching over you because that’s the kind of person she was.
One day, you and your brother called her nigger as she was walking away and she heard it. The nicest lady. All she did was help. When she looked back, tears ran down her face. The hatred taught to you blinded you from her pain. She didn’t fuss. She didn’t whip you, she just let you see her tears that you can feel now, in 2020, and walked away.