My family says I have an elephant’s memory. but I do forget things. I can’t even guess what I had for breakfast last week. I remember important things,birthdays anniversaries but not just dates, anything my mind labels important, though rarely am I aware of this labeling at the time.
I am four years old and we are visiting Mr. and Mrs. Cole, church friends of my grandma, shortly after my grandpa’s death. They were the first black people I remember knowing. I think Mrs. Cole was the person who gave me my first glass of sweet tea. Their house was small but filled with beautiful antique furniture (Mr. and Mrs. Cole’s house was also my introduction to the proper usage of doilies and coasters) and a beautiful wooden bead curtain that was the absolute definition of adventure when I was four years old.
I cannot say for sure if I ever knew what Mr. Cole did for a living, for some reason my brain says he was an electrician or plumber but I can’t remember how I came to have that information. I thought he was a retired pirate. It was Mrs. Cole’s bead curtain that put the fantastic notion of piracy in my head, that and the fact that I never remember Mr. Cole saying much other than hello when we came to visit. His favorite chair sat in front of the biggest window in the living room so that he was almost always cast in shadow, in fact, it wasn’t until relatively recently that my memory added enough details to recognize him as human rather than as someone formed entirely of shadow. It was his quiet demeanor that convinced me of his former profession. If you had spent your youth as a pirate on the high seas and then decided to settle down you would not talk about yourself much, piracy is, after all, a criminal offense. I believed that he brought home all that beautiful furniture and the wondrous bead curtain as gifts for Mrs. Cole. I did find out much later be the far more mundane story of how she actually got the furniture but I am still quite fond of my outrageous tale.
The first biracial person I ever met was a young lady with skin the color of coffee with cream in it. She had one blue eye and one green and I thought she was gorgeous. She was the niece of one of our neighbors at Fort Bragg who came to visit her cousins every summer. She was the first deaf person I ever personally knew and even though I was horrible at signing we somehow muddle through it because thankfully I could understand more sign than I can actually produce so our conversations might be described as a person who speaks a language fluently talking with a person who only knows the pig Latin version of the language but Tonya was a good sport who never made me feel bad because my physical limitations made it difficult for me to communicate with her. Our conversations very often resembled a game of charades, much to everyone’s amusement.The family who lived right next to us had a cat that totally fascinated Tonya. Sugar was white, polydactyl (he had extra toes) with one blue eye and one green, just like her. who was also deaf, just like her. She doted on him every time she visited.
It has been years since I’ve seen or spoken with Tonya and Mr. and Mrs. Cole died years ago.Whenever I post or share something supporting #BlackLivesMatter it in their faces that I see first. People whose acquaintance gave me some of my first lessons in kindness, politeness, bravery and adventure. I worry about Tonya on a daily basis. I find myself hoping that wherever she is her disability protects her from the epidemic of madness we are currently living in. I have found myself hoping that people who might otherwise hurt her are careless enough to mistake her for white. I worry every day that instead of being a shield her disability will instead paint a target on her back, be a contributing factor to her victimization. I haven’t seen her cousin Chris in ages either, my neighbor, the boy whose loose tooth I knocked out when I swung wide of the punching bag he was holding for me and hit him instead. The second boy I ever had a crush on, even though he was predictably clueless.Whenever there is some new occurrence of racial violence I tense up, worried that it will be his name under the picture of a young black man whose face would be unrecognizable were it not for dental records. Every time a light-skinned black woman is assaulted I breathe a sigh of relief that her eyes are the same color. I thank the universe every day that Mr. and Mrs. Cole did not live to see this insanity. These are the people I love. This is why #BlackLivesMatter matters to me.