Segregation of the Mind
“Is it better to live a coward? Or die proud of who I am?”
As the bottle of whiskey I'd swiped from my mother’s stash got lower I could feel myself going numb. The fear of where I was going slowly slipped away and there was room for nothing more than the anticipation of who I was going to see. My feet felt as if they were slipping away from me as I stumbled past the cookie cutter homes. The trees that looked as identical as the houses during the day turned to villainous shapes of demons in the night.
Stepping beneath the streetlight revealed my ivory white skin. Even in a drunken stupor I realized it'd be best to stay out of the light. The shadows of the trees I once feared soon became my sanctuary and pulled forth previously suppressed memories.
"David," My mother's voice was playing through my mind. "You can marry whoever you want" She said. "As long as she's white."
I could still feel the cold stares of the other kids at school when I got up the nerve to help carry a colored girls book’s to class. She graciously thanked me with a soft peck on the cheek when she thought no one would see. The feeling of her lips was engraved in my mind.
"Step on a crack and you'll break your mother's back" I whispered playfully while stomping on the cracks of the sidewalk. Something was moving in the bushes. My heart stopped as I stared, waiting for what could be a family of colored folk waiting to beat me within an inch of my life. How could one kiss lead to me aimlessly walking drunk and defenseless in the black suburbs of Vidor, Texas? I let out a sigh of relief as a cat darted out of the bushes. In my drunken state, I followed the cat up the street and around the corner, where I found the house I'd subconsciously wanted to stumble upon. There was a wooden sign that hung proudly on the mantle that said "The Jones". As my eyes slid down past the door and down the red rose lined walkway my mom’s voice returned. "Colored girls are nothing but trouble."
A cluster of footsteps could be heard coming down the street. The brief happiness from being near my object of affection was gone. There was only the absolute dread of being seen. I ran across the sopping wet grass to the side fence. Splinters ripped into my flesh as I clumsily climbed over it. The ground met me with a cold hard slap. There was a short soft clink as my whiskey bottle tapped the concrete. I laid down beneath a window in the hopes of getting a glimpse of her. The footsteps were getting closer now. As they reached the front yard of the Jones I took in a few more swigs of whiskey before inching forward on all fours. My left eye squinted while the right viewed the forms of three people, whether they were men or mere boys; it was too dark to know.
I could hear my mother’s voice nagging me again. "Thank God my genes are strong, can you imagine where you would be if you looked like your father?" I swallowed the last bit of whiskey in hope of drowning her out.
A sickening feeling rose within my belly. I pleaded with myself "not here, no, stay quiet." There was a heave as my stomach felt as though it'd flown into my chest. "Don't let them hear you." A putrid smell rose from where I stood as chunks of vomit fell to the ground. The front yard grew silent as the people I'd seen stopped what they were doing and stepped cautiously towards the gate that would undoubtedly lead them to me. My head told me to run but my intoxicated state sealed my fate. The fence swung open and I found myself being dragged by the wrist to the front yard. The ropes they used to tie me to the tree left burns across my skin as I struggled without success. He pulled a flashlight out to get a better look at me. "Well lookey here fellas, we got ourselves a nigger lover."
"Ain't this the one cozyin' up with Aunt Jemima?" A second one spoke up.
"Sure is," The third one said as he stopped digging and came to get a closer look. "Lord knows if there’s anything I hate in this world it’s a nigger lover." He said as he lifted his shovel. A swift metal slap fell across my temple. The warm metallic taste of blood filled my mouth as my head flooded with the image of my father; at least the one picture I’d seen of him with my mother. He was a tall, proud black man. My mother was the coward; too afraid of what people might say or do if they’d known she had a black man’s child. Their punches landed one by one each harder than the last. I coughed up blood wishing that I could just as easily spew forth the shame I hid inside.
“There ya go, see? We cut off that hair of yours and you look like a good ‘ol white boy like God intended you to be.” My mother was in my head again with more of her worthless comments on how to look more white. My head hung in shame for all the years I’d been on this Earth hiding who I really was and as blow after blow connected with my head, stomach and chest I asked myself the questions I never dared to ask before.
“Who was more wrong? My dad for leaving? Or my mother for making him go?” My head was spinning as I struggled to remain conscious. They stopped beating me and placed a wooden cross in the hole that’d been dug. “Why was it better for me to be raised a bastard than the child of a black man?” There was a red glow as the cross was lit. They turned their attention back to me; their gasoline sloshed to the edge of their containers as they inched closer.
The boy who’d delivered the first hit dumped the last of his gasoline on me and lit a match; his face filled with the sheer joy of his evil acts. “I’ma let you have a choice.” He said. “Either we can untie ya, you go home to your momma and forget what you saw tonight, or you can burn with the rest of them.” The light of the match was inching towards his fingers when I asked myself one final question.
“Is it better to live a coward? Or die proud of who I am?”