She stared at the envelope, her eyes going in and out of focus. She knew what was inside; knew what the letter said. She’d seen them before. Saw her own, saw her husband’s, both of which were locked up safe here at home. It had been suggested they keep them in a safe deposit box at the bank but that was simply laughable.
To leave one’s identity at the hands of someone else was a mistake few in her position ever made. Not after so many weren’t given a choice.
She flipped the envelope over and stared at the official seal, ran her fingers over it before turning it over once again. She sighed internally. She didn’t know what she was waiting for; it was just a letter, just information. The money was already in the CD. The transfer was done, had been done for days. Seeing the words on a paper was just that, words on a paper.
And that’s all it was...words on a paper.
She hoped that someday it would feel like more than that. It seemed to feel like more than that for Harvey. He seemed to think it was positive, a good idea. He liked to refer to it as moving in the right direction but she still didn’t know what she thought.
She knew it wasn’t going to keep her from giving her son everything he could possibly have to help him in life, that was for sure, and with that she turned away from her front door and walked more fully into their home.
Her feet crossed the hardwood floors, the bottoms of her shoes making a familiar clack as she headed towards the den.
She entered the room and sat down at the desk. It had been her mother’s. She remembered all the nights she’d sit on her parent’s bed and watch as her mother would balance the checkbook as she sat behind this desk. She felt closer to her here. She didn’t care if one leg wobbled a little or that the right-hand drawer stuck a third of the time.
She grabbed the letter opener from the pencil cup and tucked it into the tiny opening at the top corner. She sliced through and listened to the sound of the ripping paper, thrilling at the twill that entered the air and made a shiver go down her spine.
She pulled the thick off-white paper out of the legal envelope, all the signs of the official screaming at her immediately. The eagle eyed her angrily, as if she were taking something that didn’t belong to her but she knew better. No two dimensional bird was going to make her question what every fiber in her being knew was true.
This would never be enough.
This piece of paper could never be thick enough to outweigh the past. A past that constantly bleeds into the present.
She ran her fingertip over the words on the page and felt the first prick of tears behind her eyes. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, waiting for her heart rate to return to normal. Tears were a luxury she wouldn’t give in to. Her mother hadn’t nor had her mother’s mother. One day, maybe, if there really was balance in the universe, her grandchildren or great-grandchildren would be free to cry their tears and she hoped they did. This was not a strength she wished upon her children or her children’s children.
She took one more cleansing breath, deep through her nostrils, and opened her eyes once again. Her eyes swept over the letters on the page, not caring in the least to relive centuries of memories but knowing that it was always necessary to make sure everything was as it seemed. Accountability could never be taken for granted. No one gets the benefit of the doubt.
She pushed her chair back a bit and reached under the desk for the firebox there. It was simple and gray with a black handle that she used to lift it onto the smooth wooden surface. She let the box sit on the desk as she stared at it, breathing in through her nostrils and out through pursed lips. Then, she laid her hand on top of the book sitting to her left. The worn cover was in good condition, years of faith only adding to its ability to persevere the elements.
She flipped open the cover, revealing a pocket-sized manila envelope adhered to the inside. It wasn’t sealed and she quickly had it opened and was pulling a small key from it.
She closed the envelope and then the book, shutting her eyes momentarily and saying a small prayer to her grandmother, the first woman who taught her that girls had to be stronger than the boys. “If you’re perceived as weaker,” she’d said “you have to make sure to be stronger.” Then she’d taken her into the kitchen and sat her down with some juice and cookies and told her why she always wore the gold calla lily stickpin with all of her outfits.
She opened her eyes and unlocked the metal box, finally removing its contents:
birth certificates (3)
social security cards (3)
last wills and testaments (2)
ancestral draft cards (2)
ancestral birth certificates (5)
In addition, there were two letters nearly matching the one that sat on the desk in front of her, two additional letters dated exactly 18 years from those originals and two little black books.
Everything was present and accounted for just as she knew it would be.
She took one last look at the letter. If Harvey wanted to see it for himself, which he probably would, he’d know where to find it. She added the piece of paper to the rest and returned them to the firebox, then reached for the two black passbooks. She knew whose was whose without needing to look inside since the upper right corner on Harvey’s had been worn down before the two had even met. She set his back inside with the paperwork, no memories clinging to those particular pages for her.
She held on to hers, the weight feeling familiar and foreign at the same time. It took her a full minute before she was able to open it and even then she couldn’t make out anything inside, her vision blurred from tears refusing to make themselves known.
She let a stream of cool air release from her lips and followed it with a clearing of her throat. She refocused and let her eyes narrow on the typed letters and numbers stuck to the inside front cover.
Beginning balance (01.08.2045): $20,000
Transferred balance (01.08.2063): $217,851.07
Her own handwriting throughout the years was evident on the first page, with various dollar amounts written in black or blue ink and corresponding notations laid out to their left.
She turned the first page and then the second, her index finger trailing over the list of numbers. Acid churned in her stomach as a mix of emotions flooded her system. So many experiences, opportunities, possibilities. So much life. Yet, she refused to be grateful. There was no cause for gratefulness, here. Too many lives were stolen. Too many people fought not to be destroyed.
She was luckier than her ancestors, that much was true. Although, she couldn’t help skirting back in her mind to the great-great-greats before the boats and the shackles and the shame. She couldn’t imagine that she was luckier than them. No money or invention could replace the eminent feeling of security that ancestral freedom brought.
At least that’s what she imagined.
Her fingers gripped the black book tight, the bottom of the binding pressing into her palm. One day if luck was still on their side, their son would be holding his, unable to fully conceive of all of the life in front of him. But luck could never be assumed or taken for granted. Her grandmother taught her that, too. The same day she taught her how to use that stickpin.
She closed the book, finished with her trip down memory lane and ready to be back at home once again. She placed it back inside the box and shut it with a cold finality that only metal could translate. She ran her hand over the top. Same, she thought before sticking in the key and twisting it into its lock position.
She tried to lift the lid, ensuring the lock had worked, and found she couldn’t open the case. Then, returned it back underneath the desk and placed the key back in its hiding place inside the family Bible. She took one more look at the great book and said a last prayer, this one for her son. That he find himself, physically, one more step further from the past and one more step away from the danger he was relegated at birth.
The tear leaked from the corner of her eye before she realized it was there and she swept it away as soon as she felt the brush of its warmth. Her son would see no progress, be spared no knee, from the umbrella of her tears. She set the book aside and pushed her chair back before standing.
It was something, she thought. It was a start. Progress.
It was more than her parents had and her parent’s parents.
It was more than they were allowed.
She shook her head, her thoughts felt forced.
She let her hand brush over her still slightly-swollen belly and wondered how she was supposed to feel, wondered how her parents felt when they received her letter, wondered if the betrayal would ever feel minimized.
She heard the baby fussing in his bassinet and couldn’t help but smile at the sweet sound of cooing. Her heart flooded with emotion and another tear leaked from her eye. This one she let fall as her gaze landed on the screen and the swaddled form of her son. Her smile spread as her eyes swept over him; he must be hungry. She chuckled to herself. That boy could eat.
She walked out of the room, heading to the nursery to feed her son, just as her mother had fed her and her mother’s mother had fed her. And for that, she was grateful.