Tag Archive for Letters

Dear Shannon

Back then, children were only aware of four careers, and they rose black like totems against the distant horizon. Supposing youth ever did wane and, improbably, we did morph into adults someday, the only things we thought of being were policemen, firemen, doctors, or lawyers. I liked the first two options. You know, normal schoolboy fantasies. Most people in Hearne, Texas were farmers, but my family lived in the urban area of the town. My dad worked at a gravel pit until I was nine, when he passed away. What I remember of him is pleasant. My mom stayed at home with my sister and me. It was just the three of us. My older two brothers and sister were grown and on their own, so my mother, sister, and I existed in isosceles-type equilibrium. My mother seemed ideal to me as a boy, like some incarnation of justice always making sure we knew right from wrong. My sister was more someone to play alongside of than with—she was interested in dolls and I preferred trucks, hoops, or hunting, yet the two of us were still close.

I started school at six, and I loved it. Knowledge wasn’t really something I had to keep tilling and poking and prodding around for to obtain. It opened itself up to me like a treasure chest with a rusted lock, dousing me with imaginary numbers, obelisks, kingdoms, codes, runes, poems, obscure words, treaties, promises, and dreams. I loved math, literature, and history. I read on my own when I could spare the hours, but back then we were always trying to get something to expand and grow—a garden, an animal, something that in future seasons colored gilt or jade could be eaten, could give us life. I was valedictorian of my senior class. Don’t ask me what I spoke about. I don’t even remember. There are ten million words, memories, moments I would give you willingly if I could place them in the right order, summon them to the surface of my mind, but age can hide eras and seconds under leaves, lock them in gardens, shut them up in closets, bind them to the shadows.

I was drafted after high school to aid the U.S. in our fight against Korea, although, fortunately, I was able to stay here. I met your grandmother while in the Army. I took her to her high school prom when my buddy, whom she had invited, couldn’t get leave. I thought I’d do him a favor. He promised me the girl was pretty—and wow. She was beautiful, but she was also kind, and she knew exactly what she wanted from life. I felt that the two of us could locate the labyrinths within each other and follow the winding corridors to that wild place which is the heart. Times when I was granted leave from the military to take Almeta, my Be-Bop, out on dates were wonderful. The rest of my days as a soldier weren’t as lovely. I tried to serve my country valiantly, but I hated taking orders. After my compulsory two years I didn’t sign up for more.

With Almeta as my wife, I headed to Houston to go to Texas Southern University. Two years in the army had earned me four years of college tuition. My life seemed to be divided. Unlike my classmates, I was a married homeowner. In a little while I was also a father. I worked two jobs, but I also had homework. On campus, I majored in tailoring, later electronics, enjoying classes and college life. At home, I tried to find time to be with my wife, and my newborn daughter, Diane, whose birth had made me so content. After three and a half years of college with only thirty hours left to go, the government told me my college tuition money had run out. Again, the duplicity of my life struck me. As a young husband and first time father I had a great home life, yet my hopes for a college degree had ended.

You see, I have had a happy life but an extremely hard one nonetheless. I felt blessed to have had six healthy kids, but I always wanted to provide for them and my wife a little more than I have been able to. I didn’t have a favorite out of the six, and I didn’t have many rules to follow. I only insisted that they study hard so that life would not be so difficult. I had to work most of the time, but whenever I had a few moments to play with my kids I treasured them. Even now, I love being with my grandkids—not participating in any particular activity with you or for any special reason, but merely because I like the aura your children’s children give you when you are near them. I admire their accomplishments and delight in their differences, respecting them all as individuals.

One of the most difficult things in my life has been racism. I hated segregation, and sometimes I wouldn’t adhere to it. At work, I drank from the white water fountain, brandishing a knife at anyone who didn’t like the sight of it. It broke my heart when both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. died, because I thought that blacks may never attain civil rights. We have, to a certain extent, but the roots of the civil rights movement have nurtured all types of fruits. As foul a thing as segregation was, when it was around there had to be black business owners because blacks weren’t welcome as clients in so many white businesses. Blacks had no choice about either being entrepreneurs or supporting other black entrepreneurs. Now that blacks can patronize any establishment, black entrepreneurship has decreased, converting racial segregation into economic segregation. While my generation focused on attaining civil rights, younger generations should work on attaining education and encouraging people of all races to support black entrepreneurship.

I have had so many years and seen so many wonders. I have seen a nation morph and a man walk on the moon—although at first I doubted my eyes. I believe in a Supreme Being that we cannot see. I don’t go to church because I do not like the tenets of denominations and the claims of pastors, yet I am loyal to God. Perhaps I cannot give you all of my stories because so many have been bitter. I didn’t consciously suppress them, but the mind is a survivor which out of necessity hides darkness. Yet despite the thorns that have been cruelly placed in so many lives, I assure you, Granddaughter, there is a better world somewhere. Search for its light, listen for its noise, gather it in your arms and help it to hatch. Wherever you see hope or hear rumor of this new world, hasten to it. Tend it. I have spent my life helping it to dawn. Now, Granddaughter, I pass this sacred duty on to you.


An Essay Written as a Letter

Hey, Marijke,

I don’t feel like writing this down in an actual letter, and I probably won’t be able to talk to you till at least much later, but I do need to say something to somebody right now.

I witnessed the death of a man, today. His name was Daniel. He was painting the house next to us. He was on the top couple rungs of the ladder when it folded under him. It was a cheap ladder. Corroded aluminum.

I am right in the line of sight on the back porch of our house; I hear the ladder starting to collapse, and see him hit the ground. At first I call out to him. He doesn’t respond. I guess I should have called 911 then. I don’t. I run over to him.

He’s barely conscious. I ask him if he is OK, and he can’t form any words. He’s moving around his left arm, as if searching for something on the ground. I remember that he has glasses, and then see them lying five feet away on the grass. I put them on him. One of the legs of the glasses had snapped off, so they don’t go on straight.

I get my mom. When she gets there, she asks him what is his name. “Daniel,” he wheezes out. She asks him what day it is, but his eyes glaze over, and he loses consciousness. She goes in and calls 911. When she comes back out, she tells us that they’re on their way. Then she just stands there waiting next to him, and I sit next to him with my hand on his shoulder. He’s convulsing, and he gasps. I can feel his body tensing up under my fingers. I let go. He is foaming at the mouth. We talk to him, saying stuff like, “It’ll be OK, the ambulance is on its way.” and, “Just hold on, Mr. Daniel, hold on, till the ambulance gets here.” He’s still for twenty or thirty seconds at a time, not even breathing, it seems. Then he convulses gently. Each time he convulses, I feel myself sighing in relief, that he hasn’t gone yet. It is more serious than I had thought at first.

He was still alive when the paramedics finally got there. But (the fireman said later) he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating as they stood over him, checking his pulse. They did CPR on him, right there on Ms. Selma’s lawn, and a few minutes later, they loaded him onto the ambulance.

I say to the fireman, “How is he? Is he alive?”

“Well, his heart and breathing stopped as we where checking him, and they’re trying to bring him back now, on the ambulance.”

“So that’s it, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I mean, they might get him back, but not yet.”

Umm. Yeah. So, I’m a little shook. I went back to painting for a few hours, just because… what else am I going to do? Sit in the house and think about it? No, I just felt like immersing myself in work for a little while. But now I’m taking a lunch break, and it’s all coming back to me.

I was painting our house on the ladder yesterday, about ten feet higher than the one he was on today. That could’ve been me. And can be me, later today. Well, sorta. I have a good ladder. But anything’s possible. This is real life, Marijke. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a dream, and Daniel was my alarm clock. Yeah, I’m shook.