The following is the original essay that inspired a post on Bayart.org. (Sorry, I cannot, in good conscience, provide a link, it’s been lost in the advertisement graveyard.)
I altered the essay for Bayart, because it didn’t quite fit in with their format. They are all about motivation and enlightenment. The original essay is too dark and dripping with bitterness.
However, ever since I posted the altered essay, I was bothered by the fact that the art had been lost in the alterations. And what was intended to be a representative situation would be (and was) perceived as a Real Event.
Anyone who writes for creativity alone, understands that when you write… truth is relative and has a very short half-life. Thoughts are fluid, and situations change from moment to moment. What is true today, perceptually, sometimes will be incomprehensible a week later… This is why, once I thought about the situation, I was able to contend with the fact that the words in this essay are not necessarily true anymore and I was able to justify the changes. Yes, the world that inspired this has changed. But, even now, as I write this… has it really?
Editorial Warning: when I write, every comma, every ellipses, has a purpose – a point. And this essay was a reflection on a time and a point-of-view that we will hopefully rid ourselves of someday… The person I describe herein, though inspired by a real person, and a series of real events, represents a myriad of individuals. Alterations were made to protect identities.
Regardless of race, culture, and status, I have called people like the subject of this essay friend, neighbor, co-worker, or acquaintance. Their images stay with me, because they seem to be lost in that netherworld of perceptual bias that blinds them to the world as it is… they see others through a filter of hatred, scorn, and suspicion. What they have been taught, they cannot seem to unlearn.
The sweetest ever. She was seventy-something. Giving. Loving. An all-around good, southern, Christian woman. If you were down and out, even if it was your own damn fault, this woman would offer you her wrinkled little hand and lift you up. She would feed you, clothe you, and send you back out into the world to try again.
My sweet little old southern lady was coming up to the register. The air was pleasant, the sun streamed through the window blinds. The ring of her southern belle accent always had a soothing effect on me. We were having our usual, post-lunch chat about the weather, or her grandchildren, or perhaps it was an upcoming church social. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but as she stood there, a nice young black family came in the door and was seated over in a section to my right.
What I do remember is the tension in her frail little shawled shoulders as the smiling, laughing, cheerful family – father, mother, sister, and brother; passed behind her with the hostess.
What I do remember is the conspiratorial squint she gave as she leaned in and interjected what was part of a long line of heart-breaking moments for me.
“Those people ove’ theh’”, she whispered in that sweetest of southern drawls that always made me feel at home. “Can you bahleev? They le’ tem move down the street fum me?” She huffed and handed me her money, tucking her wallet back into her purse.
I could tell that she had not seen the look of shock on my face. I could tell that she was oblivious to the tears welling behind my eyelids.
The anger that I felt, at that moment… was incomprehensible.
My southern training was in direct conflict with my ideological concepts of right, and wrong. My mind did what it always does, and I thank God for it. It channeled that anger… it made it into words.
“Well, it is about damn time…” I began.
“Excuse me!?” She flustered, her cheeks reddening a bit. She clutched her purse to her chest like a shield.
“I said, it is about damn time that they moved out of those shotgun shacks at the edge of town.” I slammed the register shut for effect. I glared at the sweet little southern woman before me. Still all the appearance of what she was before… but now… more like a demon in my midst.
She harrumphed and stomped out of the restaurant.
I never saw my sweet little old southern belle again.