When I learned that Boone, North Carolina – a small town I lived in nearly 20 years ago – was at the center of new voter disenfranchisement laws being passed by Republicans in the state, I could not turn my eyes or consciousness from them. So this queer warrior is sending some love their way.
Boone was not easy for me to love 20 years ago. It was the first place where I was physically assaulted for being black (Ohio didn’t move past emotional and verbal attacks, which were bad enough); where I lived with a father I barely knew; and was also the place where a white teacher wisely imparted to me, “sometimes you can’t go home again”.
After my mother passed from sudden, painful, and terminal cancer, my father who had then been out of my life for nearly 4 years showed up with a van. Doors open and heart weighted I packed only enough for what was supposed to be a summer. I found a small, wooden box. I gathered the few pieces of jewelry left to me by my mother. Located unnameable tokens that meant only anything in my imagination and memory’s recall. I placed them inside the box for safekeeping because I just knew I would again return home.
I don’t remember much of the radio during the ride
the passing of trees
I couldn’t tell you the difference
in the air between state lines
but I can remember that as we entered North Carolina
a white ford bronco in California was also making a slow drive
with a black person in the back seat who wanted to die.
and the white folks where he was weren’t too happy with him either.
“I said, I don’t have to say nothin’ to you, bitch!”
spoken behind a jaw clenching years of contempt he and his fellows had for young brown girls like me, he stood, venomous, beside a pool table and inside his whiteness which served to protect him, and I beside the only other two black girls I knew that were not afraid of their voices. They had been called to the pool hall by a friend who saw trouble coming. And it certainly did.
I learned I was not owed an apology for being called a nigger in Boone.
Followed by a slap to remind me of my place and of the audacity at expecting humanity.
My “city” self showed up and broke his nose, and after an exchange of pool cues, and big bodied bouncer intervention, my southern self ran like hell with my friends fearing for my life. We realized that we were likely to encounter more trouble on dark North Carolina mountain roads alone after a white man had been harmed by my hand, and shortly thereafter turned ourselves in to the police. (No charges were filed – I was afterall acting in self-defense.)
And while there were certainly others in Boone for whom my life as a black girl meant nothing, there were others who did a lot to keep me alive.
It was no secret to many of my friends there that my home was deeply troubled. That the van ride had brought with it my parents’ unresolved everything with one another, except now there was only one person left to carry the stains.
Tears made themselves routinely
present in my smiles
and on my skin.
My white friends and their parents provided long meals
and long weekend sleep overs.
And when I finally decided to run away from Boone, they were there.
Making sure I made it on my long bus ride back to Ohio.
Solo this ride
I sang songs to pass time
and tried to sleep the road
and tears behind
with no one to chase me but dreams.
It is apparent to me now that this dichotomy was an ongoing element of my experience in Boone. I lived in a predominantly white environment not for the first time in my life, but for the first time I experienced a conscious complexity in our relating.
So now, almost 20 years later I think to Boone and being forever changed by the short year I spent there. And I am mostly impacted by the memories of those who cared and listened and spirited and shared. (And that is a whole other blog or book.) But in this moment I am present to the memories triggered by present-day Republicans in North Carolina whose actions feel a lot like that slap I received 20 years ago, except this time the hand is across the whole state.
The reason is nonetheless the same.
The jukebox was simply playing too much “nigger music”.