Up, up, up we went, the tracks clicking as we are closer to the crest. Suddenly, we stop, and our cart rests right at the top of the roller coaster. I look down at the little dots moving like ants below, some probably wondering what is going on. I shift my attention out to the sea, the glistening waves waiting in anticipation on whether we would move forward or stay where we were, stuck until time was ready to let us go.
“Uh, has this every happened to you before?” my companion asks beside me. Their jaw is clenched, prepared for the inevitable drop that would send their stomach skyrocketing into their throat. It doesn’t come.
“Well, there is always a first time for everything,” I say optimistically, which is something I picked up over the years as I grew weary of the dreary, morose clothes I dressed myself in and finally opted for something more colorful. Although, I have to admit, I only had a more colorful selection when I finally left the store and entered into another.
“Are we going to die?” I expect panic, but they say it almost eagerly.
“I’m sure they are doing what they can to get us off this damn ride.” My mind flashed back to Final Destination 3. Why in the world does anyone bother to watch that movie? It is the sole reason why I never, ever drive behind trucks carrying lumber or steel poles or anything that could cause impalement. That is not the way I want to go.
“Oh.” They sound almost disappointed. I try to guess what year they are in, but I cannot tell; for five years I was swathed in a dark cloud that made it impossible to see to the other side.
“Buckle up, buttercup,” Poor choice of words in hindsight, as we straddle the roller coaster like a horse, but nevertheless I persist. ” It’s story time.”
I hesitate, my beginning suddenly lost to me. Every story needs a starting point, and usually I can find a place, but the image of destruction that pops into my head is jarring, and I am lost in the rubble of confusion and rage. Why are people so awful? I can get it as a product of a mental disruption- the actual chemical disruption that causes people to see and hear things that aren’t there, or the state of psychopathy that removes remorse, removes any feeling inside the standard serial killer- but I don’t understand the awfulness simmering inside those who have no excuse. My cynicism- once made sharp and clear, a building block resulting from the turmoil caused by New York and had slowly burrowed into hibernation- awakens, and through bitterness and anger I try to dissect all the awful things that have happened. But by doing so I leave behind the good things, the sliver of hope worth holding onto, worth working to change and shape and remold what has been broken and what is capable of shining with beauty.
“It is only fitting I tell you about Savannah, and a piece of Georgia itself,” I say to my companion, a version of me who is beaten but not yet irrevocably broken and who has yet to heal in the same way the country, the world, needs to heal. ” Because I used to think it was a place full of hate, when actually it is a place full of suppressed love. There is so much we owe to the black community that continues to fight, continues to love, when they have every reason not to. How many of us could drive by a car accident, stop, pull out the murderer, and drag them to safety? Us white folks, us collectively known as the murderer released on a technicality, deserve to be abandoned. We cannot expect those we have hurt to heal us; we have to heal ourselves. But that is not to say we have to do it alone.”
They march Carrying the weight So heavy, so full Of tears unnecessarily spent On lives unnecessarily lost They march With nothing on their backs The freedom automatically granted By the color of their skin So light, so empty Yet the slightest shift In weight Thrust upon their shoulders led them to march They march Late into the night Against the howling shrieks Of those who never had a Life to lose Yet are afraid That they will come and take The shirt off of backs Who work tirelessly To keep them from having Shirts of their own They march Carrying the weight So heavy, so full Of tears they no longer wish To spend On lives that deserve To wear the same shirts To breath the same air To be They march Their torches hoisted Late into the night Their voices howling So angry, so afraid To carry a little more Weight On shoulders not accustomed To carrying the tears Unnecessarily spent On lives Unnecessarily lost And as the flames burn bright They never realize They are the reason For so much unnecessary Weight.
I must admit my expectations were low when I arrived in Savannah, Georgia, and also tainted with a bias that makes me no better than the people it was aimed at. Every since I was a child, the idea of injustice infuriated me, and I would walk out of classrooms, my tiny fists clutching a failed assignment muttering “It isn’t fair.” Well, it wasn’t fair to judge, and as I took my first steps in the state, I was quickly easily swayed by the southern charm. Beauty can hide the bad but it can also reveal the good, as I have told myself over and over yet the anger pushes it aside and I must fight to bring it back.
The weather was fair, although I do not think that would have stopped the heavy drinking that followed. I came as part of a rugby trip to the annual St. Patrick’s Day tournament held in the city. Rumor has it- for I was skeptical of the tale, that’s how improbable and wild it was- that each year the river that runs through was dyed green. That day I don’t think it was, but numerous fountains spouted green water as I passed them on a walk I took while waiting for various teammates to recover from a stupor resulting from the previous night’s activity. At night, it was hard to make out the details of the city, hidden behind shadows they were, so I wanted to take the time to know it, at least some of it, before I was whisked along following the majority in activities I was indifferent to.
” I suppose that indifference shows, the jungle of Savannah is just that- a jungle. Images blur together, swinging from one vine to another in rapid succession. My teammates-“
“Wait,” they stop me. ” Aren’t they your friends too, if this is the same group I think it is.”
A dull throb aches in my chest. Once, it would have stung, and the pain would be equivalent to that of a heart attack. ” I learned a long time ago that teammates are not necessarily your friends. Although in this case they are my friends, I have been broken too many times to discard the habit so easily.”
Over the course of the weekend a soft voice would ask that question that has been asked so many times before: are they my friends? The tournament was an excuse to divulge into an excessive amount of drinking, a thing my body has been programmed never to enjoy, separating me from those who only know how to have fun if there is drinking. There was a night, however- and here the timeline becomes a little distorted- where everyone was just going hard, hollering and jeering with voices that had no sense of control. We were staying in a gorgeous house, one with a massive ground level and three additional levels connected by polished wooden stairs, so everything echoed. The Reluctant Officer was nursing a really bad headache, one produced by the heavy drinking brought on earlier, and she was laying in a four poster bed, semi unconscious. I had been watching the games, participating where I could thanks to the good graciousness of Rainbow Martin who shoved aside my self doubt that I could ever join without alcohol and made room, even sacrificing their liver during a round of the Great American Race to take drinks for me( I wish I could explain what it is, but the rules are too convoluted for me to put to words, but it involves furniture).
“Wait- The Reluctant Officer? Didn’t you describe them earlier?” they ungraciously interrupt me, disturbing the flow of the story.
“Yes I did. But when you get to be my age you forget the names you assigned people. I am too lazy to search through all the postcards I have given you so far, and I wouldn’t want you to lose them so you are just going to have to adjust,” the cool wind tickles my hair, rubbing its fingers against my scalp and massaging it. It was almost pleasant, being up here on the peak of a roller coaster and seeing the whole ocean, the whole cliffside with its rocks and perched houses, laying before my eyes. Then came the dread, the reminder that any second now I could plummet unexpectedly into a sight of where my face met the ground.
There was quite a bit of face planting in Savannah, intentionally and not. That night was spent raucously, with The Reluctant Officer passed out alone. I checked in on her, offering a wet cloth to cool an aching forehead. Ironically, a few hours later when everyone else was finally spent, she rallied, ready to go late into the night, and I was the only one still awake to go hard with her. Except- I didn’t drink, and the self-consciousness crept in. I was a disappointment, a terrible companion to have when all someone wanted to do was drink, and I felt the Great Disconnection returning. Yet surprisingly, unexpectedly, it may have been okay. The Reluctant Officer and I spent a chunk of time watching HGTV because it was the only channel the TV had while playing a game on her Ipad. It was nice, the two of us sitting in a quiet house still littered with red cups and bud light can, and it was different, more calm and coherent.
” I think sometimes you need someone like that. Someone who sits with you through clear eyes and does something so simplistic, something that doesn’t require numbing the state of mind, something with no pressure to be the same. It can be refreshing, if not peaceful, that way. I think that night, by not doing the expected, what most of us will do anyway, there was some peace. Instead of thinking I’m not good enough for others, maybe I can be what people might need sometimes- a break away from what is expected. In some ways, doing something different, being something different, opens up a door to places that are frequently locked or forgotten about. So I am okay with not doing the expected, because I might be able to provide something else that someone might need instead. So a bounce along, following and waiting and watching. But mostly just happy I can come along, a puppy at their side happy to be there, happy to be surrounded by people who want me there. Because for a long time, that was all I wanted: to be there. And so I had my role, one not so different from that of a lighthouse- guiding those who need it, and letting those come inside and change the light when it is broken. “
A storm in the night Throws the shutters open Flash Flash Flash The innkeeper wakens His job incomplete As the water whips The child he left Wailing Wailing Wailing Out in the open where A storm in the night Lashes in spite Seeking to cast fire To those who burned him. Out into the night The innkeeper runs To the white walls That has always been his child As much as the stranglers who Drink Drink Drink From his inn every night Up the ladder he climbs Reaching the light at the top Black Black Black No longer willing to spark In a storm so angry It cannot be taken care By the innkeeper who has Promised Promised Promised To care for everything in sight A storm in the night Batters against the windows Screaming Screaming Screaming For the innkeeper to stop For he cannot fix What is meant to stay broken As a reminder for his failure To take care of the Neglected child The innkeeper hears the Wailing Wailing Wailing Of the child he left But he continues to fix The light until it shines Bright Bright Bright Once more to bring the Stranglers home Out in the night The innkeeper sits The door wide open His shirt wet and muddy Waiting Waiting Waiting For the storm to come in Bringing the child he left In the darkness where the Bright Bright Bright Light could not touch him The storm shrinks Down to a wind Easily slipping inside the door And around the innkeeper Whispering "I am sorry."
Like I said, I didn’t get to know Savannah as intimately as some of the other places, but I did get to know some of it, despite my initial weariness and focus on what the team was doing. When it came time for food, it was unanimously agreed- although I didn’t voice an opinion because my food habits are unusual compared to others so I blend in, making myself agreeable because that is what is expected and also I do not want to be difficult. The joint was a local shrimp shop- shrimp and crawfish being a predominant dish in parts of the South- and the sense I got when entering was that it was a local place because as we entered I got the sense we were trespassing on something sacred, something meant for the black population and the black population only, yet we were happily served if only it meant more business but I also got the sense they wanted to share. It was a completely different atmosphere than the place I would go to later, one that I was more comfortable and at home with. I suppose that was exactly how they wanted to make you feel- like you were sitting at home among friends and family while grandma and mom poured their hearts into a gourmet. Perhaps I was conjecturing, but again that was the aroma that struck me.
The second place could not have been more of it’s opposite. Yes, it was a nice view on the river, but it was trying too hard, putting on air and graces that lost the sentimentality and sincerity. It was a stylish place that catered to those who were stylish, and as I sat down in a chair I felt dirty, the filth showing through my crew neck sweatshirt I used to hide the rugby uniform I was still wearing. The food was good, as far as I can remember, and the atmosphere was pleasant, the refreshing spring air relaxing my muscles, but I could not feel at home and was resolved on keeping on my mask, passing as someone other than myself. It’s funny how two different places in the same city can do that, showing off diverse styles in a mix and match routine, offering different tastes for different folks to choose from. Perhaps belatedly I realized that a place’s reputation doesn’t account for everyone, and that by giving myself to look closely, there are pockets- good or bad, it doesn’t matter except they are there- that subvert expectations and the reputation assigned from a majority. Hence, stereotyping can work more subtly in tricking the mind into believing what is not necessarily true.
“So tell me more about the rugby games,” they say, losing interest because I know their brain is not there yet, not on a level where it can comprehend the intricacies that make up the world. I know they are still confused, needing to work ideas and feelings out, a process that will go on for years because that’s the way they will grow. ” I want to know what the tournament was like.”
“Ah yes, rugby. It’s a game you ought to try,” I want to tell them more, warn them if they stick with their current sport, it will destroy them irrevocably. This is the point, isn’t it? The reason for all these stories is to stop myself from taking a path that will break every bone in my body, and puncture a hole in my heart in which it will endlessly bleed. Yet at the same time I want to tell them what is waiting on the other side, that out of the wreckage there is still soil in which a new seed can be planted and grown into something beautiful, with colorful leaves waiting to be seen. Without the destruction, they won’t be able to see what’s there, what is waiting, screaming to grab the attention so blinded by the golden statues and magnificent fountains, all those things once standing before ruthlessly obliterated. Sometimes it takes the destruction of something old to see something new, something that was better than what there was before.
“Hello? Are you still with me?” They wave a hand in front of my face, and I realize I have been caught drifting, drifting, drifting, a sailboat left to wander in the wrong direction.
“Hmmm? Oh, right, you wanted to know about the game. I can tell you its a wonderful sport- both sober and drunk. And let me tell you, it is quite something when played drunk.”
Drunk people amuse me. Most of the time, with the exception of screaming in my face or blasting music in my face, pinching my cheeks, pulling my hair, puking on my arm, jumping on top of my car, falling asleep on my shoulder while I was driving- although that was more of a slight inconvenience- holding me hostage in a hotel room( figuratively speaking; if any of us left, said person would go do stupid shenanigan’s that would result in landing them in jail), forcing me to drink against my will, forcing me to babysit and watch three people make out while everyone got to keep on dancing, forcing me to drive them around town and get on a boat in which said person would proceed to inadvertently cause fish blood to squirt on me( a whole other story saved for a different postcard), and being too stubborn to listen to a reasonable request not to drive drunk or walk a ninety streets alone at night or that now would be a great time to leave. Other than those few, tiny, insignificant details, drunk people amuse me. The first day after the tournament, in which we promptly lost, most of the team decided to get really drunk and really fast, forgetting we still had a consolation match the next day. Morning came, and it was like herding cats, especially cats who sat on the stoop until four in the morning discussing their feelings as alcohol inevitable tends to make one do, and I could see people hiding in the beds. I’m pretty sure our coach found legs poking out of the closet and dragged the body out. We got to the field with five minutes before kickoff, using each minute to painfully dress ourselves and stumbling like awkward, baby giraffes out onto the pitch to face opponents who were still drunk as we were.
They were not. It was a military team taking this as seriously as a battle. Soon, however, there was little to take seriously. Rainbow Martin, alone and with no one remotely near her, tripped over her own two feet and remained motionless on the ground trying to contain the laughter that no one else was containing. The Reluctant Officer scored and fell unconscious in the try zone, however we thought she was being dramatic and left her there, not bothering to check on her until five minutes had passed. It was a collective mess, but a beautiful, glorious collective mess.
“What did we do later? Drank of course. I watched as the wallpaper that I was, but it was Hawaiian theme night so I decked myself out in a floral shirt, adding a buffalo hat on top.”
“Oh, I think I know what hat you are talking about,” they say. “It’s warm, and fuzzy, but I don’t wear it that much.”
“You will,” I say, and her name floats in my head, unwelcome. ” Because someone will encourage you to be silly again, laughing and smiling and no longer self conscious. You will bring that hat out then, for the first time letting your weird self fly for all to see, and then it will go back in the box for a time. Until you find rugby again and can be yourself around people equally weird.”
“Who is this person?” they ask fervently.
“No one worth mentioning. Not yet.”
It is quiet. The wind still whistles, and the sun gradually lowers, the bright yellow dimming to orange, then red, and finally the purple comes out, streaking across the sky in one last brilliant display to a glorious performance. Below us, little dots run back and forth, still trying to get the ride going again. I sigh.
“You know,” I begin, uncertain if I should mention what has until recently been running through my head. ” I love art, but I never thought I was any good at it so I never bothered to pursue it. Keep in mind, you should always do what you love even if you are not good at it because if it makes you happy, you need to hang onto it. Savannah has an art school. They have sports teams too.”
The implication is clear. What if I had gone to art school instead? What if I knew the road I wanted to take and instead of the bumpy, uneven road in which I followed because I was told to follow it, I had taken this one instead? Where would I be now? What would I have lost, though? These questions take for granted the things, the people, I have now, and it stems from a belief that I could never be loved.
“So you’ve been searching for it too?” they ask with relief on their tongue.
I nodded, bracing myself for what they were about to ask next.
“Did you find it? Did you find it in New York?”
Ah. So that’s the time period they came from. The time where they had to decide between Evanston and Long Island. Savannah was long out of the picture. Perhaps, if I suggest it, if I forget about the things and people I would not trade for the world, then Savannah would be brought back into it.
“Can you tell me about it. Please?”
The lights on the side of the coaster flash. A clicking sounds from beneath us, and our cart shifts forward.
As we plummet, I scream.