It had been a month since the crash of Flight 404 in Wilbur Johnson’s farm field – a month of the kind of loneliness that changes your soul and who you are. I thought I’d left that kind of loneliness behind at St. Augustine’s alter when I’d married Sam.
In the first couple of weeks after Sam’s death there had been the expected outpouring of sympathy, but after that, it was as if the street leading to my front door had been dug up and removed. Sometimes, I’d go out there and stand in front of the place to make sure that an overgrowth of weeds hadn’t sprung up obscuring the road to our home. I needed to know that our friends could find their way to my house.
With each succeeding week, however, fewer and fewer people came. After a while, no one came to offer their condolences, bring me food, or offer a comforting shoulder to cry on, except David. He was the only one who still came.
I knew then that ‘our’ friends were really Sam’s friends and those friendships were as dead as he was. Our so called friends were going with their lives and regulating me to the sidelines, which I guess, wasn’t hard to do, since technically, I wasn’t one of them.
Even Sam’s children stopped coming around. Oh yes, they came by at first.
That first week after their father’s death, they came by everyday. I fooled myself into thinking they were concerned about me, but in reality they were there taking whatever they could get their greedy little hands on while I was still in a state of shock. I woke up to find artwork missing from the walls, my sterling silver flatware gone, along with the Wedgewood crystal, and my favorite Dresden figurines, things that I’d spent months scouring flea markets from here to Chicago collecting.
Being the wife of a TV station owner had afforded me more than just a nice home and expensive things, being Sam’s wife had bought me acceptance. Something I’d had very little of as a child. So, I tended to bend over backwards where Sam’s family and business associates were concerned.
Being the child of a dark-skinned mother and a run-away white father made growing up in a Chicago ghetto more than difficult. Everyday was a new experience in harassment. The kids in my neighborhood called me ‘raggedy white nigger’ because of my light skin and my mother dressed me as if we were still living in nineteen fifty rural Mississippi.
I went to school with a thousand tiny little braids all over my head and a brightly colored hair ornament on each braid. My head rattled whenever I moved.
My clothes, though clean, never matched. I wore stripped blouses and flower printed skirts and old lady black orthopedic shoes. I learned these cast-off things came from my mother’s employers as gifts for cleaning their homes. It was their way of being kind, my mother said. But wouldn’t it have been kinder to have paid her a decent wage for her work, rather than showering her with their cast-offs. I remember feeling only three things as a child: hunger, cold, and shame.
However, the very things that had brought me such torment as a young child – my light skin color and long hair – began working in my favor, as I grew older. My lack of friends earlier in life, made me eager to please later on. Not surprisingly, I had lots of boyfriends and very few girlfriends. I learned early on the treachery of female friendship.
All those hurts, however, were eased in Sam’s arms. He accepted me and I accepted him. He understood that my need for possessions came out of my poverty, and I understood his drive and ambition stemmed from his never having felt loved the way he thought he should have been. Sam had been married twice before and was, by the time I met him, a middle-aged, balding, pudgy white guy who barely stood five-feet eight. I knew he felt unattractive and unloved. He also felt deserted by the people he’d spent his life trying to please.
We had those things in common. Together we healed each other’s hurts and we both learned to love again.
Another thing I like about my husband was that he didn’t have a lot of racial hang-ups. It was the person inside the skin that mattered more to him. And he wasn’t worried about offending ‘polite society’ by being seen with me. His two divorces had already put him at odds with them.
When we were tighter, there was very little doubt between us, I wanted to be with him, and I was absolutely certain he wanted me there with him. We went everywhere together. He showed me off with pride to all the best people at all the right parties. I loved Sam.