We strolled by a brick colonial with a carriage house above the garage, crescent moon cut-outs winking at us from the dark teal shutters that framed each window. Turned down a side street and passed a Cape Cod crowned with four dormers, hints of original red brick peeking through its white paint. Wandered past a charming brick Tudor with ivy crawling up the front and cascading around the curved doorway. The quiet stillness of the morning was lovely; the birds chirped from the sky, the trees relaxed in the wind. It was on a morning walk just like this that I once spied a tiny plastic doll dressed in a purple tutu and posed in a pirouette under a large, flat-topped mushroom that had sprung from the summer earth, just inches from the street.
Throughout the valley, rain sounded on sheet metal roofing the day the lamb died. Short brown fingers – course and lacerated, dark, tightly packed grime between nails and skin – worked their way through soft fleece, seeking a pulse, a home for knife point. The facon-pierced arterial wall and the upward focused eyes blinked, haunches twitched. Ragged cattle dogs circled, chickens scratched through the mud, blood silently streamed into a worn half-tire to be set in a windowsill to congeal, water droplets fell heavily into leaves, their faint reports gathering to an overwhelming chorus, and somewhere, not too distant, a river swollen and brown churned toward the sea. He looked up from his work, “This is how we live. This is how we feed our families,” and reached in to pull out the steaming entrails.
“It’s the black guy quota,” he says as we look down at our feet, comparing the significant similarity of his offending sneakers to those worn by the milky-skinned, all gliding easily past the velvet rope without examination from the bouncer in the black suit. It happens all the time in San Diego, he tells me, more with resignation than disappointment, and I step back over the invisible line he wasn’t allowed to cross.
We aren’t in San Diego, but, like Big Macs, Buzz Lightyear, and a preference for blondes and big breasts, my white privilege and his dark otherness have followed us here, 10,000 miles beyond America’s borders and soiled history, into this land of 1.3 billion souls. Like the dollar, they have preceded us through the streets crushing with humanity and up 70-stories to one of Shanghai’s hottest clubs in the sky, where wealthy white expats throb against the elite of China, drinking vodka and gazing out over the Pudong, awash in pheromones and the heady feeling of arrival. Where everything is different and very much the same.
He died a week ago, the man who gave us life and a lifetime of heartache. Since burying him, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to label my feelings. What did I do, dad, to make you forget us and languish drunk on the couch, my brother wanted to ask, while my own heart gave up on him years ago. But his mourners, after asking who we were, shared their fond memories of him, and his rabbi knew only of his good and little of the reasons for our estrangement. Is it possible to get closure but at the same time, be left with open wounds?
Amerigus the Hippo has wide eyes, and a jaw that sits a’slack on my parents’ low, brown carpet in front of the television. Red and white stripes run the length of his body, and his hip boasts a starry, blue patch. He is not as good as the quirky little statues my dad liked in a gift shop in Caesar’s Palace, which we saw together in Las Vegas after my honeymoon at the stupid-cute age of eighteen, but I molded his clay with care eleven years ago, in my first kitchen in a falling-down house in Robbins, Tennessee. The clay hippo (bowling-ball-heavy) reminds me I’ve learned much about the liberty of life these last years, of how to be proud of flaws — of how to fully appreciate my Amerigus, the beautiful.
-Brandi Dawn Henderson
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