by LaVie Saad
“I’ll tell y’all about it in good time. Good time, alright? Slow drip, remember?”
“But Momma, Sherlie was talking about it at school yesterday! She was weeping all morning ’cause she found out from her daddy. Me and Brandon were the only ones who didn’t know what it meant! Can’t the drip drip faster?” says Bonnie, my little girl. Fiery, just the way I used to be.
Sherlie, Pastor Michael’s daughter. Lord Jesus. He of all parents should’ve known to keep his baby blind for a little while longer.
“Honey, you and your brother are too young! Please, trust your Momma this time.”
Bonnie is seven years old and my son, Brandon, is only five. They don’t need to know about it. Them.
“Why do you think so, Momma?” says Brandon. “Can’t we know? Who were the slaves?”
I turn to my son, dressed in plaid and loose khaki pants. I couldn’t find a belt for his tiny waist—his pants keep slipping, but he keeps pulling them right back up because he likes the way they look. My little gentleman. The future first mathematician in the family.
I kneel, grimacing as the tiled kitchen floor cuts into my knees, but I bear it and pull my children close to my chest, because I don’t want them to see tears brimming in their Momma’s eyes.
“Because when you know things too soon, you break.”
I know that, if anything.
The summer I learned what the world was capable of, I sobbed into my peeling fingers, stained orange from the liquor store’s cheap tangerines. I’d thought I lived in a kingdom free of flaws, and I thought we all loved the Christian God because He blessed us with dewy sublimity, endowed us with the responsibility only to be pretty and smile as a woman, or to be strong and ambitious as a man. Easy enough for most, a challenge for others, a struggle for few.
It was hard to learn what the world was capable of, because I thought that life was golden, just like my babies now. What a concept: dewy, golden life.
What a concept, you might say, after you’ve seen Black bodies swinging from braided rope on a bridge, just like your hair, hanging from a torn neck. Ripping, ripping, until the body plunges into the abyss below. Nana showed me. Five of her old neighbors. Gone because they “stole some wine.”
In Jerome, sizzling heat ripples above our famous looming hills, sewn tight with patchy shrubs. Those ripples can pierce through half-dead houses vacant or not, and so the people of Arizona watch themselves—guard themselves from blisters by dawn till the sun falls again. We guard ourselves too, from life as the rest of the world knows it, as I learned that summer.
“What do you mean break, Momma?” Bonnie asks.
“You’ll lose the spark in your eyes, baby. I can’t have you lose that glow.”
Class was a character and the way to live in my house. We did all things with divinity and class, but not to prove or promote ourselves. We were proud Black women who wouldn’t take money from a white man or white woman who’d stuck a twenty between the gaps of their white picket fence for us to grab. We didn’t need it.
Did you spot it? The irony? We needed that help. Indeed, we needed that twenty twisting in the wind.
“I’m gonna be a lawyer when I grow up, Momma. I’ll never lose my spark!” Bonnie cries. Her curls jump under her bow when she moves, a seasick green color.
“Oh, honey,” I sigh.
My family’s bungalow was painted in dull teals and faded rubies, sun-bleached by the vicious rays. There I lived with my mother and her mother, my Nana, who taught me about life in the loop.
Nana’s fingers were always wrapped in snug bronze rings, and I felt each band cut into my arm when she grabbed me and sat me down at the old oak table.
“Honey, you better know you’re a privileged little girl. You can play outside and go to school just fine. You know what my mama was?” Nana whispered one day. “She was a white man’s toy.”
This was when I learned what the world was capable of. The barbed line of reality—life in the loop. She gave it to me straight that day. No sugar, no dew, no gold.
“Me too! I can take it, too!” Brandon smiles.
She taught me that our ancestors picked cotton for the greater good. The white dollar, the greater good. She told me about the scars the whips would bring and the tears the mothers shed when their babies were ripped from their arms. The death by the labor and the rape by the owners.
“Oh, honey,” I whisper.
And she taught me how useless it was for them to pray for freedom.
“I can’t let y’all lose that glow.”
I learned too soon, that’s all. When Nana gave it to me straight that day, I questioned God. I was a devout Christian all my life, a loyal Sunday church attendee in the youth group and choir. And I thought of all the hours spent worshiping the Lord, and then I wondered if He was even real.
And if God might not be real, little Lorrie wondered what might be. Grown Lorrie still does.
I won’t let my kids shiver when white kids pass them on the playground the way I did. I won’t let them question God when He’s what they’ve always known. When Momma isn’t solid, their rock and their shield, God sure is. That’s what I’ve taught them. They won’t have to relearn their faith.
I’ll die before they lose hope in the world, their fire, their glow. Lord knows, I’ll die before it happens. At least, it won’t happen before they can hardly spell their names.
LaVie Saad is a Greek mythology enthusiast, then a cat lover, then a teen writer from Los Angeles, California. She has been recognized internationally by the Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation and Ringling College, as well as by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Her works are featured in the Lascaux Review, Cathartic Literary Magazine, and The Echo, among others. If she could be any animal she would be an owl, but if heaven were a place on Earth, she would be a lavender owl.