You get a text from your son: OMG, Mom, Some old lady just called me a n*gger. You blink twice before the rage sets in. WHAT?! What happened?
All I did was smile at this baby.
He tells you the woman was the baby’s grandmother and asked him why he was looking at her. What faces did he make. Did he mouth anything. Did he show her anything. I better not catch you doing anything to my granddaughter, n*gger.
You steam. You imagine airport seats, overhead announcements, food court bags and books. You see your son, fresh new haircut, white headphones, lost in his music. Wide shoulders. Black Under Armour jacket. Vans sneakers. Bronze skin. Shaved baby face. He’s 18. Older than Emmett. And Trayvon. And Jordan.
You’re scared. You’ve been scared a long time though. You live with it daily, ignore its hisses and forked tongue. You know he’s a target.
Like, I’m not even mad, Mom. All I did was smile at the baby.
But you are. All his life you knew this day was coming. You prepared. Had talks. Did due diligence to make sure your kids could dish it back. Stayed ready to fight. You knew this day was coming. It still hurt.
You remember the first time someone used that word to describe you. Seattle. 1986. You were 12. Sleepover with VHS movies. Lemonheads. Crushes. New Coke, which you didn’t like.
You bounced up the stairs from the basement and heard your friend’s mother and uncle talking in the kitchen.
What’s her friend again?
You mean race?
She’s Black. And Mexican. Something else too.
A half-n*gger is still a n*gger.
Stop. She’s a lovely girl.
A n*gger is still a n*gger.
Stop or get out of my house. She hasn’t done anything to you.
You stared at him through the pass-thru. His face was full of gruff, like he hadn’t slept in a bed in a long time. Flannel shirt and blue dickies. Dirty boots. Blue eyes. He spotted you and smirked. You went to the bathroom to cry. Then you went to the kitchen to get more popcorn.
So you’re part spic too?
He nods. Hmph.
You went back to the basement and watched “The Breakfast Club” and stayed awake after everyone was asleep. In the morning there was pancakes, bacon, eggs and more smirking. You poured cement in your face and stay quiet. Sipped your orange juice. Packed your bag and left a little early, blaming homework. Your friend’s mother asked you to stay longer, hugging you at the door. Said she was sorry for what her brother said.
You nodded, smiled and said thank you. Walked to the bus stop shrouded in gray. Sad and relieved that your mother was right.
You didn’t tell anyone. You can still hear the Marlboro cigarettes in his voice. You won’t forget his face. You wish you’d said more but knew you couldn’t have. You’re happy you didn’t explode in his face.
On the ride to the airport you think of all things you can say to your son to make this better, but there is nothing. Nothing. All you can do is love. Hope he does the same. Love makes you the ultimate fighter.
You’re late. You son rolls his luggage to the car, smiling. You hug him tight, for Trayvon, for Emmett, for Jordan. You smile.
Welcome home, son.