The 2016 Presidential Campaign, the murders of black men, and the rise of white supremacy have turned me into my wife’s interpreter for making sense of what’s going on over there. She’s a lot more aware than I give her credit for, but the pressure to ease her anxiety about living in the states is unnerving.
“White people crazy as hell,” I blurt out.
It’s the only thing I know how to say. It’s what I heard my southern daddy say when he’d watch the news, when his buddy Garrell got beaten and arrested for sleeping in his car cause he was too tired to drive. It was late night.
He was delivering tomatoes for my dad and pulled over on a shoulder of the I-4 highway. Garrell was over six feet tall. Dope kept him lanky. He was a mechanic. In Apopka, him and his family lived in a trailer on a dirt road. With a menthol in his mouth, he talked fast and mumbled.
Moms, Garrell’s wife, Reeva, his daughter, Shanice, and I went to get him out of the Orange County Jail. Pops paid his bail, but didn’t go with us. I think it was to save Garrell the humiliation of Pops seeing his pummeled face. With a closed purple eye, Garrell was missing teeth. His bloated upper lip was split like he had two mouths. They fucked him up. Everybody was quite, even Shanice. We were both in the fifth grade. Embarrassed, I couldn’t look at her. Whatever she was feeling was contagious and I didn’t want to catch it. Reeva was standing in front of Garrell when a cop uncuffed him. She received him like a prized present, hammered into a clunk of junk. She was fucking my dad too.
The police report said that Garrell rolled down his window and lunged at the officer.
“How the hell I’ma attack him. I’m half sleep,” Garrell said. “He asked me to get out the truck. Not, ‘Can I see your license or registration,’ just ‘Exit the vehicle.’ I say, ‘for what officer? I was just resting my eyes cause I couldn’t keep’em open.’ He say ‘You don’t get out I’ma take you out.’ He grabbed me and tried to pull me through the winda, but he was halfway in the truck.”
The cop’s glock fell under Garrell’s seat.
“If I wanted to kill him, I could’ve grabbed his gun.”
Garrell was charged with resisting arrest. I didn’t understand what was going on, but watching him walk out of that place, I knew it was somehow related to me.
A few weeks later, a group of my classmates were taking a school trip to the same prison that Garrell was in. Most of the kids going were always getting sent to the principle’s office.
“Tabias, I didn’t get your permission slip for the field trip,” Miss Patrick said.
“I’m not going.”
“Really, you sure? Did you talk to your mother? Should I call her?”
Flying fish banged against my rib cage, trying to flap out of my chest. I heard stories from other kids about that trip. Most of the inmates were black, described like nature’s mistake. From behind bars they’d yell at the mostly white kids. Their voices pushed the kids against the wall. Miss Patrick was bent over, itches from my face. She had dragon breath.
“My mom doesn’t want me to go.”
“Ok. Let me know if you change your mind.”
At home after school, Moms is frying okra. I’m at the kitchen table eating Pops’ oxtail soup.
“Ma, Miss Patrick asked about my permission slip for the field trip to jail.”
“Tellher you been there already.”