What follows is mostly true, mostly because where things start and where they are now stretches across not only time but generations. Things were different then, that’s usually the way then is supposed to be-the past or a past. You can’t move through time without changing the space you were just in-the process requires alterations.
Seventy plus years ago this city was a different place. This city was slowly coming to grips with the faces of progress. Not quite acknowledgement yet something close enough to recognize its shape. Yes, the auction block was gone but it left a shadow. And so it was then, people trying to march to the beat of progress yet not really able to see exactly where they were going. Then, tolerance hadn’t quite formed itself into a word, a mere thought. A single cell floating in ooze waiting for the rest of its pieces before becoming a sound. Under the shadow of its slain monster, this city crawls and tries to catch up with the rest of the world already walking. Many got lost along the way or simply chose not to move at all.
And now here is the truth or a truth, a version of facts as we’ve come to know them. None of us here now, really know-we weren’t there, but we are here in this now filled with questions unasked. Somehow they’ve spilled out, like a puzzle dumped on an already cluttered surface. And we get to sort it out when we get around to it, till then we’ve simple ignored the mess.
On the box is a picture of a teenage girl, not necessarily skipping through a field of unknowns but carefully going about ordinary. Etta, not a name she would have chosen for herself nor one she would keep, isn’t going anywhere in particular, after all, it’s just a piece of ordinary-no flowers nor brightly colored houses playfully dotting the landscape. This was real. Not a hurried fairy tale, quickly read to innocence, a fabled attempt to keep monsters away. Etta is us, afraid of the monsters even after the book has been closed, yet she does what she sees every one else doing.
The picture on the box, the puzzle scattered on top of our clutter doesn’t show what Etta might have been thinking, we only see what’s in front of us. No one knew what was hiding beneath the layers of dust. Person’s thoughts often go unsaid, and Etta becomes what we see-going through a field in the middle of ordinary.
This truth could end here if indeed truth could really end, and if any of us could really unravel the fragile thread of our past. But that isn’t possible. Youth is after all full of possibilities and Etta walks through this space in time blissfully unaware of what’s waiting for her on the other side. Then again no one does. Youth is all about exploration, discovery-hopefully progress. A space carved from years to come, to mess up, learn, and then eventually grow. For a child living in a city delaying its battle with Jim Crow, a child who just recently closed the fairy tale but had yet to put the book away- this lesson would come at a hefty price. Etta wasn’t quite old enough to earn that kind of money. Yet this truth is known, Etta’s ordinary walk through the other side of youth would simply but abruptly end, forcing generations to move through its echo-becoming a part of our rhythm, a sound we now barely recognize. Time seems to also be able to soften even the sharpest edges.
True enough, what was done is-done, hopefully gone. One way or the other what we do, where we are is just a bit influenced, tainted or painted by where we’ve been even who we were. A consequence of innocence Etta could hardly have known about. And yet, here we are, generations after ordinary ended-a reality revealed itself like a bright light shining across our cluttered spaces uncovering and covering in the same instant-our missing pieces.
What could Etta have been thinking when her day turned into evening? Her fairy tale beginning would not have its happy ending nor would a piece of her truth make its way out of the box.
Since this is mostly true, details have been stretched to hide the holes.
As Etta’s ordinary walk through the other side of childhood abruptly ended and her day turned to evening I have often wondered if her scenery changed. When did she know her piece of ordinary had been invaded by something wicked?