For Kiese Laymon, with gratitude.
I run into my oldest brother going into the new bookstore across from Fountain Square and he’s coming in off Vine Street and we hug a good, long time; it’s one of those double hugs, where you hug and, just before the release, you squeeze again.
“I was just going to call you,” I say too loudly.
We go into the bookstore and he notices my limp.
“How’s your foot? It’s been awhile now.”
“Since December. It’s OK. I mean, it hurts and I will probably always have a limp but I have accepted it.”
“I hate that your foot hurts.”
I love him for asking.
I love him more now than ever because I have learned to let him be his complicated self and to accept him, nonetheless.
I know he does the same for me.
Plus, he makes me laugh.
(And now these three remain: Faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Our mother read, taught and showed us this. It must be true.)
After browsing the magazine rack in search of Time with the Laverne Cox cover because I want to write about transgendered people — no one has it — we walk back through the first floor of Macy’s where we pause to talk briefly about our middle brother, the one separating us by age, class and geography and we have a good, loud, loving laugh at my retelling of one of our brother’s Facebook posts.
“I know I am the best-looking black man in this room right now,” is our brother’s punch line, delivered to a room full of white men who laugh, our brother posts, uproariously at the obviousness of his corporate ice breaker.
My oldest brother walks me to my partner’s truck and we stand outside on Fifth Street, talking about how expensive Maxwell concert tickets are and how he’s been trying to win Diana Ross concert tickets off the radio.
It is the Wednesday before Father’s Day.
After our hug inside he’d told me our stepmother called to invite him to O’Charley’s within the thick fog of suburban Forest Park to fete our father and could he give me the message “in case I can’t call her.”
“I think she’s scared of you,” my brother tells me.
“Good,” I say, without one scintilla of hatred, bitterness or spite but with all the relief, maturity and liberation I have within me.
Before we part company I tell him when he calls her back that he should not lie or do my bidding, that he should tell her: “I ran into Kathy and you can call her.” (She called; I didn’t go.)
“Get yourself out of the middle of it,” I say.
By “it” I mean the diaspora of our family and the relationship between our father and me, his youngest daughter and last child.
What’s strangest about it is that it’s eerily fine with me, this 20-minute-distance-that feels-like-a-continent, and I do not harbor or hold any grudges or hard-heartedness toward our father for all his inhumanities to womankind that have felt like haymakers to my body and soul though he’s never touched me wrongly.
What I won’t do is partake of the strange fruit in our estrangement; I do not know how to behave like everything is fine when everything has been so dark for so long.
But I understand and accept how my freedom can discomfort the enslaved. I neither exalt nor dwell in this.
It just feels safe for me, and in my safety I have been empowered to keep a distance that won’t ever make me vulnerable again to his brand of disappointment.
After we agreed we’d get together to see our brother for his Father’s Day, I drive to Main Street, park and hobble into Iris BookCafe to read some of the brilliant devastation of Kiese Laymon’s essays, “How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others In America” before retrieving my partner from work.
The book is about black pathology and reckoning laid bare and I am in a private wrestling match with its truths and the ones it’s challenging me to tell my own way.
Nearly before I can step all the way inside and before my eyes can adjust to the light, a woman’s voice nearly shouts, “Are you Kathy Wilson?”
I am immediately and acutely too aware of the few others in the room.
As I slowly limp toward the voice I prepare my pat and corny response to that question, asked of me hundreds of times publicly and loudly.
“Do I owe you money?” I scan my audience and they’re not smirking or laughing but listening silently, I can tell.
The woman is the barista/cashier/sandwich-maker and I am mesmerized by her tattoos, piercings, haircut and by the fact she cannot seem to make eye contact as she breaks my heart for the next few minutes.
She never lowers her voice as she tells me how long she’s been reading my column, how it moves her, drives her sometimes to anger and internal disagreement, how she imagines my life must be so very different from hers and how goofy and geeky she feels telling me all this but that it’s been a long time coming.
She has held it inside for the time she could tell me to my face.
“I could’ve been any middle-aged black woman with a limp coming in here,” I say.
“Yeah, but I knew it was you because you wrote about your foot,” and I laugh, maybe at my own over-sharing or for assuming anyone would care or remember my health ills.
“And the last time I saw you, you had really short hair.”
Damn the recognition, the praise, the validation, the embarrassment, the lifeline, the extension, the fellowship.
The purpose-driven life whose dividends do not ever pay on time but in spades.
If only my dad could see me. Damn it all.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: firstname.lastname@example.org