The Black Lives Matter movement is making me realize that I have been an unintentional do-gooder white woman soaked in privilege. Not arrogant privilege. Not better-than-you privilege. But a take-for-granted kind of privilege that has blinded my complicity.
I’m thinking back to the thousands of times I have shopped with no one watching or following me. I’m recalling all the times I have driven past a police car, feeling paranoid just enough to think he might pull me over for something, but not because I’m white.
Blindspots have materialized before me during the past few weeks as I recall incidences where I intervened or tried to remedy a situation. My actions have not always been helpful.
When I worked at The Branson School in Marin County in the 1990s, I was giving rides to a young black student. He was a freshman and was attending the school on scholarship. I was happy to give him the ride and was paid $3/day for gas by his mother, which the student handed to me each morning.
Rather than use the money toward gas, I started putting the bills in an envelope. It was my intention to save the money then open a savings account in the student’s name, surprising him and his mother at the end of the school year. I thought I’d start a college fund for him. When my plan was inadvertently revealed to him during a conversation in the car, he told his mother.
The response from her was one of outrage. She wrote me a scathing letter pointing out my presumptuousness and I was immediately dismissed from giving her son a ride to school. I was also reprimanded by the headmaster who received a call from the indignant mother.
Apparently, my gesture came across as a white woman “rescuing” a black kid. The mom wanted to pay me for my services, not have the money used as charity back to her. I had caused her a great indignity. Did I think she couldn’t send her son to college without the help of a white woman? I did not know the situation with the family and I'd made an assumption that my gesture would be received as an act of kindness.
This incident, which happened 25 years ago, reminds me of the presumptuous action taken by a friend of my mother’s in 1967. This friend had taken me aside, and in conspiratorial fashion confided to me that my parents were having money trouble. A fancy work event was coming up in which my mother would need an evening dress.
I was 14 at the time and was into sewing, The friend told me to pick out a pattern and material, make a dress for my mom, and she would pay for it, all without my mother's knowledge. I chose a McCall’s pattern, a scoop-necked, sleeveless design, and apricot-colored crepe fabric that I thought she would like. I assembled the dress over several days after school before my mother came home from work so that I could surprise her when it was completed.
When I gave her the dress and told her how it had come about, I saw the look on my mother’s face. She was horrified. She was embarrassed. She was disrespected. She teetered on a thin thread of love and adoration for me for having made the dress, and shock and violation at the friend who had made such an outrageous request of me. My mother’s teeth were clamped as I conveyed the whole story, making the friend out to be a caring and generous person. I didn’t understand my mother’s reaction.
She put on the dress. I saw the stress in her face. She wanted to squeeze me. Thank me for my efforts. But she was furious. “I would have had the neck lower” is what I remember her saying. Her cheeks were flushed as she twisted and turned in front of the mirror. The hem was a bit short with her heels. My mom, God bless her, wore that dress to the event. Not because she couldn’t afford a new dress, but because I had made it for her.
An act that I had believed to be kindness on the part of the friend was, in fact, an act of control. All these years later, I understand the distinction and I now know what the friend should have done. And it wasn’t that.
When I think back to the black student in 1995, I understand now how my gesture caused that mother so much anger and indignation. It was a big enough deal that her son was going to an elite private school that was 99% white. She didn’t need another reminder that they could receive help from yet another member of white society, especially when it wasn’t requested or discussed.
The student ended up leaving The Branson School at the end of his freshman year. I smarted and shook my head over the misunderstanding. These past three weeks have revealed to me how a propensity for kindness can be misplaced. I realize now that, in my white privilege, it is incumbent upon me to think through the reactions and unintended consequences my behavior might produce. I realize now how my intention, no matter how sincere they were through my white lens 25 years ago, was an insult to that very proud mother and her son. A blindspot has been revealed to me, and I am blinking hard to create clearer insight into an unprivileged non-white world.
Ghost Fish swam slowly across the pond. If koi could waddle, she would have. Her normally bullet shaped grey body spread wide with eggs.
She felt like something big was going to happen, she just didn’t know what.
Victor and Shadow, two large male koi, swam next to her, possessively flanking her and steering her away from the other koi. She felt threatened but didn’t know why.
She felt a spurt and a need to swim wildly. Behind her, the pond water clouded with hundreds of tiny eggs. Victor and Shadow pushed Ghost Fish to the side of the pond, then chased her as she zigzagged away from them. The two males swam aggressively through the cloud of eggs, furiously spewing sperm in an unconscious need to fertilize those eggs.
Ghost Fish swam behind a water plant and hovered to rest and hide from the male koi. She was exhausted.
She looked at the eggs floating on the water but didn’t know what they were. She wasn’t wired to have maternal feelings. Most fish spawn and swim away. Eggs are fertilized or they aren’t. They develop and hatch or they don’t. They’re on their own.
Two days later, the water in the pond was clear again. There were no more eggs. The koi had eaten them.
Ghost Fish had no memory of spawning. Victor and Shadow stopped flanking her. All was normal in the koi pond again. Until next summer.
What if police didn’t target black men
What if those targeted didn’t die
What if we all took a knee, not out of protest, but out of respect
Respect for each other
For our similarities
And, more importantly, for our differences
What if we stood side by side, hand in hand
And saw the beauty in each other
And celebrated it
Skin color from ebony to cream
Eye color from black to blue
Hair from black to blond to grey to white
A beautiful rainbow of humanity
What if we respected each other’s lifestyles
And were curious
And asked instead of assuming intent
What if we worked to erase systemic racism from all aspects of our world
What if we treated each other as individuals with something to give
Each of us equal
I am white
I am privileged
I can’t know what its like to live in black skin
I can’t know what its like to be male
To be feared or hated because of my looks
To be suspected of crimes because of my skin
But I care
And I stand with you
What if we all stood together
Not to pretend we’re all the same because we aren’t
Not to be colorblind because we can’t
But to celebrate the rainbow we create
And to listen to our hearts beat as one
Pindi sat on a leaf and wrapped her arms around her knees. She rested her chin on top of her knees and pouted. Zoom flew by and said, “Hey Pindi, let’s go for a ride. Hop on.”
“I can’t,” Pindi grumbled. “My mother won’t let me leave the tree. She’s afraid of the human virus.”
“Pindi!” called her twin sister Mindi, “Mother wants to know if you have your mask. You’re not supposed to go outside without it.”
“Its not fair!” Pindi yelled. “We don’t even know if fairies can be infected by this virus, but we’re not allowed to go anywhere or do anything!” She got up and stomped into the grand hall.
“Pindi,” her mother, Queen Caelia said softly, “you know we have to be careful until we know if the human virus can infect us.” Pindi crossed her arms and glared at her mother. She refused to be soothed, even though Queen Caelia stroked her shiny hair while she talked. “You father is in in counsel with the fairy kings from other trees. Some of them are reporting virus infections among their fairies, mostly those who live near big human cities. And we’ve heard stories of animals being infected. We don’t know how this will impact us, so we need to be careful until we have more information.”
“I hate being stuck at home,” Pindi complained.
“You’re not stuck,” Queen Caelia replied, “you’re safe.”
After a moment, Queen Caelia sighed and said, “You can go out with Zoom. Wear your mask and wash your hands when you get home.”
“YAY” Pindi ran out of the grand hall pumping her arms in the air. “Come on Mindi, let’s go. Will you grab my mask?”
Pindi stood on a branch and called Zoom. “We can go! We can fly with you!”
Zoom flew to the branch and waited for the fairy sisters to jump on the hummingbird’s back and flew off. Pindi tied on her mask while they were flying and then shouted “Weeeeeee” as they careened around the garden.
“Let’s go see Intrepid, Dasher, Ka-a, Ribbit, and Xylem. Even Blade,” Pindi said. “I miss everyone.”
“You know we can’t visit,” Mindi warned. “We have to stay far enough away from each other that the virus can’t spread. We’d have to shout at each other.”
“I don’t care,” Pindi replied. “I just want to see my friends, even if all I can do is wave hello.”
“Intrepid is still in Santa Rosa,” Zoom told the fairies. “He likes it up there with his buddies from the bird rescue center. He will be sad to miss seeing you, though.”
“Look, there’s Ka-a! Hi Ka-a, “Pindi shouted, waving wildly. “How are you doing?”
“I can’t chat right now. I’m on sentry duty, “Ka-a said as he cawed out an alert about a person walking a dog along the sidewalk.
“Look, there’s Xylem riding on Dasher,” Mindi said. “Hi Xylem. Hi Dasher.”
Xylem turned and waved; her short dark pixie cut hair framing her cute face. “Hi you two. I miss you.”
“We miss you, too,” the fairy sisters said in unison.
“Let’s start planning our mid-summer celebration. Surely, we’ll be able to gather again by then,” Xylem said.
“Yes!” Pindi yelled. “We can send each other ideas by butterfly. It’ll be fun, and we’ll have something to look forward to. Great idea!”
“We have to go now,” Dasher said. He turned and his long red abdomen gleamed in the sun. “Bye Pindi, Bye, Mindi,” he called as he and Xylem flew off.
“Let’s go look for Ribbit!” Pindi said as Zoom turned towards the gutter.
“Ribbit,” called Pindi. “Ribbit, will you come say hi to us?”
“Ribbit may be hiding in the cool dark drains,” Mindi said. “He doesn’t like warm, sunny days. We may not get to see him.”
“We need to get back soon,” said Zoom. “I am getting hungry from all this flying. You two may be small, but you are heavy on my back.”
“Ok,” said Pindi. “But let’s swing by the pond and see if we can find Blade on our way home.”
Zoom circled the Red Japanese Maple Tree above the pond and found Blade lounging on a leaf. He waved a lazy hand at his cousins. “Hi little fairy cousins,” he called.
Pindi grimaced. She hated to be called a little fairy cousin. “We’re 13 now! We’re not little any longer,” she yelled.
“You’ll always be my little fairy cousins,” said Blade. “I love you guys, even if you are pests.”
“Boy fairies! Pindi scowled. “They think they’re so cool. Humph. Let’s go home, Zoom.”
Back at the Green Japanese Maple Tree, the fairies climbed down from Zoom’s back. “Thank you Zoom!” they called as Zoom left to find his lunch. “We had a great time.”
Mindi turned to her sister. “Let’s start planning our mid-summer celebration.”
“Ok,” said Pindi and they walked into the Grand Hall arm in arm.
The cat is trying to decide whether to take a nap on top of the filing cabinet. The sun is shining through the window, pooling light in the perfect spot for a nap.
He’s distracted by a leaf moving in the breeze just outside the window. The dance of light and shadow is too enticing to ignore. Tail twitching, ears straining forward, whiskers quivering, he stares.
A woman walks her dog on the sidewalk. A neighborhood crow sentry calls out his warning. The next sentry in line takes up the cry. Caws echo down the street, marking the dog’s progress.
The cat watches.
The most aggressive of the backyard hens starts her morning performance. What she lacks in vocal finesse, she makes up in volume. I cringe, hoping her song isn’t disturbing the neighbors.
The cat looks at me as if asking me to make the hen stop squawking. I wish I had that power.
I want to take a nap, channeling my inner cat, letting the sun’s soporific warmth lull me to sleep. There’s not enough room on the filing cabinet for the cat and me. And, I have too much caffeine in my system to allow for sleep. But I can wish. I wish I could sleep until the virus has run its course. Until we’re allowed to socialize and shop again. Until this nightmare is over.
The cat has decided to move to the bed. There’s no pool of sunlight on the bed, but it is comfier than the filing cabinet. And there’s room for me. He begs me to join him. “I can’t,” I tell him. “I have to write.”
He winds around my legs and head slams my calf. Finally, he gives up and stalks off to the bedroom with his tail in the air and his heat held high. “Humph” he meows. He hates to wait.
I went to work early today. The sun was barely peeking over the mountains.
All the men were called to meet with the foreman first thing.
“No more work,” he said. “There’s no demand for corn. Collect your pay and go home.”
We stood in a line, staring. He wouldn’t meet our eyes.
I jammed my shovel into the ground and walked away. Opened the creaking door of my pickup and drove, gravel dust flying from my wheels.
How do I tell me wife? We have two kids to feed.
An acre of ground, a cow, some chickens. A garden.
We’ll eat. My wife will see to that.
I am a man.
I provide. Protect. Defend.
I came through a war. I survived, although damaged.
The acrid smell of nitrate lives in my brain with the deafening sounds of explosions.
The tang of blood and screams of my brothers in arms dying. A field of battle. Destruction.
I’m not what I was.
But I can repair the fence.
Patch the roof.
Clean the barn.
Paint the house. Can’t, we have no paint.
Milk the cow.
Plow the field.
Plant the seeds.
I’m not what I was.
But I can do what I can.
I am a man.
I will survive.
My jeans ripped
I wish they hadn’t
My jeans are old, well-loved, well-washed
They fit me well and I feel good when I wear them
But they ripped
It started as a small hole in the thigh that grew a little with each washing
Then, yesterday, I caught my toe in the hole when I was pulling them on
Now the rip runs from seam to seam
And it’s starting to fray
My jeans look trendy
But they earned that rip through years of wear
And I don’t care about trends
I dance to my own piper and she isn’t sure about ripped jeans
I’m not sure a 65-year-old woman should wear ripped jeans
I can see my daughters rolling their eyes
Mo-om, you’re too old to wear ripped jeans
I don’t care
My jeans ripped
Maybe I’ll patch them
Maggie noticed every detail in sharp relief. The way the sun slanted through the trees. The leaves glowing, drinking in the sunlight. The sharp scent of the resin from the Eucalyptus trees. The damp smell of the earth still wet with morning dew. It was eerily quiet.
“Kestrel,” Maggie said. “You know you’ll fail. You won’t kill me. Today or any day.”
“Shut up!” Kestrel shouted.
“You use that phrase a lot,” Maggie replied. “And I’m not shutting up. You’re misguided now, just like when we were girls. You aren’t a witch. There isn’t black magic or power in blood or sacrifice. You’re just trying to be important.”
“You don’t know anything! Today, I will complete the cycle by killing you. The last of the five stupid girls who saw something they shouldn’t have. Today, with your blood, my power will come.”
“You aren’t just misguided. You’re nuts.” Maggie wanted to keep Kestrel talking to distract her.
“I am not nuts. And you’re dead.” Kestrel turned and lunged. Maggie danced back a step.
Maggie heard the whisper of wings as the owls flew close. The noisy flapping wings of the hawk. She heard the air rush by and saw the blur of the diving peregrine falcon. Kestrel screamed again, “NO!” wildly waving her arms over her head, desperately trying to beat off talons and beaks. She turned to run. Her foot caught on a tree root and she fell, pinning her arms beneath her. She gasped. “No. I have to finish this. I have to kill Maggie.”
Maggie noticed blood pooling around Kestrel’s prone body. “She landed on her knife,” she whispered to herself.
The peregrine landed first, stabbing the back of Kestrel’s neck with its tomial tooth. The hawk landed next, digging into Kestrel’s back with its talons. The owls were last to land. Their attack was fierce. Kestrel’s back, neck, and arms bled from dozens of beak and claw wounds. The pool of blood around her grew. She stopped trying to fight off the birds and was still.
Overhead, crows were gathering. They sang their rusty chorus as they landed on tree branches. Further up, three turkey vultures circled, waiting for their turn.
Maggie’s stomach lurched and she swallowed bile. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves and her stomach. “I don’t want to vomit,” she said to herself. She stepped back into the trees and watched the birds tear into Kestrel’s body. She clapped her hands over her hears so she wouldn’t hear to wet rending of flesh being torn off Kestrel’s back.
Maggie widened her eyes in disbelief when a kestrel rose from Kestrel’s body. One of the owls grabbed the kestrel and flew off. The other raptors followed, grabbing at the lifeless form. Feathers floated to the ground.
“It’s over.” Maggie turned and walked slowly out of the trees.
Maggie sat at her parents’ kitchen table; her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of tea. She was still shaking. Her mother wrapped a soft blanket around her shoulders. “Here, darling, this will help you get warm.”
Maggie’s father sat across from her, pouring a liberal amount of whiskey in his tea. He looked at Maggie and gestured with the bottle. Maggie nodded.
Molly sat next to Maggie. She had asked Joe to wait outside.
Maggie’s mother bustled around the table, putting a plate of coffee cake in the middle. “Here, sugar will help. Eat.”
Everyone just sat and stared into space. No one spoke.
No one would believe what they had seen in the clearing. But, it was over.
Mollie pulled the patrol car into Maggie’s parents’ driveway faster than she should have. The car fishtailed, the tires caught gravel, and she gunned it towards the garage, stopping with squealing brakes and a shower of gravel.
She burst out of the car, waving papers in her hand as she ran towards the front door. She nearly ran into Mollie’s mom at the door. “It’s Kestrel!” she shouted. “We found evidence at her house. She’s coming here to kill Maggie. We have to move NOW.”
“She’s already here,” Maggie’s mom whispered. “Maggie went out this morning to confront Kestrel. To end this. She and Maggie walked towards the clearing in the trees a few minutes ago.” Maggie’s mom’s voice shook as she related the morning’s events to Mollie. “My husband followed them. He’s out there with that killer and my daughter right now.”
I swing gently back and forth on the porch swing, breathing in every sight, sound, and scent.
The sharp tang of the resin from the porch roof releasing its oils as it bakes in the sun.
The soft shine of the painted floor reflecting the light.
The dappled shade on the lawn from the ancient spreading oak tree.
The whisper of air that caresses my face as I swing back and forth.
The songs the birds sing from the branches of the trees.
The sound of children laughing as they chase a ball across the lawn.
The green scent of grass being mown next door.
The drone of the lawnmower.
The clink of ice and refreshing, cool taste of lemonade with its perfect balance of tart and sweet.
The heady perfume of the rose that blooms in front of the porch.
The knowledge that the love of my life will be home soon, greeting me with a smile, eyes twinkling, moving in for a kiss hello. He’ll taste of sweat, salt, and sawdust from his shop. The children – our children – will see his truck and come running, abandoning their game of chase. “Daddy, you’re home!” Embracing him with sticky arms and hands. “Look, I skinned my knee!”
I’ll have to get up and made dinner soon. We’ll eat outside on the big plank table set up in the back. As afternoon turns to dusk, we’ll watch the lightening bugs emerge to dance, and listen to the frogs sing their nightly chorus from the creek behind our property. The night blooming flowers will unfold their petals in the soft night air.
A perfect end to a perfect day. A snapshot to memorialize in my heart, savoring every minute.