The Masks of Life

By Delbert H. Rhodes

Born to the North west coast of La Florida, and for reasons not his own, to some people he is different, dislikable and unwelcomed. Necessarily, these prejudgments are not by strangers, but often by people he knows; many of whom he encounters, everyday. In childhood, a woman acquainted with his Mother, calls him small; in jr. high school, a jealous boy tauntingly says, “The girls like that baby face of yours.” Later, in high school, his younger sister’s boyfriend notes, “When you were a little boy, we use to see you pulling your wagon up the street. We said, ‘Look at him, he’s not like us, let’s git him.’”

Why hurt him because of his differences; and is he responsible for what merely are accidents of birth?

As he ages, the art of deception becomes his sword and shield, he develops and expands his abilities of control, and regardless of the teasing and taunting that he sometimes receives, he permits no one to push him over the edge.

Infrequently, however, he cares to severely injure someone, nevertheless, this, he knows, is wrong, and would cause him much trouble and especially with the police. He is careful to neither embarrass, nor cause his Mother financial difficulties. His family is poor, and his Mom does all that she can to care for his siblings and him. For his entire life, these realizations, these truths, remain as his focal points.

Often: At his Aunt’s house Carlton spends private time in the front bedroom. The first time that he sees his image, the boy is in First Grade. He likes his looks, and customarily returns to the mirror. Staring at his face thrills him; and soon, he notices the big rotten tooth, in the bottom of his mouth.

One day, his Aunt tells him that he is to join his Mom, up north. Saddened: Carlton feels ripped from the people he loves most, and his home. At the age of nine years old, and living in a distant state, he attends school for the first time with White kids; and quickly develops a new behavior; Carlton, now, compares himself to them; and then, once more, he feels small.

Emphatically, after she reads his pocket Birth Certificate, a White classmate says, “Oooo, you’re a ‘Ne-e-gro-o!’” The word printed next to the word “Race” is not totally new to the boy; and somehow, he knew that it referred to his color. One time, in his hometown, a White man called him Black boy. The boy knew that he was different from White people, this was a matter of fact, but the word Negro seems to lessen him, reduce him.

“Negro.” He feels injured, stabbed in the heart by something that causes no visible damages, by something that delivers him distress, a word that he learns to strongly dislike; and yet, without actually hating it.

Years later and as an adult, he thinks of the comment, and then searches the facts in his original Birth Certificate. The document indicates nothing for him in the racial category; however, for his Mother the letter ‘C’ is inscribed.

His Mom is of mixed heritages, including White, Creek, and Black. Perhaps the Cee stands for Creek; however, and most likely, he thinks, because of her genetic mixtures, the Cee is for “Colored.” A word that feels somewhat although not totally better.

The Spanish noun Negro, and its variants are derivatives of the Latin neuter adjective niger, meaning black. Respectively, interpretation of the word is determined by the particular Language within which it is hosted; i.e., the term may translate to dark, or night, and even partner, or friend, in different localities, or regions of the world.

Over time, the Latin neuter form evolved to one of psychological and emotional corruption; and then used inhumanely, to ultimate measures of internal, and then later, external dysfunction; achieving social reduction, rejection and then destruction.

Black, and whenever generally applied as racial identifiers, is a misnomer, and is based in (so called) White standard. For, historically, and while searching for trade routes into India, the Portuguese, and Spaniards used the word to identify sub-Saharan Bantu People. Is it probable that these indigenous people used tribal rather than names of colors, for purposes of identification? Actually, and considering both continental African, and American Blacks, an array of hues exists, black, merely, represents one category.

Carlton wishes to express that he is neither black skinned, Bantu nor sub-Saharan African. Additionally, many years ago, and in-passing, a White man provided invaluable, nevertheless unsolicited information to the Lad. While walking by, and peering over his shoulder, the man offered, “You’re from Mauritania West Africa.” This comment, and as strange as it may seem, could ancestrally be more correct than not; for, the plausible truth is demonstrated in our astonished man’s physiognomy.

Yes, Negro, the word follows Carlton for the rest of his natural life; a life, he feels, better lived inside another skin. Later, the word loses its sting; however, its relative negative terms, like “nigger,” he despises. Into his sixties, the man recalls that White people never directly slapped him with the hateful term, nonetheless, one southern born Black friend, did so, and often. To Carlton: A nigger is a dead thing; and currently, he is very much alive. After about thirty years the “friendship,” ended.

Is it not ironic that (some) Blacks feel/claim ownership of, and casually use the term nigger; and decry usage to others, and especially White people; when, and of course and to the well informed, this behavior is nonsensical, for, is not the word, created, and used by White plantation owners and other Whites during and since Slavery, thereby the property of its creators?

Nigger, and no matter its forms: is a virulent, psycho-social and economical tool, used to emotionally degrade, control, and dehumanize Black African Slaves. Why would their Black ancestors care to claim, casually use, or desire relationship, of any kind, to the word? Why?

Moreover, another oddity is that the anagram of such an egregious perversion is well regarded; for its additive medicinal properties, to foods, and various human systemic symptoms, respectively. The spice enhances and offers delicious tasty morsels to the tummy; and corrects various systemic imbalances, such as upset stomachs and dizziness.

Oh, but please, beware: Although the positive effects of Ginger are absolutely welcomed by many, the provisions of its tasteless twin are not delicacies, they cannot medicinally assist, and with the precision of a razor’s edge, the targeted application of ‘this’ word achieves but one end, and the prognoses, the generational tragedies are nationally, culturally and humanly irreversible.

A White classmate occasionally rubs Carlton’s hair, “Cool,” says Alex, “I wish I had hair like that.” Sometimes the boy gathers another White boy to discuss their Black classmate’s differences; but, and no matter the smiles, the attention causes him discomfort and displeasure.

Similar to his Mother, Carlton has light brown skin, curly dark hair, dark brown eyes, and thin lips. He dislikes that his differences place him on display, and even infrequently. In junior high school, the boy begins to dislike his nose, it seems too fat at its end. The rest is okay.

At home and often, the young teen makes trips to the bathroom, to resume his private time. Staring into the glass, Carlton likens his nose to a potato, something better left to the garden and not his face. Also, and since elementary school, in order to appear more like his White classmates, he applies cosmetic grease to his hair; and then meticulously combs and brushes it, until it flattens.

While sleeping, and to hold his hair neatly in place, Carlton wears upon his head one of his Mom’s stockings. Curiously, a Black friend says, “Your hair don’t look real.” Somewhere along the way, Carlton’s nose no longer displeases him; and happily, it has lost its negative appeal.

Things are changing, and he even thinks less about his race; life offers other distractions, such as girls; a distraction demanding more exploration, and a pretty redhead in another school has captured Carlton’s attention.

The late sixties to early seventies, high school and friends, the lapsing Hippy generation, racial difficulties; although he never takes part in issues of race, a last minute decision against the Marine Corp., the redhead is gone, Lisa J., and then the question of what-actually-comes after graduation. Academically, Carlton performs poorly in both jr. high and high schools. These things and more fill his youthful mind.

During these years, his Mother spends much time in the hospital, and with two younger brothers to help raise, Carlton has much to think about. He never seems quite satisfied with himself, he never seems quite satisfied with his family. Still, and although consumed by uncertainties, and before him, the path is poorly lit, somehow, the older teen moves forward; and one step at a time.

Newly attending the local jr. college and because he furthers his education, some guys from his childhood resent Carlton. Historically, Black Slaves secretly learned to read and write; education that later, cost many their lives. Strange that some present day Blacks seem to prefer ignorance to knowledge. Viewing educated Blacks as sellouts to “their” people. “Trying to be like the ‘White man.’”

‘Their’ is a possessive pronoun, bestowing ownership; and Carlton strongly advises that he owns no one; and further, any people caring more of ignorance than knowledge is a people to which he cares never to belong; additionally, a mere accident of birth avails neither his allegiances nor obligations, to said people.

“I owe you nothing!” He protests.

Carlton’s years in jr. college provide him instructive distractions. His studies are exciting and he does well; and then graduates with good grades; however, at senior college things are different. In some ways, he is academically unprepared. During earlier school years, the young man shied Mathematics, and attended only three classes; courses hosting higher degrees of the subject become difficulties for him.

In 1976, and during his Junior year, Carlton has a car accident; from which he suffers the loss of the cap to his right incisor, a bump to the left knee, and loss of hair. These were the obvious injuries. Not as obvious were the inabilities to attentively focus and to speak completed sentences. Additionally, issues of esteem and minor depression hinder him, slow him. Never asking for help, the student tells no one of his troubles, and not even a best friend.

Daily, and even while in class, he fakes it; and unremarkably, gets by. His grades, however, do not; subsequently, his academic cum terribly drops, and he is close to expulsion. Fortunately, he slowly increases his cum, and then receives an academic award for the fourth quarter. The summer permits him time to heal, however, he decides not to return to school for the following term.

The year off, he works, earns money, and then buys another car; he lost the first one in the accident. Eventually, Carlton neither  suffers lack of focus nor degraded speech; and then, once more, he feels whole. The fall semester approaches and returning to school excites him.

The loss of his first car was reason, or possibly, an excuse to exit a long distance relationship, but then the loss of one girlfriend becomes the gain of another. An auburn beauty from town enters the young man’s life. Although the lady is lovely, and she deliciously deserves his attention, even she cannot distract him from his thoughts; often, Carlton wonders whether anyone would remember him after he perishes.

Frequently, Hollywood types, Pro-ball players, Musicians, Educators, Scientists, The Rich for one reason, or another are splashed across the Media; and especially to mourn death. Everyone sharing like, or dislike becomes imprinted with memory. “When I die,” Carlton thinks, “whom would remember me, or, care to, and would death make me a better person?”

Truly, the man thinks of various reasons to ponder death, and its aftermath; and In Memoriam, he agrees with and understands anyone scorning him. After all, everyone has a right to his, or her opinions; still, in his lifetime, he has harmed no one; he is not criminal and although a loner, is hugely, and nevertheless, privately, compassionate.

Now in his sixties, memories of his youth, and his personally hidden pains preoccupy the man. He feels and believes that he is a good person, but sometimes suffers from his negatively internalized emotions. Generally: People are unforgiving; and for lifetimes, certain memories linger. Surely, upon his death he would, by some, be remembered; however, in what way and why?

In the norm: Carlton cares little of how others think of him. Why, then, and considerably before his death, would their thoughts cause him pause? He lives in solitude, and even family cannot selfishly control him, imbue him with guilt. Yet, daily, privately, and as he constantly returns to the mirrors, the man reconstructs the masks of his life.

Copyright (c) 2017 Delbert H. Rhodes

Darkness, A Fulfilling Light

By Delbert H. Rhodes

A February morning and the sunlight slowly brightens the skies. I have enjoyed sleep, yet laziness embraces me and I prefer stillness. The day disappears quickly and as much as I desire laziness I relent to responsibilities. Each morning, various instructional texts which include The Bible, a grammar bible, a mathematics edition and a book of poetry shake and sharpen my mind. At some juncture in the day and for the thrill of it, a suspenseful novel adds more twists and turns.

Occasionally, the words in the Bible impress me as worthless entrapment, counsels of which I too could write or might have written. Other times, they summon passionate suffrage even causing tears to well in my eyes. The book is filled with smaller books of taunts and tales boasting lessons for all willing to peruse the pages. The storytellers are adept at portrayals which unearth deep recesses of human thinking, feeling and even rage.

Sometimes religious teachings appall me: causing me to curse the writings; mocking them as I toss the Bible into the trash. Somehow, I retrieve it, continuing the suffrage. Jesus Christ is the Savior for some; however, I do not fully support or revere him. Moreover, I do not ‘fear’ him; and surely, he hears and feels ‘my’ wrath from time to time.

That said, and honestly, there are moments when I invoke Jesus’s name; especially during prayers learned in my childhood. The benefits of prayer are proven, and though I cannot actually account for His presence in my life, during prayer I afford Him the benefit of doubt. No one is perfect and (accordingly) Jesus Christ certainly was not.

Imperfections occur in the whole of humankind, and whether man made or not, it seems that their presences in our world account for positive or negative manifestations. The wonder is whether certain families may be (genetically) responsible for the psychological burdens borne by children early in life. Further, and possibly, prior to fetal development, what if the genetic plan could be altered.

That is to offer, if the organic materials could somehow choose the receiving host. Preposterous? Perhaps, nonetheless, before birth and in this way, the life forms later to become children would have a say in the choice of parents. After all, if we dislike whom we are is it then possible to love whom we are?

Families represent everything we are, and are the first avenues of instruction, the first hands delivering punishments, the originating sources of pride in our lives. Pride is deeply personal and each person hosts and hides his and her viewpoints of family and self. Yes, some of us dare ask questions of whom we are and wonder whether we would change outcomes before birth, if this were possible, if opportunity were ours. Would you?

Some would embrace the miracles, others would stand rigidly steeling their souls, BLASPHEMY! so sayith. “The gates of Hell will receive you.”

Of the heritages born to my family, my Seminole (Creek) ancestry is closest to my heart. I embrace the lifestyles of Native people, I feel more secure and sensible celebrating the natural elements as deities, refusing to permit others to decide how I worship; or the path I follow, force-feeding me with unsolicited versions of doctrine.

I assert a shared path to creation, a cooperative venture to man’s heart and mind. Therefore I pray to the Earth Mother, and to God and the Virgin Mother.

Additionally, I neither fully nor blindly relish Christian teachings but these and others selectively provide plausible insights quickening the pace to informed choices. On the other hand, and with man at its helm, religious towers are lighthouses staring down upon so called darkened waters, the arms of light are fishermen whose nets strip away fish scrambling to what appears as safer waters.

Wealth, Control and Power: the bases of religious zeal. Truth, Honesty, Honor and Integrity are important human traits; these are attainable and teachable without lashes of guilt, or ligatures of lies.

In my opinion, religion and politics share podiums, that is to say, in many ways they appear to be forms of mind bending, agents of dominion and control. The masses are the easiest to fool, simply construct a tale insert fear, and especially regarding women, children, loss of culture and race or finance and then SELL IT.

The wagons quickly circle by the powers of psycho-emotional suffrage; and for them eager to fight, the horizons brightly glow beneath flames of blinded vision.

There is a time to worry and a time to war and these demand undeniable truth; a truth supported by untainted facts, and regarding information presented by the Media, this information must be qualified by question. For, though the topic be religion, politics, money or power, and unless the sources are independent of Puppet Masters, the Media too and accordingly, act out of special interests…

…The soft ticking of my wristwatch offers a pleasantry to the morning. Sitting atop the bed table, the wristwatch cannot know of its powers of influence but the morning senses the effects. Somehow, the ticking provides a pulse for the melodies inside my head; the tempo for an invisible orchestra of which I am the Maestro.

Attentively, I listen to the ticking; the call of its voice is soothing and hypnotic and I fall deeper into its spell. Until last week, realizing that my watch ticks escaped me.-Strange. I have owned it for about one month.

Morning evolves and its shape all things living inside the moment, the day. The dark sky shies sunlight as specs of sunshine lightly brush the clouds. In some places, the clouds appear as creating light. The brilliance emerges from within the puffy masses. In other areas and like fingers of delicate hands, intricate etchings masterfully create the canvas.

The magnitude of the heavens is vast and mysterious. Would we ever understand the worlds living above us, could we truly appreciate them?

The miracle of the day is before me and within it I am but a tiny insignificant being; nature’s plan flourishes without my input. On a day like this and in a place far from here a young woman pregnant with child broke water in her doctor’s office. On a Monday and sometime between 5:15 and 5:30 P.M. I was born, sixty-one years ago. My Mother was a seventeen year old turning eighteen in nineteen days.

Often I think of my childhood, today is no different. I think of the tiny house on Seventh Street and the Catholic school that I would later attend. I think of playing alone, at first, in my yard and later with Louis my neighbor. I think of Blackie my beautiful Black Lab and first friend. Stepping out into the street, I look yards away to Rhodes Ville; owned by Thomas (Papa Tom) Rhodes, my Mother’s paternal grandfather.

I think of the many days I enjoyed playing in the sands outside of Papa’s store. I remember Stanley and his large bulging stomach with its protrusive navel, and the few days before our meeting, when his big brother, Freddie, said, “You can’t beat ‘my’ brother.” Meeting the challenge, I asked for the whereabouts of his brother, and then upon meeting Stanley wrestled his fat belly into the dirt.

I think of the first time someone referred to me as “small” and how terrible it made me feel. Before that moment I never realized that I was tiny as a child. Afterwards, I disliked the woman who tagged me with the moniker. I reflect on the few times White people called me “Black Boy” and the one time that I was indirectly called “Nigger.”

I remember the many times White children sicked their dogs on me as I by passed on my way into town. I am saddened by the (little) boy never wanting to grow (up) and today while reading a passage from the Bible it is written that as we attain more knowledge we accrue more sorrows, I cry for the child.

I recall the few moments of happiness in my life. I feel sadness for my old friend, Stanley who, about four weeks ago, went to walk with his ancestors. His death would occur prior to his sixty-first birthday. Stanley was my nephew’s Father.

A Father is something that I have never had and would never know. Truly, I wonder about the men whom sire children to end abandoning the innocents. I hurt for the mothers; I sorrow for the children. I have no children; and therefore, upon my death would leave only life.

Among my cadre of books is a wonderful poet, Mary Oliver. Her book, “New and Selected Poems,” Volume One is a recent gift. The gift is a treasure. Miss Oliver has a style all her own and her portrayals of the world and life are spectacular. This morning I read a poem about an owl she has observed and how, in the end, this moment delivers to Miss Oliver a rethinking on death.

She (now) views death as (possibly) not a place of darkness but rather a wonderful and fulfilling light, an entity forever holding us within its sweet illumination.

While realizing that characterizations of death are different individually, culturally and throughout the world the imagery painted by Miss Oliver is splendid, indeed. Moreover, and paralleling differences, the human emotions of crying and laughter seem to share similarities.

Whenever we cry or frown, the morose characteristics in unhappiness are distinctly evident. Conversely, the radiance in laughter, smiling and joyousness of one person appears identical in another. Perhaps, and because as people we connect or share similarities during events of sorrow or moments of joy; the fulfilling light shining on Miss Oliver’s view of death is representative by an universal brilliance in life.

Miss Oliver’s poems are wonderfully expressive and per poetic license well written. Her expressions of mornings are serene and my favorites. Her mornings are filled with stillness or movements, and colors and animals, flowers and living and non-living things, her mornings are beautiful. Because I write, I am happy to have access to this great poet. She is inspirational, improving my writings and me.

I am alone on my birthday. I am always alone. My Mother is far away; I have siblings, they too are far away. Most times, I feel that our Mother is the only link connecting my siblings and me. In accordance to this thinking and whenever our Mother walks with her ancestors, metaphorically, I would be totally alone.

The solitary call of a “Coo” bird stills the cold morning. Seemingly, it too is alone; seemingly, it too walks a dark path. Shrouded by the unknown and as do I, somehow, it must find its way.

Copyright (c) 2013 Delbert H. Rhodes