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

A Man’s Cunning, A Woman’s Plan

Wedding

By Delbert H. Rhodes

She walks in his direction, as he sanitizes his hands. Looking at her, Brian recalls earlier years when he first saw her; today, she is as stunning as she ever was. Framing her face, coal-black hair with curls reach down, brushing her shoulders, her alabaster skin and satin black eyes captivate him. Usually, he prefers the skin of darkly creamed to medium tones, however, white is the color for her. While training, she works hard as she expertly engineers her routines; and her body lines, long, sleek, athletic, but sweetly feminine, speak to the benefits, the beauties of physical fitness.

This lady is the picture of perfect, both in the commercial sense and the personal and more private sense. Physically, she meets the spec sheet for goddess and wife, he has no idea how her mind works, and regarding his choices of women thinking is critical; after all, if she poorly reasons then conversations are little more than gossip. No thanks to that type, thinks Brian. That he could feel such passions for her is romantic, for neither of them has ever spoken to the other.

Knowing he is here yet without eye contact, she almost brushes him as she passes by. Selecting a bottle of cleanser, slowly, she rounds to the opposite side of the cleaning station. Innocuously rotating her palms to wipe them, she exposes her right hand ring finger; diamonds dazzle his eyes. Is she married or is she playing? Nonetheless, if she intends it he would soon know. Remaining within arm’s reach she delicately diverts her eyes from him. From behind a complementary stare, quietly, he speaks, “You should never do that it is risky,” offers Brian.

Even the Jetson’s Rosie could not have appeared as busy while cleaning. Without glancing at him, she finally replies, “Never do ‘what?’” “Blindly stroll into the wanton passions of a man.” As she returns to her workout station, slightly, a smile resonating ‘okay, you made it to bat’ encourages him. With pinpoint accuracy, her paper towel finds the narrow mouth of the garbage can.

Watching her walk away, he realizes that she directed the entire scenario; it actually happened as she had scripted it, everything neatly conceived from approach to departure. In some ways, a man’s cunning derives from a woman’s plan; there are no better strategists of male, female behaviors than women…smiling, already Brian feels her arms about him, but his pursuit must be proper, and encouraging, but never arrogantly rude… she approaches, his eyes widen, “Beautiful, simply beautiful.”

Copyright © 2014 Delbert H. Rhodes