The judge gave my granddad an ultimatum.
“You must pick between drinking or driving, but you cannot continue to do both.”
Without a word my granddad reached into his wallet, pulled out his license and handed it to the bailiff.
“Sir, are you serious? You would rather give up your license than stop drinking?”
My granddad responded, “The #14 takes me everywhere I want to go.”
And, just like that, my granddad never had a license again.
The #14 bus lines ran from downtown all the way out to Sunny Acres. The expanse of my granddad’s world existed between those two destinations.
I asked my granddad once why he never left the hood. There was a long pause. He looked at me the way so many older black folks do, with that “other” kind of knowing. This knowing is a life-sized blade on a pendulum that swings between believing I may be too gullible to understand the problem and hoping that my uninhibited optimism really could change the world. It swings between the possibility of getting killed trying to achieve success in white spaces and wanting to cheer me on to see if I could achieve success in white spaces. The blade swings so close to my head sometimes that its wind rustles my hair. It swooshes past as I talk of leaving the hood as if it’s a place to escape from, when I was benefitting from generational wealth created there. It swooshes past again at the thought that I could trailblaze a bigger reality for us that reaches further than between downtown and Sunny Acres. Could he stand the wait to see how long it takes for the world to cut me down? Or, should he just stab my dreams in the heart now and get it over with? Would the death of my dreams be ruled a mercy killing if it comes from the hands of someone who loves me?
He is guarded before he speaks. He answers, “Why would I go where that I’m not welcome?”
That sentence scratched me like a thousand papercuts from microaggressions disguised as jokes. I felt the slap of backhanded compliments, like being told how well-spoken he is for a black man. I felt the weight of being an ambassador for the whole black nation. I choked on all the words he couldn’t say in mixed company. Felt the heartburn from all the pride he swallowed with a VO chaser in order to survive those same white spaces. I saw the same pendulum, with the life-sized blade at the end swing between desire and fear in a white woman’s eyes, knowing that both could end him. I heard the thousands of prayers black women pray for their sons and husbands to make it back home alive.
The hood certainly has had its battles. But those wars he knew. It was easier for him that the people at home looked like us. At home, there was no one that he had to help catch up to the learning curve, no one to have to explain the joke to. They had whole conversations with facial expressions and eye movements. At home, people understood each other without having to relive the trauma of explaining the bond of their shared unfortunate circumstances. My granddad and his friends were like soldiers who had been in the trenches together. They didn’t talk about the horrors of war, what they’ve lost, who they’ve killed, or what has died within them along the way. Instead they met up at the local watering hole and commiserated over drinks until they remembered the sound of their own laughter. They were thankful for each other and their small lots of promised land they called home. The media told them that their home was a war zone, but they made sure it didn’t look that way. They kept fresh paint on their houses, kept their lawns manicured, and never let trash sit in their neighbor’s yard without picking it up.
I supposed if I made peace with our lot between the red lines, the #14 really would take me everywhere I’d want to go, as long as I only wanted to go between downtown and Sunny Acres.
Danielle Dixon is a published author, poet and artist. She is a current Baldwin House writer in residence. She has a BA in Visual Art from Kent State University and is an alumna of The Cleveland School of the Arts. Her work has been published in Cleveland Stories Volume 2, Inclusion Magazine and The Luna Negra. She currently lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
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