Let her cry, for she’s a lady/Let her dream, she’s a child/Let the rain fall down upon her/She’s a free and gentle flower growing wild - “Wildflower” by New Birth
My childhood was filled with these kind of hazy moments. Being a brown girl in the 50’s, a transplant from south Texas to the south side of Chicago was certainly not without its challenges. Very early on, I learned to see what I wanted to see when what I actually saw was too hard or too hurtful or too anything for me to handle. I discovered how to make clean breaks from my reality; escaping into my own. This gift, I call it, generally served me well.
My first encounter with the need to disconnect was when I was eleven. Robby was the cutest boy in the neighborhood. At least he was to my virginal eyes. As if he was dipped into a vat of caramel icing, his skin was smooth. Smoother than any other thirteen year-old I’d seen. He was also the Pastor’s son. Don’t know why that made a difference but it did. Maybe I thought that made him closer to God or something. In hindsight, his intentions were always as far from Godly as anyone could be but hey, I was a kid. I never stopped to ponder the theology of it all.
Robby also had the best bike in the neighborhood. Maybe even the best of the whole South side. It was a black and red Murray with dual headlamps whose shiny wheels whispered when he whizzed by us girls playing double-dutch or hopscotch or hand games.
I liked this brown boy very much. So much so, I was willing to risk the lightning fast whip of my Auntie’s belt in exchange for “borrowing” my cousin’s bike and answering Robby’s call to follow him into the wooded area of a park near our neighborhood.
There I was, breathing heavy and pumping hard on the pedals of my cousin Anthony’s old raggedy, Sears Spyder bike; my bottom only barely grazing the ripped leather of the banana seat. I was trying desperately to make it up and down the steep inner-city hills that Robby, with his gearshifts and all, seemed to navigate with ease. Dark and shadowy figures appeared to be hidden behind the tall trees that smothered the landscape. That part of Washington Park reminded me of Texas; it was like a small piece of the south had been sewn into the fabric of the Chicago streets. Anyway, in truth those dark figures I saw were probably only a possum or two. Yet my vivid imagination released me from the veracity of the moment so I preferred to think of them as ghosts; anything that would heighten the element of danger in my adventure. When I reached the center of the park, surrounded by poplars and willows and royal empress trees, I jumped off the bike and followed the distinct scent of boy. I found him a few minutes later standing in a clearing next to an old wooden shack; a seemingly lost artifact in the city’s historical preservation efforts. The air around us seemed heavy with awkward anticipation. And it was...only for different reasons. I didn’t really know what to say to him since, in actuality, I’d only ever spoken to him at my Aunt’s church. Praise the Lord didn’t seem appropriate at all. Nevertheless, I ventured forward hoping only for a smile or a hug or maybe a kiss; something that said, “I like you too.” His mission? Something entirely different. Long story short, brown boy looked me over and grinned. I grinned back. So far, so good, I thought. Then he asked me...no, dared me...to punch out the glass in one of the squares on the ancient, wooden shed door.
Of course I didn’t understand why. It sounded strange even to someone as young and naïve as me. But I was in the woods with a boy I liked and while fear may have kept my heart beating like African drums, so did my eleven-year old love.
So I punched out the glass. Hard. Probably as hard as he laughed. My eyes bulged as I watched blood pour out of my hand, down my wrists, and onto my clothes. They finally burst with tears as I also watched the brown boy who, in that moment, didn’t appear quite as lovely as before, jump on his perfect bike and speed out of the park. He left me standing there, hand and heart both hurting something fierce.
And, in that moment, I made the choice to leave my body.
This piece was excerpted with permission from The Next Thing Is Joy: The Gospel According to Vivian Grace by Tracey M. Lewis. If you enjoyed the excerpt, purchase the book here