I wrote this letter to you to tell you how I killed Dad. I know that I could’ve stopped by your house or called you to tell you this. I just couldn’t bare to look at your face when I told you. I know a letter isn’t the best way to deliver such news, but this is best I can do. The only way I know how to tell you this without seeing your grief and being forced to have solace.
I know you love…loved Dad. He was great when he was around. Remember when he took us to Yogurtland on Central and Slauson when it first opened? We were so excited to finally get top brand stores in South Central. It was nice to see that they built a store people loved and not another liquor store, mechanic shop, or godawful McDonalds. That day was so glorious for the city that there was a line out of the door on opening day. Remember when we all picked the largest bowl, filled it to the brim with the sweetest flavor – you chocolate, me sherbet and tangy, dad plain tart, and we all loaded our bowls to the brim with candy, fruit, whipped cream, evaporated milk, and those sweet bubbles filled with tarty juice that pop in your mouth as soon as you bite down? Yeah. I remember like it was 30 yogurts ago. I try to think of the good times we had before he left, and after he died.
Do you remember when he took us to the Fox Hills mall when we were in middle school? Thanks to gentrification, folks call it the Westfield of Culver City now, but it will always be Fox Hills to those like us, the real people who remember, made it poppin’ in the first place. Remember when you, me, and him went and he just let us roam all by ourselves? I remember getting 5 numbers that day and you got 7. Back in the day when guys would come up to you to speak and would let you know they want to talk with you? Remember when we were in the food court getting burgers and we saw Dad at the end of the court sitting down, eating, with some woman? We never told mom, because we knew it would break her. That was the first secret we kept you and I that brought us together – the same secret that destroyed the love I had for dad.
After that day, I spoke less and less with dad. He would speak, say Good Morning, and I would walk the other way. Mom never noticed anything different between him and I. I don’t think you noticed much either because I developed a skill on being around people and making myself invisible. Mom would be so busy cooking and cleaning – being the model wife the 60s ever produced. You kept up with music and singing. Practices had you gone most of the time. And the little time we did sit together to eat, everyone would talk and I would maybe say 3 words during the dinner. “Pass the pepper” was enough words to come from me to make my presence known without being too suspecting. Mom would use the table time to complain about the house and what we weren’t doing. Dad complained about all the changes in the neighborhood. The blessing and curse of gentrification. And you, sis, would chime on about your shows at school and the neighborhood band you and Brandy started next door in her parent’s garage. Within an hour’s time, there wasn’t much for me to say.
This lasted up until I left the house at 18 and got my own place. I remember struggling hard to survive, working two jobs all while in community school, just so I could afford my studio apartment in Gardena. I wanted to be as far away I could afford from South Central, from dad.
I remember at 25 when I found out that he left mom and married a younger, white woman and moved out to Pasadena. I remember being so relieved that mom could finally make room in her life to find a good man who would appreciate her hard work, but I was also pissed that not only did he leave the best woman in the world, he went for a younger white woman. You know what that means for our tribe. Our family. And they went on to have a baby. Treated that boy better than the both of us combined. Going to the doctors, school events, PTA meetings, baseball games – and had the nerve to post it on Facebook like it’s some shit to boast. Meanwhile, there weren’t any pictures of us Shawna. Do you remember?!
Do you remember all the times we were in church plays? I played the piano, you sang, we both recited poetry and short stories of the powerful women that the bible rarely mentioned. We were so bold and opinionated, even at 7 and 8 years old. Do you remember begging dad to come and what did he do? He came sometimes, but grunted the whole ride there, something about how church oppresses black people, how he’s tired of seeing poor black people crying out to a God whose forgotten about them, a lot on how they learned to be good to each other, but never did what the bible said. He hated to see a church full of black and brown people worshipping the mosaic window images of a straight haired, fair skinned jesus. He always sat in the back with begrudging arms folded, leaving occasionally to take smoke breaks by the pastor’s car – or he just didn’t come at all. Some bullshit. Now he worships a white Mary and their mixed Jesus by going to every god damn thing that boy does. I know you call him brother, but that boy and his mother are nothing to me.
I remember being fed up with dad and called him for the first time in 12 years. His old ass had the same cell phone number since cell phones came out so I knew that I could reach him. I told him to meet me at Stevenson Park in Carson. I got there 30 minutes early and sat in the car to prepare what all I was going to say to him after all of these years. Him, not ever trying to find me. Him, not ever calling me. Him, not ever messaging me on the same Facebook he boasts his son on. Him, leaving mom for a young, teenage, white girl. Him, moving and making a home in racist land. Him, cooning trying to fit in and erase the pride of our tribe. Him, being the very thing wrong with the black family. I wanted to yell at him, scream, punch him in the throat. And, at the very time, me bathing in my anger, drinking in all rage, I saw him walking up with roses and that young boy holding his hand, and I lost it. This was supposed to be for just us. I started the car, put the gear in Drive, and pressed the gas with all the strength of my unsettled spirit. And, Shawna, I hit him. The boy let go of his hand and ran, but I know I hit dad. And kept driving. Never looked back. Never shed a tear. Never went back to see if he was okay. Thoughts of him, rolling over my car, from hood to trunk run though my mind. The thud of his body hitting the ground haunts me every night.
Honestly, Shawna, I don’t know if he’s dead. Maybe he’s in a hospital somewhere. Maybe he is at home with his becky of a woman. But, if he’s dead – don’t come for me. I already packed my things and by the time you read this letter, I will be halfway through the country, looking for a new tribe, a new home.
(Story written by Camari Carter-Hawkins – if you share, please tag me!)