I went to TJ Max and shopped for some bargains after work today. While I was shopping, during my entire hour plus long browse from one end of the store to the other there was one other shopper that seemed to be on the same haphazard path I was. I first got in her way with-in 3 min of being in the store and from there it never ended. Purses, “Pardon me”; Shoes, “I’m sorry, excuse me”; Shampoos, “Damn cart. My bad”… etc. etc. etc. At this point we are both giggling because it’s “HER” again and we are both nice people just shopping for non-sense, and both trying to be polite.
By the time we’d met up for the 56th time at the opposite end of the place she made a comment, “perhaps we are meant to meet, I’m Judy.” And, I introduced myself back over a handshake. We made the shortest of small talk and returned to shopping. Sweet lady that Judy, she could have been my age, she could have been 20 years older; it’s difficult to tell with African Americans, who are blessed with such great skin that never seems to age. She had a short spiffy haircut that looked sporty and cute, sparkly light brown eyes, and freckles across her nose and cheeks. I adore freckles. She just looked friendly, and she was. As I drove my cart into the checkout I bid her farewell and we had a last laugh.
The weird part?
I avoided all eye contact with her, desperately. I felt racial tension. It wasn’t her, it was me. It was all me. I felt ashamed of my race and the need to present myself as submissive to her. I couldn’t get away from her fast enough because of these feelings. My eyes down as I spoke to her with smiles and nods, even when we shook hands. It was so uncomfortable for me. I don’t know that I’ve EVER felt that way in my life, and it sucked. And, it was because of Charleston.
I didn’t know it impacted me as much as it did. But, I’m not over it. It changed me, reality has changed for me. I’m not even sure what that means yet. Maybe that’s the problem, that I don’t feel the issue is resolved yet, at least not in MY heart.
I don’t live in a bubble. I’ve found my way through the delicate ocean of racial issues before most successfully, if you ask me. Like all of us, I live a life in this United States that is authentic to my beliefs & principals, and is one I am proud of. I’ve been doing that now for 45 years, nothing to sneeze at. I’m kind of old now, times like this are when younger people look to people my age for perspective and, I feel inept.
I’ve lived through some stuff before this tragedy… Big Stuff. I not only witnessed but took part in the fall of Communism. 9/11, fucking real stuff. Still this feels different to me. I was born at a time when Charles Manson was being sentenced to death for his attempts to start a race war. So the race war BS, not new BS to me. I was active duty, as a woman, in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield & Storm. Again, I don’t live in a bubble. In my life, just when I think history has unfolded all the way I have witnessed history blow my fucking mind by switching it all up. Over and over again. Wow, history is awesome and I love watching it unfold, alas, I digress.
I think about Judy and not only do I know she was never mad at me to begin with. I know she has also lived through a chunk of history in which she has seen so many things change herself. She, like everyone, as seen her share of sadness and personal tragedy and managed to push on. I know my potential accidental standing in her view of the rack of bone & brown messenger bags was never intended as a slant on her race. I’m not worried about Judy. Judy’s identity wasn’t reduced to a bumbling puddle of it’s former self, mine was.
Editors note: ref June 2015 Charlston church shooting.