Her I’m in line at the airport. The woman in front of me is shepherding a flock of four kids in tropical board shorts dancing excitedly through the security
line. Her brightly lettered bag declares “life’s a beach!” I wonder if it is. I have no doubt that if I cross paths with this happy brood in a week at this same airport they will be a little sunburned, the girls with cornrows, the boys swaggering drunk with adventure. The mother will be slightly less harried, the ghost of the woman she was before motherhood peeking out of her sandals between French manicured toes.
Me I’m going to the south. I’m going to Atlanta and Selma and Montgomery to trace the path of civil rights, winding through slavery, through
Jim Crow, through a motel room where a movement staggered beneath the weight of assassination. I’m going to the opening of the Lynching museum, to a place that will commemorate the dark legacy of strange fruit, that will put faces and stories to the burned bodies hanging like picnic decorations in old postcards.
What will I come back with?
Us If that mother sees me a week from now, what souvenir will she she me carrying back from my trip? What trophy can I claim from this visit? Maybe only the names, all the names. Maybe I will need to buy a suitcase while I am there to carry back the memory of so much black pain. Maybe she will see me in the airport, walking slowly, a dark look on my face dragging a club behind me to smash white supremacy followed at an unsafe distance by wary TSA agents. She might notice my eyes bloodshot from bearing witness to all that America is. She might see my hair dull from restless sleep, my whole being hollow from seeing what has happened to my kin. Her kids will push past me at the baggage claim, pulling luggage and bright colored duty free parcels while I stare blankly, processing all that there is to see when one looks at the heart of race in America.
Or maybe she won’t see me at all. What a beach.