Saying Goodbye to A Town Where Time Does Not Reside, Part 1

From age 4 to 18 I lived in the type of sleepy towns you read about in books, where people don’t always lock their doors, unless of course you’re us – the only non-white family around for many years. In that case your world is surrounded by Confederate flags in a state that was part of the Union but later became the central stronghold of the KKK, people who believe that immigrants are taking over jobs and that God does not call us to be in interracial relationships (but of course, that doesn’t mean their racist). A few months ago, I posted an article about how the people I knew in my childhood were friends of convenience and not true friends. I had someone reach out to me to say that article made them angry and that even if I thought that, they thought of me as a friend still. Nevermind that friendships do not work that way – that this man’s need to feel absolved from anything that occurred made him forcefully insert himself into my life. But the article rings true as it explains how as lone black children in white schools, you played with kids on the playground only to grow up and see the hatred they spew through social media and their lives.

Being in A Town Where Time Does Not Reside means you can be suspended in a moment to think, but it also means if you never leave, you are almost always suspended in these moments of the type of hate that has formed the foundations of this country. The type that people ignore because they think that racism looks like hooded figures burning crosses, and not the teacher who forces your mother to come into the school to demand that she holds you to the same academic standards as any other student. I’ve noticed that of the handful of true friends I do have from that time in my life, they have all left and found a world outside a sleepy one stoplight town. I’m especially grateful for my friend Emily who has been the type of friend who grows with you as you watch a nation disregard the lives of your brothers and sisters. I think of her comfort and happiness as the one white face in a sea of darker ones in my brother’s wedding photos, and I think of her strength in being willing to cutoff those who she confronts for their inability to understand that #blacklivesmatter.

See, there are those who message me to say they are ‘sorry’ for the constant loss of black life, and I have even been contacted by people who wanted to tell me that they wish they had been better allies when we were children. But I don’t need messages over a decade later or people who would private message me instead of publicly denouncing the anti-black racism of this world. No, I’m not scarred from my childhood. That town was filled with numerous anti-role models and those are sometimes just as valuable as role models. I have become all the things I wanted to ‘in spite of’ and ‘because of’ it.

My family began the process of moving in to a new home this past week. When I visit next month, it will be there that I stay. People have asked me if I am sad that I will no longer be going home to my childhood home. I laugh a little and shake my head ‘no.’ I’m grateful in many ways for that house and that home – but it was the world built within those walls that was home. My parents built a home in the midst of spaces that sometimes actively worked to break it down and passively often wanted to. With that love, they raised five children who knew what it meant to thrive in ways that we carry with us to every place we inhabit. As far as I am concerned, the best people that ever happened to that Town Where Time Does Not Reside will no longer be there. I will have no reasons to return.

A Farewell to Home and Vacation

This morning I packed my bags and marveled at how I had come home with half a carry on bag full of clothes and was leaving with a huge checked suitcase and a very full carry on bag. I said goodbye to the snow and hugged my family goodbye, and hopped on board a plane packed with college football fans bound for Florida. The Colts lost and I gained 50 degrees back. It’s nice to be back in Miami. But the switches between spaces are always moments of readjustment. Leaving Indiana always reminds me of a poem I wrote when I left for college, which was the last time I have lived long-term in Indiana, and most of it still rings true for every visit since:

 

REFLECTIONS OF HOME

The sky is gray in the winter

But the spring brings lovely green

While summer burns with a lover’s touch

And the fall takes away big dreams

 

–But it’s Home

 

There’s no place like Home

As the old saying goes

But what do you tell all the people

Who make it their home

Because they do not know

That there’s a world beyond the pastures?

 

–It’s my Home

 

I want to tell the people that hating is not the answer

I want to let them know that the world is so much bigger

To let the children know that there are options

That coming back is fine, but only if it’s what you want to

I have to let them know

 

You loved me once, though I am different

You love me still, though I went away

I went away to find the answers

To the questions that you gave me

And now I’m back with open eyes

To see Home all the better

 

–My Home

 

I hear the gossip of the women ready to tell you your worst news

I feel distant from the girls who married after school

Jobs and husbands and bills are not my life

And I watch the face of she who recently became pregnant

The eyes of all follow her as she walks down a lonely street

But what do you expect when you give pressure to the girls

To find a love by age sixteen and marry off come graduation

 

You there, girl I knew when I was younger

Is this the life you chose or the life they made for you?

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go off to college?

Or even just to see who else could claim your broken heart?

And boy, the one who told me all your secret dreams

Did they let you out to find them,

Or tell you till the land and pull the weeds?

 

–Our home

 

And I wondered long why you closed your gates

Why you were so scared of imminent change

If you never meet your neighbor

How do you know that you really hate him?

Do not let the older generation beat you down in hate

There are no gates where we live, so open up your hearts

 

I feel your eyes upon me when I make my way back home

I hear you whispering about me,

Asking why I left and where’d I go?

You don’t believe that I could ever be happy elsewhere

You don’t believe that I can make it out there

 

But I can

And I am

 

–And it’s Home

 

Despite the fact that no one looks like me

Despite the fact that your business is never your own

Despite the fact that it’s the sight of bittersweet memories

Despite the fact that once you leave, it’s hard to find your way back

 

–Do you want to? Do I want to?

 

But I never want to come back and feel like this is not home

I do not want to lose these feelings of connection

But I can come back home to see just how far I’ve come

 

I made it, despite everything else

I triumphed and am thriving

Because I can always remember

That where I’m from and where I’ve been

Is not who I am or where I’m going

In a town where Time does not reside

When I make the turn from Highway 40 onto the narrow roads of State Road 39, before my feet hit the gravel of the driveway–I am home. The tall trees, bright green grass, blooming flowers, and red porch with its American flag. They are all so familiar, and so constant in my life of motion.

Belleville, Indiana is a town with one stoplight, two fresh fruit stands, two highway gas stations, no grocery stores, no clothing stores, and somewhere around 600 people. It’s hard to describe without being here, and it’s a tough life to enjoy for most, unless you’ve grown up to love it. And as I spend what will probably be the last long summer in this place called Home, I’ve come to recognize Belleville’s strongest influence on my life–it is a town in which Time does not reside.

Time is something I cannot escape. It’s on my mind more often than I would like to admit. I stressed about the time left to finish my thesis, I never think I have enough time in my day to do everything I set out to accomplish when I woke up, and I look at the clock all the time to know how much time I have left until my next appointment. Before I know it, it’s another minute, another hour, another day….a year. But not so here. Here, it’s as if I have stepped inside a capsule that freezes me within a moment. It’s as though every day were June 15 or July 16–any day is every day. But it’s not so much the feeling that things often take place in a similar pattern each day, but that there is a slower pace to life and a simplicity to it. There’s nothing fast paced, nothing to rush me or make me feel like I’m running out of time. Here, I have all the time I want, and all the time I need. Like Scout Finch described her town in To Kill a Mockingbird, Belleville is a tired, old town.

And although to stay like this forever would be to not have the experiences that lay beyond that stoplight, it has been a place of rest and a source of rejuvenation for me over the years. It reminds me that it’s okay to take a time out, take care of myself, and rest. Moreover, it reminds me that if I do those things–take that time out–even though time is something I cannot escape, I can not allow it to rule my life. I’ll only have until May in Ghana. What’s my 8 months of work to centuries of hardship? But if 8 months is all I have, it’s 8 months I don’t want Time to rule.  I’ll take my time out now.

Highway 40 and the stoplight as captured from my front yard