When I was 4, almost 5, my parents decided to move from Enterprise, AL, where my father was stationed at nearby Ft. Rucker, to Cleveland, OH. I wonder, as I type these words, why they chose Cleveland. I am told that I was a daddy’s girl as a baby and toddler, but I have no memories of such. The children–my brother Wayne, my older sisters Pamela and Debra, and I–were to live with my mother’s parents in central Alabama until they were established.
The plan, as I understand it, was to send for us in the summer of 1964. When they left in the middle of winter, I tried to hide in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. I wanted to go. I did NOT want to be where my parents were not. I lay as still as I could and tried not to make a sound. They looked all over for me. I could hear them frantically calling my name, and hoped in my little girl’s mind that they would “give up,” get in the car, and discover me only when they arrived in the mythical land of Cleveland. What did I know of Cleveland except that it was the place my parents chose and the place that called them away from us. And the place I was DETERMINED to go with them. But, finally, someone decided to search the car.
I don’t remember who. But I do still remember the pounding of my heart in my ears… so proverbial and so true. I started crying the moment the quilt was stripped from my body. I wailed. I screamed. I think this memory is why the scene in Roots of Kizzy being sold away from her mother still makes my mouth dry, my stomach turn, and my eyes water. It was the first abandonment I ever had. It was the first time I knew that people who I loved, who I NEEDED, could willingly leave. I had not, to that point, known anything of death and loss. But something died in me that day.
And 49 years later, I still have to manage my heart when I leave the presence of family and friends. I have to say that it is not abandonment for someone to choose themselves. I have to say, even if it is abandonment, I can live through it. I have to say, love sometimes moves away. But the 5-year-old in me still wails, kicks, and screams sometimes. So, I had to learn to soothe her, to comfort her, to let her know we would be okay, we would survive, we would live. I have to say to her, sometimes, leaving does not mean you are not loved. I have to tell her sometimes: breathe. It’s going to be okay, even if you have to manage the wounds.
Of course, the wound/s are not the only part of that story, as my youngest sister, Gwen, points out. My parents never returned to carry us away to Cleveland. Instead, my mother returned alone, pregnant with her. We never moved. But I got a sister and a best of friend from the venture. And I must testify: she helps me more than she knows to manage the soul wounds expressed in moments like the one I’ve described.