Common Places

My thoughts were beginning to sync with the constant beeping of the machines. It had already been forty-five minutes, and the doctor hadn’t come in yet to give us his prognosis.

I stood and began to pace the floor. I looked up only for a second to glance at them. His father, who never said enough of the right thing, but always, too much of the wrong, was red-eyed and looked as if he would pass out. His mother, Lilith, dressed in her pearls, hair perfectly trimmed in a bob, was unusually silent. 

Our eyes locked, and then I looked away or did she. Afraid that we would transfer our pain onto each other. Perhaps, causing each of us to collapse under the weight of the other’s agony. Or would it just be me laying on the floor in a puddle of my own sorrow?  

We never got along. She and I. Lilith wanted him to marry the girl who was next door. They had grown up together. She was a school teacher with bone-straight blond hair, ocean-deep blue eyes, and an Ivy League education.

Instead, Lilith got me. And my course jet black hair that tangles within itself if I don’t keep it stretched. My penetrating brown eyes with their accusing stare. Turned on Lilith one day after she asked me what we call ourselves these days. Is it Afro, African, or are we just black? No, not Ivy League, but a transplant to this small Georgia town from a historically black university where I studied political science.     

For Lilith, I was too bold—too ethnic—too black—too outspoken to be a good wife to her son. He said as much to me the night he proposed on the rooftop of their guest house. I ran in the only direction that seemed safe, towards the sky. After enduring thirty minutes of his father talking about the “idiocy” of believing in a God that one has never seen. He actually used that word—idiocy. So, I needed to be alone with the crickets and my emotions. Needed time to calm down before I snapped and started rebuking the devils in their house.

I thought about jumping onto the veranda, climbing down one of the railings to the porch, and then running to the nearest town and catching a flight back to Brooklyn. But then James appeared. He whispered softly in my ear. Said he understood that everyone needed something to believe in. And if I chose God, that was okay with him. He didn’t care what other people thought about my belief or me. Said we would be together forever. And I believed him. 

Everyone had their doubts, though. Our friends said we were what an oxymoron looks like. He with his cowboy boots and me with my Kente cloth headwrap. I prayed before making any significant decision, and he believed the universe would always work itself out.     

I tried my best to smooth out the wrinkles in my shirt for the 100th time. I thought about the baby as my swollen fingers glided down my protruding belly. I readjusted my wedding band and then sat back down.

The door swung open. Dr. Price stood tall and rigid. He didn’t have to say it for me to know that the prognosis wasn’t good. I walked over and grabbed my husband’s hand. I wondered if he even knew that I was there. I wondered if he would wake up in time to make the birth of our son. Teach him how to ride a bike or take him on one of those fishing trips he and his father took when James was young. I smiled, thinking about them going hunting with their matching, camouflage overalls. Us calling our son the third, or maybe Trey for short.   

I blinked back the tears that were beginning to form in my eyes and held on tightly to James’ hand. Interlocking my fingers with his, not wanting to ever let go—not wanting to lose my hope. 

Oh, baby, I am so sorry. 

My mother’s voice interrupted my thoughts. I jumped up and collapsed in her arms. She wrapped them around me and rubbed my back like she did when I was little and had fallen from whatever high place I attempted to climb. I was always trying to be close to the sun. Close to the birds. Close to the clouds. Close to heaven.

What are they saying? 

She asked, hoping for the best, but then seeing James’ head wrapped in thick bandages and tubes running from his mouth, helping him to breathe, she knew. 

I couldn’t speak. I shook my head, finally allowing the tears to spill out. My mother guided me back to my husband’s bed. She walked over to the door and waved them in. One by one, they came into the room. Surrounded his bed. Their hands extended outward towards James. 

It’s ironic how an outstretched hand can symbolize hate in one instance. A sign of antisemitism, hailing a tyrant. Then in another, it’s a show of faith. Allowing one person’s belief in healing to extend to another. Showing reverence for a King who said by His stripes we are healed. 

I tried to steady myself, but my body involuntarily rocked me back and forth. I should have been more firm. I shouldn’t have let him get that stupid bike. But now it’s too late. 

Their lamenting started as a low hum. With white veils covering their heads, the church mothers from my congregation would beg for God’s mercy all night if the hospital let them. They have come to pray for things that science and modern medicine cannot fix. 

My mother places a hand on each of us. One on my shoulder and one on James’ head. As the wailing and praying and shouting grows, I squeeze his hand tighter. 

Lord, I know he didn’t believe, but if you have found any favor in me, please. 

I feel a hand touch my thigh. Not my mother’s hand. This hand is smaller, fragile, and unsure. I open my eyes just as she starts to kneel with tears coming down her face. I place my hand on top of hers. Our eyes meet, and we hold each other’s gaze. Finally, finding a place where we can both be common. Only a mother and wife understands this type of grief. And she and I are both.

Culled from by Kasey Cooper

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