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256 pages, Hardcover
First published September 17, 2013
”I never knew Demond when he was younger. I came to know him as an adult, when he was old enough to have sharp smile lines and the thin skin at his temples was threaded through with veins. The skull beneath looked hard…'You should write about my life,' Demond said…I heard this often at home. Most of the men in my life thought their stories, whether they were drug dealers or straight-laced, were worthy of being written about…Now, as I write these stories, I see the truth in their claims...'I don’t write real-life stuff,' I said.”
”This is where the past and the future meet…This is the summer of the year 2000. This is the last summer I will spend with my brother. This is the heart. This is. Every day, this is.”But even she admits it is hard to know, really know people. That we can never really know. But she may come closer than anyone else has. Closer than anyone else has bothered to.
“I know that sense of despair. I know that when [Roland] looked down at his copper hands and in the mirror, at his dark eyes and his freckles and his even mouth, that he thought it would be better if he were dead, because then all of it, every bit of it, would stop. The endless struggle with his girlfriend, the drugs that lit his darkness, the degradations that come from a life of poverty exacerbated by maleness and Blackness and fatherlessness in the South—being stopped and searched by the police, going to a high school where no one really cared if he graduated and went to college, the dashed dreams of being a pilot or a doctor or whatever it was he wanted, realizing the promises that had been made to him at All God’s Creatures day camp were empty and he didn’t have a world and a heaven of options—all of these things would cease.”
“How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”Ah. So she is like us after all. Just like us. I expect she knows now that despair and loneliness knows not race nor income level. None of us is spared that at least. But the other, well...I'm glad she told us. I believe it makes a difference.
“How could I know then that this would be my life: yearning to leave the South and doing so again and again, but perpetually called back to home by a love so thick it choked me?”
“[T]he message was always the same: You’re Black. You’re less than White. And then, at the heart of it: You’re less than human.”
“We inherit these things that breed despair and self-hatred, and tragedy multiplies. For years I carried the weight of that despair with me;”
“But this grief, for all its awful weight, insists that he matters. What we carry of Roger and Demond and C. J. and Ronald says that they matter. I have written only the nuggets of my friends’ lives. This story is only a hint of what my brother’s life was worth, more than the nineteen years he lived, more than the thirteen years he’s been dead. It is worth more than I can say. And there’s my dilemma, because all I can do in the end is say.”
“We who still live do what we must. Life is a hurricane, and we board up to save what we can and bow low to the earth to crouch in that small space above the dirt where the wind will not reach. We honor anniversaries of deaths by cleaning graves and sitting next to them before fires, sharing food with those who will not eat again. We raise children and tell them other things about who they can be and what they are worth: to us, everything. We love each other fiercely, while we live and after we die. We survive; we are savages.”
“I thought being unwanted and abandoned and persecuted was the legacy of the poor southern Black woman. But as an adult, I see my mother’s legacy anew. I see how all the burdens she bore, the burdens of her history and identity and of our country’s history and identity, enabled her to manifest her greatest gifts.”