I stare into the bleariness of my Saturday eyes, wondering if cold water or more sleep would help. A light mist hangs over the backyard. The dog hunkers down on the boards of the back porch, settling her muzzle on her crossed paws. She's glad to be outside.
When the microwave sounds, I take my mug of yesterday's coffee from its grimy depths, promising myself that the entire kitchen will get swabbed with vinegar when I wake enough for housework. I climb the stairs back to my room and sit in front of the monitor, thinking about art, and fundraisers, and the pale sky outside my window. I close my eyes and picture a long stretch of this same delicate hue over an endless sea off the shores of northern California. I see the lighthouse rising above and the mountains towering behind me. If all goes according to plan, I will sit on that shore in one month's time.
My vanity mirror rises above the laptop and I stare into those tired eyes. Yesterday's meeting with a client left its stamp on my heart. He brought his mother. A grown man, feeling the need to bring his mother to come ask questions of his lawyer. I sympathized. The subject which had to be broached daunted him. The court has ordered both mother and father to submit to a psychological examination. This man wanted to know why he had to do so, why either of them should, but more importantly, how a female mental health professional from an affluent area of Johnson County, Kansas could evaluate the choices made by a father of two from the city. He did not say the word he wanted to include so I spoke it for him: White. How can a rich white lady from Kansas know anything about me and my black children and their black mother, living in the city, all of us just doing the best that we can with precious little money and too many demands on our dollars?
Oddly enough I had said the same thing to my secretary just before his arrival, not of the psychologist but of the guardian ad litem. I just think she's from a different world than these folks; I think it's impossible for her to understand them. It's not "skin color". It's culture. It's what they have, and what they don't have, and where they live, and where they don't live, and what society expects of them. I told my client: I once represented a father who had to explain why he spanked his son with a belt for speaking rudely to his teacher. My client sat on the witness stand and told the judge, "If my black son goes into a QuikTrip and talks like that to a clerk, he might get shot."
This was a decade ago, and the client in question had himself been a Kansas City cop.
I did not pretend to comprehend what my client, his children's mother, and their family faced on a daily basis. I did not tell him that I knew. All I could say, all I did say, was that I keenly felt that what they face sharply differs from what I face. We met halfway between his world and mine, balanced on a thin reed, We shook hands before he went back home to his fourteen-year-old daughter and his ten year old son, the latter of whom has severe epilepsy which even the Mayo Clinic has not been able to cure. Instead of offering platitudes, I had made a list of action-points, and outlined what I would do to try to bring his case it to a close. I leaned forward while the mother voiced consternation about the cost to her son of this lawsuit. I knew she meant more than the money. I nodded my head. My brow tightened as I tried to assure them both that I would do what I could to keep the costs down as we moved towards trial or settlement.
In the end my client and his mother stood and thanked me for my time. I murmured something vague, dismissing any thought that I had been inconvenienced by the visit. I followed them from my office and bade them a pleasant evening. I suppressed the desire to run after them, embrace them, and remind them that we are more alike than different. We are just parents, worried about our children, challenged by more pressures than any person ought to endure.
I did not presume. I let them go; but just before the door shut, my client turned and smiled. I think he knew. I think he knew.
When I was in grad school, I worked at a pharmacy in the Central West End of St. Louis. The store, and even the building which housed it, both have gone now. The owner was a little man, fussy and nervous. But the other pharmacist, Arthur Perry, was a black man with a wide grin, big shoulders, and a broad twinkling countenance. One evening, just before close, the power in the store failed. I happened to be talking to Art at the entryway to the pharmacy when the lights flickered out. The noisy cash registers fell silent, powerless. The hum of the florescent lights and the inane, endless loop of the Musak both abruptly stopped. In the silence, Arthur spoke in his quiet resonant tones. I like the dark, he said. In the dark, we are all the same color.