“The Help”

Several months ago a friend of mine recommended “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  Always willing to read something a friend recommends, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle.  I finished the book last weekend.

Most of you may know that “The Help” takes place in the 1960’s in Jackson, MS where the main set of characters have black “help” – women mostly, but some men too.  It’s a very interesting story of lives that are impacted not only by the times but by those they work with as well.  And then comes a women who wants to be a writer and who takes up the cause of exposing the things these black women deal with day after day in their roles as “help.”

One of the several story lines revolves around interracial issues – one of the maids gives up her baby because it was born with white skin (I won’t go into details about that story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read the book).  Ms. Stockett also mentions Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and other social/political things that were going on during those years.

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I remember both the King and Kennedy assassinations.  I remember the riots in the streets of Chicago – especially overhearing my Dad talking about them (he witnessed them firsthand as a truck driver in the city).  Now whether this is a true memory or not (I believe it is), I recall my parents telling my sister and me that we couldn’t walk down the street because of the riots – and that was the first time we had heard of such a thing.  Not able to walk in our own neighborhood in Bucktown?  What the heck was that all about?  It was about parents knowing that the violence could spread.

I also remember my Mom’s cousin Diane who we rarely saw and who was spoken of in hushed tones.  Diane was – Mom would always say – a mulatto.  Back then I didn’t really know what that meant; all I knew was that Diane had tan skin.  Back in the 1960’s that was a bad thing.  I vaguely remember Diane’s face, but what I do recall is that the few times I saw her, she was cute, smiling, bubbly, slightly overweight, and wore the cutest shift-style dresses.

So many things changed over the next decades – “colored” became “black”; “mulatto” became “mixed” or “interracial” – but then again, many other things did not change, such as people’s attitudes.

Growing up during those years of unrest explains, I guess, why my parents were so shocked when I announced in 1986 that I was marrying a black man.  I knew without a doubt that my Dad wouldn’t give me away (my brother-in-law stepped in for that action).  My Mom sort of took it in stride by the time of the wedding.  After all, Ken was handsome, well spoken, and a Baptist minister.  Several months after I was married, Dad accepted Ken as part of the family, and that made me very happy.

Ken and I waited five years to have Josh, and it was well worth the wait.  Josh is a great son.  I sometimes wonder how Ken’s and my divorce affected Josh, but honestly I think everything turned out okay.  My son knows the scoop, and he knows if he ever has any questions he’s free to ask.  He gets honest answers from both of us.

I apologized to Ken right before he and his current wife moved to Georgia.  I apologized for not holding his hand more often in public, and I apologized for letting some of the nuances of the 1960’s affect me to the point that I was constantly aware of people’s eyes on us as we walked together.  Back when we were first married, as much as I wanted to be near him, I sometimes held back knowing that some of the public still had major issues with interracial relationships.

** And let me just say it wasn’t always the white population that had issues.  I encountered a lot of flack from the black population too; especially in one of the churches we visited. Trust me – on more than one occasion I was told Ken could have done better than me, referring to having a black wife instead of a white one.**

People are going to be people no matter what.  A hard lesson to learn is that you should be true to what you feel, not to what others want you to feel.  Would things have turned out differently if I had focused more on the relationship than on the rest of the world?  Probably not.  I don’t think the circumstances of the breakup would have changed.  But it’s important to speak out that no matter the mix (skin color, sexual orientation – whatever), the relationship should be true to itself.

Be happy in your chosen relationship – be proud of it – be proud of the person you are with.

Conflicted

Sometimes the only word that describes how I feel is “conflicted.”  I know a lot of people must feel this way too at different times in their lives.  Riding out the storm of emotions is, to say the least, interesting.  There is this convergence of events – some recent, some not so recent – that is sometimes making me feel like I don’t know which end is up.

When my ex moved out of state, I admit I was a little sad.  It wasn’t like I saw him all that often, and it wasn’t as if we were close friends after our divorce.  But our son connects us, and before Josh went to college there were still conversations and decisions that had to be made.  When Ken left, it felt like there was a void.  And I couldn’t really make sense of why I felt that way.

While cleaning out some old files the other day, I found a couple of letters Ken had given me shortly after we separated.  I read them and the flood of memories reminded me why we broke up in the first place.  All of the resentment and bad feelings reared up, and I suddenly I realized it wasn’t his leaving town that made me sad.  It was simply that the people I had moved to Maryland with were both in different states now.  The Chicago transplants were now one instead of three.  I believe I’ve said this before but now I see it in a slightly different light.

Also, all of the **** I went through with the sociopath hangs over my head.  He was released from prison last year and I’ve been looking over my shoulder ever since.  He contacted me once after he got out, and I didn’t respond.  But the feeling that he’s lurking around some corner won’t go away.  There’s a chance he’ll go back to prison if he doesn’t pay the restitution he owes to a bunch of people, and nothing would make me feel safer than knowing he was back behind bars.  Sad to admit I feel this way, but I do.

I could rant about a couple of other things that are going on right now, but it’s not the proper venue for that.

Look – I’m not a perfect person.  I made mistakes in judgment before.  However, I don’t want to be held down by the past (mine or anyone else’s), regardless of how long ago or how recently something happened.  I don’t want to have to second-guess whether I’ve made the right decision.  Decisions can be difficult sometimes, but sometimes they have to be made anyway.  There is too much in life that still needs to be accomplished.

My advice to whomever wants to take it:  be trustworthy; have integrity; be honest with yourself and with others; realize that it’s okay to make a tough decision; and if you don’t like where you are in life, do your best to do something about it.  There are no easy answers, but by tackling the issues head-on you just might emerge a better person for it.