On Saturday, I promised Jack we could look for fireflies. Normally he is in bed by 8 p.m., but I told him he could stay up until after the sun went down to see the insects that he had learned about in his bug book.
We went out to the front porch right after he read with his daddy and sat together in the same rocker to wait for the show to begin.
We live in one of Little Rock’s oldest neighborhoods, just south of Interstate 630. The houses are old, most built in the early 1900s with big, restored porches and beautiful gardens.
I walk three miles every day. The route is from my front door north to the interstate, east a few blocks, about a mile back south towards some rundown houses and then after a loop around the Governor’s Mansion, I make it back home.
Along the way, I see my neighbors who are varied and always very interesting. There is a mix of races and ages, some are gay, some are straight, Democrats and Republicans, some with young children and many with dogs.
As I walk, I say hello to the people in the homeless camp, the joggers, the drug dealers, the Governor’s security guards, the yard guys, the transients headed to the busy corner to hold their signs and ask for money, the comfortable housewives and the mothers just like me.
As Jack and I sat on the porch on Saturday night, I started to notice the sirens and saw the helicopters circling above us. Police cars were using our usually quiet street as a cut through. I had driven by the peaceful protest at the State Capitol earlier in the day and realized that the activity I was observing was probably related.
I looked on my phone and saw a news story with a photo of the interstate just about ten blocks from me. People were walking around stopped cars in protest following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was held down by police officers, one with a knee in his neck for nearly nine minutes. He pleaded that he could not breathe, cried for his mother and was killed all because he attempted to use a counterfeit $20 at a deli this week.
One time, right after I moved to Little Rock, I went to a gas station near a friend’s house to buy some beer. When I looked in my wallet, I saw that I had cash and handed over my $20 in exchange for the cans of Bud Light. The cashier used a marker to swipe the bill and told me that it was a fake.
I was stunned. I had no idea where I had gotten the cash. Maybe the grocery store? Or had my dad given it to me as I left town when I visited last? Did I get it as change when paying for gas?
I apologized and paid with my debit card instead. The cashier took my name and phone number, kept the $20 and told me that the police would investigate. Later in the week, the police called and told me that the bill was fake. The end. Nothing else happened. I got the beer. I lost the $20. I never had any face-to-face contact with law enforcement. No one killed me.
I was reminded of that story on Saturday night. I had not thought of it in years, but when Jack told me that he thought the sirens and helicopters were “looking for bad guys,” the event popped in my head.
I thought, “I did the same thing as George Floyd 10 years ago and now I am hugging my almost 4-year-old in a rocking chair on my front porch while we hunt for fireflies. Just about one mile from us, people are walking into traffic to defend a man who was killed for doing something that was so insignificant to me that I can’t even remember if the cashier was a man or a woman.”
I felt sick as I thought about how to explain all of this to my white, green-eyed, blonde-haired beautiful boy. They weren’t looking for bad guys. My heart started to ache when I thought about how other mothers with beautiful, black and brown boys have to explain now – and have had to for so many years – something that I will never be able to never understand.
On Friday night, before we fell asleep my husband Ben was telling me about how Jack and his sister Ellie had been working together to play a trick on him. I am still not totally clear on all of the details, but the game included a lot of laughter and breaks for the two of them to hug.
“I hope they love each other like that forever. The world is going to let him know one day that she is not like him,” Ben said to me, the words landing like cinder blocks on my chest.
My fears around Ellie’s Down syndrome and her future are always with me, but with my frustration and fears about COVID-19 coupled with the violence and anger that is exploding all around us, I’ve been feeling more hopeless than usual.
Those words came back to me when I was explaining protests to Jack. I hope I never forget them. The world is going to let him know one day that many people are not like him. Good gracious, I hope he doesn’t forget to love them forever anyway.