The Facts of Life

Sometimes when I’m writing to you, I proceed to discuss hard things. For every beginning, there is an ending — we all know that. And going to church isn’t for everybody; I learned that the hard way. Last Wednesday, Laura went to her weekly prayer group meeting, which gets together at eleven in the morning. The members who go are mostly the elderly ladies in the church, who go around visiting the sick, helping the needy, and seeing people who are confined in nursing homes. The First Baptist Church of Robersonville is a large, brick structure located on Railroad Street. While Laura was in there, I thought I would go to the park, with my iPhone and my wireless ear-buds, to listen to some music and to walk a few miles around the sidewalk that surrounds the baseball field. I travelled across town on my bike to get there, but to my chagrin, the gate was closed and chained with a padlock. With my plans now destroyed, I returned home, and, at length, decided that I would take my music with me and walk down some avenues and side streets.

I listened to some pleasant euphonium being piped directly into my ears as I walked across the parking lot of Robersonville Manor onto Main Street, but was annoyed by the passing vehicles that drowned out the notes of my songs, so I turned onto Laurel Avenue and onto Broad Street. After walking several blocks, I passed by a house that was partially destroyed by a fire years ago, but has since been salvaged and repaired, with a woman currently living in it. I’ve passed by it often, and never gave it a second thought.

I walked a few blocks further, up to the intersection of Broad and Railroad Streets, right beside the post office, where the street and the railroad tracks run beside one another, when a young, black man approached from the opposite side. I didn’t think anything of it, but he immediately stopped walking. He had something on his mind, but I had no idea what it could be. He wanted desperately to avoid me; I expected him to just cross to the opposite side of the street so we could walk past each other with plenty of room between us, but when he began walking, he traveled as fast as he could without running, toward Laura’s church, in precisely the same direction that I had planned to go. I turned on Railroad Street, and fell in behind him. He glanced back at me, quickly over his shoulder, then turned onto another side street, but, as I was passing the church, he appeared on Railroad Street again a block away. He had tried to circle around, to get where he wanted to go without me seeing him. I just continued walking, and tried not to pay attention to this strange person.

I continued walking past some very old houses, then approached the vacant high school. There was a lot of history there, with the collection of aged yearbooks and school newspapers archived in the local library. After you walk past the old Robersonville High School, the pavement on the street ends and it becomes a dirt track leading straight to the cemetery. My mood grew sombre as the monuments came into view. As I walked among the graves, I realized that I wasn’t paying attention to my bouncy music anymore, as my mood quickly took a dark and sombre tone. I began to show the utmost respect as I avoided stepping on anyones resting place. I noticed several prominent last names, such as Roberson, Stalls, Roebuck, and Smith. Several of the graves were a hundred years old. Some of the people here lived to ripen to a very mature age, but some died as children, not getting a chance at life at all. In the middle of the graveyard, I saw a canopy surrounding the tombstone of a married couple, with fresh overturned earth covered in fresh flowers. I soon realized that this was a member of Laura’s church, buried beside her husband, Mrs. Doris Everette Roebuck, who had lived to be a hundred-and-two.

Laura and I went to her last birthday party. She was sitting in her recliner in a dignified manner. When we spoke to her, we had to lean close to her and speak loudly and plainly for her to hear, but she was fully alert and aware. As I was eating a piece of her birthday cake, one of her neighbors, Karen, who works with Laura at the food bank, stopped by for a visit. (Since Karen is a person I see frequently, I’ll tell you more about her in a future letter.) Soon after the matriarch’s birthday, she told a family member that she was tired, and she didn’t feel like living anymore. When her health took a downward turn, she had to go to a nursing home, and she didn’t survive long after that.

I spent some more time at this final resting place, viewing the names and dates on the other headstones, some monuments being larger than others, listening to a song entitled “Come Dancing,” when a ringtone interrupted and I pressed the button on my microphone. It was Laura. She had just got out of prayer group. I told her where I was and she picked me up there. We went to her house, and the remainder of the day was uneventful, but the next morning I decided to go walking down Broad Street with my music again. While I was listening to Deep Purple, and walking past the same house that got partially burned up and subsequently repaired, I saw the same strange black man walking out the back door, wearing the exact same clothes, along with the white woman who lived there that was twenty years his senior. She was wrapped up in a house-coat with no sash tied around her, holding it together with both her arms without a stitch of clothing underneath. The man walked past me and tried to get away from me as fast as he could. Yesterday, he must have thought I had just come back from visiting this woman myself, and it became obvious why he viewed me with suspicion, doing everything in his power to avoid me.

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