“Hey, Beth, you got a minute? I need your advice.”
“Greg, not really, however, I’ll always make time for a call from my ex-husband and the father of our children. First of all, you should move out of that horribly dangerous Oak Park place where you have domiciled my children. Apparently, the law enforcement thugs have a year-round open season on black people in Sacramento.”
“Beth, we have discussed this before—”
“Well, you asked for my advice.”
“That’s not what I need your advice about.”
“Really? You don’t need my advice about keeping our kids safe?”
“Okay, let me start over. I do need and welcome your advice about the wellbeing of our children. However, this time I need your advice about etiquette for house guests. Helga’s going to be spending her first weekend with us. I know Helga and Darin are having sex. So what kind of sleeping arrangements should I have for a sixteen-year-old girl and her fifteen-year-old boyfriend?”
“Greg, those two are fucking like two little mad minks. On our trip to Aspen, I thought they would melt the snow off the slopes. We let them choose their sleeping arrangements. They chose a bedroom with a king size bed. My only restriction was that they not take the bedroom right next door to Anthony and me.”
“Did you check with Helga’s parents about—”
“No, I didn’t. Why’s this such a big deal with you? August and Karla know and approve of the relationship between the two passion pits.”
“When you put it like that… Thanks, hon—”
“Gregory, I’m extremely concerned about the safety of our children in that horrible city. Every time there’s news from Sacramento my heart skips a beat.”
“Beth, do you honestly think they would be safer with you in Carmel or LA or Stamford, Connecticut or in Miami? Do you think there’s any place in the United States of America our black kids would be safe?”
There are almost 30 seconds of Silence.
“Gregory, Greg, honey… I don’t know. Look, we’re not poor people. I have two books on the New York Times bestsellers list. I have had a hit movie. We’re both in the top one percent of income earners in this country. We know important people. And we can’t keep our kids safe from the people that are supposed to be fucking protecting them. I want to fucking scream.”
“Sacramento’s bad, but I can’t think of any place that’s better. I don’t have any answers.”
“I know. I know. Look, August and Karla are returning to Denmark next year. They have offered to take both Darin and Mae with them. Or, or you and the kids could have our place in Seville. You guys love it there.”
“Shit! Yeah, our kids are safer anywhere in the EU than they are in this country. I don’t think I’m quite ready to make that jump just yet. I got to run. My house guest is here.”
“Gregory, think about it okay?”
August and Karla drop off Darin and Helga and have a drink and a chat with Mae and me. The two lovers are off like rockets probably to find the nearest bed.
Mae believes her brother and Helga are trying to make the best of their last two months together before Helga returns to Denmark.
August pleads with us, “Listen, Greg, Helga and Darin have been lobbying us nonstop to let Helga finish high school here, but—”
Karla interrupts, “And live with you, of course, and we know you and trust you, but with all the shootings and the many times, they have been stopped by the police in San Juan for nothing. For just walking in the park. Gregory, I could never leave her here. I’m sorry.”
August adds, “Now, we are very serious about Mae and Darin finishing high school in Denmark. This is a true and serious offer. We put our hearts in this.”
Mae, laughs, “I would pay you to take my brother. He’s a pest at best, but I have my Cop Watch website and would feel like a deserter, you know. But I would love to visit next summer if—”
Karla stands and embraces Mae. “Mae, where ever we are in the world you are welcome to visit us for as long as you like. Helga thinks of you as a sister. Therefore, you are our daughter too.”
Before August and Karla leave, August takes me aside to urge me to encourage Mae to come to Denmark. He believes she’s a police target in San Juan and Sacramento because of her Cop Watch websites. I assure him that I’m taking every possible precaution. Neither one of us is convinced by that declaration.
As August and Karla leave eighteen-year-old Aaron Cardoza, Mae’s boyfriend arrives.
I’m sitting with the four teenagers at our kitchen table. At an even six feet, pale, Helga’s the tallest of the quartet and five-eleven cinnamon, brown Mae, is the second tallest. The girls are stunning in different ways. Mae has more curves and weight and a face of planes and angles that are attractive and mysterious. Helga has a face full of laughter and mischief and a kind of girl next door appeal. They do attract attention especially when they are together.
The boys are both about five-ten, but mahogany, brown Aaron has the build of a fullback and khaki, tan Darin, the build of a long-distance runner. They are attractive individuals and couples.
I’m delighted to have them all at my kitchen table. They bring so much light, life, and energy. It is one of my great pleasures in life to share these moments with them. It pains me to have to be the downer.
“Okay, listen young lovelies, Aaron’s driving and you all know what to do if he’s stopped by the cops, right?”
The mood shifts from light to dark like turning off the lights.
Mae, grits her teeth, balls up her fist. “Dad, there’s no right way to act. You know that.”
“Mae, if you limit your conversation with them and only respond to legal demands.”
Helga adds, “Give them your license, registration, and insurance card if requested, right?”
Aaron kisses Mae on the cheek, “Chill, Mae. I always ask the cop if it is okay if I reach in the glove compartment to get the—”
Mae interrupts, “It didn’t work for Philando Castile. He was reaching for ID, and the cop shot him anyway.”
Darin shakes his head in dismay. “And he got away with it. Pops, he got away with murder. No punishment at all.”
Helga grabs Darin’s hand. “I still don’t understand why any of it happened. It’s sickening and so sad.”
I try to get us back on track. “There’s no magic shield that will protect you, but you have to know your rights—”
Aaron, thumps the table with his fist, “Mr. Ansell, you remember when the cops stopped me in September, and I refused to let them search my car? I mean, they almost arrested me.”
Mae reacts, “Of course, they did. They get really pissed when you know your rights and assert them. Exercising your rights is most likely to get you arrested, hurt, or killed. You know that Dad.”
“What I also know is that if you don’t stand up for your rights, they may find or plant something in their search that will leave you facing criminal charges. I know that for a fact.”
Helga pleads, “So what’s the right answer here?”
Darin squeezes Helga’s hand. “You damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Aaron asked them to call the duty sergeant. I mean, you told him to do that Pops. And it worked that time.”
“Yeah, but by the time the duty sergeant got there three San Juan cop cars and one Highway Patrol car were there. Just because I wouldn’t let them search my car. I was scared I was going to die. Mr. Ansell, next time, I’m going to let them search. That was too much pressure.”
Mae points at me, “Dad, I’ll stand up for my rights always. You know that, but everybody ain’t like me, you know?”
Darin gives his sister a hard stare, “Sure, if you’re alone, okay, but if you got other lives to think about…” He pulls Helga closer to him. She shivers.
“Maybe we need to take a break. I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom—”
Mae turns to face her brother, “I’m not asking anything of you, Darin. I’m just telling you what I would do, you know?”
Aaron tries to change the subject. “Mom joined Black Lives Matter. She was picketing last week.” We all bump fist and exhale, relax a little.
Mae turns to Aaron, “What about you?”
Aaron snaps back, “What about me?”
Mae shrugs, “Are you about fighting back?”
“Damn! Just surviving here every day’s fighting back.”
“Hey, Pops, the cops stopped Asako’s mom for speeding, and the cop asked her did she know how fast she was going and Ms. Nakamura told him she didn’t have to answer any incriminating questions. The officer threatened to arrest them both. I mean, she was right, right?
“Darin, you have the right to remain silent—”
Mae cuts me off, “But like any other right you use you piss them off, and they will look for some way to mess you over.”
“Mae’s right and if you lie to them or mislead them that may be a crime. So, the right to remain silent is critical in any police contact.”
Aaron stands suddenly, “And they can silence you for good for not answering their questions.” He pushes back his chair, shrugs off Mae’s hand and starts for the door. Mae follows him. I follow them. When I look back, the lovers have disappeared.
I believe that I see the end of the kids’ relationships fast approaching. Mae will not remain with someone less willing to be part of the struggle than she is.
I doubt if Helga will ever understand or accept the hatred that motivates so much savagery and oppression in this country.
I call Beth, “Hey you got a minute?”
“Greg, what happened? You sound so down.”
“Beth, is there any hope for us? I mean—”
“I know what you mean – this nation. Hold on. I’m going to fix a drink. I think this might be a long conversation. Gregory, you know we never talked this much when we were married.”
I look out the window and see Aaron and Mae kissing and making up. I follow Beth’s example and get a beer and wait for Beth to give me even a hint of hope.
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