“Ask,” I’d quickly say.
We’d go through the genealogy. Ezra Senior was a Cherokee Indian. Gram’s mother, Georgiana, was almost as dark as the bottom of the sea. I asked my mother, “Where did the blue eyes come from?”
“That’s a good question,” Mom said. “It has a lot to do with race-mixing. What do you think happened to the Indians when Columbus so-called discovered America? It wasn’t friendly. I’m sure Native Americans had children by white colonists. Those genes are probably what you see in Grandma and her siblings.”
∗ ∗ ∗
It was supposed to be a night of dinner and the theater: The Vagina Monologues. There’s some irony in that. Profits from the production go toward stopping the physical and sexual abuse of women.
Instead, it was a night of police, EMTs, and on-scene line-ups.
What I saw that night in Hillcrest shocked my very soul and left me questioning, What is happening to our community? That night, I wept for humanity. I wept until my body was choked with disappointment, choked with the hate. It was like that Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. All that blood, all that violence, all those people standing by, just watching a brutal attack. All that trauma in the trendiest part of town.
But because of Gram’s lessons in courage, I did not back down from a righteous confrontation.
∗ ∗ ∗
“Hi, my name is Fred. I’m the prosecutor in this case. Thanks for being here.”
“No problem,” I said. As if I had a choice. Ignoring a subpoena could land me in jail.
Our case would be called soon, and Fred wanted us to be ready to go inside the courtroom. If only Portia de Rossi would reprise her role of Nell Porter from Ally McBeal and prosecute this case. Then I wouldn’t mind so much being in the stinky Hall of Justice. But, no, I’m stuck with Fred. If I wanted red-headed kids, he would be perfect; maybe, in a very tight pinch, Fred would do.
“This is kind of strange,” I said to Paula, the scene being nothing like Law and Order.
“Yeah,” Paula said. “I wonder what we are going to have to do when we go in.”
A set of old wooden doors cranked open, and men and women in suits fell out into the hallway. All of them had some sort of briefcase on wheels. Some carried manila folders with papers spilling out.
“Okay, guys, we’re up,” Fred said with spunk. “We all go inside, and you just find a place to sit near the back.”
Was that what we were there for, to sit in the audience of the courtroom?
Paula and I walked inside. And there he was, at the head of everything — the judge in his great robe. I recognized his face; he’d been the judge in the John Gardner murder trial. That was freaky.
The guy who’d beaten Rose bloody was escorted into the courtroom in cuffs. Rose became visibly distraught. Her friends, who were there for support, wrapped their arms around her. They wiped her tears away and whispered in her ear. I imagined what they were saying. You’re okay, you’re safe, it’s going to be all right.
Now I realized why I was in the courtroom. This trial was real, and very important.
I thought back to Rose’s attack. During breaks at previous hearings, she’d told me the defendant had wanted to rape and rob her. I’d never seen so much blood as I did that night. I knew that if the assailant had continued to punch her in the head and face, he would have killed her. Unlike others who stood there on the street or watched from their restaurant tables, I could not bear to witness another human being — especially a woman — get beaten to death.
Rose could have been my mother. Rose could have been my best friend from college. Rose could have been the love of my life. So I did what I had to do.
Gram wouldn’t have had it any other way.
My grandmother often carried a razor blade under her tongue. She’d bring it out with the tip of her tongue and use her front teeth to steady it. If needed, she could grab it with her right hand and slice her abusive husband — or anybody else who got out of line.
An old family friend once said with a chuckle, “Yo grandma would leave any Negro lookin’ like a carved Thanksgivin’ turkey.”
But all I had that night in Hillcrest was my cell phone.
I told the 911 operator, “He’s wearing a pair of black Adidas with three white stripes down the side, a pair of faded camouflage shorts, and a white tank top with blood smeared on the front and the back.”
“Is he still in your face?” asked the operator.
“No. He is pacing, walking toward University, and then walking back to me. He’s still trying to grab at her.”
“I got your location. The police and paramedics are almost there. Can you see them?”
The paramedic truck passed us by. Paula tried to wave them down from the street, but they didn’t see her.
“They just passed by us,” I said, frustrated. “We are closer to Washington Street, not University Avenue.”
“Okay, they’re turning back around now.”
I sat Rose down on the curb and tried to stop her bleeding. Her assailant ran to the CVS, to dispose of his bloody tank top.
The paramedics put Rose in a neck brace, strapped her to a stretcher, and took off. Police officers descended on the crime scene. Some snapped photos of the smears and mini-pools of blood on the sidewalk. They also took pictures of the surrounding buildings.
The cops had Paula and me, along with two other witnesses, lined up against a wall. One by one, we answered their questions about what we had seen or done. It lasted for two hours.