Today is January 1, 1999. I made a resolution last night to be the man that I’ve only dreamed to be. I brought JuJu to Atlanta to celebrate our new beginning. She graduates in the spring from nursing school, and with so much that’s happened this past year, I figured it was a great opportunity to get out of Shadesville to explore. 1998 taught me one thing. That there’s so many things I’ve focused on that at the end of the day, didn’t matter
I laid in bed looking at the ceiling while Jules slept quietly next to me. My breath smelled of alcohol from the night before. Her body laid limp under the blankets, I knew she was okay by the rise and fall of her chest. She drank hard, but I drank harder. We didn’t come with much money, so we stopped by a package store outside of Atlanta to pickup a few bottles of wine, one small bottle of gin, a six pack, and a pack of black and milds with the flavored vanilla tips. I’ve abstained from both alcohol and smoking for months, but this News Year Eve it was time to boogie-oogie-oogie.
We met a nice couple in the lobby of the hotel during the night festivities. A white man in his late 20’s was with a fine dark skinned sister that looked to be in her early 30’s. I never seen those types of couples in Shadesville, so it kinda held me captive for a moment. Her dark skin contrasted his white skin so much that they looked striking together. They laughed hard and were physically locked onto each other in a deep lust throughout the night. She kissed him with a lust that was almost over bearing. I wryly smiled and chuckled shyly about what was before my very eyes until suddenly her eyes locked with mine. She gave me this look, like, “black boi what ya staring at?” She smiled as though she was slightly intrigued and and introduced herself while quickly looking me up and down to get a feel for who I was and why I might be judging her. I had no judgments of her honestly. I had seen enough death these past few years to understand that life was to short to be living a life that you didn’t want.
I extended my hand towards her lover and said, “Carlos, and your name?” He looked me over to size me up, and quickly realized that Jules stood quietly behind me. “Carlos, you say—my name is Todd,” he said. Jules exchanged pleasantries with the woman, and she stated her name to be Sarah. I hadn’t seen blacks and whites mingling like this in awhile, as Shadesville still remained pretty segregated. This couple seemed to be madly in love, but I could perceive a sense of unease with them throughout the night. An interracial love with both sides of their families wondering, “why in the hell do you want to be judged the rest of your lives—the stares of white folks and black folks who wondered how, where, and when did they meet?” It must be hard for them both…But the love sure did look good.
I invited them both back to the room for a few drinks before the clock struck 12am. We drank and talked, drank some more and talked some more. I looked at Jules beauty from afar while I spoke to Todd. He was an interesting man, but he tried too hard to be someone that he wasn’t. He didn’t have to talk black for me to understand his point of view, but he still felt it to be necessary. He said, “what’s up dog” or “whats up pimping” enough for me to be slightly annoyed. I was ready to drink another gin and tonic to escape his “conversation and pleasantries”. I wasn’t really sure if it was the alcohol making him over compensate or if he truly just had a corny personality? I smiled and quietly deflected his angst and fear of being judged for his choice in woman. We headed back downstairs after a few more bottles of beer and cups of gin and mixer disappeared into garbage cans that were now quickly becoming full. I snacked on salty chips and bite size sandwiches to soak up the alcohol. We left the room staggering back towards the sounds of rhythm and blues that made my heart thump.
“Sarah, I’m going to use the bathroom,” Todd giggled.
“Carlos, me to, I need to pee,” Jules hiccupped and belched.
In what seemed to be a flashing moment, Sarah grabbed my hand and kissed my mouth. “Are you jealous of seeing a white man touch me?” she asked. I didn’t stop her kiss, and didn’t feel compelled to answer her question. I knew she felt confused. All the other black men she had seen over the months or even years probably judged her with some sense of displeasure. But again, what she didn’t realize, is that I had already become numb to this life.
I felt as though we kissed for 10 minutes but maybe it was only 10 seconds. Time skipped a beat, and the alcohol had made me so terribly confused. I was back on the dance floor dancing with Jules, passionately hugging her and dancing to the song “1999”. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. HAPPY NEW YEAR the crowd screamed.
Recounting my broken memories from the night before made me silently laugh. That black girl was crazy. I stared at Jules, and also watched the clock to make sure she wouldn’t skip lunch. We needed to head home in a few hours to make sure we got things situated for work in the morning.
I got undressed to get into the shower. I looked in the mirror and thought the same thing everyone thinks in a new year…”what’s my resolution?” I thought silently, and the only phrase that came to mind was, “be better”. The shower ran, and I heard Jules ask, “Carlos, where you at baby?” “I’m about to be in the shower baby,” I replied.
I stood and looked at myself. My eyes fierce, my chest flexed, and my mind focused, “be better,” I said in a muffled voice. “Be better for yourself, be better for Jules, be better for the memory of mom, dad, and Siena. On January 1st 1999 I wrote myself a letter. My resolution was to “be better” but to get there I sat and considered all the things that I needed to do to become the man that I said I wanted to be. I didn’t know it then, but 1999 would be a year that I would never forget.
Author, Sam Blakemore, August 20, 2017