Please don’t choose me, please don’t choose me, please don’t—
“Louis! Would you read the following paragraph about World War I?”
“Uh. . . Sure, Mrs. Henski.”
Reading aloud. Something I absolutely detest doing. I always mess up and make a fool of myself. Reading is not my God-given talent.
I started reading cautiously and slowly, “War World . . . I mean World War I began. . . in the year 1419.”
I heard the other 10-year-olds snicker as my teacher Mrs. Henski gave me a disapproving look. “Good job, Louis; may I speak with you after class?”
What could she want to talk about? Probably my last history exam that I didn’t do so well on. Or maybe the fact that I didn’t clean up my work area completely. Whatever it is, I really do hope I’m not in trouble. I just want to go home and continue listening to the Beatles’ new album.
After class, Mrs. Henski flagged me down. “Louis, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your reading. You seem to get quite a few letters and numbers mixed up as you read. It’s possible that you may have a learning disability. I will have to speak to your parents about this.”
Mrs. Henski sent me on my way home to tell my parents that they have an illiterate son. With tears in my eyes I walked past our small dairy farm and into the house. Mother greeted me with her typical hug and kiss and “How was school, darling?” before I broke the news to her.
“Mother. . . Mrs. Henski needs to talk to you about something.”
“Is that so? What is it? Were you being naughty again?”
“No, Ma’am. I. . . I can’t read!” I said with frustrated tears in my eyes. “Mrs. Henski wants to talk to you about how stupid I am.”
“You are most definitely not stupid, Louis! You and I both know what a talented and handsome young man you are.”
I grew instantly tired of my mother’s coddling. She knows I have no talents. I feel as if she just cajoles me because I am her son. I grabbed a glass of milk and strode out the back door. I needed to go on a walk. To clear my thoughts, to clear my head. I walked for what seemed like an eternity, taking in the green grass, the blue sky, the smell of manure; everything was perfect.
“Out of my way, Nigger!”
The perfectness of the moment was broken. I looked to see where the raspy voice was coming from. A white boy, who looked to be about my age, standing over a small, olive-skinned girl covering her face with her hands.
I walked up to them. “What are you doing? Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
I should not have said that last sentence. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground. Blood rushed out of my nose and soaked my clothes, my right eye swelled . . . the small, olive-skinned girl looked down at me. She looked at me with big eyes the color of the night sky.
She spoke softly: “You were out for a few minutes, there. I thought you was dead. He knocked you pretty hard. I never seen a white boy strike another white boy.”
“Yeah . . . well it happens sometimes, I guess.”
She nodded understandingly and held out a small drawing pad and a pencil toward me. “I just figured I’d give you this. Y’know, as a token of my thanks for what you did.”
I reluctantly took the pad and pencil from her. I watched her leave, her petite frame and dark curly hair made her look like a doll. Before she was completely out of earshot, I called out to her. “I’m sorry, but what is your name?”
She looked back over her shoulder at me. “Jocelyn. Jocelyn Lee Perry.”
I wondered if I would ever see her again. I hoped I would see her again.
Sitting down on the grass in my blood-stained clothing, I put the pad and pencil to work. Holding the pencil firmly in my left hand, I drew the landscape, I drew the sun, I drew the cattle I saw roaming about; and I drew her. It was then I realized that even though I may not have a knack for reading, I sure do have one for drawing.
“Do you, Louis Joe Brown, take this woman, Jocelyn Lee Perry, to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
“Yes—I mean, I do.”
Heart racing, palms sweaty, I looked into Jocelyn’s beautiful eyes; as dark as the night sky. I wanted that moment to last forever and be over as soon as possible at the same time.
“Do you, Jocelyn Lee Perry, take this man, Louis Joe Brown, to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
“I do,” she said with a delightfully playful grin on her round face.
Feeling sick with excitement and wanting to burst into tears, I kissed her for what felt like the first time. At that moment, I realized I am the first person in my family to marry outside our race; it didn’t matter, though, because I knew I was making the right decision.
Martin Luther King, Jr. A name of such importance, such presence. He was “The man who, more than any other, had awakened the hope of blacks and pricked the conscience of whites” (“Events). Ever since I married Jocelyn, he has been our inspiration. Jocelyn and I had the opportunity to witness his “I Have a Dream” speech live. He amazes me with his passion, drive, and his strong desire for racial equality.
“LOUIS! NOW! IT’S TIME!”
Jocelyn’s screams scared the living daylights out of me. The day was April 4, 1968; the day of our baby’s birth. I quickly sent for our midwife, Tabitha. She thought it would be best to send me out of the house, since she didn’t know how long the labor would last. I protested, of course, but to no avail. I grabbed my 16-year-old pad given to me by Jocelyn and was on my way, walking through the city of Memphis, Tennessee.
Sitting cross-legged on the ground, I felt like a 10-year-old boy again. I started to draw what my newborn baby would look like; he would have my strong jawline and blue eyes, or maybe she would have Jocelyn’s curly hair and round face. My daydreaming was interrupted by screaming again. Although this time it was louder and involved more voices. Before I could understand what was happening, a young black man ran into me, panting, tears in his eyes.
“Please do excuse me, sir,” he slurred.
He started to run past me, but I grabbed his arm and pleaded with him to tell me what all the commotion was about. “The King . . . the King, he done been shot!” And he was off.
No, no, no, no. Not my King. It’s not possible.
Denial, denial, and more denial. I grabbed my pad and ran back home. I had to let Jocelyn and Tabitha know. They would be in even more shock than I was. I dashed up the front steps and burst into the door to be greeted by Tabitha holding a small bundle in her arms that was swaddled in blankets. For a moment I forgot about the assassination and held the small frame in my arms. I looked at Tabitha with pure joy in my eyes; she looked at me with sadness in hers.
“What’s wrong, Tab? How can anyone be sad at a time like this! She is so beautiful! Where is Jocelyn?”
“Louis . . . She . . . Jocelyn . . . I’m so sorry.”
No, no, no, no. Not my queen. It’s not possible.
I couldn’t help myself. Hot, angry tears flooded down my cheeks. Sobswracked my body. Tabitha took the child away from me for fear of me dropping her. MLK was just a man who “did many things to bring greater equality to America and to ensure civil rights for all people regardless of race” (“What). He didn’t deserve to die. And so young; only 39-years-old. And Jocelyn; she was the love of my life. We were going to raise this child together. We were going to hold our first grandchild together. We were going to die together.
I went to my bedroom, drawing pad in hand, and reminisced of our times together; I reminisced of the moments we shared just this past year. The time when we saw Star Trek air the first interracial kiss and made fun of the characters, saying that it should have been us. The times we struggled financially when President Johnson added a 10% surcharge to income taxes. The time we went to Rhode Island and attended our first Folk Festival and heard Arlo Guthrie perform a phenomenal 20-minute ballad. The nights we gathered around the television with our families to watch “Family Affair.” Even though I knew we would have no more good times like these, the times we did have were marvelous enough to last a lifetime.
I looked up to him. He was my role model, my star, my idol. He made me feel as if I could do anything I wanted to do, be anyone I desired to be. He remains the one and only reason for the life I live, the happiness I have found, and the person I have become.
I loved her. She was my everything, my universe, my darling. Whenever she was near, nobody else in the world existed. She was so beautiful; the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled, her untamable hair, her olive skin. She made me feel special. She was the ray of sunshine ripping through the darkness of my melancholy spirit.
“Events That Shaped the Century.” Our American Century. Time Life Books. Print.
“What Did Martin Luther King Do to Progress the Civil Rights Movement?” YourDictionary. n.p., 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
History.com Staff. “Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassination.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
“Understanding Dyslexia.” Understood.org. n.p., n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.
“Why Are so Many American Women Dying from Childbirth?” The Economist. 06 Aug. 2015. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.