15 years after Fear

Fifteen years ago, the world changed. Hate broke through, grabbing headlines, stealing lives, and conquering certain freedoms.

But it never overcame hope.

I didn’t lose anybody that day, but my life has been plagued by anguish because of it. When I began writing this post, I considering going into a long-winded diatribe, trying to describe the pain, the pride… the American heart.

But I can’t.  What I have to say is not eloquent or ground-breaking. It isn’t special, and it isn’t even grammatically correct.

Instead, I will let my fragmented emotions speak for themselves.

I am proud to be an American. I am honored to have loved a true patriot and blessed to love another still, even if that patriotism serves as a great divide.

I hope for safety. I hope for life. I hope for a day when every man woman and child on this earth can safely walk down any street of their choosing, without fear.

I long for the day we break free of fear.

Until then, I support the fight against terrorists. I root for the heroes, from every walk of life, that risk themselves to make the world a little brighter.

I am in awe of those who move forward.

Fifteen years ago, America changed. The world changed.

Fifteen years after that fateful day, I mourn the loss of those who died. I thank those who continue to risk their lives to this day. I worry over those who will risk it one day.

Fifteen years from now, the world will look back, and the sentiment will be the same.

We will never forget, and Fear?

You will never win.

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Me vs. Him

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No. Come on. Tell me this ain’t it. This can’t be it, man. Not like this.

Not like this.

Six, just six minutes ago, I was sittin’ in my car ‘n everything was fine. I was safe, and didn’t have no bullets piercin’ my body. I mean, yeah, ok. I’m man enough to admit I was nervous as hell. Man, the truth is, I was a hot mess, just drippin’ with sweat, lookin’ at my fractured reflection in that rear-view mirror like somehow, it was gonna make me man up. I remember studyin’ my wide, scared eyes in that dinky little mirror, givin’ myself a pep talk like a crazy man. Haha. Damn. I don’t think I’ve been that nervous since I had to go to my Ma’s funeral. Then, just like today, I remember talkin’ to my reflection like that was a normal thing to do. “You got this, Deshawn. You got this. So, stop bein’ such a baby. Man up. Go in there, n’ get this done.”

This was it. There could be no goin’ back. Everything was all set up. It was just a matter of me walkin’ in there, ‘n gettin’ this done. I huffed out the breath I’d been holdin’ as I unfolded myself, and the cumbersome door to Old Blue squawked to a thudding close. This was it. Nothin’ would ever be the same again. Nothin’.

Every step I took was filled with their voices replaying in my head. “Man, you’re crazy.”

“Don’t do it, Deshawn. You gonna regret this the rest of your life.”

“You outta your mind?”

“What the hell you gonna go ‘n do that for? Huh?”

“This ain’t gonna go your way, man. It never do.”

Then there was my sister, always there for the cautionary tale. She had put her hands to both sides of my face, makin’ sure I had nowhere else to look. “Are you sure this is what you want? Deshawn, you have to make sure this is what you want because there isn’t a way back from this. If it doesn’t work out, your life will never be the same.”

As I gripped the scalding black door handle and yanked, I caught my reflection again, but that time it was a new man that I saw as the clear glass panel door moved past me. I saw confidence and strength. Man, I saw my damn future. The thought that kept runnin’ through my mind the most was my buddy Antwon’s. When I told him what I had planned for today, he slapped me on the back of my head. “Boy! What you gonna do that for? You’re crazy!”

Crazy? Maybe, but damn it. I had to try.

Catchin’ the attention of the Security Guard at the door, I gave the obligatory nod ‘n moved further inside. Man, I could feel his blue eyes boring into my back. Just because a man, a black man, walks in to a place like that, it’s gotta mean he’s up to no good, don’t it? I felt the familiar cloud of injustice move into my mind. Bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I had just as much right to be there as anyone else did.

Anyone.

Just ‘cause I didn’t have the nicest car, n’ ‘cause I wasn’t dressed in no suit, they all assumed I didn’t belong. Hell, they didn’t know the first thing about me. No more than I knew about them, but did that stop them from jumpin’ to conclusions? Nope. They only saw me as a black man, in a place that swirled with money, money they assumed could belong only to them.

They had no idea that I had everythin’ all set up before I even stepped foot in that building. They had no freakin’ clue that I had everything taken care of, planned out, and by night’s end… my destiny would be altered. Richer. Better. No. They didn’t see any of that. They just saw me, a black man, in the same vicinity as them, and I could see their narrow minds turnin’. I could see them gaugin’ me, watchin’ me, waitin’ for me to do somethin’ crazy.

Good.

Crazy was what I went there to do.

*          *          *

 “No, no. It’s on me Officer. You have a good day now.”

“Thank you.” I smiled at the aging restaurant owner, throwing more than enough to cover the bill into the tip jar. It was the middle of the afternoon, on a scorching July day in Las Vegas. The restaurant wasn’t exactly packed. I wouldn’t be hogging a table from anyone, but a quick bite was all I had time for, and I’d already gone a bit out of the way to make it here. I liked stopping in. The food was good, but the service was what drew me back regularly.

Then, just as I was getting ready to leave, I saw a twenty year old land boat pull into the parking lot of the jewelry store across the lot. The car had been puzzled together over the years by matching intact panels of similar cars to form one, mostly blue piece of crap that couldn’t be worth more than one grand. Tops.

With a sigh, I called it in over the radio. Time to poke my head in, make my presence known. Lord knew nobody with a car like that could afford anything more than air at a place like this, and I worried about what he might be looking for.

He was African-American, 6’4”, maybe 275 lbs. Big boy. I nodded to the Security Guard as I entered, and feigned interest in the glittering, gleaming items behind the glass cases, careful to keep out of his line of sight.

“Excuse me.” He muttered as one saleswoman walked to address two teen girls and their mother. “Excuse me.” He tried again with a young man suddenly overcome by a need to move to the back of the store. The black man tsked his tongue. “Man, come on.” He grumbled, turning to try along another case in front of a bank of windows. I quickly swooped around a young couple fawning over wedding bands at a case in the center of the store, but I had been so focused on the big guy, I didn’t see their stroller.

“Sorry! Sorry!” I called out as the stroller and I both clattered to the floor.

A newborn began crying and screaming from the floor, but his stroller had protected him. Or her. Who could tell what that bald, screaming infant was? Either way, the child hadn’t been harmed. Of course, Mom and Dad acted as though I had just murdered it in front of their very eyes.

“He’s ok. He’s ok.” I attempted to persuade Mom as she cradled her precious little one in her arms. Dad looked like he wanted to bluster, create a scene, but eyeing my uniform, he too chose to worry over the wrinkled little creature in a yellow onesie.

As for me? I’d lost sight of my target in all the commotion. Just as I placed one hand on the glass countertop for balance and returned to my feet, I heard it.

Pop.

It was unmistakable. A small caliber and followed quickly by another.

Pop.

Screams and panic clogged the store. “Get down!” I ordered. “Police! Freeze!” Where was he? Damn it? Where did he go? He was a giant in a world of glass. So, where the hell was he?! The child continued to scream and clamor. People whispered and whimpered as I stalked toward the door where the shots had called out from.

Pop.

Another shot rang out in harmony with a woman’s scream. “Help! Please! My husband!” I saw a small river of blood creeping around a bend in the store. I hurried to place my back along the interior wall, weapon at the ready. I turned just in time to see my mark running, barreling toward me.

And I fired. Pop.

The woman screamed again. Until that moment, I had never known what people meant when they said blood-curdling, but in that moment, as her hands shot to her ears, burrowing through her mane of red curls and she threw her body down on that of her husband, I knew. It was the scream of desperation, of someone’s soul leaking out, made vulnerable by circumstances. And that vulnerability made the blood pumping through the veins of anyone within earshot run cold. Run slow. Curdled.

I saw the giant drop to his knees, scampering toward a corner. That was when I realized, he hadn’t been barreling toward me. He was angled like he was trying to render aid, help the man who had been shot, but that couldn’t be.

After all, he’d been the one that shot him. “Drop your weapon!” I ordered.

“What?” He feigned confusion, but my bullet must have missed him because he didn’t look hurt. He looked scared, and fear in these situations was never good. “Hey!” He raised one palm to me, but his other dove into his pocket. “We’re cool. Look-”

Pop. Pop. Pop.

I fired three more shots, and the woman screamed again. Then, I saw them. Motion drew my eye out the window to the front parking lot, and three punk kids, white kids, were running, stumbling over one another, looking back in fear at the store. And the last one?

The last one tucked a 9 mm into his back waistband.

The world began to move in slow motion then. The big man who had absorbed three of my bullets was grunting as gravity slowly compelled him to the floor. “It’s ok.” He muttered. “It’s ok. It’s ok. It’s not me. It’s not me.”

Shit! It wasn’t him. With weapon drawn, I moved in. “Drop it!” I demanded, as he struggled to pull his hand from his pocket. I radioed for back-up, time slowly ticking on.

“I bought it online.” He was struggling to draw breath.

“Freeze!” Damn it! “Freeze.”

“I was just pickin’ it up.” His words were rushed, in a hurry to make sense of the life I’d robbed him of. “Just pickin’ it up. It’s my destiny man. She’s the one.”

I stood directly above him as his body grew lax. His arm gave way easily when nudged by the toe of my shoe and a small, white box popped out of his pocket.

“My life was gonna…. Change. It’s crazy man…. But… she’s the one. She’s the one. Saved for a year for… a year for this.” His mouth was hardly moving anymore as his voice grew more and more distant.

The pool of his blood reached out and joined that of the man below the sobbing red-haired woman on the floor. Horrified, she looked up to me. “My husband.” She pleaded.

“Ambulance is on the way, Ma’am.”

“He’s dead. My husband’s dead. He’s all I had.” She was sobbing as she hugged the lifeless body of her husband. That, just that sentiment had visions of my own wife, my own life, flickering through my mind. My wife was a beautiful, glorious, wonderful woman I didn’t deserve. What would she think now?

What had I done?

I studied the box that lay amid the blood. Red blood. Blood from two men. One white. One black. But, both … both had bled red.

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Note from the author: Racial prejudice. It’s an antiquated point of view, one that people on every side of that racial divide tend to fall victim to. In this piece, I choose to point out some examples:

1) Me: Am I a racist for using a stereotypical black man’s voice in the first part of this piece? I think not. I chose a voice, any voice, and in so doing, I am allowed the creative choice to select this one. Your beliefs about what is and is not appropriate do not dictate what I choose to write.

2) The employees in the store: Are they racist for ignoring the black man who approached them for assistance? Not necessarily. The first one went to help people who were already waiting in a store, people who were there first. The other went into a back room, but you, me, and anyone who might have walked into that store couldn’t know what for. Perhaps he was grabbing an item he had promised to somebody he was already helping. Maybe the manager had called him back. Maybe he was violently ill and needed to use the restroom. Could he have greeted the black man and apologized, promising to help him in a moment? Perhaps. But, bad etiquette does not equal racism. Split second judgments or presuming the cold shoulder when there was no such intent is a problem that widens the divide.

3) The cop: Was he a racist because he was following the black man into and around the store? Again, not necessarily. He is trained to identify things that look out of place. A man in clothes different from others in a store, in an area, and in a vehicle that do not blend is bound to garner his attention. It wasn’t necessarily his skin color that drew that attention. However, skin color is a part of one’s description, one that surely, a police officer would be expected to see. For all we know, the officer could have been adopted by a black family, have a black wife and children. If you assumed he was a racist because he was aware that his skin color was different from the man who looked out of place in that store, perhaps you need to think about your own racial tendencies.

4) You: Are you a racist because you fell for the ploy? At the onset of the story did you think he was going to rob the store? Was it my fault? Did I, the storyteller, lead you to that presumption? Sure. But you know what? Life is a story. Every one of us stars in our own, and without looking into the other chapters, understanding the steps somebody has taken to reach this point in their arch, knowing their past, their history, we can never truly know what motivates them.

Was Deshawn a victim in this story, a victim of the Officer? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean the cop is a bad guy. It means he made a mistake, one he will have to live with the rest of his life. Now, I’m not saying it’s ok for police to kill innocent men. I’m not saying a mistake is allowed because of the uniform. No. I simply point out that we all make mistakes, and when your job is to walk the line between right and wrong, sometimes, sometimes mistakes are bound to happen. We all have our own preconceived notions. We have to stop jumping to rash conclusions because of the few moments of video we see online. It’s not the full story. It cannot be.

Now, you may turn me to statistics, point out the number of African-Americans killed at the hands of white cops, but don’t stop your investigation there. Look up the statistics of the number of African-American police officers. What percentage of the force do they make up? Isn’t it more likely that someone, anyone would die at the hands of a white officer, than a black?

Yes.

Look into the number of violent offenders. Are they disproportionately minorities? Are they more likely to resist arrest? Are they more fearful of officers in general? These are all problems, I agree. However, they are also a part of the puzzle. We must address police violence head on. We must challenge the number of black men killed by white Officers. But more than that, we must look further. We must omit the divide between races. Here, in America, we have fought and died to become one homogenous group of people, but this past decade has seen us retreating from that beauty. Hate and ignorance have stoked the flames of unrest. There is very little regard for law and justice. Its as though technology has brought out our inner barbarians, and something must change. This is unacceptable. We must heal together. We must fight together, and we always, always, must appreciate the brave men and women who volunteer their lives every single day in the pursuit of justice, of peace, and the protection of you, and of me.

~Jennifer L. Meacham

This Memorial Day, a writer bares her soul…

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Ah, Memorial Day… for many it signifies the kick off of summer, a time for family, fun, sun, barbeques and a glorious three day weekend. For others, it’s a day of patriotism and the unabashed pride we feel as Americans.

For others… it can be a difficult day. The loss of a loved one is never easy, but to lose them in war is separate. I’ve talked in the past of how the pain fuses with pride, that there is no better cause for death than the defense of our country and the fight for freedom. But today… today I will focus on just the loss. The pain. The consequence of loving somebody brave, selfless and heroic.

Today, I will talk about what it means to love a true patriot. We all know that the inherent risk of life, is death. But, when you love somebody in the military, a military contractor or agent in one of those agencies cloaked in secrecy, your heart becomes even more vulnerable. Every day you wake up telling yourself that you are proud of them, because you are, that what they are doing matters, because it does, and that they will come home safe, because they have to. But, for some, those loved ones don’t get to come home. And what then?

Yes, their loss of life is tragic and overwhelming. But for the loved ones who have to carry on with that void in their lives, their heart, their soul, it is more than tragic. It defines them.

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Some people fracture into a million different pieces scattered to the wind. For the lucky few, they will be surrounded by loved ones who help piece them back together, however many times it takes. While they can again become their whole selves, the ridges, the fractures where those pieces come back together will always be there, marking the destruction and readying to scatter again.

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Others simply split wide open, their emotion pouring out so quickly that they lose themselves in the flood. Drowned. Gone. Never to be seen again. These are the broken few who never move past it, who struggle to wake up every day, who surrender to their grief and fall into the endless ravine of despair. This loss can culminate in bad habits of alcoholism, suicide, drug abuse… the list is endless. The common theme is isolation. Because they lost that precious one, they give up all the other aspects of their life because it becomes too painful to move on with a hole in your heart.

Others handle the loss much better. They are strong enough to reach out for help, to allow people in to grieve with them and pull them along, furthering their life. They keep the lost loved one safe and secure, a precious memory in their heart. They go on to live a full and happy life, honoring their lost loved one and never forgetting their sacrifice. .

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The truth is, there is another group of mourners. When we endure loss, we don’t know how to process it. Instead, we shut down. We grow cold and forego not only joy, but the ability to connect with others. We turn our back on empathy for fear it will chip away at the dam we built around our heart and are keenly aware that it only takes one little chip in that dam to cause the entire thing to give way. We become frigid ice queens, unable to establish relationships with others, including deep friendships because life has taught us the moment we care, we lose that person. Eventually though, luck may give us another chance. We may encounter somebody who climbs that wall around our heart. Unfortunately, it takes a heroic person to climb that wall, and if they are another patriot, affiliated with the military in any way… we run. Us ice queens, we know we’re damaged goods, and more importantly we believe in the greater good. If we suffered a loss because of war, we can’t bring ourselves to endure it again. We are strong enough to know we can’t overcome such devastation a second time and are too weak to risk it.

So this Memorial day, please take a moment, a moment to reflect, to remember all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and all those left in the wake of loss, who continue to grieve, to suffer, to endure. After all, we are Americans. We are resilient. Strong. Powerful. Everyday we wake up and our soldiers lace up. Our brave men and women put their lives on the line for a free world, and their loved ones hold their breath, hoping, praying they can wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

~Jennifer L. Meacham

To all those who pee..

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This may come as a surprise to you, but the truth is… we all pee. It is the other aspects of our lives where we differ. Our background, beliefs, experiences… they shape us all into the special, individual and very different people we are.

And one of those differences? Faith. It’s a precious and beautiful thing. A lot of you reading this may hold deeply religious values. Your religion is your guide and is entirely unique to you, as it should be. Personally, I don’t have faith in the traditional sense, but I will admit, there are times when I wish I did.

Though I’m not a religious person, please understand, I don’t begrudge you for yours. It helps mold you into the amazing and wonderful person you are, creating an experience that belongs entirely to you, and you alone. From what I understand, most believers’ greatest hope is that their family will share the same belief system and values. I can’t think of anything more pure than the desire to share that which is most important to you, with those you love, nor can I imagine the joy when you realize they share your faith.

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However, my reservations kick in when we enter the public sector. You see, the moment you go into enterprise, those beautiful values cannot trump the laws in place on a Federal, or even a local, level. Those laws were established to protect your employees and your patrons. When you go into business, you understand that there will be taxes, labor laws, etc. that you will, however begrudgingly, have to adhere to. That is what the Federal Government was born to do; regulate and protect. So, why are we now having a public tug-of-war over bathroom access, or more simply, equality?

Equality. In 2016, in America, with an African-American President and a female poised to take that very seat in the coming election, you’d think equality wouldn’t be so hard to grasp. Yet, we can’t even agree that all people should be able to pee freely. Yes. I know the arguments on both sides, and I will do my darndest to address several of them here. So, please bear with me.

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First, to the argument of religious morality, and the staunch claim that our lack of morality will unmoor our country and spin us into the depths of hell. Equality for all people in our country is not supposed to be optional, nor is it open to interpretation by your religious values. That is why we have a little thing called separation of Church and State. I mean, do you think polygamists should  be able to marry their 7th wife, on the eve of her 14th birthday, without people batting an eye? Should we be able to sacrifice the obnoxious neighbor down the road under the guise of a religious sacrifice to keep the demons happy? Should we be able to shoot up with our drug of choice while operating a bus your children ride to school on without fear of repercussions because we believe in a freer God?

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No.

So despite the fact that the majority of our religions in this country are Christian-based, your religion does not get to dictate who our first and second class citizens are. Yes. I realize it was “Christians who built this country”, and though that sentiment is entirely broad, if not off base, I understand the intention behind that phrase, and I am grateful for our founding fathers’ ideals. However, I am also distinctly aware of not only the times those values were flawed, but the countless times they changed. I also recall that it was those very same Christian founding fathers who established a system of balance.

They institutionalized the justice system, a system entirely independent of religion to ensure those values did not blind the world to the truth. So it seems to me, these very Christians who “made this country what it is”, did in fact, make it what it is. And, what it is, is glorious and unfettered by religious law.

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Second, though some individual states are trying to flex their muscles and implement their own laws regardless of the Federal rulings, this will not last forever. Yes. I ardently believe States should have rights, and you know what? They do. However, equality is not something they get to determine of their own free will. You may remember a certain war that made such attempts abundantly clear. To prevent another civil war, the Federal Government also has the power to correct such ill fated attempts. I am sure it is just a matter of time until the US Supreme Court rules and ensures that all law-abiding citizens are equally free to pee. In fact, the Federal Government has already implemented a civil suit against the first state in this very matter.

Third, I don’t know what business it is of any of us who identifies with what sexuality. Do I personally understand how it must be to feel you were born into the wrong body? No, and that’s coming from a girl who in high school was as tom-boy as tom-boy could be. I rocked my jinco jeans and thrift shop mechanic work-shirt emblazoned with the nametag “Bob” sewed onto the front, but I never, ever felt that I was meant to be a male. But, that does not mean those who have such an inclination are wrong. Their life, and their experience is as unique, as primal, and entirely intimate to them as your religion is to you. They aren’t denying you your religion or your beliefs. They are simply asking that you please stop demanding they live by yours. Now, most transgender people, when they complete the process… I hate to break it to you, but you can’t identify them as their former selves. So in those states that deny people the ability to use a restroom they identify with, we now in fact, have a problem. To you and me, and everyone else, it will now appear that a man is using the women’s restroom. And do you know why?

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Because THEY ARE. A transgender man, who looks like, who acts like, who IS a man, is now required to use a women’s restroom. They now have to fear for their safety if somebody sees them and assumes they are a pervert or a pedophile, the very thing opponents claim to fear.

Fourth – the issue of perverts and pedophiles. Ok everyone. Deep breath. Do me a favor. Look up the statistics on how many sexual assaults have been committed in public restrooms. Not as high as you thought, huh? And now look up how many of those acts were committed by a transgender person…. crickets? That definitely isn’t what you thought, was it? Now, I’ve done some research on this, and there are conflicting numbers. However, the number I keep coming across is: 3%. 3% of sexual assaults committed by strangers take place in public restrooms. Of those, less than one percent are committed by transgender individuals…. And that brings me to my next question… why do people think, or rather, assume transgender individuals are perverts anyway? What do they base that on? I can think of a lot of straight, non-transgender people who truly are perverts. Yet, an individual who strives to be comfortable in their own skin, who want the world to see them as they see themselves is labeled sexually deviant? Why? On what basis? What is it about transgender individuals that makes people immediately assume there is something wrong with them? It’s not as if they run around committing sex acts. They go about their lives, just like you and I.

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Here’s my bottom line:

You have to stop lying to yourself. This argument isn’t about bathrooms. It’s about what you deem wrong, and dare I say, a sin. Yep. At the end of the day, this is about your religion, and your belief that transgender individuals are wrong in making personal choices about their own bodies and experience that have absolutely no impact on your life.

The truth is this: If somebody is going to go into a restroom to rape or attack someone else, this law has absolutely zero impact on them anyway. Zip. Zilch. Nada. After all, a criminal is a criminal. They would do this regardless of laws, rules, and regulations. That is in fact, the classic definition of a criminal, isn’t it?

Also, isn’t that the very same argument many of you make when we discuss gun laws? That the bad guys don’t fret over troublesome things like laws, and certainly don’t worry about breaking them? So how is it then that those magical little laws restrict access to restrooms, guaranteeing the safety of all from perverts and pedophiles, but yet those same magical powers don’t transfer into the firearms and background check discussion? Just remember, that Bill of Rights you cling so ardently to when discussing the second Amendment right to bear arms, is part of the process that separates Church and State.

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And one final note, to those who don’t know me, I want to be clear. I am pro-gun. This sentiment is expressed here only to show the hypocrisy in the discussion.

~ Jennifer L. Meacham