Edmund Wallace II was irrevocably convinced that wickedness was a gene that could be passed down through generations.
You either had the gene or you didn’t. But once it caught, it could spread down your family tree like a wildfire, torching some or all of the branches in its path.
There was evidence of the wickedness everywhere, though never in his own family tree. But in his ex wife’s, there seemed to be no end to it. He prayed that the fire would end with her, but it didn’t.
He saw wicked in the face of his reflection – his youngest child – and wished he could smash the mirror. But it wasn’t the child’s fault. The wickedness had deep, tangled roots.
Before this reflection was a man, he was a boy-girl, and before it was a boy-girl it was Edmund’s one and only daughter. Before she was his daughter, her mother, now Edmund’s ex-wife, was wicked; and before his ex-wife was wicked, her uncle was a little on the fence. Yes, the wickedness originated in his ex-wife’s bloodline. Not his.
It wasn’t the wickedness itself that bothered him. It could be stomached. It was the flagrancy of it – the “in your face” flagrancy that forced itself into his otherwise comfortable four walls. It was the audacity to let the wickedness run wild in the streets and to declare itself boldly. It was that boldness of his youngest child, his own reflection, now staring right at him, barely blinking. There, in the front pew, the wickedness taunted him, dared him to challenge it.
He’d grown so startled by the young reflection that he’d almost forgotten where he was in that moment, on the fourth most important day in his life. He shook his head as if he could blink away the apparition, and snapped his eyes back to the bride, whose eyebrows were raised and furrowed tightly in anticipation.
“I-I do,” he proclaimed in a booming voice, a forced smile stretching its way across his face and then melting genuine as he stared at this woman.
He cupped her face with strong brown hands, met her lips and braided his strong arms around her back amidst thunderous cheering and stomping and shouting. The two looked at each other, her teary-eyed and smiling, him still shaking the fog in his head, and pressed their brows together.
They turned to face their loved ones, all dressed in their Sunday bests and hooting and hollering. Tambourines rattled the heavy air and Edmund’s eyes scanned everywhere, everywhere but that front pew. Grinning, the betrothed grasped each other’s hands, took a step forward, and in a great unison leap, jumped over the broom in the center aisle.
The cheers and shouting crescendoed and the two slowly made their way down the aisle, a newfound pep in their step. Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” rang out of the church speakers - her choice, not his - and the two sashayed down the road, Renata, ecstatic about the future sprawled out before them, and Edmund eager to leave the past in the first row pew.
Edmund’s raisin fingertips told him that he had been sitting in the hot tub for too long. Just a few more moments. It was cold out and he didn’t like the shock. So he just sat there shriveling up, lost in thoughts, only a few, scattered ones which included his newlywed status. No, his mind was much more preoccupied, as it often was, with the image of a bruised and blackened family tree.
In the rising steam he saw the face of the familiar stranger, his own spitting image, which had so audaciously attempted to make itself known on the fourth most important day of his life. The cafe au-lait skin, the large, deer-like brown eyes of thinly veiled emotion, the tense and strong jawline now sprinkled with stubble, the lips turned downward in uncertainty, dark eyebrows knotted as if pondering.
It was as if he had been staring at a younger version of himself. That thought made his stomach knot. He blinked away the thought, staring again at his crinkled raisin fingers. Sighing, he contemplated getting out before his wife grew suspicious of his whereabouts, but she had already appeared on the patio.
“Ariel... you’re thinking about her again,” Renata said, not asked, in the sing-songy voice she used when she was concerned. ”Why don’t you come inside? It’s late, babe.”
The headscarf on Renata’s head told Edmund that it was, in fact, late, at least 11:30 if not midnight. “Him,” he said uncomfortably, the knot in his stomach tightening, correcting her. “Yea, I was thinkin bout him.”
Renata’s lips lifted into a sarcastic half-smile. “Really, babe?”
“I know you ain’t down with all that PC shit,” Renata laughed, now smiling fully. “You ain’t gotta act like you are.” She rubbed away an itch on her scalp with the tips of her fingers.
“PC’s got nothing to do with it,” he snapped in a tone too harsh for the conversation. His voice rose like a wave without him knowing why. “He wanna be a man then he’s gonna get treated like one. He wanna be called ‘he’ then I’ma respect it and call him ‘he.’ And so are you.”
He slowly rose from the heated comfort of the tub, the cold hitting him like a sac of ice to the chest. He shivered heavily, either at the cold or at the conversation. “That wicked shit,” he said, wrapping a white hotel towel around his waist, “that didn’t start with him.”
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m laying in my partner’s bed doing nothing of consequence - listening to very old songs from my childhood and unearthing the memories attached to each of them.
The “Heartbeat Reggae Now” album, which is way more politically radical than I could understand as a child, comes with hot, sticky, sweet associations of riding around Philly in the back of papa’s truck. Hot because we’d always visit there in the middle of a blazing summer. Sticky and sweet because we’d pick up Rita’s at every opportunity. That’s what the Bay Area doesn’t have: good water ice. Not that snow cone shit, but the kind made from fruit juice and frozen bits of lemon and cherry.
Those were the only two flavors I’d get - the cherry staining my whole mouth and my white K-Swiss sneakers red, or the acidic lemon leaving my tongue tingling. The one time I encountered water ice in Mosswood Park during the Pan-African Festival 15 years later, you woulda thought I’d found the path toward world peace. Elation and the unearthing of sweet memories. Sadly, the company that sold it was in town only for the festival. Devastating.
I’ve been digging more lately. Digging in the crates for old music my dad used to play, digging through old stories I used to write (I finished a novel at 14 - it’s actually pretty legit), digging and digging. Singing my mother’s songs to my older brother when he gets sick. Reliving something, I’m not sure what.
It’s not exactly to escape the fact that I somehow am now an adult with adult responsibilities, because adulthood has its own sweetness and adventure. I guess it’s to honor where I come from, to hold sweet onto the memories that are my foundation. To exhume them and place them next to the new, fresh ones that I create each day. To continue the tradition of storytelling so important to my family history. Digging for memories like the greedy dig for precious stones.
Memory seems to transcend all sense of time and space. I can see the scenes of my life like photographs when I smell oil from a mosquito lamp, or feel the hot humid air, or hear a high trumpet not from a 60-year old Miles Davis album on Sunday morning. And it doesn’t matter that I live over 1,500 miles away from each of my parents - when I put on Fela or sing my mother’s songs, they are in the room with me. Weekends are especially poignant and sacred time for unearthing, for quiet reflection. For the comfort that memory brings. Something that I used to run from, I move towards my history with open arms and open heart.
But I’m still in search of good water ice.
musings of a Black, queer and genderqueer activist, educator, musician.