Black and White Picture
There is a black and white picture of my dad holding me above the water when I was four. We still lived in Jamaica at the time. It is warped at the edges and our faces all have a yellow tinge to them. On the back of the picture it says Negril -1975. My cousin, Ian, is behind us, the sky blue water up to his chest. He looks like a vigilant lifeguard as concerned with showing off his eight year old muscles as he is about looking out for sharks and barracudas and me.
I don’t remember the picture being taken any more than I remember the day. I look like any little boy with his dad at the beach. You can’t tell me shit. My dad is laughing as he holds me by my waist and gets ready to toss me in.
Ian gave me the picture the first night he stayed with us. He took it out of his duffel bag and held onto it like it was a sacrament. He said he found it in Muma’s house in Brooklyn and that he thought it was important for me to have it.
There is a black and white picture of my dad. He looks like a fisherman casting his net. What can you catch with a four year old boy?
My father is not black. He is not white.
This is important Ian told me that night. He said my dad lived in a time and a place where being mixed like him was worse than being Black. White people in Jamaica are White people and have a place. Black people in Jamaica are Black people and have a place. Same for Chinese and Indian and Syrian people. Even certain types of mixed people are okay. Chiny-Black. Indian-Black. Syrian-Black. But people like your dad, whose father was an Uptown-Born Brown man and whose mother was a Kansas born farm girl, are placeless, Ian said.
Even the few black-white people in Jamaica who do exist are barely black, at least in their own heads, and have the kind of white they love to trace back to British Lords and Scottish Counts. Your father, Ian told me as he offered me the picture like I should take the fucking thing and place it on my tongue and say an Our Father, was out of every loop there was in Jamaica. Best way to put it, Ian added, is that your father was homeless in his own home.
There is a Black and White picture of my dad with his light eyes and copper skin. His hair is Coolie-Black, silk-straight, and in a pony tail. His hands look soft as they hold me.
Ian said that my dad had to move to the States when he was a teenager cause his stepmother was beating the shit out of him. This was after his mom and dad were divorced and his mom chose to leave him behind in Jamaica. Muma, our grandmother, told Ian that my grandfather’s new wife hated her new half-white stepson. According to Muma, the woman used to scream at my dad, as she beat him with the flat side of a cutlass, striking him like she was chopping at the trunk of a tree, scream that she will keep beating him until she beats the Bumba Clat White out of him.
There is a black and white picture of my dad standing in the sea holding a darker version of himself.
Ian said that when my dad came up to stay with his white mom in the fifties, during that time before she made crazy money selling paintings of coffee planters bent over brown fields in Jamaica, when she was still scraping by as a hairdresser to support her art, he used to have to hide in the shadows, behind lamp posts and around corners, so that her clients would not find out she had a nigger for a son.
There is a black and white picture of me. I am about to be flung out into the world. He will not retrieve me. Though I have no memory of the day, I am sure I swam back on my own. I have no evidence to contradict the thought. He will not save me if I drown. He will turn away. He will have a drink. He will shoot up with heroine. He will forget I am in the water.
Evidence to support the thought.
He once told me to wait in a playground while he kicked ball with some friends. I was seven. We were in Central Park. I hung out with some Jamaican nannies. They fell for his proper accent and his uptown-charm. Five hours later one of them was cussing serious patois-bad-words, talking about RAS DIS AND BUMBA CLAT DAT and threatening to call the police when he came back red-eyed asking me if I wanted to stay a bit longer.
He once brought me over to a woman’s house and told me to watch TV while they had drinks. I fell asleep watching an episode of Mork and Mindy. Mork was coming out of the space ship that was in the shape of an egg when I closed my eyes. When I woke up, it was to the sight of the woman sticking a needle in his neck while his eyes rolled back like he was possessed. They were both so fucked up they didn’t even see me sitting up staring at them.
I also remember a day before all of this, when we still all lived together in Jamaica, before mom packed our things and brought me up here to the States. Dad took me to Helshire Beach. He bought me fried sprat, my favorite dish, the peppered fish like honey to my tongue. He put me up on his shoulder and showed me off to his friends. He even let me play small goal with them way into the evening, the only boy playing football with grown men as the sun sank into the mountains.
The only problem is this is the only good memory I have of my dad. And thus, evidence being what it is….
There is a black and white picture of my dad and me at the beach in Jamaica. He is holding me by the waist. He is getting ready to throw me into the sea.
Excerpt from Novel, Surfers
(Work of Fiction- Kind of … Sort of…)
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