August 25th 2008 – marked my last day on the job in Jacksonville. I was working as Controller in a start-up corporation. The previous year and a half had been filled with LATE night (think like, 5 am) work sessions, staff meetings, weekends, policy writing, financial groundwork being set, venture capitalist group found and funds received. Hysterical management, intense emotion fueled confrontations, upset employees, tyrannical rule, etc. I enjoyed every bit of it (except the tyrannical rule. If you know me, you know that this didn’t fly). For the first year and few months, I NEEDED the place to keep my sanity. I was in an angry marriage, which was filled with its own tyrannical rule and intense confrontations. My job, my office, long hours and my usefulness in the organization was the only thing that gave me purpose, hope, a place. But once I decided to get out of the horrible relationship I had resigned myself to for a decade, the position – the arguing, the headaches – just didn’t have the same appeal.
The following weekend was Labor Day weekend. It was a momentous occasion in its own rite because I was taking the City Boy home to Northern Kentucky to meet my family. It would be only the second time I had seen them myself in the past 4 year period, so I had my own reasons to be nervous … but if you add to it the introductions of a new love … a new love belonging to a different race, you can understand the importance and magnitude of the 3-day weekend.
I grew in up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. On the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. It truly was one of the best places in America to grow up. People not only left (and STILL do) their front doors unlocked and car doors unlocked, but I know several women who feel safe enough to even leave their purse overnight in an unlocked car parked in the driveway. We attended public schools (the most successful public schools in the state at that time), played sports, attended family dinner almost weekly, and if you lived in my house we had family debates during dinner about social issues. It wasn’t perfect, believe me. My parents had their share of problems and drama, Dad had faced several lay-offs and economic hardships. We went without cars as teenagers, and had to provide for our own college education, but the love was there which is what truly matters. The one ingredient missing from my childhood was diversity. It wasn’t a question of whether you were Atheist or Christian. The question was, which sect of Christianity did you practice? There really weren’t any racially different people to be found in my county, with the exception of 2 mixed families that we grew up with in school.
So, my nervousness was not based on an inherent racist attitude … but just lack of experience on my family’s part. I’m the only one of my immediate family to move away … to experience different people and places. They were just very inexperienced with people who were culturally, racially, spiritually different. Leave it to me … the Black Sheep, independent middle child to “broaden” their cultural horizons.
We flew into the Cincinnati Airport, only about 5 miles from my parents’ house. The flight got in around 11:30pm and by the time we retrieved our rental car and made it to the house it was almost 1 in the morning. He was nervous, I was nervous. I was afraid someone in my family would say something unintentionally offensive, or perhaps I was nervous that everyone else would be too nervous to relax and enjoy themselves.
I had already told them of our differences (I didn’t want a “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” introduction), and they were accepting and welcoming of him. My family knew what a hard time I had with my ex, so they were just ecstatic that he loved me like he did. My mother already loved him, based solely upon the things I had shared with her. When I spoke to my father a few weeks before the trip and told him about our racial differences, I was a little nervous. Not that my father would disapprove of the City Boy being a Black man, but because I knew what his previous attitude toward inter-racial couples consisted of. I told him about how happy City Boy made me. How wonderful life was now that he was in it. My dad told me he approved, that of course he was welcome in his home and family, and that whoever it was that rode the big white horse into my life would be loved and respected by my father.
I promised the City boy that we would sit down and have a drink with the family as soon as we arrived so he could calm his nerves. He is such a “people person” I knew he’d be fine, and didn’t anticipate many awkward silences. It was just a bit overwhelming when we walked through the door. EVERYONE was there in the foyer, waiting to hug us and meet The Best Man To Ever Be Birthed in These United States. My Dad, Mother, Patrick my older brother, his fiancé, Sarah my little sister, her husband, Austin my little brother and even the family gigantic Golden Retriever. I hugged everyone and tried to corral everyone into the fresh air of the kitchen. Despite my nerves, I was so glad to see him standing in my parents’ house. This was real.
The rest of the already late evening was spent on the back deck. Everyone fired questions to the City Boy about his family, his likes & dislikes; he did the same trying to recall the bits of trivia I had shared with him about each person at the table. Typical “getting to know you” chit chat. Around 2:30am my father and Austin excused themselves to bed, and my brother’s fiancé had already left for the night. All that remained were Patrick, Sarah, my mother and us. Suddenly, the conversation became a little quiet. I expected someone to eventually bring up our glaring difference, I was White and he was Black. I just never expected it to be Patrick! Of the siblings in my family, he is the least confrontational. But, he had had a few drinks and I guess was willing to step it up.
I can’t remember exactly what he said. It wasn’t anything rude or crass … just a mere innocent question asked between two guys who shared love for a common person, ME in this case. I believe he asked him something like, “Are you nervous to be meeting us due to the racial difference?” or something like that.
Even though I knew it wasn’t a charged statement, and was being asked simply out of curiosity and nothing more, I held my breath. My mother, sister and I looked at each other like, “Did Patrick just ask that question?!?” The City Boy smiled, and said he was glad that P asked the question. It sounded like, “Thank you for bringing it up … now we can address it and move on.”
His response was perfect. I wish I remembered the exact words, but they don’t really matter. What matters is that P felt comfortable enough to state the obvious. And the City Boy was now much more relaxed because of it. Sigh of relief.
The remainder of our trip was a slew of introductions. We had breakfast with my best friend and her husband. Lunch with another girlfriend, dinner at my sister’s. A picnic at my aunt & uncles house where it seemed he must have shaken hands with 100 or more people. The next day was another picnic at my brother’s future in-laws place. By the time we boarded the plane for Florida on Monday, we were both exhausted. But I was so happy to have that step out of the way. They liked him, they really liked him. Of course, I wasn’t worried about that going into it. He’s an amazing man – if they didn’t like him I would know that they are just serially insane.
Sure, I caught a “vibe” from a few of the older members of the family that they did not approve. I suppose it is to be expected from people who grew up with “old school” mentalities. Of course, they didn’t bother to say anything … just a sideways glance and not much attempt to have an introduction. Oh well. Not everyone will be happy.
Upon our return to the South, we began making plans to move away from Jacksonville. Was it going to be Phoenix? Tampa? Orlando? We chose Orlando, and within a month had moved into a 2-bedroom condo and began making our life together.
The next step? Meeting his family in Chicago.
(to be continued …)