i was standing at the end of the downtown platform at 137th st. as it pointed towards the above ground platform at 125th st. so we could talk for as long as we liked. but then of course, the train arrived and all of a sudden, we couldn't talk at all. moniah (the world calls him john) was in training at Fort Stewart, Georgia. God only knows what he did all day. he fastidiously reassured me that he didn't spend it marching in formation like gomer pyle. moniah has a funny accent and he talks up his nose. it sounds like a high winny with a laconic buzz. plus he's an ATL-ien. he's got a lot of slang and he loves crunk. i made him laugh and then he drawled good-naturedly, you've been watching too many movies about the military, big sis. that's all media. reality is something else entirely.
he sounded as though he were right down the street. i felt my heart start beating again. hard, like before when i was listening to the howling from the apartment next door. it still felt like somebody died.
i was still mad at him for joining the army and i didn't want to be. i didn't want anything to keep me from loving him as much as i possibly could, no matter where he was or what stupid idiotic foolhardy thing he did. he would always be my little boy. the one whose diapers i changed. the one i bathed, endlessly. the one i carried through the woods on my back, like a little bearito. the one who would climb into my bed as a toddler when he was afraid of the dark. it was me that made him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before he went to bed. it was my bed he hid under, to escape a spanking and my mother's inevitable wrath. i taught him how to catch frogs. it didn't matter that he was 6'4" and walked the earth like a tree. to me, he was still 4, looking up at me helplessly in tears because yet another frog that he left in the bib of his osh-kosh overalls had somehow died. it didn't matter what he'd done. he was mine. he always would be. and he knew it.
as the train left the 125th st. station, i promised that i'd call in an hour. whenever i talked to him, he always said that he loved me. it always wrecked me to hear it but this time, it knocked me down. i went to my destination, tearful and heavy-hearted. what a strange day. i could hardly believe how happy i'd been, only a few hours before.
i think the thing that made me so upset about the little boy is that i haven't really come to terms with the fact that he might not make it. he really could die over there. i may not ever see him again until i am in glory. i don't want to believe that may be true. i just can't accept it. not when he's calling me up out of nowhere from south georgia, to surprise me.
i called moniah back while they were setting everything up in the studio.
what are you doing, he asked and after i explained, he went on about how much he loved music. will you send me some, he asked.
i don't have any crunk, little boy, i warned.
i don't want any of that, he said. i could see him sitting there, waving his long arm in the air for emphasis. do you have any gordon lightfoot?
you want gordon lightfoot? i laughed into the phone. it doesn't get much cheesier than that.
yeah, he said dreamily. i love that song he does about the highway...
you mean "carefree highway"? i stammered.
yeah, that's it! and the other one about the sun going down.
strangely inspired, i burst into song. "sundown, you'd better take care, if i find you've been creeping down my back stairs..." with that, moniah let out what could only be described as a rebel yell.
sing it again, he demanded. i cagily refused. i don't like being a human jukebox, even when i get paid for it. that's the horrible thing about telling people that you sing. command performances.
do it for your country, he whined. i didn't want to get into the argument we'd have if i didn't sing it at that point, so i sighed and sang it again. he howled and put me on speaker phone. i couldn't believe how happy i was making him by just standing around and singing snippets from gordon lightfoot songs. neither could anyone else within earshot. black people aren't supposed to like gordon lightfoot, are they?
you know i love all that easy listening stuff that was around in the 80's, he explained. when i was a kid, that music was everywhere. hey. do you have that song, "i go crazy"? how about journey, do you have any journey?
hey, i said, before the conversation took a wrong turn. do you like country music? like, johnny cash?
the conversation went dead. there was a moment and then he said, with as much intensity as he could muster: NO.
sure you do, i said. you love waylon jennings.
no i don't, he countered flatly.
sing the dukes of hazzard theme song, i demanded. and he did. as a matter of fact, he knew all the words. that's waylon, i said. you love that song.
on and on we went. i promised that i'd burn him some cds of what i thought he'd like. the theme song to the movie "midnight cowboy" immediately comes to mind. it's not from the 80's, but i know it's just what he'd like.