Like some, when a new year rolls around I get a little nostalgic. During my reflection there’s been a memory that has not necessarily haunted me, but will always be with me, and it always reminds me to be thankful for my mother’s sometimes crass and overbearing behavior.
I’m originally a southern girl. Though I was born in Illinois, I was raised in Alabama, up until I was in 1st grade. People always assume that racism is stronger in the south, and maybe it was the fact that I was a child and I was ignorant to it then, but I was never really made uncomfortable about my race until moving to Illinois. Once we all got our own place, my sisters and I started playing in the neighborhood, eventually making friends. One of my friends, let’s call her Karen, was white and had two older brothers. The reason why this friendship was such a “miracle” to my family was because Karen’s father and her two brothers were Neo-Nazis.
Karen and her mother was always sweet and my family loved them both, but we never dealt with her brothers or fathers. However, they found us interesting. Though they once egged our house and put swastika flags in their window one day facing our house, it wasn’t anything compared to the horrible things they did the other black family that lived right next to them. While playing hide and go seek, we would occasionally find their “White Power” and “Die N-Word” rhetoric on hiding stations, but after living there for years, it was as if we fell off their radar. It wasn’t until a hot summer night my sisters, mother and aunt were in our living around 10:30pm watching television with the front door open.
We heard a knock and we all turned to the door to see a nervous and shuffling Karen. I jumped up excited to see my friend and my immediate instinct was to open the screen door. The moment I reached to unlock it my mother yelled: “KENDRA-DON’T-YOU-OPEN-THAT-DOOR!” I rolled my eyes and talked to Karen through the screen. “Hey Karen, why are you here so late?” She looks off into a shadow where there was whispering. She looks back at me and says: “Can Kendra come?” To say I was confused was an understatement because, she was clearly talking to the only Kendra in the house. So I ask her: “Karen, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” My sisters and aunt went to windows and peeked out and started pointing at figures moving in the shadows. I heard the whispers getting more frantic and the only end result was that I was getting more confused. I heard “tell her to open the door” from the shadows, and before I realized it, my mother grabbed me by my shoulder, pulled me from the door and yelled at Karen for coming to our house so late before slamming the door in her face.
Part of me wanted to get mad at my mother for being rude, but a LARGE part of me felt relieved. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew once Karen started listening to “the voices” that I was safe within the confines of my house. My sisters and aunt who lived with us began to tell me how they saw what looked like her brothers, while one family member said they saw a third person. Moments like that stick with you, and you can find yourself wondering: “Oh my goodness, what would have happened if I opened that door, or went with Karen?”
Karen and I stayed friends before my family and I moved a year later and all she could say about that night was that her brothers asked her to. She had no idea what they had planned, but they thought I should come over. Once we moved, I lost contact with Karen. The overwhelming sense of relief that my mother intercepted my interaction wasn’t realized until I was in college and my mother called to tell me that Karen’s father had just went on a killing spree. His wife divorced him and took the kids. Fearing for her life, she got a restraining order and moved away, not telling him where she was. In retaliation, he killed her parents, attempted to kill her sisters, and shot a few cops before killing himself.
Now, I’m not saying that if I would have opened the door that day that I would have shared that same fate, or that my body would have been swinging from the large tree they had behind their house (“A Time to Kill” was really big at that time, so that imagery sticks with me), but it’s an overwhelming feeling to realize the close proximity I had to someone who was capable of killing people he knew for years, what would have happened to some “N-Word” he only tolerated?
Though I don’t like when people are rude (especially when I go to restaurants with them, I don’t want the server spitting in my food!), I can’t help but feel thankful whenever I think about my mother’s abrasive measures when Karen came to the door that night. Without that, I really don’t know where I’d be right now…