His wife hugged and kissed me, then he led me upstairs to the guestroom. It was long and had windows at both ends. To the right was a bathtub that ran the length of the room. I had been invited to visit. And to consider moving in permanently because I was running out of money. I told myself I could be happy here, back in the Chicago area.
While unpacking, I heard a commotion coming from downstairs. The wife and her grizzled father were arguing with the husband, a giant, who was holding a cane below the handle. They stopped when I entered the room.
“Is everything okay?”
He turned and walked to me, raising the cane above his head and striking me in the chest. I fell to the ground, and he kicked me repeatedly. I looked over to his wife and mouthed, “Help me, help me.” She mouthed back “you have to do it; you have to do it.”
I got up and went back upstairs. I started running a bath. There was a hammer resting on the toilet tank. I picked it up, heard footsteps behind me and turned. He was standing there, the size of him dwarfing me. I raised the hammer and swung, but he grabbed it and stabbed the claw of the hammer into my left eye, the skull bones around the eye cracking. He smiled and, carrying the hammer, went back downstairs.
I looked in the mirror and saw bone fragments around my left blind eye. I screamed, racked with headache and fear.
I was lying on my side, having tilted over and hit something, my body wedged upside down between the bed and the wall, about to crash face first onto the floor.
And woke up. The pain in my eye was excruciating. I waited for him to come back. I cried. And woke up. I was in my house, my body wedged upside down between the bed and the wall. I was not in Chicago, not in the home of the husband and wife and grandfather who had invited me to come for a visit. And woke up.
I arose and walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. No smash, no broken bones, no blood, just a flaming face. I felt my pulse—resting rate. Sobbing, I walked into living room. The cat was cowering, her fur fluffed out. I knew she had heard my screaming. My voice was hoarse.
I called the emergency number for my psychologist, and he talked me down.
I feel guilty. I know my time has passed, I am white, I have no right to expect anything—I know this. Just please let me tell you, the man who writes about birds and the river and black lives matter and justice… is a man who was raped as a boy…who was beaten by his father…whose eardrums were ruptured by his father so his ears ring and scream to this day…who was speared with words of disgust and hate and rage and maniacal loathing…who was told he was worthless and believes it… who only knew literature for comfort, and thus came to know, as friends, Saint James Baldwin and Malcom X and Flannery O’Connor and James Joyce and Doris Lessing and John Steinbeck and Eudora Welty and Ralph Ellison and Owen Wister and Howard Zinn. Without those friends hidden in books hidden under my mattress, me hidden inside my skull and waiting for the next war, I would have perished in 1964.
I just ask you to listen. I just ask you to comfort me, to love me—even if I don’t deserve it.