Sunday, August 23, 2009
So next to Edith Wharton is Ralph Ellison and his Invisible Man. I have read it twice, and I've yet to scratch the surface of its true depth. Basically Ellison's nameless protagonist goes about life in Harlem as a black man in a white man's world. His intellect and pure drive to succeed get him nowhere, except another step closer to the impenetrable glass ceiling.
But the scene that wrenches my heart most takes place on a frigid winter evening when the main character watches an elderly black couple getting evicted from their apartment (chapter 13). All of their belongs line the curbside: straightening iron, miniature Statue of Liberty, an old cracked breast pump, amongst many other personal items. Snow is falling, and this couple can do nothing else but watch. The scene is so real to me that I feel I know this couple and that I should have been able to take them in until they figured things out. After all, I went through a much similar ordeal, sans the snow, when my mom died and I wound up living out of my car.
My mom would have never let the eviction take place, neither to me nor to the old couple. She took in strangers all the time. Because she didn't drive, she met all sorts of people around the neighborhood, and many times I would come home from school only to find a new person sitting on my couch or at the kitchen table. These were almost always people who were down and out--single moms or lonely wives. I had no idea how many of these people she really knew until her funeral, when over 250 people showed up and signed the guest book. Many of these were women who tearfully introduced themselves to me as one of Irene's friends. It was overwhelming to not know so many people at such in intimate moment, but I was proud of her for never turning down someone in need.
It's been twenty-five years of not being able to see my mom. Twenty-five years of trying to be more like her and less like my selfish old self.