Who has 1500 words she doesn’t hate from a perspective that makes sense on a story that has been vexing her?
The 1859 city directory says it was at 10 North Front Street. Here’s what I learned today. At the time, the north/south dividing line was Spring Street. Even lots on the right, odds on the left. Spring Street is now Church. Jack Macon’s shop/office stood where the parking lot at the corner of Church and 1st Avenue is now. Judging by the ways other buildings are numbered, it seems likely that there was a 2 N. Front and a 4 N. Front and so on, so it probably sat 5 doors north of that corner. I would guess before the alley, judging by how many buildings (six) fit on the other side of the alley but I’m not sure.
Last month, I went to the city archives and I tried to learn about the slaves Nashville owned. Tomorrow, my story about it comes out in the Scene. I’m really proud of the story. But the difference between the version I turned in and the version that’s running gives me great pause. See, the version that’s running is very much like the version I turned in, but the edits have substantially improved it. They cut a paragraph or two, rearranged things where they made the cut and they turned the ending from sad into a kick to the throat.
I like the story I turned in. I 100% thought it was great. But it’s much, much better now.
And that’s always what frustrates me about my fiction. I think it’s good. I know it would be better with an editor. I know I’d learn a lot from that experience. I don’t know. I can’t actually do anything about it at the moment but fret over it. But I have to figure out how to make that happen. I need to get over a hump I don’t even understand the scope of. Yes, I know, this directly contradicts my happiness about things earlier on this week. So, the truth is I don’t know.
Anyway, Allen is the slave I focused on, because he’s young, like my nephews. It’s easy for me to imagine what his life should have been like–had he not been the captive of our city.
But it got me thinking a lot about what we owe the people of the past. I mean, I drink water out of pipes Allen placed in the ground. I directly benefit from Allen’s enslavement. It’s not such a long time ago when I can open a faucet and, ta da, thanks, Allen.
One thing I think is that any discussion about this leads directly to reparations because it’s such a big distraction. It’s a way to talk about the issue in such big, abstract, impossible-to-achieve thus easy-to-dismiss terms so that we don’t have to consider a much more basic question. Like, what do we, as a city, owe Allen? And, given that we can’t give him what we owe him–what would come close to making us even for what we stole from him–what should we do to acknowledge that debt?
That’s the real trick. When you owe a debt that cannot be repaid, what responsibilities to your debtor do you incur?
So, the question isn’t “What do we owe Allen?” because it doesn’t matter. The legacy we inherited as the living embodiment of the city is that we can’t make it right with Allen. But what is our responsibility to Allen?
I think, in part, since we robbed him of his own people, we have to acknowledge our responsibility to act as his descendants. We stole it, but we’re his beneficiaries. Our responsibility is to remember him and to admit that we owe him a debt we can’t repay.
It’s like this. If I accidentally hit you in the nose with my elbow, you should, even if it was completely an accident, have the assurance that bystanders and investigators are going to seriously consider that I hit you on purpose or that I was in some way at fault. That possibility should be entertained and then evidence for and against that possibility weighed and either accepted or dismissed. Your physical characteristics (with the exception, in this case, of maybe the size of your nose–since someone with a really tiny nose might argue that my chances of hitting it by accident are very slim and someone with a large nose might find you’re often getting hit in it by accident) shouldn’t be a factor in whether you get a neutral investigation into what happened to you.
But, if I know, say, that North Nashville is predominately black and I know you are black and I hit you in the nose, say, at Noshville, what am I to make of the fact that people keep asking me why you were even at Noshville in the first place?
Even if no one surrounding the investigation or the fall-out of the investigation ever mentions you’re black, isn’t it weird that they keep asking me why you were in Noshville? Like, what purposed does that question serve. I don’t know you. I only met you because of this accident. And there are a million reasons you might be in Noshville–lunch, job, meet up with friends, whatever. What does it matter? It’s not like you were trolling through Noshville looking to put your nose in the elbow-line of me. So, why am I being asked this question?
Is it because the question is supposed to tell me something? To reassure me that, since I was where I had a right to be and you might not have been, I can rest assured that no one is going to look that closely into what happened? I think that’s it. That I’m supposed to hear that question and kind of know that everything’s going to be okay for me. Now, it’s weird, because I’m fairly certain that I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t actually need the assurance that everything’s going to go okay for me, because I have the truth on my side.
But how many times do I go back and stare at the place where I hit you? How many times do I look at that place and reassure myself that it went down just how I remember it? And I think I’m right. It was just an accident. But maybe I’m growing unsettled about how quickly that doesn’t seem to matter. The further we get away from it, the more people I have to talk to who weren’t there, the more I hear that question, the more I worry that someone like me could have straight-up punched you in the nose and he might still be getting asked why you were even in Noshville.
And, if only I, the person who hurt you, seems to care about you getting treated fairly, how are you going to get treated fairly?