Section 1: Joyce
Although I grew up poor, I was always happy. Even though there were times when there was never enough food on the table or times when my father would come home intoxicated and angry and my mother would abuse my sisters and I for not speaking properly, I tried to act like life was normal; I tried to act as though I was like the girls who’d look at my family with looks of false compassion. Once I was old enough to marry, I did. I married a wonderful, caring man only because I loved him. Patrick McMillan was the love of my life, but he wasn’t rich. I never wanted to marry a rich man like my sisters, so Patrick seemed perfect when we met outside the slum that I call home. He was sweet, nervous, and smart; I fell head over heels.
He couldn’t afford college, but for someone who’d never had higher education, Patrick was well versed in physics and math, and he loved astronomy. Our first date was strange; I remember him showing me his handmade star charts and his exotic lab. His bed was in the corner of a room filled with seemingly magic potions and concoctions. I was awestruck by the brains of a man who’d been no different than me. He was just a poor young black man in 1930s America, but he made that seem like a dream.
For four years, Patrick and I had lived such a happy life; he had worked in the mines and always brought food home, and I had stayed home teaching the children in our slum math and reading. When he wasn’t working, he’d treat the schoolchildren to an astronomy lesson on summer nights. It was amazing to watch him teach children the wonders of the universe that they would, otherwise, not know about. We were barely getting by, but we were in love. Love helped us through so much, until a few months ago when it happened.
Pat and I knew that he had miner’s lung, but one day we woke up as usual when he was coughing. Of course, I didn’t suspect anything of it – it happened all the time. This time it was different; it was this dry, hoarse, uncontrollable coughing that still haunts me at night. He ran to the sink as the mucus he was coughing out turned black. Patrick then collapsed into my arms. I screamed a shrill, banshee-like scream. My neighbors and their children came as fast as they could, but it was too late. He was dead. It took all of two days for my doorway was flooded with people sending their condolences; It was horrible.
In the two days before the condolences came flooding in, I kept weeping and thinking about the life Patrick and I could’ve had. He was only 27, and we were so happy; We wouldn’t have had kids because of his miner’s lung. I made a vow long ago that I’d never raise kids in an environment full of fear; fear of death, fear of eviction, fear of crime. I’d never do that. He always said that after this awful Depression we’d go to North Carolina. We’d visit his old home and have fun thinking about his childhood. Then, my contemplation time ended abruptly. There was a booming knock at my door.
“I’m sorry about Pat, Joyce,” the women would say.
I’d weep irrepressibly
“Joyce, I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” the men would say.
“I know,” I’d say
Things like that would send me into an inner rage. I’d always smile when people apologize for nothing.
Sorry won’t bring my husband back, I’d think to myself, smiling at whoever said it.
One day, the oldest man in the slum, about 60 or so years old, came to my door with the usual condolences. It was then and there that I snapped.
“Yes! Sure! Let’s let everyone apologize to the poor little widow,” I roared, “Tell me what you can’t imagine about the death of the love of my life. What, pray tell, will that do for me?!”
By the time I’d finished my rant, the whole slum was staring at me from their windows or gaping at me on the street.
I got quiet and breathed heavily, and, in a fit of rage, grief, and embarrassment, I ran as far away as I could from the slum. Then, I ran into the women who’d change my life.