When my brother was ten he fell in a hole. Mom had told him not to play near it. But all his friends were so of course he went along. It wasn’t a deep hole and was close to home. It was deep enough that he could not get himself out. I was living and working in Richmond so I don’t know any details like where the friends were, or if with time he would have been able to get himself out. I do know that he was not in any danger and someone would have eventually found him. And that when he was late for dinner Mom went looking and found him shivering in the hole. After she helped him out, she gave him a stern tongue lashing reminding him that she had told him not to go near the hole. His rely was, “I guess some people have to learn things the hard way.”
He was my baby. Not literally. Just in every other way. When he was born I thought he was the prettiest baby I had ever seen. He was perfect. I adored him. It fell to me to see that he, picky eater that he was, finished his dinner. We made a game of it. I bathed him more nights than not and tucked him in bed with a story, usually Dr Seuss, his favorite. He was such a sweet child. When I left for college we wrote letters back and forth. He was always creating art for me. He lived with Donny & myself when he was a teen page for the Virginia General Assembly. I bailed him out of scraps with traffic tickets when he was in college. He was our acolyte when Donny & I got married. We were bonded.
And yet as he grew to adulthood he began putting up walls keeping out everyone. Walls no one could penetrate. We all tried. He was clever and bright. He took the tour of counselors and anger management courses. He could outsmart all of them. He would tell each exactly what they wanted to hear to gain his walking papers. He wobbled on. He suffered broken relationships. One shining spot through it all was that he compartmentalized his relationship with his boys. He kept that special, sacred and intact. He was a stellar father all the while the rest of him slipped down the slippery slope. He made bad choices. His sweetness was still there but so far inside of him few could see it. He ignored sanctions of the court and ended up in jail.
And there he fell into a hole that he could not escape. He dug the hole. But I don’t think that he meant to make it so deep. Much like that construction hole, it was just that much too deep to simply climb out. And he was too tired to reach for a hand.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar treesPastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ fleshHere is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
Rest easy my sweet Star. I see you shining brightly down on all that you loved.