A DAY WITH CARLA CARLSON
by Richard Oti
The little girl sat just a few feet away from me. A crease on her face, her eyes swollen; looking like she had deprived them of sleep for many days. I could see pain living in her deep moans, for she was unable to cry again. I wondered how this beautiful girl that looked not a day older than sixteen would be in such pain. I had been waiting to meet her, for several hours.
“I’m Carlson Carla,” I say to her, reaching out with a smile. It does little to bring her to life. She looks pale and just when I look at her wrists, I see the marks. Yes, she had cut both wrists, trying to take her own life. I have been doing this for years, I have seen many try to do this same thing – suicide – so many different ways. Some were young just like this little girl sitting opposite me. Others were middle-aged, a few as old as I am. I’m 87 years old if you care to know. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” I could see the desire still in her eye. She still wanted to end her life, and she believed they had brought her to me so I could waste the valuable time she would have used in doing so. It seemed the very air in the room was protesting with her.
“So, they tell me you got pregnant at 15,” I say, sipping a little from the cup of coffee, while I place a bar of candy in a flat plate beside her. “I hear your name is Ivy?” It’s a beautiful name I think, one befitting a beautiful girl. She still doesn’t say a word to me. I have been doing this for 45 years now. I knew what was running through her mind. “You feel you’ve failed your family, right?” For the first time, I see a desire in her to give me some sort of response. She still wouldn’t look me in the face, but I see the tears run down her cheeks. I watch it as it traces a line all the way, till it drops on her dirty denim jean. My heart goes out to her. I know how she feels, exactly.
“Many years ago, in the Salt Lake City, Utah, I lived with my parents. That should be sometime in 1947,” I say and smile. That was over 69 years ago. You see, I was about 17 years then. “It so happened that there was this farm boy I liked a lot. Well, he was pretty. I know that is not a good term to qualify a man. But that’s how I remember him. His face is burned in my heart like an insignia.” I look at Ivy, and it seems my words aren’t even being heard. I open her file again, and I realize she not only got pregnant, but she aborted the baby, and now, the condemnation and shame are strangling her. It seems she has even lost the will to fight. I look at her wrist again, and it reminds me that I am right.
“That pretty boy asked me out on a date,” I say, and I smile again. His name was Erwin Jake the second. He was quite a shy boy, but I loved his innocence. “I said yes to him. There was no reason to say no. It wasn’t going to be anything more than a few drinks, a dance and maybe a long walk.” Times have changed I know. There were no movie theaters then, no cafés with free wifi and all the distractions you young people have now. So, we talked a lot and had a lot of live music.
“That night, we were out, more hours than we should have. I say that because It was the time when a black man could be lynched for being around a white neighborhood. Yes, that was all the crime you had to do, to be mobbed and beaten silly till your brain slowly shuts down. I would say being black was the crime.” I don’t know if my words are starting to get through. But it’s too early to judge by her reaction because she looked like a blank sheet of paper. You learn a thing or two over the years, so, I don’t let the lack of emotion put me off.
“Baby, we were out till 11:00 pm. He had never been out that long, neither had I too. But he was nineteen, and he felt he was old enough to take care of me. I must confess, I felt he wasn’t. But it was the first night with this pretty face, and I wanted it to last as long as it could.” I stare at Ivy, and for the first time, it seems her eyes blink since she walked into the room. Maybe it was just a reflex action, so I pay little attention to it, and I get back to telling her about my date with Erwin.
“So, after the drinks, the dance and all the fun, we decided to leave at about 12 minutes past 11 pm. I’m certain of the time because I was the one who requested we leave.” There were no cell phones or smart phones like we have now. Communication was much slower. “So, we walked out of that little barn that had been converted to a party spot for black teens and adults alike. I noticed that Erwin wanted to hold my hands, but he was too timid. So, I took his left hand, raised it up and placed it on my shoulder. He was the kind of boy that I would have wanted for a brother, so I wasn’t afraid at all.”
I pour myself another cup of coffee and walk towards the window. The kids in the neighborhood are loud as ever. I smile because they remind me of my childhood. Then I turn again and look at the little girl in the room who feels robbed of hers. I’m not as nimble as I used to be when I was much younger, but I try to walk up to her, I bend with much pain, and I give her a kiss on her cheek. Her cheeks burned like she had a fever. “I’m not giving up on you sweetheart.”
I go back to my seat and try to remember where I had stopped. “My father had been out looking for me. I was his only child, and that was understandable.” I realize I’m about entering a territory I have avoided for a long time. But if wading through those waters was going to give this little girl another chance at life, I was willing to. That was why they brought her to me. “Daddy met me while I was half way home. So, I hugged Erwin and wished him a good night.” I was hoping that we could see again, maybe in a week or two. Maybe another date. We could milk the cows together, play around the farm, and someday travel south. Maybe get married and have children. Pretty boys, who would like their father, and beautiful girls who might look like me.
“you know baby, back then we were not as free as we are now,” I say. A few decades can change a lot of things. This was a few years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, much longer before Marin Luther King Jr gave his I-have-a-dream speech. “Erwin turned back and began to walk in the opposite direction, while my daddy and I started to walk forward. I stopped to look back several times. I wanted to get one more glimpse of Erwin, even in the dark; It was puppy love at its beginning stage.” I look over Ivy, and it seems the knob of the door is turning. “Who is it?” I ask.
“It’s me,” a woman answered and then she opens the door. I could see her facial features; they looked exactly like that of Ivy; beautiful and chiseled. Her eyes were swollen too. I could tell she was the mother of the young lady in the room. “I was wondering if you needed me around?”
“It is a day with Carlson Carla. I’d be okay. I might be 87, but I’m fit as a fiddle,” I reply and bless her with a smile. Ivy still looks like a zombie. Poor little girl. I apologize for the distraction and pick up from where I had stopped. “So, as we were going home, I could tell that my daddy was scared. I should have been too, but Erwin occupied my mind. I was thinking about things that every girl thinks about once in a while when they meet a cute boy. Me and him holding hands, walking around the countryside and doing whatever we wanted to.” Ivy looks at me for the first time. I wondered if I had struck a nerve.
“We were close to home when all of a sudden three white men jumped out from nowhere. Baby, we were scared, but Daddy held me close, tightly.”
“You don’t touch my baby or me,” Daddy screamed.
“I could see the hate in their eyes. There was a smirk on their faces, such like you would see in someone who was obsessed with doing evil.” My heart breaks whenever I have to retell this story. “One of them tried to pull me away from my daddy.” I stop for a few seconds. I cry whenever I tell this story. I thought 69 years would have helped erase the memory… it remained fresh in my mind, preserved in a neatly painted canvass.
“My daddy struggled to push me behind him, and then he screamed… run baby, run.” I began to race in the direction I faced. I heard my father keep shouting run as he fought them back to keep them from following me. “Run baby, run,” he said. I still hear that voice in my dreams. I’m certain I will tonight. I bow my head for a minute, I’m overwhelmed for a moment. I raise my head, and I realize that Ivy is looking at me. It has happened this way 90% of the times. These patients brought to me usually, start to connect with me at this point.
“I kept running. It seemed like I ran all night. I didn’t know where I was running to, but I just kept running until I found somewhere I could hide. I was surviving on adrenaline at that moment. But my daddy was out there all alone. All I could do was pray and wait for the morning light. As soon as I could see ahead of me, I began to rush back towards where I had left my daddy. 20 feet away from where we had been attacked, I see my father hanging from a tree. His body had been burned.” It’s hard to continue telling Ivy this story as I start to cry at this point. “It’s all my fault I scream as I run towards the lifeless body dangling from the tree.”
I look at Ivy, and she is sitting upright, with tears in her eyes, she is staring at me. “I screamed and cried. I held on to his burnt body. They should have killed me in his place. It was all my fault. If he had never come to look for me, he would still be alive today. That memory haunted me for years. My mother was devastated for the rest of her life. She lost her mind and had to be institutionalized. I couldn’t forgive myself for my father’s death. I blamed Erin for keeping me out late into the night, and I blamed every other person I could too. I wanted to kill myself several times… what else did I have to live for?”
Why didn’t I kill myself is the question these patients always ask when I get to this point? It’s a silent question, but I can read it in their eyes. “I met someone who stopped me from pulling the trigger. I met someone who took away the pain and hatred in my heart towards the men who burned my father while he screamed. I was given another reason to live. I fell in love again. This time, it was much stronger than what I had felt for Erwin. It was an unconditional love that wouldn’t trace my history. Baby, I found Jesus! Take it from this 87 years old lady, you are not beyond redemption. I can get you into the wells of mercy this afternoon. We can swim there all day until you are soaked.”
I see the light in her eyes at this point. I see hope as I have seen in several hundred patients that have sat in that room with me. “You can exchange your guilt for a not-guilty-verdict. You can leave here today knowing that the past wouldn’t have any power to haunt you anymore.” Ivy breaks down crying as I speak. So, I walk up and sit beside her. “Baby, I won’t let the devil have you. I know You’ve failed your family and God, yes you did. I failed too. But you can meet my high priest who knows just how you feel. Will you let me take your hands and lead you down that road?”
I watch her cry profusely. “I killed a baby,” she says, trying to persuade me how far she was from redemption.
“I know baby. If you were good enough, you wouldn’t need Him. He gave his life in exchange for folks just like you, and me too. Can you trust me? Let me take you down to the riverside where your past can be washed away.”
“Yes,” she replies and buries her head on my body, groaning in deep pain.
“Would you repeat these words with me, sweetheart… Jesus, I believe you died for my sins and rose for my justification. I confess that you are my lord and savior.”
Yes, her face lightened up immediately. I know how she must have felt. For me, it was like some heavy weight was lifted off me. “We won’t let the devil have you, baby, no, no, no.” I held her in my embrace and just loved her back to life. I would like to meet you and help you back to life too. You are not beyond redemption.
You are loved!
Kindly share, let’s bring love and mercy to someone out there.
Written by Richard Oti.
Image Courtesy: clipartfest
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