The moment he entered the bar, I knew that Mister J. wasn’t your usual guest. Maybe it was the way his eyes darted around, taking the measure of everything he saw, or that half smile as he twirled... [+]
“I thought I might find you here,” a voice said.
I nearly fell out of my hammock. “Marilyn!” I said. “You scared the heck out of me...” I didn’t mean to yell, but she did scare me pretty bad.
Marilyn asked, “Why weren’t you at school?”
“Would you believe me if I said I was sick?”
“Tom, what did you do now?”
There was no point in lying to her. If she confronted you, she already knew what you did wrong.
As I moved my arm over my eyes, I said, “I got suspended for a week because I made the teacher look like an idiot.”
She yanked my arm from my eyes, exposing the large bruise on my left eye. “Tom,” she said, “what did you do this time?”
“I got in a fight is all.”
Dad always taught me to fight for those who couldn’t do it themselves. Marilyn was a girl the other kids found different, but that didn’t mean she was bad. No one knew Marilyn like I did, and no one even tried. In fact, they bullied her. I hated that. So, when I overheard Harvey begin calling her names... It didn’t end well for him.
“Why do you keep doing this? You’re only hurting yourself,” she said.
She knew. There was no point lying. It would only make her more mad anyway.
“You deserve better.” I didn’t know why, but tears began to well up in my eyes. “You’re smart, sweet, and pretty. Yet, people spit on you. It just isn’t fair to you, and it makes me want to punch a wall. So, when I heard Harvey joining in, I couldn’t control myself from taking it out on him.”
“Tom, you just don’t get it, do you? Punching people isn’t going to stop anything. What you did was stupid, so please don’t do it again.”
“I get that! I just don’t care about any of it... I’ll fight all I have to for everyone to get how dumb this prej- prejo- prega- “
She laughed. “Prejudice,” she said, smiling.
“Yeah, that! I’ll do whatever it takes for it all to just go away. Even if that involves getting a two black eyes...”
I didn’t look at her, so I was scared to see what her face looked like at that moment. All I heard was her feet move across the grass. Suddenly, I felt a soft kiss on the back of my head. It was a moment I would never forget, one of pure happiness.
Darn. I was so busy looking at Marilyn, I hadn’t noticed her parents with the camera behind her. They always carried around that dumb camera. At least the photo was good for 1913.
The day I got married was the happiest day of my life.
It was hard to get here. Nobody we talked to would marry the two of us. Luckily, her parents mentioned a friend who happened to be a preacher. When we asked him, he agreed to marry us in secret.
Friends and family told me of the stress I would be under, and I believed them. Although, I think I was wrong to do such a thing. I’m not sure why, but that was the one day of the whole process where I felt completely calm. Perhaps because it was the easiest part in getting married. Nothing would distract me from my joy. Not even when most of my family didn’t show up.
She asked, “Will you be okay?”
I looked up, smiling, and told her, “It’s their loss.”
She looked so worried about it, though. “I don’t care about them. You’re the one I care about. So, will you be okay without most of your family out there?”
“My mom and dad are out there, and that’s all the support I need.”
She still looked worried. She was that type of person. She was always worried for others. Maybe that’s why we were perfect for one another. Nothing tended to bother me, but she pointed out when things should’ve.
My train of thought was interrupted by the sound of church bells. I stood up and held my arm out for her.
I said, “Shall we?”
“We shall,” she said, standing up. She wrapped her arm around mine.
The time before the ceremony went by in a breeze. When the doors to the nave opened wide, I was looking at the love of my life walk down the aisle in the prettiest white dress. Everything I found beautiful about the church melted into the background, leaving only her.
The preacher spoke words, but I couldn’t hear most of them. All I heard was when he asked me if I would take her as my wife.
I yelled, “I do!” That was awkward of me. Normally, people don’t shout that part. I thought they did, but it only hit me as soon as I already yelled it. No one seemed to mind though. In fact, they all laughed.
“Now,” the priest said, “do you, Marilyn Smith, take Thomas to be your husband?”
Marilyn laughed, then yelled, “I do!”
The preacher continued, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Marilyn’s parents stood there by the front pew with that damn camera we’ve had since we were kids. Usually, I’m not one for photos. My whole life, I’ve hated that camera with a burning passion. However, it’d been growing on me. I was happy it could capture this moment I’d cherish forever. This moment in 1920.
Life is a miraculous gift, but it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. People can be dark and twisted, discriminating against their own kind only because of the color of their skin.
After Marilyn and I got married, we moved to the small town of Evansville, Indiana. We both found work there.
The Ku Klux Klan had reemerged in Georgia with a new and greater thirst for blood than ever in 1915. We figured we’d be safe in Indiana, but it wasn’t long until we saw signs we had to move. It all started when I read the paper one morning.
“Oh god,” I said.
Marilyn walked over to where I was sitting at the dining table and read over my shoulder. She moved her hands to cover her mouth. An African American man had been lynched by the northern border of Kentucky. The preacher for our wedding. Marilyn went to bed and cried for hours.
Then, a few weeks later, I woke up before Marilyn and I smelled smoke from the front of the house. I sprinted out of the bedroom and towards the front door. Looking out the window, I was greeted by the sight of a burning cross dug into our lawn. I ran out and stomped all over the cross and nearby grass to make sure the fire went out. I went back inside and woke up Marilyn.
I said, “We have to go.”
She replied, “Wait, why? Church doesn’t start for at least another half hour.”
“Not to church. We have to go much further into the North. We’re going to die if we stay here.”
“What?!” It didn’t take too long after that. She understood that I meant people had threatened us.
I wasn’t sure where we’d go. Maybe we’d just ride around the North, going city to city. Perhaps if we enjoyed life on the road, we could just do it forever. Some small part of me liked that idea.
First, we visited Washington DC. We drove all night, only stopping for gas along the way. We made it and followed tradition by stopping for a photo. After Marilyn’s parents passed, she wanted to carry on their photo-taking legacy. We went to the White House and asked a stranger passing by if he could take our photo.
It was a nice photo. One to mark the beginning of a new life in DC, Marilyn and I with the White House behind us in 1925.
As we walked amongst the crowd, the roar of thousands of people greeted us. I knew I should’ve been happy, but all I felt was fear. That was until Marilyn took hold of my hand. I was still nervous, but it was easier. We’d worked 39 long years to see this moment come to fruition, and I could hardly believe my eyes as President Johnson walked on stage. I put my head on my wife’s shoulder and cried. My wedding day may have been the happiest day of my life, but today was by far the best. I’d thought of grabbing the camera before we left, but forgotten. However, there was no need. Journalists had noticed Marilyn and me. We were bombarded with the sounds of shutters clicking as we embraced. That day in 1964.