The Final Chapter Of Umberto Tosi’s Novel, “Our Own Kind”

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August 1, 2015 · Posted in Our Own Kind - Umberto Tosi 

Our Own Kind cover Kindle edition—————————————————-

(Umberto Tosi, author of Ophelia Rising, was an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times from 1959-1971.)




Vietnam War U.S. CasualtiesThe body bags

Makeda rips a half-typed sheet from Benny’s clunky Underwood and crumples it into a over-filled wastebasket by the kitchen table. “I can’t write about this shit!” She hobbles to the small fridge, still using a crutch. Ben has stocked it with snacks, milk and Keesha’s mini-cartons of juice. She finds some leftover takeout chow mien from the previous night, and takes to it, cold. She’s healing, but it still hurts to move around. She’s not that hungry, but if she eats she can take another codeine and mellow out. That won’t help the writing.

It’s a Saturday. Benny has taken Keesha and his own two daughters to Santa Monica pier for a few hours. He’s been a brick, but she wishes he wouldn’t hover around her so much some time. I still don’t know where we’re going with this, but it feels right. Up until last year we could have been jailed for getting married in some states. The Supreme Court ended that, and the bigots are saying it will end civilization as we know it, mixing the race. We can get married in Virgina, but fucking Nixon’s probably going to be President now. It’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll out on the Strip, and cops still killing black folks down on Crenshaw. Forgetting doesn’t change anything. But does it really matter anymore? Not that Benny and I are talking marriage or anything like that. Don’t get me wrong. Okay, maybe I protest too much.

Another sunny, late June day outside. Why did Leon have die too? Everybody dying. Fucking death everywhere. Body bags coming home, as seen on TV, every day, and now my brother is one of them. Too many brothers are gone, or wounded, or fucked up in this war, and no Dr. King and not more Bobby Kennedy at least trying to stop it.

Grandma had phoned her with the news about Leon, stoic, but Makeda could hear the thickness grief in her throat. Add another pointless death to this war – blood on the hands of those who prolong it.

Leon was decapitation by a malfunctioning chopper blade just outside of Hue as he boarded for Saigon airport and home. His tour had been up, but so was his number. She didn’t tell grandma, but the news reverberated deep inside her, reviving childhood memories of her father’s death and how she had learned about it second-hand, long after the fact, covered now by the eternal swells of a timeless ocean. Only later, looking through old clippings, did she learn the details. Her father had been incinerated with hundreds of other sailor boys, taken out by one, white-scarved, too-young Japanese pilot, honor-conned into a his suicide mission for an all-but-defeated fatherland. No sun rising for any of them anymore.

Senator Robert Kennedy Campaigning for President



And now Dr. King, and not long afterward, a noble, quirky, intense Robert F. Kennedy on a grease-spattered hotel kitchen floor, blood oozing from his bullet-broken skull, the backup brother who stepped forward, called by other martyrs, for his turn. Martyred for what?

Makeda goes back to her typing. Work provides relief from tears, staring at walls and pounding pillows. Don’t try to write, just put down whatever comes. Words pour forth now… It will never make sense, but she can only trust herself to compose her thoughts into some palatable form later – a form that can never capture the unspeakable, but will have to do. She finishes, takes her pill and falls asleep on the couch.

They have me writing a lot of features now, still too much on the “human interest” side for my taste. I’m a sideshow attraction, their semi-famous token now, even more than Ray. I don’t know how much good I’m doing, but I’m helping myself for a while now. I can’t afford the revolution.

“You’re a lucky girl, my Annie baby.” mama told me when she visited the hospital the say after the shooting. She surprised me, getting on the next plan the coming to my bedside, even helping take care of Keesha. She was never the domestic type, my mama. God love for all she’s been through and all she share – most of all our grief over Leon, my sweet brother, no one famous, but he’s with them now.

After Leon I know she cried. She stopped singing for a while, but stayed together, not like the old days when she probably would have shot up. Grandma calls almost every day now. Her unspoken courage braces me, as does my baby Keesha’s oblivious joy. Tragedy didn’t bring me close to God, like they say it sometimes does. But I give thanks every day that I didn’t leave Keesha an orphan. I don’t know who I’m thanking, maybe fate, maybe dumb luck, but not any God who would let all this happen in the first place.

I don’t like that this has made me some kind of damn overnight celebrity, for the moment anyway – offers from Rolling Stone and Newsweek, even an agent with a book offer and somebody about a movie. Vultures. Can you imagine? Tom Brokaw interviewed me for KNBC and the network feed. Am I always going to be the black girl who was there when it happened? Still, I’ll take what I can get. I earned it.

Rosey Grier visited me in the hospital, but I didn’t take notes. Roy says the Times has to promote me now to make itself look better. The bosses stick with their own kind, most of them anyway except for a few wild cards, bless them.

We find our own kind by breaking wrong rules. Our own kind endures and evolves. Definitions don’t stick. You’ll know us when you see us. The powerful and the bigots try to pry us all apart, slice us and dice us, set us against each other, divide and conquer.

We give birth to cultures. We make our music and they use it. They try to make reason for hatred rather than gifts we like to share. Form up your tribes. Chose your weapons. There’s money to be made in blood.

But I see now that nothing stays the same. We keep living and loving and screwing, and marching and working and moving on. They can’t undo the changes. Sometimes they succeed, like right now. It seems they are winning.

But try as they might, they can’t keep it up. Blood flows together, people mix and match and make anew. … blessed are bloodied peacemakers. Everybody says now that what is happened is the end of civil rights, of integration, of the peace movement. Nothing left now but race war, repressions. Why does evil always seems prevail? Maybe this is the ultimate illusion they want to sell us.

I’ll stick my neck out and say no. Not always, but just below the surface, life goes on, and its streams are many, of many hues. We sing ourselves, and those who take the trouble to really know each other give and get that little respect Aretha sings about.

Every personal act is a statement, including whom we chose to love, as along as that love is real and not self-serving. You don’t read that in the news.

In that, we win – in transcending all the hate and fear, inside and out. No assassins can stop that. I’m here, larger in my life and proud with my Keesha. We shall overcome? Hell, I don’t know. As long as I can give Keesha strength to make her own life in the best world I can help make for her. I’ll be with and love how and whom I chose. No matter how bad the news, long as we breathe we resist and make anew.

New heroes keep rising up because they come from all of us, living our lives here on the ground. Life goes on; we abide, with its old rhythms and new dances. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Martin Luther King said that in his last sermon not three months ago before they murdered him. I don’t know if I can feel this inside me, right now. Not after all this. But I choose to act is if it is so, for Keesha – for myself too. We go on.


 Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving — after the US Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s law against inter-racial marriage in 1967 for which they had been incarcerated



Other works by Umberto Tosi:

Ophelia Rising

Satan: The Movie

My Dog’s Name

Elvis and Marilyn Have Left the Building

Milagro on 34th Street

High Treason




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