If I Ring
Updated: Jan 6, 2022
This flash fiction story is about a white woman who struggles with anti-racism and #blacklives matter and seems to keep on making the wrong decisions. Now she is faced with a choice...
If I Ring
I saw it on ABC news for the second time when it hit me.
T.J. Simmons, 17, was shot and fatally injured this evening by a local police officer.
That was one of my neighbors. He and his family lived just a couple doors down. I remembered him from the block party a few years back, kicking around a soccer ball with the other neighborhood kids.
The television droned on: …an honors student at Saint Andrew’s High School… a volunteer at the local animal shelter, a pianist… recently accepted to Penn State on a track scholarship…
Over the next days, his image became the newest face of the Black Lives Matter Movement. There were protests all over the city. Students refused to go to school. Crowds of people gathered around his front porch in a round-the-clock candlelight vigil, leaving flowers and photos and letters. Holding signs proclaiming: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” I passed by every time I walked my dog, observing their collective mourning and outrage.
A sensation in my guts nagged: “you have to say something. You know them. Go ring their doorbell, you coward!”
But I didn’t.
Grief was tricky. I’d likely intrude on a family gathering. Or say the wrong thing—no one knows what to say to a grieving parent. Or, worst case scenario, even be unable to speak and stand in uncomfortable silence.
Racking my brain, I paced my kitchen. There was this other unavoidable, gnawing fact: the Simmons were black. I was white. And I’d made some real mistakes regarding race in the past—unintended, clumsy, non-retractable fuck ups I wished I could forget:
Naively asking my freshman roommate: “Like, what are you? Ethnically?”
“Black and Jewish,” she answered, rolling her eyes. I assumed it wasn’t the first time someone had inquired. Afterwards I felt guilty about asking, like I’d betrayed her. But I never apologized or asked why it bothered her. Instead I shrugged it off and let the sour taste of shame linger.
Or junior year, when I dated an African American, giggling as my girlfriends probed about whether or not it was true what they said about Black guys.
“How big is it?” they asked with wide eyes. To be fair, I’d wondered, too, before I slept with him.
“The stereotype is true,” I replied cheekily. Later I cringed at my reductive statement. What if he found out I said that?
Then there was my father, a cop in a small, predominantly white suburb of Pittsburgh. The entire family laughed when they found out his daughter was dating a Black guy. Karma, right? I warned James about him. But after they met, my father declared: “James isn’t a…, he’s one of the good ones.”
“Thanks, dad,” I mumbled.
I never stood up and told my father it wasn’t okay to say stuff like that anymore—that it never actually was okay to say stuff like that—I was just relieved he accepted my new boyfriend.
From then on, the topic of race became a huge tongue-tied elephant in the room that stumbled into fragile glass cabinets and knocked precious porcelain trinkets to the floor. And the more careful I tried to be, the more havoc I wreaked. With race, I could never quite get it right. So I became silent, avoiding the topic at all costs.
Several days passed. The shooting of another black man appeared on the news, and fewer and fewer people showed up at the Simmons’ home. A newer face became the cover story of the movement. Kids went back to school. People started to forget.
On a jog one morning I saw T.J.’s mother walking to her car.
‘Hello,’ I whispered, but she didn’t hear me. Maybe because I didn’t want her to. My voice was tiny and weak—afraid of knocking over more china.
Again I paced my living room, breathing heavily, analyzing, suffocating. Doing nothing because that felt safe—for me. I knew my father would say: “Just forget about it. Let them be.”
But this time I couldn’t.
On Tuesday evening I tiptoed down Sycamore Street towards the Simmons’ home with a pan of lasagna. The aluminum foil crackled as I approached the wilting flowers and melted candles of T.J.’s abandoned memorial. He’d been dead for two weeks. No one stood outside of their home anymore.
If I ring and they tell me to leave, it’s okay.
If I ring and they hate my lasagna, that’s okay, too.
If I ring and they invite me in to talk…
Before I knew it, I was standing in front of their door, heart pounding, sweat rolling down my back.
77 Sycamore Street.
Their golden doorbell stared back at me.