July 3, 1964
My name is Randolph Thomas Jefferson. I was born to Jeremiah and Suzanne Jefferson on October 30th, 1940. My grandparents were slaves on the rice plantations of South Carolina. They passed. I don’t remember them. I do remember my Uncle Bertram. I was 10 years old. We traveled by train for what felt like days to get to his funeral. The train broke down just outside of Georgia in a small town just big enough for a train stop. There was one hotel in town. And one diner. Both whites only. We slept on the platform and for breakfast we ate the stale mints from my mother’s purse.
I only met Uncle Bertram once while I was old enough to remember him. He told me one thing that would stick with me for the rest of my life. He smelled like sweet pipe tobacco. His stubbled chin scratched my neck when he hugged me. Funny. The things we remember.
“Life is what you make it,” he said. “In life you have choices, boy. You choose what to believe, how to live and maybe even how you go to the grave. Why choose anything but to be happy. Why choose anything but the best life you can make for yourself.”
I’m here for one reason. I’m choosing to have a chance to be successful. To get ahead. And yes, I fretted and worried. But then I thought about it. The Civil Rights Act was defeated yesterday. Just yesterday. I took it as a sign. You know, I just want to live — pursuit of happiness. I want to find the woman of my dreams, marry her in an outdoor wedding in Spring, have children and provide for them the way my father and mother wished they could have provided for me.
I hope that some day they’ll understand what I’m about to do. I hope that they’ll forgive me.
What’s that? No. I don’t have any particular woman in mind. Not yet. But maybe my options are about to improve.
“Are you ready, Mr. Jefferson?” Doctor Josephson asked.
“Yes sir. I guess I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be. There’s no turning back now.”
The doctor dressed in green surgeon’s scrubs patted him on the shoulder.
“You’re a pioneer, Mr. Jefferson. You’re going to be a hero.”
Attendants, nurses and assistants swarmed about. A young woman in a surgical mask with striking hazel eyes leaned over him and shone a flashlight in his pupils. She said, “We’re going to start administering the anesthetics now, Randolph. Can you count backward from ten for us?”
“A hero,” Randolph said wistfully and then before he could even complete the word “ten” he was under. His last thought, which he actually uttered aloud even though he didn’t remember, was Sallie Mae Heatherton.
Randolph Jefferson stood in front of his mirror in his bathroom. He stared at himself. His milk chocolate complexion and his dark brown eyes. Broad nose and high forehead with a slight widow’s peak. His complexion had become somewhat splotchy. It concerned him but was supposedly according to plan. He put a hand to the side of his face and touched his skin. He watched the impression of his finger, felt the slight stubble and then stared into his own eyes until his eyes started to water.
He lathered up a handful of pristine white shaving cream and covered his chin, cheeks, upper lip and neck. He honed the straight razor on the leather strop and thought back to the day his father first taught him to shave on his own. With skilled practice he began to shave. A gliding stroke with his right hand along his left cheek. The shaving cream gone to reveal smooth brown skin. He wiped the blade on the towel wrapped hanging from around his neck.
He repositioned the angle for the right side of his face. The shaving cream came away and his heart jumped. He thought he had cut himself. He saw color in the shaving cream and put his hand to his face expecting to see bright red blood against the snow white cream. But it was not blood. Randolph turned on the sink, ran the razor under it and dried it off on the towel.
He slowly began to shave again being excruciatingly deliberate and cautious. The gritty sound of blade against flesh seemed louder with each stroke. Then the shaving cream began to come away the color of coffee and cream. He quickened his pace. He touched his fingers to his face and dragged them along. His milk chocolate complexion was on his finger tips.
He grabbed a wash cloth, wetting it and then scrubbing at his face. He stepped back from the mirror and sink, his legs weak. He clumsily turned to the bath tub and shower and turned the water on. He stepped in without pulling the curtain closed. He could see himself in the mirror from where he stood. He washed vigorously, almost violently, staring into the mirror. The water and soap ran from him, the color of caramel, down the drain.
His stomach turned. He cried, unsure of the emotion, and scrubbed ever more frantically.
“I’m having trouble seeing. It’s been getting worse,” Randolph said, reaching up to rub his eyes.
“I know. Don’t worry, Mr. Jefferson. You’re right on schedule. Have you been having any other pains or discomfort?”
Randolph answered, “Only in my whole body. My skin. It feels like it’s — probably what the worst sunburn ever feels like. But all the time. It’s like deep down my skin is screaming.”
“It will pass”, the doctor reassured.
The attendant gently held Randolph’s hand from his eyes and gently but firmly eased him back. Another attendant appeared by his side and administered eye drops. They stung and Randolph closed his eyes as tears involuntarily flowed.
“There we go,” the doctor said. “Let’s rinse now.”
The eye drop attendant opened Randolph’s eyes one by one, holding them open long enough to rinse them with cold water. Randolph’s vision began to clear.
Josephson sighed contentedly. “Beautiful,” he said.
“What color are they?” the first attendant asked, crowding in to see.
Someone put a mirror into Randolph’s hand. “Take a look, Mr. Jefferson.”
From the mirror a white face looked back with the greenest eyes that Randolph had ever seen. From that day on every time he looked into the mirror and saw those eyes looking back at him he thought of forests. Deep emerald forests in some remote wilderness.
The female attendant whispered to another, “I can’t wait until his hair grows back in.”
to be continued… Part 2