Some things are just not meant to be. Some people are so inherently incompatible that they will never ever end up together.
A prime example of that is me, Meshach Reynolds, and my co-worker, Mary Minter. Mary's six feet tall, one-hundred-forty pounds, with short, sandy, finger combed hair and a preference for jeans, cowboy boots, and flannel shirts. She hails from the Republican stronghold of Lander, Wyoming and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming with a degree in agricultural geography.
Me, I'm five feet nine, one-hundred-fifty pounds, with a quo Vadis do that I get touched up every week. I prefer slacks, dress shirts in a range of colors, sports jackets, and quality footwear like Stacy Adams, and Cole Haan. I'm from staunchly Democratic Washington, D.C. and I graduated from Howard University with a degree in political science.
Oh, in case you haven't figured it out, Mary's white and I'm the color of milk chocolate.
Mary had been working for the State of California Disability Program in Sacramento for a little over a year when I started working there in 1967. The program had just moved to a new open-space, modular floor plan, but the cubicle panels had not yet arrived, and our desk were face-to-face and inches apart.
Our supervisor, Jo Ann Ball, introduced us, "Mary, this is our newest employee, Meshach Reynolds, from Washington, DC. Meshach, this is Mary Minter, one of our sharpest analysts. I'm sure Mary will help you get settled."
The thing about Mary that blew me away was not her height. It was her eyes. She had such direct, honest, and open eye contact it made me feel like I had to be just as candid and revealing. It startled me. I never had anyone look at me like that. I was flustered. "Hi, I, I, you, you have you worked here long? For a long time?"
Mary laughed. An excellent healthy, happy laugh. It invited me to join in. I did. "Meshach, I'm glad to meet you. I know we'll be friends." And as improbable as it seems we were friends at first laugh.
We were both brown bagging it back then. We ate lunch outside under the baby shade trees that provided a slender slice of shade.
Mary was a lunchtime walker, and I joined her on her jaunt.
"Meshach, just so you know I don't date co-workers or guys shorter than I am."
"Mary Minter, look at you, reading me the rules already. Why do you think I would even want to date you?"
"Because you're a stranger here, a long way from home and you're lonely, and because I'm your friend. Sometimes things between friends can get confusing."
"Are we friends?"
"I hope so."
"Why? Why do you want to be my friend?"
"Because you need one and I need one."
"Okay, but why me? You have been here over a year, right? You must have some friends here."
Mary stopped walking. "I thought I had a friend here, but I was wrong. He was not my friend."
"Okay, I get that, but why me? You just met me this morning."
Mary grinned as she responded, "You have a lot of honest feeling in your eyes, and you have a true and real laugh."
"Mary, that's pretty thin ice to build an instant friendship on. Did your would-be friend have feeling eyes and an authentic laugh?"
"No, he didn't. Meshach, I was lonely. I made a mistake. I don't want to do that again."
"I can understand that. Mary, is there another reason that you might not want to go out with me?"
Mary paused before she replied. "Yes. Yes, there is."
"Is it because I'm black?"
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Okay, friend I believe that. So, what's your other reason?" And I do believe her eyes and her words.
Mary tugged me back into motion. "I like your clothes -- the way you dress. No one here on-site dresses like that. I think I would look as dull as a dust mop next to you."
It was my turn to laugh. "Mary, you wear your clothes like a second skin. They make you feel comfortable, confident, prepared for anything. Mary Minter, when you look like that you are absolutely stunning." I'm surprised by what just came out of my mouth. I barely knew this woman, but I knew I was speaking the truth.
Mary stopped like she hit a brick wall. "Meshach Reynolds, have you been talking to my father?"
"Mary, I don't know your father. How could --"
"When I was sixteen and too tall for the boys to ask me to the prom and my prom dress was a disaster, my father took me to the prom. I wore my new jeans, a western shirt, and my best Justin boots. He told me almost the same things."
"You know what they say, 'Great minds think alike.' Did you have a good time at the prom?"
"Yes, I did. I asked a couple of boys to dance with me, and after that, I had plenty of dances."
Mary gave me a quick, fierce hug. And we were off walking again.
"Mary, one friend to another, you walk awful fast. Could you slow it down a smidgen?"
"Thank you, Meshach, for being my friend even if you're as slow as molasses in January."
* * *
It took less than two weeks for me to fall head over heels for Mary Minter. I knew it was not going to work. I was scared I would lose the best friend I had made since I got out of the Air Force. There was a lot of tension in me. I wanted to resolve it one way or the other.
At lunch. "Mary, you like dancing, right?"
"I love dancing."
"Look, I respect your rules, but would you go dancing with me?" I held my breath, crossed my fingers and prayed.
"Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, any day. Every day."
"Friday night sounds like fun. Where?"
"Yes! Wait, wait, have your rules changed, about dating coworkers and taller guys?"
"Of course not. This is not that kinda date. It's just friends going out to dance. It's not romantic. Right?"
"Oh, yeah, of course. Absolutely."
"Meshach, do you have a problem with dancing with me -- because I'm taller than you?"
"No. Why don't you date guys that are shorter than you? I mean, that cuts a whole lot of guys, probably interesting guys, from your dating pool."
"When I'm with a taller man I feel protected. When I'm with a shorter guy, I feel like I'm the protector. That just feels unnatural, understand?"
"Yeah, I sure do. That makes sense."
We went to work. Outside on our next break, beneath our favorite tree, I follow up.
"Mary, who or what do you need to be protected from?"
"You were talking about feeling protected when you were with taller guys."
"Oh, that. It's just a feeling. I don't have any particular threat in mind. It's just the way I feel. Why?"
"Look, from what I have seen growing up in D.C. and living in North and South Carolina and New Jersey ... Look, I'm not trying to say I have been everywhere and seen everything but to me, it seems like the greatest danger to a woman is from the guy she has on her arm. The boyfriends and husbands and even fathers seem a greater physical threat than anything else I can think of."
Mary gave me a long, intense look. "Are you talking specifically about my would-be friend?"
"No. I'm trying to say that the men closest to women are often the greatest male threat to their well-being. Maybe I'm not saying this right."
"Are you saying, for example, that if I were to date you, you would become a greater threat to me?"
"No. I would never hurt you. I'm talking about in general ... statistics, not you and me."
"Good. With friends like you, I may never need to date again, right?"
"I'm, I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't date. I mean, I think you should date. I just was trying to show where the threats are in women's lives. I'm not doing this very well. This came up in a Sociology class. It kind of stuck with me."
Shit! That didn't go the way I had anticipated.
* * *
Mary Minter could dance her white ass off. At the club, she knocked it out of the park. Brothers were hitting me up. "Hey, Negro, where you get that cowgirl from? I want me one of those, man. She got a sister or is her mother a dancer too?"
"Mary, did you have a good time?"
"Wow! Yes! I loved the music. Everything was magical. Thank you, Meshach."
That was the optimal time for the first kiss. However, she beat me to the punch with a quick peck on the cheek.
"Meshach, can we come back again, soon?"
* * *
"Meshach, where were you this morning? I missed you." We are on our lunch walk.
"There was an anti-war rally at City College. I spoke as a representative of Vets Against the War. You should have seen it. It was incredible. There're so many students and teachers against this illegal, immoral war. I hope that we can bring that disaster to an end quick."
"You were a speaker? You actually got up there and spoke against the war? Were you frightened?"
"Stage fright, but once I got in tune with the crowd, picked up their vibe, it was all good. We rocked and rolled. I sure wish you were there."
Mary stops and faces me. "I'm not so sure I would be comfortable there. I believe the war's a necessary evil. I support our troops over there."
"Mary, I just spent four years in the Air Force. My brother's in the Army in Nam, and he spends most of his fighting time battling with the white GIs. I want him home. I want all the GIs back home. "
"Meshach, what are you saying? Are our black troops fighting our white troops? That's outrageous. I've never heard this, ever. Are you sure?"
"Not just in his unit. It's happening all over Nam."
"Meshach, that makes no sense at all. That's incredible."
"Mary, this is the real meal deal. I'll share his letters with you. He won't mind. He has a three-inch scar on his temple from battling white GIs in Da Nang."
"Why don't we know about this? Why isn't it on the news?"
"The military doesn't want this stuff getting out. Most of the press ain't interested in telling this story. I mean, black troops get the worst and most dangerous duty and the fewest perks and promotions. The press is flat out failing to cover the other war over there."
Mary looked stunned, sadden, incredulous, and confused.
"I believe you Meshach, I do. I just don't understand why this is happening."
"Mary, we have no business turning Nam into a slaughterhouse when our own house is so divided."
"Meshach, what are we going to do? I feel like Alice down the rabbit hole."
"Grab your dancing shoes. We gonna dance our blues away. We'll find our way through this mess. I promise you we will."
* * *
We're on our lunch walk. "I liked your western hoedown. I liked the line dancing, and I loved some of the music. There were some fine ass musicians there. I'm glad we went. I'm surprised I was treated so well."
"Thank you, Mr. Reynolds. I'm happy that you were open to trying square dancing. I hope we do go back. I think they liked you too."
"Hey, were there any black people in the town where you grew up?"
"I lived on a ranch about ten miles out of town. I don't think there were ever any colored people in Lander when I was growing up. There were a couple of colored kids at the University of Wyoming, but I didn't know them."
"Have you told your father that I'm black. I mean, if you have mentioned me to your father at all."
"Of course, I have mentioned you. I sent him one of those photos we took in the machine at Woolworth's."
I'm delighted that she's not ashamed of me. "So, what was his reaction?"
"He said you were handsome and had kind eyes."
"You have a very discerning, astute father."
"I told him what you said about the black and white troops fighting each other. He said he had heard rumors about Viet Nam that made him heartsick. Dad said the colored boys got the dirty end of the stick in WWII also."
"Damn. I would like to meet your dad someday."
Mary smiled and shined like a new penny. "Meshach, I would love that."
At that point, I made up my mind. I take Mary's hand and pull her into the back entrance to our office.
I led her to a stairwell, and I stood on the first step and held her hands. "Mary Minter, I'm taller than you now. So, I have known you for just under four weeks, and you are driving me fucking crazy. I want to be your friend. I always want to be your friend, but I want to be your lover too. I want to explore every inch of your body. I want to share my life with you. I want to love you all night long every night forever. I know your rules, but the way I see it we're together to protect each other even from each other. Mary Minter, I feel you deep in my bones. That's how I feel about you."
Mary stepped forward. I stepped down into the sweetest kiss, the most fulfilling full-body merger of my entire life. She kissed like she danced. She gave it her all without reservation. She whispered in my ear, "What took you so long to break those silly rules?"
We took vacation time after lunch. I followed Mary home. We broke a few more rules and her bed. Mary made love like she danced -- with passion and abandon.
* * *
"But civil rights demonstrators have their children in the streets. Some look like they're in elementary school. Why would they put their children in danger like that?"
We were eating lunch at work under our favorite tree.
"Because every black child in America's in mortal danger the moment they are born in this white man's land. Any white person can destroy our lives or damage our wellbeing with a word or a weapon. The police will arrest us even if we're the victims. The cops will beat or otherwise coerce a confession out of us or if we go to trial the mostly white jury or the white judge will convict us. There's very little justice for black people on this plantation USA."
Mary looks stunned. She's quiet for minutes.
"Meshach, do you really believe that, this is a plantation, that we are so racist and evil?"
"We're murdered, assassinated, and lynched every day with impunity. The cops are the modern slave patrol they commit more of our murders than they solve. Keeping the Negro in check is what U.S. law enforcement is all about."
She reached out and covered my hand with hers.
"I don't understand. You're treated the same as the other workers here. I haven't seen any kind of mistreatment because of your race."
"Mary, I interviewed three times for my job. The first two white supervises passed on me. I was number one on the list -- number one. I was hired when Jo Ann, the only black supervisor here, interviewed me. Her boss called Jo Ann in and questioned her hiring of me. He suggested she reconsider and hire a white female two ranks lower than me."
Mary swallowed hard. "I didn't know. I was hired on the first interview, and I was in the third rank. I don't understand why they wouldn't hire you if you were number one?"
"Look around you, Mary. There're over a hundred analysts here, and there's only one other black. That's not an accident."
We gathered our lunch remains and rolled up our blanket. Just before we entered the building, Mary grabbed my hand. "Meshach, how can you be so calm, in control if, if you're in such danger from the day you're born?"
I pulled her aside, pulled her to me, "Mary, It's all a front. I'm on the edge some of the time almost every day. I try to keep from going off. Inside, I'm far from calm and sometimes barely in control. Mary, I'm walking a tightrope here."
She held me, kissed me. I just held back my tears.
* * *
There was a cloud over us that wasn't there before I told her the truth about me. I had to tell her. I wish I hadn't. Ignorance disguised as innocence is so much easier than the truth.
In her new bed after our lovemaking, she asked, "Does us being together make things more dangerous for you?"
"For us. More dangerous for us, yes indeed."
We turned on our sides, so we were face-to-face.
"How? From the police?"
I kissed her forehead, her eyes her nose, her lips. Now, every time I kissed her, I would wonder if it would be the last.
From almost everyone. The cops will stop us on sight, especially at night. That's harassment and discrimination. They might just hassle us, or they could hurt us or kill us, most likely kill me."
Her eyes looked so big, lost, afraid.
She grabbed my hand.
"Are we safe at work? I haven't seen anyone or anything threatening at work."
I kissed her chin, her shoulders.
"You remember when I first got there before we had the partitions for our cubicles?"
She nodded yes.
"The Director did a walk through, saw us, you and me, and asked the Deputy Director if I was distracting you from your work. The Deputy Director passed the word down to Jo-Ann to move me to stop me from 'interrupting you and degrading your work.'"
"I remember! I remember Jo Ann asking me if you were interfering with my work. I thought that was a strange question, out of the blue. You and I never talked much in the office."
"James Forrester, the other black analyst, told me to watch my back because our rent-a-cops were asking about you and me. That was a week ago."
"You didn't tell me about that."
"I should have. I really should have."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because, because I'm a coward. I had just revealed my real self, my true situation all that. I laid a lot on you. I didn't want to scare you off -- lose you so quickly."
We made love that started tenderly and ended brutally.
I felt the end for us was near.
* * *
On June 13th, 1967, I picked up Mary for work, and I gave her a humongous kiss and a crushing hug.
"Wow! I liked that. You should greet me like that every day, Mr. Meshach Reynolds."
"Look," I showed her the newspaper headlines 'Interracial Marriages Supported by Supreme Court.'" We kissed again. "Now we can get married and live in Virginia or any other state if we want to. How about that?"
"Meshach Reynolds, are you asking me to marry you?"
"I, I -- would you say yes?"
"I don't know. You have to ask first."
I hesitated. I knew I loved Mary, but I didn't know if I was strong enough to be with her, to defend us, to deal with the increased and intensified hatred that would be directed at us.
The moment passed. We brushed it off with a joke. I could hear the clock on our good thing ticking down, picking up speed.
* * *
We were in Mary's apartment watching the Detroit riots.
I was glad the brothers and sisters were fighting back. I wanted to fly to Detroit and lend my hand, my gun, my body to the struggle. Mary reached for my hand. I jerked my hand back like I had been stung. I saw the look of surprise and pain in her eyes.
"I'm sorry babe. You startled me."
"Meshach, how can you not hate me?"
I turned off the TV, turned to Mary. "Mary, when we first met you looked at me without prejudice, you saw a brown-skinned man with kind eyes and a good laugh. You did not see a nigger, or a Negro or a colored boy. You saw me as a human being just like you."
Mary had tears in her eyes as she kissed me.
"Mary, somewhere in your education somehow they didn't teach you to be white. That's my great good fortune."
* * *
"Being a tall girl must be a little like being black. You get left out of so many things because of something you have no control over, right?"
We were fishing, a newly discovered love we shared.
"It takes away some opportunities and gives some others. It bothered me a lot when I was growing up. Not so much now."
"Why? What changed?"
She gave me a look like she had given me when we first met. "Because I have you."
We moved closer, touching close.
She asked softly, "If you had daughters, would you want them to be of average height?"
I answered instantly, "I would want them to be exactly like you."
* * *
That was forty-five years and three tall, tan daughters ago.
Maybe we weren't as inherently incompatible as I thought, but Mary Reynolds reminds me that we still have a way to go to prove that point.
Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-02-11