We are standing in a fabric section of a huge department store looking at huge bolts of fabric. We must have looked lost and confused. I had called a funeral home and asked where one buys black armbands. The woman I spoke to had no idea! Really! She suggested going to a fabric store, so we did. A middle aged black woman comes towards us and asks if we need help. I tell her that we are looking for black fabric, jet black. She casts an eye over the bolts of multicoloured material and said, "Jet black?" I nodded.
She told me that she didn't think that they had any plain black material. She had the demeanor of a talker so I wasn't surprised when she asked, "Why do you want black material?" I told her that we wanted to make two black armbands. Her hand shot out to me and touched me on the arm, "I'm so sorry." With her compassion was just a blink away. I told her that the black arm band was in both protest and memory. That wasn't enough.
So I told her.
About Brent Martin.
I knew more from searching on the web. I found one story about the beating of Brent Martin, about how he was picked out because he had an intellectual disability. That story reported that during the entire time he was beaten by the three boys, he never struck out. It reported, from testimony, that he kept trying to take their hands and shake them, in sign of friendship. He kept telling them that he loved them. He didn't beg for his life, he begged for affection, for friendship. And still they kept coming, this beating wasn't over in seconds, it took time, it travelled some distance. They had time to stop, to change their minds, but they didn't they kept coming. All because he was different. All because he had a disability. All because they hated him.
Her eyes grew hard. She asked some questions and I saw her flick a tear away from her eye. I explained that a few of us, quite a few I gather from reading your comments to this blog, were going to wear black armbands next week, in protest of his killing, in protest of violence against disability, in protest against the silence that greets the killing of our own, in protest of the commonality of Brent's experience. But mostly so that Brent doesn't die forgotten.
"Let me get a pen, don't go anywhere," she said and disappeared. When she came back she wrote down the name Brent Martin, she wrote down the address of this blog, then she said, "Come with me."
She walked quickly, anger pounding her steps to the floor. We were now in the men's department and she found a black tee shirt with a design on the front. She held it up and looked at me. "Just a minute, stay there," she said, quite comfortable with ordering me around, she had to have kids, I thought.
She came back with a receipt in her hand and handed it to me. "Come with me," she said and took us back to the fabric part of the shop. Deftly she cut three long black strips out of the back of the tee shirt. She handed one to Joe and one to me. "This is from me," she said, "wear it next week and tell everybody what you told me. I'm going to wear mine. One thing I learned from living this life is that we are all brothers. You don't hurt a brother." She's got tears in her eyes and she waves us away.
I try to say, "Thanks."
But she doesn't want thanks.
She wants a world, the same world that I do, "Where, 'you don't hurt a brother.'"