ADAMS-MORGAN, WASHINGTON DC
Journal of Marcus W.
"Take off his hands and feet
His eyes and head and all
And when them student finish
There was nothing left at all."
- excerpted from "The Dissecting Hall," a folk poem of the American South
The world is not what it appears to be. We are like ants behind glass in a child's bedroom. There are hidden forces in the world, non-human, that set people against each other. They vampirize human emotion and feed off our "energy." They also act as impediments to the urge toward sympathy and understanding. These are beings, things that exist in a manner like you or I. They can manifest their wishes and willpower through us, and even take the form of flesh.
Back when I was just a boy, I saw one of them in my closet while I was in a half-awake, dreamlike state. The oppressive heat of the Mississippi night seemed to permeate my thoughts... the deafening sound of frogs in the night succumbing to their primal urges merges with the buzzing of dutifully chirping insects. The heat swirled like locusts, and a cold march of time like a zoom lens began to direct my attention to the closet of my bedroom.
My mother arranged everything in my closet at that juncture of my life. I did not spend much time in there myself, and so the small room that housed my clothing was a source of great mystery. The wooden doors could slide aside on a tiny metal railing along the door-frame, and although I did not recall opening the door myself, it seemed to have opened of its own accord. A reflection of the full moon shined in, creating a spotlight effect on the back of the wall. Slowly, like a shuffle, a form began to emerge as if like a marionette carried on hooks. I heard a scraping sound, a grinding, and then into view came a horrible face. It was a round, grinning red-lipped thing, it's hollow eyes bored into my soul. I swear, at this moment, I heard the thing speak in words that would haunt me for the rest of my life.
"FUM FUM... UNDER MY THUMB!"
In my mind, I called it the Golliwog, because it resembled a bizarre children's doll that my grandmother used to have around the house. I always hated those grotesque old-timey dolls and paintings of "colored" children eating watermelon and running away from trouble. I always thought that sort of thing was a disgrace. Reducing a few characteristics to the disassembling logic of caricature... utterly grotesque. I always associated those pictures with the stories that she used to tell me as a child about the "night doctors." She always spoke of them in that Old Testament language of retaliation, like she believed that they were some ungodly force of a plague upon our people. "There's a wolf out there," she would say. And maybe there was.
She told me the following story once on a rainy afternoon, apropos nothing in particular. It sounded crazy to me, but the terseness, the intensity of her words stuck out to me.
"I'll never forget the day we saw THEM. They arrived on horseback, arranged in a military formation with torches held aloft. Their hoods and cloaks made them look like devils, and they descended upon the home of old Mr. James, who lived on the far end of the road from us. Mr. James worked for the church, and he had mouthed off to one of those boys, one of the doctors, in public. They had come to the church to tell us folks that there was going to be a curfew at night for us all, and Mr. James got very upset and started talking straight to them. Telling them that they couldn't hide behind their masks before the Lord, that they would face judgement for what they were doing to us."
"They surrounded his house with the torches, and I thought for sure that he was going to hang. After talking to the men, he left voluntarily, and they burned his small wooden house to the ground. We stayed up for hours watching the blaze, your grandfather and I. I cried and cried, and he held me, but we said nothing. It was if to break the silence would have brought them back."
"It came about later that they told us he had "gone missing," that was what the police told everyone. One of the girls, Susie, worked at the hospital, and she told us something else entirely. She said that there was a room back there in the hospital where they worked on colored folks. She saw Mr. James back there, as well as some other people that they must have dug up from they graves. They were doing work on them, but not to make them better or nothing. They were taking their parts from inside, harvesting their hearts and their kidneys, their lungs. Harvesting all their parts. Doing strange things. She said she saw a heart hooked up to some tubes, and they were injecting something into it, something that was glowing, and the heart was beating underneath the glass. They are using us for something, something unspeakable."
There was some truth to her stories, it turned out. When I got older, and I became more political in my inclinations, I took the time to do some research into those old stories that my grandmother used to tell. Of course, the men on horseback were members of the fraternal organization known to the world now with great disgrace as the Ku Klux Klan. Their raids were a cruel and grotesque parody of the great Wilde Jagd of their northern European Teutonic lore, fitting as these men were a cruel parody of the heights of those lofty forebears. Like the terrifying night-jaunts of the Klan, it was said in the ancient times that a great spirit of the caucasian people (accompanied by the faerie folk and whatever other terrible beings were the powers that be at the time) would ride through the night on howling steeds, destroying everything in their path, hellhounds treading the path before them. The stories were the same throughout the European lands, with local deities taking on the role of the leader of the hunt depending on the region. Perhaps it was in these stories that they acquired inspiration for their activities.
An 1812 advertisement for the Medical College of South Carolina contains a bit of self-promotion that is quite alarming: "...No place in the United States offers as great opportunities for the acquisition of anatomical knowledge. Subjects, being obtained from the colored population, in sufficient numbers for every purpose..." There are similar stories from Georgia of the uncovering of thousands of bodies of African-Americans remains near local medical universities. Surely there was some collusion here between the Klan and the school administration, but these are investigations that are lost to time. There were stories in the 1800s in New Orleans of Needle Men who would inject unsuspecting African-American citizens who were wandering too near to the hospital. The unfortunate souls would be whisked into the facility and used for medical experimentation and education. They treated us like we were animals.
Kadijha was pregnant with Ismael during that dark summer, when a string of child disappearances hit the African-American community in Atlanta back in 1979. We were living in New Orleans at the time, not at all a world away from late 1970s Atlanta. Many within the circles that I walked suggested it to be a return of the legends of the Night Doctors.
There are many times in my life that I wonder why I brought another person into this world. I know that my son is watched over and cared for, but I have bestowed upon him a legacy of pain and horror that is the reality of our world. I carry that karma with me everyday, and every day I think of my boy and the world as it must look though his eyes.
Ismael... my child. I hope to see him again soon.