I ran into my friend Andrew at a gathering last fall and we had a very interesting conversation. He was one of the artists that participated in the All-City People’s Parade and this gathering was in Milwaukee’s beautiful city hall. Many of the parade elements were being put up on display, so the opening seemed like a natural time to do a post-parade gathering and celebration.
Andrew and I talked about some recent experiences he’d had with his Dad. They’re forging a relationship and it’s a day to day sort of thing. Andrew is seeing how his Dad’s life experiences are coming into play in the relationship and he’s figuring out where he fits in. Things like that. It was fascinating for me because I myself never managed to create a relationship with my father, so the process that Andrew was going through was especially poignant. It was also the first real conversation that he and I had ever had. I was getting to know Andrew and enjoying the process.
I first got to know Andrew when he joined the cast of The Tempest as a member of The Tribe. Although he had had a lot of performing experience, this was his first time working with Shakespeare or with a cast of actors who were already united in their love of this type of material. He’d been recruited by the director because Andrew has some amazing movement skills. He’s able to evoke a visually stunning array of emotions with his body and doesn’t waiver. Such intensity is mesmerizing. Equally mesmerizing was watching his transformation from outsider to backbone cast member.
And, he was hooked. Not only was the experience of working on The Tempest cool in itself, but a whole new world opened up for Andrew. Classical theatre became accessible and desirable. He became so enamored that he learned a piece and auditioned for Twelfth Night. Andrew got the Bard bug so bad that he allowed himself to be recruited for a recent performance of Shakespeare scenes at Alverno College.
The evening of scenes took place on a Friday and Saturday evening in March and were delightful. Although I’d seen Andrew several times since our conversation at City Hall, our next real conversation opportunity was after watching the Shakespeare scenes that Friday. Andrew played most of the male roles opposite the women in the theatre class at Alverno, which is a very well respected women’s college here in Milwaukee. They’re also the hosts for Shakespeare in the Park so it seems many folks who were associated with The Tempest now also have an affectionate connection with Alverno and we find ourselves drawn there over and over.
My guess is that it wasn’t too difficult to talk Andrew into lending a hand. Not only is he always a go to guy — I can’t count how often we’ve found ourselves needing a pair of hands, a good heart and a willingness to help with just about anything that needs to get done and thought of Andrew — but he got to indulge in his new Shakespeare bug in a big way. He got to be MacBeth, he got to be Romeo and he got to be about everything in between. Bliss.
The women in the class seemed to enjoy the experience working with Andrew on a variety of levels as well. He acquited himself admirably and hey, did I happen to mention that Andrew is incredibly attractive? Well, he is. Yes. Yepper. Uh-huh.
I was happy to see him in the post performance reception crowd. Before we made our ways over to greet each other, the Alverno theatre teacher who had directed the scenes, our good friend Tom, confided to us that he was especially happy that Andrew was able to perform. It seems that he’d had to overcome some very recent difficulties. Recent, as in the night before. We were seeing the show on Friday night and their final dress rehearsal was Thursday. See, Andrew doesn’t drive. He takes the bus or walks. On the way home from rehearsal, Andrew was waiting at the bus stop and a car load of 5 boys saw him, stopped and picked a fight. He wasn’t doing anything other than waiting at the bus stop. His offense? Andrew’s black.
After I got a hug and congratulated him on his performance, I asked what had happened. He explained that they piled out of the car, started yelling nigger and began threatening him. Andrew’s been around the block a few times and knew that as soon as the punches started flying, he’d better aim for the loudest or biggest one in the group. His best chance of survival was to take this guy down because bullies will usually slack off a little when their leader is disabled. So, that’s what he did. Yes, he still got the crap beat out of him but it could have been worse.
While he was talking, I noticed that his lip was still swollen and I was surprised because it hadn’t seemed to affect his ability with Shakespeare’s words. He was on top of it physically the whole performance and I never would have guessed what he’d just gone through. And now, here he is relating the story with the same outward intensity as he would describe a new comic book he’d just discovered. (Andrew’s also a gifted artist and is in the process of illustrating a new comic called “The Incinerator”. We have high hopes.)
I realized days later that, while I was listening, I was so stunned that I didn’t say I’m sorry. I just uh-huh’d and nodded and looked concerned. I tried to take it in and to reflect back what Andrew was giving. He didn’t seem to want too much sympathy. It felt as though it would be intrusive. He was dealing with it the best way he could and pushing my emotional response on him wasn’t going to help. He was just telling what happened and I could swear it wasn’t the first time he’d told a similar story.
For the past week, I’ve felt so bad, so guilty, so horrified and so responsible. I want to apologize and at the same time I want to scream aloud at the injustice. I’m angry at how responsible I feel when I didn’t personally do anything wrong. I didn’t beat up Andrew. Still, I’m sorry. I’m angry that this is not a unique experience that bewildered him. I’m angry that it will probably happen to him again in his lifetime.
I do not hate these 5 boys. I don’t know these boys. Whatever their crimes are I refuse to automatically hate them. That’s what they did to Andrew. They hated him because of their snapshot view of him and the world. Hey, it’s possible I could get to know them and then hate them, but that’s my responsibility.
Andrew’s not a saint and he’s not a sinner. He’s just a guy. He has gifts and talents and intense beauty. He’s also messed up royally. Like all of us. He’s doing his best, trying to figure out life and his place in the world. If you’ve read this far, you know that first and foremost. Hopefully, that will be enough for people to realize that he’s not a nigger. He’s just a guy.
My hope is that you won’t hate without question. My hope is that you will question whenever you hate and keep questioning. My hope is that Andrew isn’t a nigger if he’s human first.
Susan Scot Fry