I cry for me. My best friend is gone…my soulmate. We will never be together again…ever.
Alaya is only four years old and sees her mommy bawling. Alaya sits beside me, rubbing my hand. I wish she didn’t have to see me like this. So, broken. So, shattered. But I couldn’t help myself. My Bobby is dead. Oh God! Our Bobby is dead. Alaya, your daddy is gone forever. But thank God she doesn’t quite understand. She cried when she heard the tragic news. But then we told her he was now an angel watching over us and he will always be our protector. That sort of calm her down. But Alaya is growing up. She’ll understand the full story someday and she will cry again. Harder next time. With more understanding and a cutting pain. I bawl some more. No one can hush me at Bobby’s funeral. Nobody! I am crying for my Bobby. He will never see Alaya graduate high school. Never attend a father and daughter dance. Never see her get married.
Bobby was two years older than me. He was Aunt Peaches child. Aunt Peaches was my mother’s best friend, who was married to Pastor Donald. Pastor Donald was head of the Rugged Cross Pentecostal church in Dawkins town, Albany, Georgia. So, my best friend was a PK. Pastor’s Kid. And back in the day, he was far from being an angel, but he was always my angel. And as God lives, he died an angel. His place in glory is secure.
My first memory of Bobby Dickens was us playing inside the church between the pews.
I must have been a little older than Alaya when this big tooth bright eye boy tagged me for the first time. “You are it!” He said and ran away. I chased after him but could never catch up. Bobby was fast. We played other games together like hide and seek, and baseball. We grew into a big family, Bobby and me. I had two younger siblings, Keisha and my baby brother Roger. Bobby had one younger brother named Dwayne. The group of us became the Ferocious Five and Bobby was the ringleader. The name suited us. We were troublemakers.
I did not want to see a dead Bobby in that beautiful rectangular box. I want to remember him alive, laughing like when we doused Dwayne with flour on his ninth birthday.
Bobby’s brother, Dwayne was skipping rope with me, my sister and some friends. We were busy preparing for the Double Dutch competition in a few days. No one remembered that it was Dwayne’s birthday. Dwayne turned the rope in his hands for us to jump when out of nowhere Bobby and his best friend, Willie, came with bags of flour.
“Happy birthday bozo!” Willie said, and he and Bobby poured heaps of flour all over Dwayne. Dwayne tried to run, but it was too late, they absolutely whitened him! He was covered in piles of flour from head to foot. “You guys are evil!” Dwayne shouted. But no one cared, we were all laughing and wishing him a happy birthday. He was a mess. Bobby’s laughter is what I remembered most of all. I had never seen him laugh so hard, and I remembered thinking that he was sort of cute. Funny, the girls in the neighborhood always said Pastor Donald’s sons were cute. Dwayne maybe. But not rotten Bobby! But that day Bobby was good looking for sure. Big tooth and all.
Summer and spring breaks were always fun times for the Ferocious Five. We were always busy in a good mischievous sort of way. We would sit as a group and plan with Bobby and a few friends which heist was next. That was one thing with Bobby. He was five years older than Dwayne, and eight years older than Roger, and he never left any of us out of his adventures. Even us girls were deeply involved in everything. We would throw water balloons at the mailman, clean up person’s yard for money, do a noisy drum parade throughout the neighborhood and asked for donations. We broke too many car windows playing games on the street, made fake 911 calls or sent the pizza guy to various addresses in the neigborhood. Confusion reigned when the Ferocious Five was around.
We all got into trouble. Bobby most of all. I remembered the day Pastor Donald looked at fifteen-year-old Bobby and said, “I wish you weren’t my kid!”
We are singing the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” Tears are rolling down my cheeks. I don’t know how many persons are holding me up. But I see Pastor Donald, standing upright. Stiff neck. Lines etch across his face. No one is holding him up, except God. I see Pastor’s heart on his face. His face is bent up in pain. No tears. Just painful somehow. Like the pain of a man being beaten but clenching his muscles to absorb more blows.
I remember that day, when Pastor Donald grew frustrated with Bobby and wished Bobby would disappear. How Pastor must regret those words today. Wish he hadn’t said them at all. But Bobby had long forgiven him.
Bobby got in trouble all the time. People didn’t understand why a PK was always involved in so much mischief. We all encounter problems being part of the Ferocious Five. Mama would say “Val,” my name is Valerie, “I know is Aunt Peaches and Uncle Donald boy but stop following him. He’s up to no good. Stop talking to Bobby.”
But that wasn’t possible. Mama hung out with Aunt Peaches all the time, so we were always playing with Bobby and Dwayne. How could we not talk to each other? Plus, the Ferocious Five had a special bond.
People didn’t understand Bobby, like the Ferocious Five did. We were loyal to him and he to us. Bobby was like the sun. Dazzling and potent. If Bobby had one chocolate bar, each of us would get a piece. He was kind like that. My baby brother Roger would act weird sometimes. He would make these dramatic loud outbursts, got angry real fast and then calm down in a nano-second. Sometimes, he wanted to be left alone. Bobby was the only one who could keep Roger in check. Somehow Roger listened when Bobby spoke.
When Roger was six years old and Bobby was fourteen, a few guys from church were teasing Roger, saying that he was a stupid retard freak. Imagine, saying that about a six-year-old kid! Bobby wasn’t having any of it and rammed his fist solid into the main culprit’s face, leaving the boy with a sweet shiner around the right eye. We all loved Bobby. We knew he would take a bullet for us if he could.
My sister Keisha is at the podium speaking about wonderful memories of the Ferocious Five. She sniffles throughout. Keisha speaks about the time we spray painted action heroes like a black superman on the wall of the community center. People in the church laugh now. But back then, it wasn’t so funny. We got into a lot of trouble for that one. Bobby’s father insisted that he apologized to the community publicly. When Bobby addressed the church about the incident, as practically everyone in our community attended Pastor Donald’s church, Bobby told them that he was sorry, but people needed superheroes to help them through tough times.
Jesus was our savior, but Jesus sent superheroes for kids to believe that all the wrongs can be made right in the world. He was only thirteen then, but everyone saw his greatness!! He may be a troublemaker, they said, but one day he was going to be a preacher like his daddy. So, after that day, people saw Bobby differently. He was special.
“My sister Valerie didn’t need anyone to tell her that Bobby was a beautiful soul. She always knew…” Keisha keeps talking. My eyes cloud with tears as I remember when my teenage crush for Bobby Dickens turn into something real. Something powerful.
I was in the ninth grade and Michael Scott made me cry. Michael was a bully. He kept pulling on my cornrow braids and pinching me in class, and was just plain mean, when I paid him no attention. One day by accident, I took home the wrong notebook from class and placed it in my bag. It was Michael’s notebook. Something made me flip through the pages and at the back page of the notebook, he had all these comic drawings of a girl with my name. In the drawings, Micheal was telling the girl how much he liked her cool dark skin, brown eyes and long curly hair. The following day when I returned the book to Michael, he got scared and started blurting stuff about my father in front of the entire class. My daddy and Michael’s daddy were best buddies back in the day. Michael told me that my father hated Keisha and me. And that’s why he left my mother after little Roger was born. My classmates’ eyes bored into my flesh like cold chips of ice. I wept.
After school, Roger and I were at our favorite hangout spot, a wooden area beside Spirit creek. Of course, I was crying. Roger wanted to know what was wrong, but I couldn’t muscle up the courage to tell him. Plus, I wasn’t sure how Roger would take the news. Afterall, our father totally abandoned us. Perhaps Micheal was speaking the truth.
Dwayne later came by and told us there was a big fight at school.
“what happened?” I asked.
“Bobby is in big trouble. He beat up Michael Scott so bad, the guy had to be rushed to the ER!”
Keisha walks over and hugs me after giving her tribute. I know Bobby’s funeral is equally difficult for her. Bobby was like a big brother. I whisper in her ear, “thank you.” In the meantime, Dwayne makes his way to the podium.
I look over at Pastor Donald. Now a lonely, exhausted old man. His wife, Aunt Peaches, Bobby’s mother, and Keisha’s godmother passed away a few years ago from cancer.
Pastor Donald was angry with me that day. The day Bobby almost went to juvie for beating Michael to mush. He blamed Bobby’s obsession with me for his son’s nonsensical behavior. Bobby. Obsessed with me? Now that was news. Bobby liked all girls. There was nothing special about me. All the girls in our neighborhood saw Bobby as a prize. He was the vice- captain of our school football team. And student council representative for the eleventh grade. Most importantly, he was the Pastor’s son. Don’t get me wrong, I liked him too, but we were family. It was never like that for us. But clearly Pastor Donald saw things differently.
The school’s principal had decided to expel Bobby, and I had to go into the office and explain everything that Michael had done to me since we started the ninth grade. Michael had been a bully and the ultimate insult were the things he said about my father. Bobby was sick of Michael’s behavior and decided to defend me against this bully. Well, with help from members of the church, that’s how I framed the incident to the principal. Bobby, as always was sticking up for the ‘defenseless’. Thankfully, my classmates corroborated some of my story, and Bobby’s fate was overturned. He was suspended, not expelled.
So back to Bobby liking me in that way. Bobby and I were walking one evening during his two-week suspension and Bobby just turned to me and said, “Everybody was talking about what that idiot, Michael, did to you. I had to teach him a lesson. He can’t say those things about your family. And that’s not how you treat a girl you claim to like,” Bobby said, still reeling from the incident.
“Whoa! Who said Michael likes me?” I asked.
“He told me that just before I whipped his ass.” Bobby said. “Don’t you know when a guy like you Val? Hey, I’ve liked you for forever. You’re the sweetest girl I know. But I know you won’t take me seriously. But when we are older, you will.” Bobby said with a slow shy smile. He reached out and held my moist hand. The little girl inside me did a somersault.
Dwayne wept as he looks at the casket. His emotions, raw. I get it. The shock, the hurt, the loss, the anguish, the outrage. Everything bundles up into one huge unimaginable pain. Dwayne struggles to speak, and then he gets his act together just like his big brother would want him to.
“Bobby Dickens always made me laugh. When he’s around, I am happy…”
If you look up the word “happy” in the dictionary, you will see Bobby’s face grinning beside it. Bobby loved to laugh, and he made other people laugh with him, especially me. During Bobby’s senior year of high school, he dated many girls. He was the typical PK. He had no steady girlfriend, and in private, always made it very clear that he liked only me. I kept his secret, but it became confusing when anytime a guy showed any interest in me, Bobby would insist on interrogating them. He had to give them “the talk.” Let them know he’s my big brother and if they hurt me in anyway, they are dead. He would actually say things like that and scare off the boys. I would laugh when he gave them “the talk”.
Of course, my mother appreciated Bobby’s overprotective nature, but I wasn’t always amused. Bobby had girlfriends. Many of them. But he wanted me to be an Island until he was ready for me? I thought that was stupid. So, I decided to date one of his teammates, Mathew. Of course, Bobby didn’t like it and gave Mathew “the talk”. But Mathew wasn’t intimidated. He wanted to know what Bobby’s problem was, “Do you want her for yourself dude. She ain’t your sister, so what’s this really about?”
“You’re not good enough for her.” Bobby told him.
“And you are?” Mathew challenged. They were the same height, around 6 feet. Bobby was already clenching his fist. I jumped in. “Matt, I am sorry. Bobby is like my big brother. If he doesn’t approve…” my voice trailed off. Matt’s eyes narrowed at Bobby and his jaw was clenched. But he walked away. And I exhaled. We couldn’t keep doing this.
“Bobby was a problem solver. He always kept his word…” Dwayne continues.
Bobby had a solution to our dating problem, “Why don’t you come on dates with me Val?”
I looked at him, as if he were nuts. Our parents wouldn’t put up with that. I was still only fifteen and he was seventeen. Plus, we were like family. Reading my mind, Bobby burst out laughing, “No silly. Hang out with me and my girlfriend sometimes. That way, you don’t need to date any of these crazies.”
“I don’t know Bobby. Will your female friends want me hanging around?” I asked.
Again, Bobby laughed, “They know you’re like my little sister. I’ll tell them I’m introducing you to the dating scene. It’s not a lie Val. That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
Bobby drove his father’s old Subaru around town. I went out on a few dates with him and some girl. Funny enough, I never felt uncomfortable around them. Maybe, that was because Bobby always did something silly with me. When the girl’s head was turned, Bobby would make faces, wink at me or do eye rolls. Like why was he so crazy? He always took his girlfriend home first, explaining to them that I had to be dropped off last because we were practically neighbors. That was sort of true. We lived close by, but he could just take me home first and spend any additional time with his girlfriend. But he preferred to spend that time with me. One night, well the last night, that I hung out with Bobby as a third wheel, we talked as always, and then the mood in the car shifted. It was like there was another presence in the car. It was heavy, powerful and sensual. Bobby leaned in to kiss me but ended up banging the car roof with his fist. I jumped.
“Don’t you want to kiss me?” I asked, disappointed.
“You don’t understand Val. I am afraid if I kiss you, I won’t be able to stop.” Bobby said, hoarse. I got out of the car and ran into the house. I couldn’t do this with Bobby anymore.
I am wearing shades. But the tears are plenty. I don’t wipe them away. I am holding our child, Bobby and mine. Alaya snuggles closer, her large eyes taking in everything. The church choir is singing a series of heart rendering songs, and there are cries throughout the church. We are heartbroken. Why did the police take Bobby away from us…so senseless! Oh Lord, whyyyyy?
After Bobby’s graduation, he got a job at Mr. Jones hardware store. Mr. Jones was a longstanding member of our church and was wealthy. Bobby enjoyed his job. He caught on to things quickly and was great with the customers. It wasn’t long before he was a supervisor in the outdoor department at just eighteen years old. True to his word, that summer, Bobby asked mama if he could take me to see a movie.
Mama smiled, “I know you eyeing my daughter long time Bobby. Take her to the movies, but no hanky panky business. She is still school age.” Mama told him.
“Yes, Aunt June.” Bobby responded, respectful.
And just like that, Bobby and I became an item. I was the envy of many girls in the community. Bobby was considered a great catch. He was going to take over the church someday. He wasn’t just good looking, he was really, really, smart. Pastor Donald wanted him to go to college, but Bobby refused. He did not want to leave our little community, Dawson. But Pastor Donald and Aunt Peaches just thought he didn’t want to leave me. We were in love. Our affection was difficult to hide. I didn’t get the chance to date another boy. He wasn’t interested in any other girl. By the time Bobby was twenty, he wanted us to get married, but our parents were dead set against it. We were too young, they had said.
As our relationship matured, Bobby started talking more and more about going to University. He wanted to be a Probations Officer. He had this fire in his eyes that needed to be quenched. I was a daycare teacher at the time. Although Bobby would be leaving us, and our small town, I encouraged him to apply. He got into Georgia State University and left the Fall after his twenty fourth birthday.
The tempo of the choir song begins to change. They are upbeat, lively. It is no longer mournful but celebratory. The choir sings, “There is power in the blood! Power in the blood!” and “What a friend we have in Jesus!” Pastor Donald is singing and dancing. The throb of the music forces me to my feet, and I start clapping my hands. Alaya stands and starts jumping around. I look at her and see Bobby’s face when she smiles and the memories return…
Bobby left for University. In the first year, I heard from Bobby regularly. He would return home at every opportunity and we spent quality time together. That first summer of his return, he got his old job back at Mr. Jones Hardware. The Ferocious Five group would hang out at our favorite spot by Spirit Creek. Bobby and I hid away at our favorite place by Jenna’s guest house on the less savory side of town. I wasn’t sure if it was because Bobby no longer lived-in town, but during our time together we often made one glorious flame, so much so that Bobby did not want to go back to school. He talked about quitting, but I persuaded him otherwise. He only had three more years.
On Bobby’s return to Atlanta, he called a few times, then none at all by the end of Fall. His parents had the same issue, asking if I had heard from him. “No.” I had told them. We were all convinced something was seriously wrong. This was so unlike Bobby. I had missed my period and did not want to discuss those things in a text message. I wanted to speak to him directly, but when I finally spoke to Bobby, he gave me the shock of my life. He wanted out of the relationship. “A break” he had said. Back then, I was sure I was talking to an alien. This was not Bobby. He was hijacked. I begged and pleaded, even cried but Bobby must have changed his number as I never heard from him again. And. I was pregnant.
No one heard from him. I went kind of crazy and started hanging out at a rowdy pub for drifters on that awful part of town. Lots of visitors from out of town would stay at Jenna’s guest house and hang out at the pub. To rid my nostrils of the awful stench Bobby left behind, I turned into a loose cannon. I was at the pub, practically every weekend. Sometimes I would coax a friend to go along with me. I rarely drunk any liquor. One night, I got a strange text from a strange number that said, “Val, I heard you’ve been hanging out at the bar on weekends. Please stop doing this. It’s dangerous. I love you.” I immediately knew who it was. I answered the text in big bold capitals, “F— off!”
The choir continues singing the choruses, and persons are feeling the spirit and speaking in tongues. One would think this is regular church. Bobby would have loved this.
I had Alaya Brenda Johnston on the 7th of May. She had my surname, as in my mind, Alaya did not have a daddy. Everyone was sourly disappointed in me. Some members of the church were even angry, as I had betrayed Bobby while he was away. But I no longer cared. I had stopped going to church anyway. No one had heard from Bobby, but we knew he was well. A few persons saw him working at a 7-11 store in East Atlanta. My mother, Aunt Peaches and Pastor Donald all adopted Alaya. They loved her. Of course, she was family to all of them, but they didn’t know that, or did they?
The more Alaya grew, the more she looked like Bobby. The rumor mill swirled, but no one asked direct questions. Keisha would say, “Alaya has Bobby’s eyes.!” Bobby’s friend, Willie had asked, “Valerie, anyone ever tell you Alaya looks exactly like Bobby?” And I barked, “No! I don’t see it.” And that ended the conversation. But it was when Aunt Peaches had Leukemia and she wanted Alaya around her all the time, that I grew suspicious.
Alaya was barely one year old and Aunt Peaches said she loved having Alaya around. My child made her smile, she said. Just before she passed away, she looked at me and said she knew Alaya’s father was Bobby. She was sorry for what Bobby had put me through. Aunt Peaches didn’t know why he turned into such a prodigal son, but she knew he was a good boy, “He will come around Val. Don’t lose faith and take care of my beautiful grandchild.” By then, Bobby had disappeared for almost two years.
He arrived in town the day after Aunt Peaches died. Bobby was late by a day. It was a difficult pill for him to swallow. We all took Aunt Peaches death hard. She was a second mama to Roger, Keisha and me. My mother took it especially hard. But no one was prepared for Bobby.
Mama kept two-year-old Alaya with her in the days while I went to work. I got a job as a supervisor at a medical manufacturing plant in a neighboring town. I also took business administration courses at the community college.
It had been a few days after Aunt Peaches death, and I stopped by mama’s house after work, to collect Alaya. I no longer lived with mama but had gotten a two-bedroom bungalow to rent ten minutes away. I strode into mama’s home, like I always did, and a gasp escaped me when I saw Bobby. He was playing with Alaya on the living room floor. They were building a huge tower with toy blocks and both were laughing. Mama flew from the kitchen and Roger pounded down the stairs. All eyes were on me.
It is time for the eulogy, and the church’s most senior elder goes up to speak. Elder Right knows us all from we were wee babies, particularly Bobby and Dwayne. The elder clears his throat to speak and the church falls quiet. My mind goes back in time…
In my head, I saw myself grabbing my child from this monster. This man who dropped us like dead weight. I saw myself hitting Bobby hard across the face, how dare he come here after he abandoned us. I saw myself cursing Bobby out and chasing him from mama’s home. I saw myself doing all these things and yet…and yet I stood frozen. Speechless. Alaya softened the silence with her giggles. Bobby stood up, walked slowly towards me. His eyes, never leaving mine. When he finally stood before me, he dropped to his knees and pulled me close. Then he bawled. I had never seen Bobby cry before. But that day he sobbed. Loudly. I looked at my mother and brother. Mama had tears in her eyes. Bobby held me, tight. “I am sorry Val!…so sorry babe.” He kneeled before me, and Alaya got up and hugged him. It took a long while, before I hugged him too.
Bobby learnt about his daughter from Pastor Donald. So that confirmed it. Everyone knew that Alaya was Bobby’s baby. They did not believe the ‘I met a guy at the bar story’ that I had fed them. No wonder, Alaya, was such a prized possession to the Dickens family. After Bobby cried his heart out, we went outside to talk. He missed his mother. Bobby summed up the last two years as a period of turmoil. He dropped out of school and picked up several odd jobs to survive. He was too embarrassed to return to Dawson. Bobby felt like a great disappointment, and somehow, he thought I deserved better than a lowlife like him…In my head, I am thinking, Bobby went crazy for two years. He totally checked out on us because I could never feel that way about him. He must have been going through some sort of soul purging.
“I have nothing! At twenty-six years old, I have accomplished nothing Val! Because we’ve lived in Dawson all our lives, we are okay with things but out there in the big city…I… I was just a poor black nobody, and people treated me as such. Some things have changed since the murder of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, but a lot hasn’t. We’ve got a far way to go. I didn’t realize how difficult things can get until I was out there. Lost.” Bobby said, and it jolted me. We were protected by our community here in Albany. We probably didn’t care enough about the black struggle. Bobby’s brow was creased. His face was one of sorrow.
“You are everything Bobby! You are…you are like the sun. Your life will make the difference someday and you’re going to make us all proud to know you.” I said.
“Bobby was a beloved partner to Valerie and a loving, gentle father to Alaya…” Elder Right says.
Bobby loved Alaya. He took fatherhood seriously. And changed her surname from Johnston to Dickens within a year of his return. She was almost two years old when he came into her life, but by the time she was four, he taught her tons of bible stories, how to dream the impossible, how to kick a ball, and how to recognize words. Bobby believed that Alaya should always be steps ahead of her peers. He was so proud of his little princess.
Bobby decided he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a minster of religion. He also wanted to do lots of work in the community and partner with justice organizations. He shared his testimony of his Atlanta experiences with the church and it was warmly received. He further shared his stories with the kids in the community, motivating them to strive for greatness. “The color of your skin should never be a barrier to success,” Bobby told them. Bobby got a job coaching the football team at our local secondary school. He was also a lay preacher at our church. Things were definitely looking up!
As for Bobby and me, it took us a few months to get back together. Bobby proposed to me at a family church fun day. He gave three-year-old Alaya, a huge poster to hold up saying, “Val, will you marry me?” I was stunned into happiness. I grabbed little Alaya off the ground and her dad ran over, hugging us both, “Of course I will marry you.” I said and kissed him. It was a happy day; the only disappointment was that Aunt Peaches wasn’t there to celebrate with us.
The new year was upon us, and Bobby will be turning thirty in February. Wow, I will be twenty-eight in September. Bobby and I will get married in June, a few weeks after Alaya’s fourth birthday.
The ferocious five were by my bungalow planning a trip to Atlanta during the Spring break. Keisha and Dwayne would be off from University. Roger worked at the public library and would apply for some vacation days. Bobby and I planned to take time off work. The “Atlanta City Adventure” plan was hatched.
“Bobby genuinely loved and cared for people. Everyone. Particularly, those who were disadvantaged in anyway. He was a true servant of Jesus Christ and like his father, would have made a powerful pastor someday.” Elder Right speaks. This trigger off much weeping again. Me, Alaya, Dwayne and Keisha wept hard. Roger wasn’t there. He couldn’t handle Bobby’s formal goodbye. Plus, he continues to blame himself.
It was early March, just before spring break. Keisha wasn’t able to go to Atlanta due to upcoming exams and Dwayne cancelled because he had to work. That left Roger, Bobby and me. Roger had already gotten time off and insisted he still wanted to go. I was however ready to call the whole adventure off.
“Look…life is short. We should go!” Roger pushed.
“We’ll go some other time,” I said.
Roger and I argued for a few minutes. He kept saying dumb things about dying and never getting the chance to go to the city. He was being a complete nutcase. The way how he was acting you would think he was flying on a plane to New York city or something. I hissed my teeth in disgust. Bobby who had been quiet the entire time during the argument said, “Let’s go Val…for Roger’s sake.” Roger began smiling and I turned my anger towards Bobby. But it made no sense, both guys were dead set on going. I was a loner.
A few days before our trip in mid-April, Alaya had gastroenteritis. She had a fever and diarrhea. I couldn’t leave her with mama in this condition. I couldn’t go to Atlanta. Again, I told Bobby to cancel, “It’s a bad sign. First Keisha, then Dwayne, now Alaya is sick and I can’t go…just put off the trip Bobby. We’re not to go.” I said.
“I can’t. Roger is looking forward to this. Plus, it’s a good time to hang out with my future brother-in-law,” Bobby smiled.
“You’ve always spoilt Roger. Since he was a baby, you’ve never told him no to anything! Bobby, it’s time to say no!” I asserted.
But Bobby couldn’t hurt Roger’s feelings. Roger was paranoid that he may never ever get the chance to go and I was paranoid that something horrible could happen. I don’t know why; I just couldn’t shake the feeling. Friday morning, Bobby kissed Alaya and me goodbye, “I love you. Take care of my munchkin.” He whispered in my ear and gave Alaya another hug. My heart felt heavy.
Bobby and Roger’s trip would last three days. Both guys kept in touch regularly, sending me images of all the cool places they visited. Bobby was worried about Alaya and checked in almost hourly. I realized my concerns were overblown. They were having such a good time. Roger didn’t have many friends due to his bipolar disorder. Bobby was his best friend. I saw how much this trip meant to Roger, and I loved Bobby even more, for allowing them to have this adventure.
The last time Bobby checked in with me, was from church. Roger and Bobby stayed at an air bnb that was in an upscale neighborhood. There was a Baptist church nearby, that was walking distance, from their apartment. Bobby and Roger decided to go to the late service on Sunday night. After church had ended, Bobby called me to say goodnight. He would be driving back home early in the morning. His last words to me were, “I love you baby.”
The rest of the story was Roger’s account of subsequent events. Bobby and Roger left church at eleven pm and were walking back to the motel. They were dressed in hoodie sweaters and jeans. They reminisced about childhood pranks from back in the day, when suddenly three police cars pulled up. Roger peed himself when the officers got out with guns in hand, telling both men to get face down on the ground. Roger, scared out of his wits, started screaming and running. As he ran, he heard a single gunshot. He stopped immediately and looked behind him. Bobby was facedown alright. Oozing blood. He was shot in the back. The police said he was trying to escape. But Roger knew Bobby was just trying to get to him… calm him down. Roger had a breakdown after the incident and had to be hospitalized. No one could convince my brother that Bobby’s death wasn’t all his fault.
After Bobby’s murder, there were demonstrations throughout the streets of Atlanta and Albany. Bobby’s death added to the growing statistics of another killing of an unarmed black man who was of no threat to the police. The police officers claimed there was a robbery in the upscale Atlanta neighborhood that night, and the suspects fit Bobby’s and Roger’s description. Of course, they did! Bobby’s death was being investigated. We still hadn’t seen the police body cams. But the police took the lives of two heroes in our lives that night. Bobby. And Roger. Roger will never be the same again. The trauma of the horrific event pretty much destroyed him.
It was after Bobby’s death that we saw the true magnificence of the man I loved. My Bobby was an angel. Many, many people, some who I didn’t even know told me stories of Bobby’s generosity and pure heroism. He not only coached the high school football team, but he took care of every player like they were family. My Bobby was a true inspiration to many.
I sing the burial songs, by the grave side, In the sweet by and by we will me on that beautiful shore.. I hold Alaya’s hand, crying. There is a hole in my chest, but my mind is churning with something else. It’s the rhythmic beat of their names – Garner, Martin, Rice, Sterling, Taylor, Floyd. Bobby Dickens, among too many who died nameless.
It occurs to me that Bobby would save us all if he could. He happily took that bullet so that Roger could live. Bobby’s death should mean something. He spoke about the disenfranchisement of black people all the time.
I look at Bobby’s glistening casket with tears in my eyes, hearing the rising drumbeat of our ancestors pounding my eardrums. It’s the steady rhythm of hope. My heart beats faster as I answer it’s call. Bobby wants me to embrace this dark struggle. We are not animals to be caught, slaughtered and forgotten. We are going to fight for what is right. The Ferocious Four has serious work to do.