The Saturday before: The convenience store is five blocks from home. I stop there often after work, and the manager smiles at me when I enter because I’m one of those husbands who after filling up with gas, stops in for soda, snacks, or anything else he’s been asked to pick up on the way home from work. When it’s my turn to check out, we’ll have a short, cordial exchange about the weather, or the Badgers–if it’s football or basketball season–or the Brewers if it’s not.
My wife and son are familiar faces, too, but this is the first time the manager sees us as a family, two white, one black, all at the same time. It’s seven o’clock Saturday morning. Our son, already dressed, teeth brushed, woke us at six because we’d promised to find out what “terrible thing” he might have done the day before to make her banish him from the store “forever.”
“There, you see.”
We’re now in the back room and she’s seated at a computer controlling a mouse trying to find the right spot on the recording of the store’s security camera.
“He’s watching me as he’s walking through the store.”
We stand crouched behind her, straining to see the mosaic of black and white images flickering on the monitor.
“There, he put something into his pocket,” her finger is tapping the screen.
I turn to my right where my wife is already looking at me. Using a different set of words but with the same intensity, we asked her to rewind the tape so we might see again what we saw the first time – him putting nothing but his hand into his pocket.
We try not to give in to her thinking what it is we are thinking, so we talk about anxiety instead.
“I’m not accusing him of anything,” she reasoned with me as I walked out of her office. My wife and son had already left the store.
The Wednesday in between: We park in the designated area and board a city bus that takes us one-half block down the road to a service drive behind the school. There, we disembark and wait as everyone in line gets sniffed by German Shepherds. Inside the school, important people talk to each other. We take our seats on metal folding chairs midway between a cityscape of cameras on tripods at the back of the gym and the blue draped stage at the front.
It is noon and the President will soon be at our son’s school announcing his “Race to the Top” initiative. C-Span plans to carry it live. Filling the bleachers, rows of kids dressed in white commemorative t-shirts sit uncharacteristically still as they await the motorcade’s arrival. Our son sits with his sixth grade classmates at the end closest to where the President will enter. Sometime around two-forty, my wife and I stare as our son comes within inches of touching the President’s hand as he leaves the stage.
The Saturday After: I hadn’t heard any sirens or seen any lights, but now I could see all four squads, two on each side of the street. We hadn’t been at my brother’s five minutes. I’d just turned off the water in the bathroom when I heard my wife talking.
“Looks like something’s going on,” she said, and then something about a police car backing up.
Our son sneaked through the door into the house as my brother sneaked out. He stood hoodie up, white ear buds of his iPod strung over his right shoulder, black cables to a PlayStation he’d brought in from our car dangling from his hand, watching what was happening on the street from a secluded spot near the mirrored wall in the foyer.
My brother was now talking to two of the officers and a neighbor who had wandered down the sidewalk from his place two doors down. My brother wasn’t smiling, but he must have said something funny because his neighbor brought his hands to his forehead and began to laugh, and one of the officers, the one with the notebook, smiled a little, too.
“He didn’t know you were my nephew,” my brother said to the floor when he came back into the house.
Later, as we left for dinner, the neighbor shouted another apology past a chain linked fence to my brother as he tended to something in his backyard. Our son, riding shotgun, stared at a tired, gray cedar fence on the other side of the alley.