Allow me to introduce the town of Smithfield, Ohio.
Actually, Smithfield is legally a village, with a population of 804. The post office has been operational since 1814 and the original building is still in use. In 1863, during the Civil War, a Confederate platoon passed through Smithfield, but was eventually defeated at the Battle of Salinvielle. In 2008, President Obama gave a speech in Smithfield. In fact, it was on a farm right outside my family home. So between 1863 and 2008, not much as happened in this small town.
A part of me loves Smithfield because it is the antithesis of Washington D.C. When we talk of “small town values,” Smithfield is the epitome of that phrase. Everyone knows everyone, and there is no hiding your secrets, even if those secrets are being brought from out of town. For a few days, Smithfield’s population rose to 806, as Mya and I rode into town. We did have a mission though; my aunt had just purchased a church and needed help cleaning and fixing it. It was an old African Methodist Episcopal Church.
We get into town at around two in the morning and dragged our bodies and bags into the house. I run my fingers over the kitchen table and play with the dust between my thumb and index finger.
“There’s no food,” Mya says while staring into the abyss that is the refrigerator.
“We can go to the store tomorrow, I guess. There are some extra sandwiches in the cooler, I think,” I say without looking up. I’ve spent many summers here as a kid, in this very house, but now it’s just a house I go to to get away from the city. Mya returns with a sandwich and a bottle of juice.
“Your aunt texted me, she saw us pull up,” she says with a mouth full of turkey and cheese. I move over to the window and peak out to see lights on at my aunt’s house.
“We can see them tomorrow, we have to see my grandparents before anything else.”
“Oh, yes! It’s weird seeing them only on Facebook now. To be honest, Facebook is weird in general,” she says. I give her a chuckle and move over to kiss her on the forehead.
“It’s getting late and we’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”
The next day, we made the walk from our house to my grandparents house down the hill. Grandpa Ed and Grandma Sunny were sitting on the porch, seemingly waiting for us, but they would have been sitting in the same spot regardless if we had arrived here or not.
“I told you they were in town! I thought I heard a car pull up last night,” my Grandma says as she stands up and embraces Mya and I with each arm.
“I couldn’t hear anything over your damn snoring!” my Grandpa stands up and gives us both hugs too. They both sit back down and let out a sigh of relief to be seated in unison.
“Ya’ll came down to help with the Church?” my Grandma asks. Mya nods her head yes, whilst taking a glass of ice tea from my Grandpa. We sit on the porch for about ten minutes before my grandma asks Mya to drive her into town. Mya agrees and my Grandpa and I are left on the porch alone.
“Did my parents ever fight over religion?” I ask plainly. My Grandpa laughs as he opens a bottle of beer. He offers me one, but I decline.
“I forgot! We got Malcolm X over here! Now, why would you ask me a question like that?” he says.
“Mya and I have been fighting lately. In fact, we came here to try and fix things but it seems like we are just two different people.”
“I’ve never known your parents to fight over religion. Your father never took religion too seriously. I mean, he told me he was gonna be a Moozlim and I had no clue what he was doing. He up and left for D.C, changed his religion, and started his business. So, I assumed at least he knew what he was doing, so I left him to do as he pleased. So what are you and Mya fighting about?”
“A lot. It seems like it all happened too quickly. I think we married too quickly,” I say whilst checking my phone for a signal.
“Well isn’t that what you Moozlims do? Meet on Monday and marry on Friday night? Would have it been any different if she was Moozlim?” he asks. He stands up and goes inside without saying anything. When he returns, he has a box of light bulbs. “Put your height into good use and replace the lights on the porch.”
I do as I am told and continue the conversation.
“I would have loved to know her better before we married. I think it was just a lust thing at first that I thought would turn into love. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mya, but in love? I dunno. But if she was Muslim would it be easier? I don’t know that either.” I take a light bulb and toss it into the trashcan.
“You know I was the first black preacher in Smithfield right?” I nod my head. “People of all religions will try to make Jesus, or Allah, seem as petty and ignorant as they are. We can only understand Jesus…. or Allah, as much as we understand ourselves,” he says. I stop what I’m doing and look at him.
“Where did you read that?”
“Just because I say something intelligent, it means I had to read it from somewhere? After you’re done with that go out back and burn the trash.”
After I was done with two hours worth of work, I walk back up to the house to find Mya fast asleep on the sofa with bags of food lying on the kitchen table. I wash my hands and begin putting food away. One bag had a bottle of red wine in it; I look at it for a second, and place it on the countertop.
That night, we walk over to my aunt’s house for dinner. My grandparents had come over and some other family members in the area.
“Are you still working at that fancy school?” my cousin asks Mya.
“Yes, Ryan. And it’s not fancy it’s just new. There is a difference,” she replies with a laugh.
My aunt yells from the kitchen that we will start working on the Church tomorrow. After more small talk and three games of cards, we head outside for our family ritual of bonfire and s’mores. Mya sits next to me and we roast or s’mores with the rest of the family. “Remember when we went camping in Virginia and you couldn’t start that fire?” she whispers before pushing me and sticking out her tongue playfully.
“So what’s new around here?” I ask the family.
“Well, you know they disbanded our police force? The police a few years back got new police cars. In a town with no crime what is the point of them and wasting our money? So we had a meeting and decided to disband the police force,” Ryan says as he roasts another s’more. I’ve read a lot about abolishing the police, but this little town actually did it! My little cousin jumps in Mya’s lap and demands our attention. We catch fireflies and blow bubbles into the night.
When we get back to the house, there’s a certain tension between us. We have both been avoiding any conversation about our future, the very reason we came to the Smithfield. It’s not too late, only about 10:30pm, so it may just have been the right time.
“Do you want to walk down to the old park?” I ask. We walk to the old park which years ago was a school. The only evidence of a school is old brick, an old sign, and a park with a track. The playground is rusty but usable. She takes a seat in a swing and I get behind her to push her.
“Do you remember what you said when we first met?” she asks. I search my memories for an answer, but find nothing.
“That you had seen me before somewhere. You told me that my eyes were familiar.” That was enough to jog my memory to the day we had sat in Busboys and Poets and I looked deep into her eyes. Something about her eyes was familiar, romance without the romance. Our first date seemed more like two old friends rekindling after years apart than two people getting to know each other. I could predict her reactions to situations days after we first met. She was able to get me to open up simply by giving me a look of reassurance, one that told me everything was going to be alright.
“I remember that,” I finally say whilst still pushing her. She drags her feet and I stop pushing. She stands up and reveals her face, drenched with tears and she can see my face covered in tears too.
“I want that again,” she says while pointing to my chest, pointing to my heart. “When was the last time we were together and not fighting about money, or the past, or the future?” she asks.
I have no answer. I take a seat on the swing set and she takes a seat on my lap. I bury my face into her hair.
“You smell good,” I say while laughing. She laughs too, turns to me and kisses me.
The next day, we walk over to the Church where everyone has already gathered and started cleaning; our job was to collect old papers and books, and to catalog them. Smithfield was a small town, but it did have a historical society interested in what was left behind. Mya and I diligently went though file cabinets, closets, and books. We load all of our findings into the car and drive them around the corner to the historical society. Across from the historical society is a small mom and pop store called ‘The Vend-It;’ where you can buy penny candy, rent VHS movies, and cow tails. We walk over to browse their selection of ice cream and candy.
“How much is the Chocolate Crunch Bar?” Mya asks.
“Now, you don’t sound like you’re from ‘round here. Where ya’ll from?” the old man behind the counter asks. We both replied Washington and the old man looks at me a little closer.
“Who are ya’ll related too?” he asks.
“Well, my Grandpa is Ed and my father is Shane. This is my wife Mya,” I reply.
“You’re the Webb boy! Annie! Come out here, Shane’s son is here! We haven’t seen you since your father died.”
An old lady walks out from the back and greets me with kisses and hugs. They give us ice cream for free and tell us to stay out of trouble. That night we packed up and headed back home.
After a week of us being home, Mya and I file for a divorce. I wish I had a better ending. Even the best laid plans sometimes fall through. This plan, I must confess, was built on a foundation of lies. When the old man said I was a Webb boy and that my father died, that didn’t match up with what I had previously told Mya.
I had told her I had never met my father and that I had been adopted. Why? I don’t know. It seemed easier than the truth which, as much as I want to pretend, is not at all normal. So, I lied to her, for years, about a lot.
Religion had nothing to do with anything in the long run. So Mya (you know your real name), I am sorry from the bottom of my heart.
You can read the first instalments if this by following the links: