Ex Fabula Fellow Rochelle Fritsch originally shared this story on December 17, 2015, at the Ex Fabula Spectacular at Turner Hall Ballroom when the theme was “Never Again.” Ex Fabula Fellows tell personal stories to inspire community-led dialogue around some of the most pressing issues in the Greater Milwaukee area — segregation, and economic and racial inequality.
It was a hot summer day in Milwaukee as I was driving my teenaged daughter to her friend’s house for a sleepover.
We live in the city, while my daughter’s friend lives in the suburbs about 20 minutes away from our house. It’s a community with lots of McMansions and the yards are big enough for my small dog to get lost in them.
I also have a tendency to get lost. Easily. So, while I do know the way to my daughter’s friend’s house, I turn on the GPS just in case. We’re riding along enjoying the summer breezes, talking about nail polish, One Direction – basic teen talk, when all of a sudden: ROAD CONSTRUCTION. Summer in Milwaukee is, after all, Road Construction Season.
My GPS recalibrates and takes us what feels like a thousand miles out of the way, and it’s been longer than 20 minutes and we still aren’t at our destination. Soon, we find ourselves in a cute little cul-de-sac, and the only thing that feels familiar is the feeling of being lost.
It’s the kind of lost that gets you in the in the pit of your stomach. Soon it climbs its way into my shoulder blades, makes it down to my hands which then get sweaty and shake. I grip the steering wheel hard and before I know it, I cuss.
And I don’t cuss.
My daughter’s looking at me like Why are you cussing, mom? I knew I had to explain what was going on.
How do I explain that I’ve been here before? Not this place. Not this suburb, but a different suburb. Back when there was no GPS and people wrote down directions. It wasn’t on a summer day, but a dark winter night and I wasn’t going to a sleepover. I was going to pick up the cat of a friend who was going out of the country.
If I tell her I had gotten lost back then, I know she’d believe that because…well, I get lost easily.
If I tell her I was trying to turn the car around in that wintery subdivision, and I got stuck in a ditch, she’d believe that because she knows about winters in Wisconsin.
She’d also believe it if I tell her about the Good Samaritan who came out of his house to push me out of the ditch, because she believes in the goodness of people.
Where it might get a little confusing is if I tell her about the conversation I had with the Good Samaritan:
Please, can you direct me to my friend’s house?
Yes, my friend lives around here, but I’m not sure exactly where.
Your friend lives around here?
Yes, I have a friend who lives here.
In these estates?
Yes. He lives here.
Well, there’s a no trespassing sign on one of those newer houses…
That’s my friend’s house and he’s waiting for me to pick up his cat.
My daughter would be relieved because the guy finally did give me directions, and I finally made it to my friend’s house and picked up the cat.
Then I think about whether I tell her about the ride home or not. How the cat was in the back of my car crying; how I was nearly crying too because I just wanted to be back in a neighborhood where no one asked me why I was there. That’s when I saw red and blue lights in my rearview mirror. I checked the speedometer and I’m not a mile over or a mile under. I wonder how it will make my daughter feel if I tell her the officer said he was stopping me because I didn’t look like I belonged there.
I decide I won’t tell my daughter about it: she knows about Tamir Rice and Mike Brown. She knows about Sandra Bland, a young woman who was stopped by officers and days later, ended up dead.
That’s too much. I don’t want my daughter thinking her mom, once upon a time, could’ve ended up being Sandra Bland. So I stay away from the past and stay in the present. I just tell my daughter what she needs to know now.
That’s when it dawned on me that we’ve talked about our faith, our hair, music, drugs and alcohol, but we’ve never talked about this. But I push on because I have to; and say:
Honey, mom’s lost. This is not cool. I need to drive slowly so I can get my bearings, but someone might see mom driving slowly, and they will see a black woman driving in a place where she does not belong and call the cops.
I didn’t want to tell my daughter that.
I didn’t want my daughter seeing me — her last line of defense — shaking and cussing. I’m unapologetically black, yet she’s seeing me frightened of what a stranger might perceive my blackness to be.
But I have to tell her. Because even though she’s part of my husband and me – my husband’s white and I’m black and my daughter’s both, my husband knows this happens only anecdotally.
I know these things happen experientially. She’s a sneeze away from getting her driver’s license and I know what may happen to my daughter down the road.
So I have to balance what I tell her with: it’s not all suburbs, it’s some. It’s not all suburban neighbors, it’s some. It’s not all officers, it’s some.
But it’s the some that worries me.
I’d like to say that I’ll never again have to talk to her about this, but I have a feeling we’ll have to talk about it again in different iterations, and again and again unless one of two things happen:
Either we start seeing each other and perceiving each other differently than we do now
My daughter doesn’t inherit my sense of direction.