A Nation Divided

You Can Never Go Home Again


Journal it has been quite some time since I wrote you, we have traveled quite a long while from the town of Blue Ridge to this empty stretch of night we find ourselves now. I write because guilt is eating away at me like maggots from within. I feel vile. In protecting my dearest and until recently, only friend I have hurt her more than I could have imagined.

Let me tell what happened before. As I said, the journey from Blue ridge was as intense as anything I had imagined. Miss Catherine suffered the indignities of rough travel in a way that I could never have expected from her. John never ceases to amaze me with the way he seems resolutely adaptable. I had envisioned him a city rat, and I mean no offense by the term. I mean to say one who is so at home in the city streets that the smoke of the city is the air in his lungs and the water of the city is his blood. In essence, I saw him as one with the city.

And yet! Here in this trackless expanse he has come quite into his own. More than once he navigated us around obstacles, found shortcuts and helped us communicate with the southern people from Mexico and places south. They spoke merely Spanish but, in a strange pidgin that seemed equal parts mime and dance, John managed to secure us shelter and food.

In a valley nestled deep between a pair of mountains, Miss Catherine fell quite ill. I feared for her in a way that I hadn’t since choosing to enter that dreadful mine. Her pallor was at once dry and beaded with sweat. Her skin took on a dull gray complexion. Miss Catherine attempted to push on quite heroically but eventually deep in the hours of night she succumbed to the illness building within her.

Horrified, I awoke to a strange, meek mixture of sobbing and moaning. At first I wondered if an animal had wandered into our slipshod camp. When I hastily got off of my bedroll, I could tell the noise was coming from Miss Catherine’s tent. The knot in my belly grew and twisted as I saw the prone body of Miss Catherine, writhing in agony. She was mumbling incoherently and I knew that she must be having terrible fever dreams.

I awoke John at once and his mind worked like a machine. Gathering all the blankets and water we had, we stayed up all night then. The night wore on slowly like an endless nightmare and Miss Catherine slipped in and out of her wits. Still, she clung on to life with a tenacity that not even the devil himself could pry her from the mortal realm and when day broke, Miss Catherine stood victorious. She thanked us for our help but she was never one to enjoy being waited on so she reminded us of our mission.

We had to return home.

Home. Such a strange mixture of feelings well up in me now. Out here, the differences between white, black and even Mexican and red they blur. The color of ones skin fades into the background. My two companions have shown that good does good for it’s own sake. In my travels I’ve met many people. Some who immediately judged me based on the color of my flesh and others who withheld that judgment until they saw who I really was.

I think that if I am to return to being a slave, I would rather die. I would gladly have run and made my attempt at freedom among the wastes and wilderness but for Miss Catherine. He and her blasted “great adventure” pull me in like gravity. I am powerless to do anything but stay due to both my loyalty to my friends and this insatiable curiosity that I blame Miss Catherine for.

Yet, tonight will live with me as a night that guilt cleaved me in two. We stayed in a putrid little hamlet that didn’t even have a name. By the time that we dragged ourselves into town, the sun had gone down hours ago. An old man named Jeb, I believe, didn’t even look at me other than to spit on the floor in front of me. He directed us to a massive beast of a woman named Betty. Betty was the worst kind of person, the one who judges and hates without even knowing that she does. She allowed Miss Catherine and John to stay with her for the night but, I would have to find my own accommodation.

I am no stranger to this kind of behavior so, I assented and encouraged them to take advantage of the offer. Catherine was too tired to argue and spent the night there while John and I ended up bedding in the storehouse of a broken down saloon. John said later that the Saloon owner had intended some kind of attack in the night to relieve us of our valuables but John deterred him. He refuses to explain how he managed to do that and I’ve grown fearful of asking.

That night, Betty told Miss Catherine of things that I found to be wonderful but wished that Miss Catherine could learn those things differently. She said that Abraham Lincoln gave an order that slave ownership was illegal and that slaves who fought for the union would be free after the war. I don’t know if I dare myself to accept this knowledge so freely but were it to be true! The world would change instantly!

Later, Miss Catherine asked me about what she had heard. Talk of freedom being given to Negroes and slavery being abolished. Catherine has always been a young soul, unburdened by guilt, fear and hate. I tried my best to shield her from the evils of the world beyond. It was a matter of time however that she would learn of the truth. Now she calls herself a monster.

Could I have been wrong to protect her?

I know not the answer but, I wonder if it wasn’t fortuitous in the end in order to steel ourselves for the things to come. I think back to the water, that life-giving fluid and wonder if I did the right thing. I say all this because as I write this last entry, I can see New Orleans burning.

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