Friday, March 16, 2012

Whatever It Takes

We dug in the weeds for the body of Baby Dawkins until full moons of dirt opened under our fingernails and our skin wore quilts of sweat. Even traffic cops dug.

Amos Dawkins stared through a nailed-shut window. I couldn’t tell if he was looking for his missing daughter or watching to see if we’d find where he put her. He stared at me the most.


“My wife was a tough old girl like you,” Amos told me the fourth time I interrogated him. His eyes were small with fear and his mouth bent down with hating it. His hands flexed like they had something to hit, but since she vanished three years before, his wife wasn’t there.

I was there. Even after we let him go without his signature on a confession, I traced the route from my house to his on the bedroom ceiling through many nights. I had to share New Orleans with Amos and his toddler’s face on a milk carton.


We eat curbside much as we can in New Orleans and we play trumpets by the tables. People paint on walls as freely as a pre-school. Living here means loving it like the home that it is.

When my mother lost her LSU class ring, I searched with the babysitter all night and found it behind the bidet. She held me up to the light before she made me shine with kisses. I was taught to not throw clothes on the floor, but to put there were they belong.

Only my dress blues hang in the closet. The rest of my clothes are in a pile by a water stain the size of La Pieta. I laid beside them on the bed and stare at the mess of cracks on the ceiling.

I don’t sleep well since I wore those dress blues. My commendation for arrests brought the friends of those I’d arrested on me.

They put me through a week in a basement to teach me there was nothing to be proud of under that uniform. Their lessons were dope needles, flesh and four-letter words.

They taped it. I’ve destroyed the tapes and those men. The playback never ends.

I can’t sleep in this mess. I stare at the ceiling and think on how to fix the cracks.


I saw Amos laughing over a Big Mac at McDonald’s a month after the last interrogation. The woman with him smiled back but wouldn’t look him in the eyes.

I saw him on the steps of Missionary Baptist the next Sunday. I started seeing his shadow wherever I saw weeds.

Weeds are everywhere in what Katrina left of Desire District. I drive by men with bruised knuckles watching women and making fists on every street.

I yell at people for cutting in line at the Mini-Mart. I throw the antenna into my bushes when the cable goes out.

I tried to stop guessing why Amos had no knives in his kitchen when we searched it, but I kept counting more cracks in my ceiling.


Three officers lay in the weeds that morning of digging in the Dawkins garden, too weak with heatstroke to cry at their uselessness.

The DA skipped town to go fishing rather than ignore the Fifth District’s calls anymore.

There are simpler ways to go about things if you let yourself think of them.

After I learned what I did in basements, in front of video cameras, from what godless men put in me, I find myself thinking of simple solutions:

Tape can cover fingerprints. It can stop broken window glass falling. It keeps fingers from being cut by sill shards. It kept Amos’ eyes and mouth from opening.

It kept him in place for my wire cutters.


Bywater Hospital released him a month later.

I never had to see him again. I only saw what was left of him.

I slept better, though. Enough to have nightmares.

I’ll do whatever it takes. I’m not proud of it. But I’d rather feel sickened than feel guilty as I dig to find child-size clothes, see a woman flinch when a man’s hands move, find an empty cradle at a crime scene.