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“Evocation” Part I- The Martin Luther King Jr Bit

Positively Speaking

He emerged from the finished basement which had become our family’s recreation room looking like he had been threatened with immediate death. His deep brown eyes had a tinge of “wild seeking escape” to them.  His usually erect shoulders were even further drawn back. His steps were measured and slow. I met him as he finished ascending the last three steps. He looked at me silently, drawing in a breath he did not release. I came as close as I could without embracing him, our torsos barely touching.

“Are you OK? I asked with a mixture of inquisitiveness, concern, and impending doom. Circumventing my presence he began to pace, first towards the front door, then quickly reversing his steps back into the living room. Within minutes, my parents followed, rising from the depths, my mother looking like a hunter who had made a successful kill, my father with a relaxed sense of accomplishment, ready to eat dinner.

And that was that. And it was all my fault. And outside of perfunctory courtesy, remarks of a generic nature concerning wind or weather, I do not recall him ever speaking to me again. Our delightful little lovefest, our most peculiar and wonderful friendship, our mutual admiration society, was over.

What was the great crime Garnell Stuart Copeland had committed? He was a bi-racial young man who had/was falling in love with a fair young Protestant American Princess.

How had I destroyed it all? I told my parents of his declared intentions.

What happened in the basement? In no uncertain terms he was told there would be no non Caucasian men involved with their daughter. The one time I mentioned his name a few months after that fateful day, my mother stated that he had been using me to legitimize his position in the white world.

Even writing that down makes me sick to my stomach because it was so far from the Truth, so something he would never do.

In my mind’s eye, as an adult, I meet Garnell again at the top of the stairs recognizing on his face the devastating realization that in this house where he thought my parents accepted and honored him as one of their own, as the nearest to kinship, he was not worthy to be anything other than a servant . He was not worthy of their daughter. He was not worthy of her love or loving her. He was not considered, by them, a whole, equal human being.

I grab his hands and pull him to the front door shouting over my shoulder, “We have to get away from this place”. At the car, I force him into the driver’s seat and as I go around the car and slip into the front seat next to him, I beg him, “Teach me this thing. Take me somewhere and teach me how to do this letting someone love you thing.” for surely it was not taught in my home.

But although, ironically, the first semi pro solo I ever performed was the off stage rendering of  ‘Somewhere” during a local production of “West Side Story”, I did not in fact do anything but freeze, lock all memories and parts of our relationship out of my consciousness and remember only the guilt of the pain I had caused another human being, someone who meant the most anyone had ever meant to me besides my little brother.

The sad thing is, our story is not uncommon in 2015. It still gets repeated. Not as often or with the same results, but it is still an oddity that is outside the norm. We have not yet taught ourselves to be a multi-cultural, equitable, world. We HAVE to fix this racial thing. Have to!!  We are hurting ourselves as a human race.

In the mid sixties, would we have had an easy time as a bi-racial couple? Absolutely not. I also had some growing up and healing to do, and he had to learn to manage a high profile career in Washington DC.  Garnell was the Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, James Galway and Leonard Bernstein of the organ. That’s how we met. But that’s the Part II story for next time, not now.

Three years later, when I was attending college in his hometown, feeling very naughty, I took a roll of quarters and called everyone with his surname in the telephone book with no success in finding a link. I once again placed the sealed container of his memory away.

In the late nineties, after my divorce was finalized, I searched again on a, then, fledgling internet. There he was. The news was not good. There were only dates. Garnell Copeland. 1942-1977. He had been dead for almost twenty years. Since all organists eventually seem to discover they are gay, I made a story for myself that I meant nothing to him, had been a beard, and he had died of aids. I closed the chapter of my life entitled Garnell Stuart Copeland, feeling neither sad nor closure. I just didn’t read that chapter anymore. I didn’t know why.

But in late December 2014, when I received an email saying I had been cut from the Food Bank Fundraiser and I, whose whole life has been sourced by music had wearied of traveling off Island to have meaningful musical performing experiences decided I was going to spend my third act ignoring the self select musical system of the small rural community where it’s possible to sneeze and get a standing ovation, began googling his name again. This time there were two pages of notations and three youtube audios on Garnell Stuart Copeland including a review of his performing to which I responded. That began a whole new chapter entitled: Deborah Helen Anderson finds out GSC loved her and remembers everything about their relationship and finds out, he was murdered.