Response to: Toni Morrison’s Jazz

I can relate to several of the characters in Toni Morrison’s book, Jazz: Joe Trace , Violet Trace, and Golden Gray/Lestory. I have experienced the same feelings these characters suffered in Morrison’s book: Jazz. I understand the “nothingness” that haunts Joe and his search for unconditional love, and the acceptance and belonging that Golden desperately searches for, Violet’s decision to stop living a lie and develop her own identity. In this response I will write about how I relate to these characters and how, like them, I lived life through what Jazz embodies: desire, depression, and forgiveness.

Golden and I experienced the same emotions in regard to our fathers: anger, depression, and loneliness. Like Golden, for most of my childhood I grew up without a father or an identity. At six years old I hated school, mainly because I was the forgotten kid in the class, a ghost at a desk. I only received attention when I acted out. Most of the time no one cared if I was there or not; so I chose not to be there. My classroom was the streets and beaches of Ocean City, New Jersey where I always earned good grades. On the days I was feeling sad, I would go to the corner store and buy fresh Italian rolls to feed the seagulls. I would climb the 5th Street jetty, toddle over the rocks, sit down close to the edge where the boulders kissed the sea and toss pieces of bread in the air. The seagulls always cheered me up; they made me laugh every time they snatched the bread from the sky. They comforted me, made me feel wanted and welcomed, they were my family, I could always depend on them to be there for me. After the bread was gone I would stare at the horizon, where the sky met the sea and think about my father, contemplate what he was like, wonder why he did not care. I would imagine that he was looking at the sea thinking about his son; I would dream that he was thinking about me.

I craved attention and sought it out, any kind of it, good or bad; at least I would have it. My mother worked all the time, I had no father I knew of, and school was that last place that I wanted to be. I was an adventurous little tyke in my seventh year of life. I shoveled snow in the winter, sold newspapers on the beach in the summer, raked leaves in the fall, and gave directions to lost tourist in the spring. Every Saturday night in the summer I would help park cars at the Wonderland Pier, a popular amusement park on the boardwalk. The parking attendant would give me a five dollar bill at the end of the night for helping him direct tourist to their parking spaces on the small graveled lot behind the Tilt-a-Whirl, and the bumper cars. On Fridays and Sundays I would walk to the supermarket on 16th street and help the little old ladies carry their grocery bags to their cars. They would try to give me a buck or two, but I would refuse; they already had paid me, they given me something worth much more than money, something that I needed much more: attention and love. I would only accept after they fussed and insisted. I would put half of the money in the little wooden box at St. Augustine’s on East 13th Street, and the rest I would spend on something to eat for my sister and me: a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a soda pop from the corner deli. This all came to an end in the winter of 1980.

I remember everything about the day my “nothingness” began. It was a cold and dank wintery day; I was eight then, living with my mother and sister in a small third floor, two bedroom apartment on 4th and Atlantic Avenue in Ocean City. I remember the exact words my mother said to me the day I was taken away. I recall my futile pleas for clemency, my frantic promise that I would be good, and the hopelessness I felt when my mother told me there was nothing she could do. I remember the tears; the warm tears that streamed down my face as the three of us embraced for the last time. Above all I recall the unbearable sadness, rejection, and “nothingness” that engulfed me as I was carried out to the waiting car and the overwhelming loneliness that stunned me as I looked with watery eyes through the rain spattered car window and realized my sister was not coming with me. That was the last time I cried as a child, and the last time my sister and I were close; after that we fought tooth and nail for our mother’s affection. Joe Trace and I share the same emptiness and “nothingness” that devastated our lives. Joe, denied his mothers unconditional love, and me torn from mine; we were both emotionally scarred forever. It was the first time I would be apart from the only two people I have ever loved, and the last time we would be together. It was the beginning of my “nothingness” and the end of my childhood.

    I was placed in the home of the Granger’s, a well respected African American family that lived in a dull gray two story house on 4th and West, only two blocks from the elementary school that I hated to attend and five blocks from where my mother and sister lived; but emotionally I was million miles away from them. I shared a room with the Grangers two sons Jonathan and David. Mrs. Granger, Mary Jane as I came to know her, ran a day care and a small grocery store from the house. Mr. Granger worked for the city and drove around the island capturing strays; for a moment I thought that I was one of the strays he captured. The only time that I seen Mr. Granger is when, Jonathan, their oldest son persuaded him to bring us honey buns from the store; he would sneak them to us in a brown paper sack and gave each of us a silver dollar. I was resentful of their relationship, and in the beginning I refuse the treats but eventually gave in to the curiosity of what it tasted like, after that I was hooked.

After awhile after I had started attending school again and my mother came to visit me on Saturdays. I looked forward to the opportunity to prove myself to her, demonstrating that I was worthy to be her son, that I was worthy of her love. She would pick me up on Saturday mornings on her blue bicycle, a Schwinn cruiser with one of those metal baskets that covered the rear wheel, the one with large left and right side baskets. I was a small boy, so my mother would put a quilt on top of the metal mesh that was fixed to the top of the rear tire guard and I would sit on top of it, one foot in each basket knees up to my chest. I would hold on to my mother waist as she peddled and the salty ocean wind blew my hair. We rode along on the boardwalk to our destinations: Jilly’s Arcade on 12th Street, Putt- Putt golf on 10th, and then to Shriver’s on 9th where we watch them make saltwater taffy; my childhood was restored for that moment and for that moment I was happy.

My mother gave me her portable 8-track player a white box with a shoulder strap and the only 8-track she had: Hotel California by the Eagles. It was the only thing that I had of hers and it provided me comfort when I felt lonely. I knew every song and every word by heart. Somehow I felt closer to my mother when I sang those songs and listening to the music. I felt important knowing that this was hers and that she entrusted me with it. This book has exposed to me the feelings and emotions that has haunted me my entire life, it has given me the opportunity to confront them face to face and to forgive my mother, my father, and myself. I am a changed man; I am now whole, no longer filled with nothing.


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