I HAVE AN ETERNITY AHEAD OF ME
(Intermittent Waves Recorded From The Transformed Heart Of A Woman)
AUNTIE YONNY: WHO AM I?
Hal had Darla set up a voice activated intercom between his, Zenobia, and Tanya’s room. They continued paying an off-duty policeman to be night watchman, instead of hiring a new face.
During the next few days, the police were in and out of the building regularly and Hal felt safe. He was staying off of his foot as much as he could to help it heal, but, he knew his days of rest and relaxation would soon be over. No sooner had he thought about it, then, Darla arrived with a letter from the law firm of Hamilton, Gallegos, Childress and Stein, Esquire. The letter was marked confidential.
Mr. Theodore Hamilton of the firm was requesting a meeting with him as soon as possible to discuss the estate of Mrs. Miriam D. Graves-Barrett. He closed the letter stating that it was of the utmost importance that he keep the meeting confidential and reply immediately. Believing he could trust Darla, Hal had her arrange the meeting. He was surprised when she returned ten minutes later and said that Mr. Hamilton would meet with him that afternoon.
The limousine pulled up to a private entrance behind the building. Hal had been instructed to use the entrance to be discreet and safe. Upon approaching the door, a security guard introduced himself and led him to Mr. Hamilton’s office. There, the receptionist took him directly into Mr. Hamilton’s office without wasting a second.
There was nothing particularly special or outstanding in Mr. Hamilton’s appearance. He was an aging, white male, clean-cut and shaven, whose suit appeared to be of the highest quality in make and design. He approached Hal and shook his hand with confidence and poise, treating Hal like they were just two normal businessmen getting ready to sit down and do business, something Hal was not yet comfortable with.
“Can I do anything to make you more comfortable Mr. Siegfried? I can have my assistant bring you something.”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Then, we’ve got a lot to cover. I’m sorry about the recent events and the loss of your…uh, boss and security guard.”
“Thank you, your kindness is appreciated.”
“Well, let’s get started. The first line of business is Tanya Yanovich. Miriam was her guardian and the executor of her estate. Miriam, bless her heart, was always prepared for almost anything. She requested that you become Mrs. Yanovich’s guardian, should anything happen to her. Perhaps, she suspected some foul play in the future. Nonetheless, it is part of her will and last requests. Do you intend to accept this responsibility and desire to fulfill her wishes?”
Hal, thought intensely about what Theodore Wellington was asking. Guardian for Tanya Yanovich? Someone had already made an attempt on her life. But, if not, him, who could be trusted? Was he putting himself directly in the line of fire? He didn’t know why, but he agreed.
“Yes, I will become her guardian and the executor of her estate.”
“Alright, good. Now, sign these papers and let us move on.”
“As these are extenuating circumstances, I have no choice but to let you know the context of my actions in prematurely expediting Mrs. Barrett’s Will. It is of the utmost urgency in order to continue her affairs and protect parties involved.
In Mrs. Barrett’s Will, two hundred twenty-five million is to go to each of Mrs. Barrett’s surviving grandchildren, of which there are nine. A trust fund for her son, who is in a mental institution, is already setup and remains in place until his death, whereas, there are prearranged funeral and burial arrangements. Her other two surviving sons are left their father’s two companies to run.
Miriam’s late husband was a financial genius when it came to business, making most of his money in renewable energy. He had two very lucrative businesses when he met Miriam. You’ll meet her two sons, at the reading of the will. They’re a little abrasive, having been under the influence of their father, who was a better businessman than a father and human being.
You shouldn’t have to deal with them personally. Miriam did the best that she could by herself, one son being mentally impaired, one hyperactive and rebellious, and then the oldest son got into drugs. The youngest was killed in a car accident with friends. They didn’t want much to do with their parents when they grew up, but they liked the money coming in.
Anyway, the remainder of withdrawable funds are to be transferred into an account in your name. You are to take ownership of all of her inherited Graves businesses and personal properties of which there are currently four hundred seventeen and eight respectively. There are six homes and two apartments, one each in New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver, Miami, Seattle and an apartment in Paris and Monte Carlo.
Then, there are vehicles, boats, a yacht, jet, helicopter, limousines and a fleet of motor cars, historical and late models, stock portfolios, bonds, jewelry and precious metals, oil and mineral rights, commercial rental properties and vacant land.
All accrued debt, taxes, licenses, and filing fees have been deducted, leaving your current net worth temporarily at one hundred fifteen billion, until the passing of Mrs. Yanovich, whereas, it has been arranged for you to inherit one hundred seventy-five billion, most of which was acquired through her Russian husband, Ilya Yanovich, which would have passed down first through Mrs. Barrett, then, into your hands. Your total net worth will be two hundred ninety billion, placing you in the top ten richest men in the world.
We’ll need you to start signing this stack of papers to finalize everything.”
As he took the sleek and expensive gold pen in his hand, Hal’s heart started beating abnormally fast. He started sweating and noticed his hands were shaking and sweaty. He couldn’t think straight. He never thought he’d say it, but it all seemed surreal. He’d dreamed of becoming rich and famous, but, not this rich and famous, and not under these circumstances.
“Now, there is one more thing that I have been instructed to tell you as Mrs. Barrett’s last request. I didn’t foresee it being so soon. She had hoped everything would be up and running with you in charge before this day came.”
Hal stopped writing and stared at Mr. Wellington with a deadpan face. He didn’t know how much more he could take at that moment.
“May I get some water and use your restroom first?”
“Of course, Hal. I’m waiting for one of our senior partners, anyway. He insisted on being here when I informed you.”
Hal felt like dashing out of the room, and running outside to breathe, but, he tried to maintain his demeanor. On the way out, he passed an elderly, well-dressed Black man, whom, he assumed was the senior partner. He nodded his head in greeting and hurried past him to the men’s room up ahead.
Dashing to the sink, Hal couldn’t remember when he’d been so overwhelmed and not in control. His face was so hot and sweaty that, for a minute or so, he just splashed cold water on it, drinking out of his hand. Raising his head and looking in the mirror, he studied his face, looked into his eyes and asked himself,
“Who are you, Hal Siegfried? Do you know, now? How will all of this effect you? Will you be the same person next year?”
When he returned, the two men were seated at the conference table laughing.
“I’m sorry I took so long.”
Mr. Hamilton looked at the other man and laughingly said, “We’re just glad you’re still with us and didn’t have a heart attack. I know I would have.”
The two men started laughing again.
“Hal, I’d like you to meet Mr. Childress. He’s one of our senior partners in the firm. He also worked closely with your…Mrs. Barrett.”
Mr. Childress rose and came around to shake Hal’s hand.
“How do you do, Hal? It’s an honor to meet you. We passed in the hallway.”
“Yes, sorry I was in a hurry to get to the men’s room. It’s…”
Mr. Childress put his arm around Hal and guided him to a chair at the table, pulled the chair out for him and seated him.
“Thank you. It’s an honor to meet you, too. Mr. Wellington said that there was a last request from Mrs. Barrett. Is there something that she wants me to do?”
“Well…yes and no, Hal,” replied Mr. Childress. “It’s more of something that you need to know and something that was done for you. We only learned of the information within the past month, when we were drawing up all the legal documents for Mrs. Barrett. We tried to find as many ways as possible to work the inheritance so that it would be uncontested, since you weren’t considered a relative. But then, Mrs. Barrett said that it wouldn’t be necessary and presented us with these documents.”
Mr. Childress opened a folder filled with old papers, pictures and forms.
“Hal this is your great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howard. She worked for the Graves family.”
“Wow, where did you get these photos? I’ve never seen them before. Wait a minute. I was told that my grandmother’s maiden name was Brady. Did Elizabeth Howard remarry or was my grandmother illegitimate?”
The two attorneys looked at one another. Mr. Wellington spoke.
“Well, Hal, your grandmother was illegitimate, but that isn’t why she had a different name. She was adopted.”
Hal interrupted, unaware of where all of this was leading.
“Oh, so, Elizabeth Howard adopted my grandmother!”
This time, Mr. Childress intervened.
The two men looked at one another again, both looking very uncomfortable.
“Hal, we’re trying to make this as easy on you as we possibly can. Would you like a drink? Gin? Vodka? Whatever you’d like.”
“No, I just want to know what you two gentleman are having such a hard time telling me.”
“Hal, when Elizabeth Howard worked for the Graves family, she had a child, your grandmother.”
“Elizabeth Howard was Black and the father was White.”
“Yes, I know that we are a biracial family.”
“Well, the father was a member of the Graves family.”
Hal, jumped out of his chair, then, looking defiantly at the two men, shouted.
“Now, sit down, Hal, there’s more.”
Slowly, Hal sat down holding his head, grabbing his hair, as he did when he was stressed out.
“Willard Graves, who became President Graves, was the father. Rumor was it was rape.”
Hal jumped up out of his seat and began pacing the room and turning around from side to side. There was no calming down or sitting down. His blood was boiling and his head was spinning. Surely, this couldn’t be true. Hal was furious.
“You mean Tanya and Miriam knew this all along and didn’t tell me? Miriam wasn’t going to let me know until she was dead? THEY WERE ASHAMED OF ME AND MY FATHER! THEY WERE ASHAMED OF MY GRANDMOTHER! AND SHE DIED BECAUSE OF THEM?! WILLARD GRAVES, THAT SON OF A…HE RAPED MY GRANDMOTHER? HE RAPED MY GRANDMOTHER!!!”
Hal had never felt as Black as he did in that moment. He looked down at his light brown hands and arms. The color was familiar to him, but, not what it so clearly meant at that moment. He was brought up not to think in terms of race and he rarely did, but now, he felt his Blackness under attack. Hal began to cry and shout through his tears, seething with anger.
“I DON’T WANT THE MONEY! YOU CAN KEEP IT! THE GRAVES CAN SHOVE IT UP…!
“HAL, You don’t mean that, now calm down!”
Mr. Childress wrapped his arms around Hal and seated him back in the chair. Hal still couldn’t be still. He rocked back and forth and pounded the table.
“I guess that’s why Mr. Childress is here. You wanted a Black man in here to handle me and break the bad news how the white master raped the black slave girl?!”
“Hal…please! No, he didn’t ask me. I asked him. I know how it feels to be a Black man. I wanted to be here to help because I care. It’s not fair to take out your anger on him because he’s a white man!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Wellington.”
Hal’s stomach began to churn and twist into knots making him miserable.
“OH, GOD! Oooooh God! I don’t want to be a Graves! I hate them even more now! Everybody hates them! They destroyed this country and killed millions of people. They killed my grandmother. I watched my grandfather cry sometimes because he missed her. And Rachel’s parents. Oooooh no…Rachel!”
Mr. Childress went on…
“Now, I know that this won’t make it any better, but, I have to tell you the rest of the story. They put Elizabeth up in a house with a midwife, but she gave birth in the county hospital. They forced her to give the child up for adoption, but, they kept track of where the child was. It was quite ironic that the first to die in the civil war was a Graves and no one even knew it. Then, when they told the president about her death, he just chalked it up to a convenient way to bury his dirty past.”
Hal clinched his fists and pounded the table again. He couldn’t let go of his anger.
“But, somehow, Tanya…Tanya is your great aunt, Hal.”
Hal covered his face and wept.
“Tanya heard about the rumor and wouldn’t let it go. She investigated and found your family, then, continued to follow and get reports.”
“Why didn’t she help us?”
“She didn’t want to put you in danger. You have no idea what you’re dealing with, do you?”
“No, I guess I don’t.”
The attorney presented him with legal documentation to prove he was a Graves: his great-grandmother’s picture when she worked for the Graves family; her name in the financial reports as a domestic employee; the place where they sent her; the invoices and receipts for her care and prenatal care and delivery; her name on the original birth certificate of his grandmother. Then there was the document for legal consent to give the baby up for adoption; the children’s home she was taken to; the adoption papers signed by her adopting parents; her health and school records; her marriage license to Hal’s grandfather; and her name on Hal’s father’s birth certificate.
The documents were old and appeared to be authentic. Hal’s father was a Graves and so was he. Hal worried about how he could break this news to his father. Then, a chill came over him as he realized his father was in danger, too. His thoughts were racing inside of him and fear took a hold of him.
“How can I protect my father?! He won’t want to move from the house he grew up in and lived with my mother. And, Rachel?! What about Rachel?! Will I lose her now if she knows I’m a Graves? OH NO! Is she in even more danger if I go out with her? I’ll have to stay away from her!
Why, God? I don’t want to be a Graves! I want a DNA test. I can’t be. It’s not possible.”
Hal was crying and blubbering like a child. He was embarrassed. He knew it had to be somewhat comical to the two men. Here he was, a grown man, unable to accept who he really is and who he is related to, but, if anybody had reason to complain, thought Hal, he did.
“Hal, the proof is right before your eyes,” said Wellington. There is no need for a test. You wouldn’t have been contacted if we weren’t one hundred percent sure of your identity. The documents are real. They had to keep your family a secret or you might have been murdered by anyone who hated the Graves family for what they did. Now, there’s even more reason to keep it quiet. Your cousin and your aunt were uncovering too many family secrets and there is feuding within the family, not to mention that Derek Graves is running for president. You’ve got enemies, Hal. Just because of who you are.”
Hal looked at the pictures of his great-grandmother. She was as beautiful as her daughter. Growing up seeing the picture of his white grandfather and biracial grandmother, all he really saw was love between them, how happy they were, and how beautiful his grandmother was.
Mr. Wellington gave him a box of tissues. Hal, dried his eyes and blew his nose, feeling even more embarrassed. Mr. Childress came over and placed his hand upon Hal’s shoulder, watching him. Hal went back to signing the documents, still shaky and upset.
Mr. Childress continued…
“Don’t expect the Graves family to welcome you into the family like a long lost relative.”
“I don’t. They don’t have a good history regarding race relations.”
“No, they haven’t changed much. But, the way I see it, you made out alright and you’re better off without them.”
Hal looked across the table at Theodore Wellington, who was red in the face and embarrassed himself, with all the talk about race and slavery.
“I want to hear the rest, Mr. Wellington. I want to know what happened to my great-grandmother.”
Theodore Wellington looked up at Mr. Childress as if he’d been asked to continue torturing an already beaten and bleeding man. Childress nodded his head for him to divulge the rest of the Graves’ family secret and uncover another skeleton in the closet.
“Willard Graves’ old man was in the Klan. He couldn’t have them find out about his son lusting after a Black woman and fathering a half-black child. So…so…they sent your great-grandmother back home to a small town outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. She had family down there. Of course they gave her what they considered to be a considerable amount of money for her kind to receive for her troubles. I’m just putting it the way it was told. I believe she received a year’s salary, thirty-five thousand dollars.”
“He rapes her, gets her pregnant, shuts her up in a house with a midwife, sells the baby, then, gives her thirty-five thousand dollars when he’s got millions? Not that it would have helped anything!”
It was all Hal could do to remain seated. Mr. Childress tightened the grip on his shoulder pressing down to keep him in his seat. Wellington continued…
“You’re right, Hal. There was no way that he could make it better. He should have paid for his crimes.
After they took the child away, your great-grandmother was in a fragile mental and physical state. It was said that she was looked after by a sister, until she died.”
“He ruined her life! He killed her inside!”
Mr. Childress sat down beside him. Keeping an arm around him, he spoke to him like a father would speak to a troubled son.
“Son, our people have endured this kind of treatment throughout history. White men have been raping our women and fathering children, disowning the child, or treating them worse than their white children, selling the child, or putting them out on the streets. Whether it was the plantation, a mansion, or the projects, it’s all the same hatred and ignorance.
But, you’ve got a chance to turn this into good and right some wrongs for a whole lot of people if you keep your head on straight and your wits about you. You are the richest Black man alive now. Don’t let the Graves family and what they did stop you from being the best that you can be to a whole lot of people. Don’t harden your heart like them, son, and let your money go to your head. Pride comes before the fall and it affects both sides. You can be too proud to accept the money. You can let your Black pride cause you to hate and want revenge. Or, you can stay humble, loving everybody, even your enemies.”
“Sir, all I want is a normal life and Rachel. I may lose her and my friends when they find out that I’m a Graves.”
“Then, they were never your friends and she never loved you.
People have got to stop hating, son, if we’re going to make a difference in this world. The Graves hate, so you hate them back. Whites hating and blaming Blacks. Blacks hating and blaming Whites. It doesn’t make SENSE! WE CAN’T KEEP BLAMING PEOPLE FOR SOMETHING SOMEBODY RELATED TO THEM DID IN THE PAST! IT’S GOT TO STOP!
Listen, just go home and get some rest. Stay off of that sore foot. This was a lot for you to take in all at once. It will be clearer to you, tomorrow. Call me if you need anything.”
Mr. Childress shook Hal’s hand and started to head for the door. Hal wasn’t too sure about things getting clearer. He wasn’t even sure of where home was any more. As the heir to Miriam’s estate, he now owned many homes, too many in his opinion.
“Oh, one more thing, Hal, remember that God has His own way of righting wrongs. His ways are not like our ways. I saw that your Grandfather Siegfried was a minister. I know that he would tell you the same thing. And, I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, conflicted about who you are and what you should do. But, the best thing you can do is accept what God has done for you and all that He allowed to happen to you and your family.
Acceptance is your first step in healing and moving on. Accept who GOD created you to be. Your abundant life isn’t determined by who contributed to your DNA. However, you should accept that God created you from their DNA because God SPECIALIZES! There is nobody like you to do what He created you to do at this time in your life. Their DNA helped to make you who you are. Accept it and let God use it.
You probably had made peace with your blackness and whiteness a long time ago. Now, it may seem that you have to start all over again, to put them back together. Knowing how and where that whiteness and blackness began and who it came from is unsettling, I know. Just remember that hatred and cruelty isn’t limited to one race and you don’t want to become what you loathe.
Hal, we all can be traced back to the first Adam who sinned against God. Since then, Black men and White men have fallen short of holiness and righteousness. That’s why we need the second Adam, Jesus, the perfect man, who conquered the world.
Life is short Hal. We don’t have the time or the authority to judge other men. Jesus helped provide a way for your salvation. Knowing what you know now about your family and what they did to try and destroy this world, you have a choice to make in which way you want to go, who you want to follow, and what you want to do with your life to build a better world.
Accept God’s gifts, the white and the black and show men what love, equality and justice mean. Let God use you to make the world a better place.”
Childress looked at his watch.
“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Hal. You’ll make it through this, with God. I know you will. We’ll talk again, sometime. God Bless and keep you.”
Hal stood up and hugged Leon Childress. Childress winked at Theodore Wellington who winked back. Taking a long look at Hal, Childress burst into laughter.
“Old man Graves is probably in his grave in a tirade, cursing the devil out, spitting fire and brimstone and kicking up a dust storm, knowing that a Black man just inherited his fortune and it’s worth 500 times or more than what he ever had. Heh-heh, HA-HA-HAHAHA!”
“Ted, I’ll see you on the golf course this weekend. Thanks for letting me help.”
“You’re more than welcome, Leon. I’m buying lunch this weekend.”
“Alright, free lunch! Goodbye, gentlemen!
Childress slapped Hal on the back, then, resumed his laughing fit, as he made his way out of the door and down the hallway. Hal managed a grin, then, sat down to finish signing a stack of legal forms, taking ownership of the Graves-Barrett Estate and Enterprises.
What was he going to do next? He knew that the first thing he wanted to do was to take care of Arturo’s family, so that they would never want for another thing.
After signing the stack of documents, Hal felt as if he was choking. He wasted no time in saying goodbye to Theodore Wellington and heading outside to the limousine. Relieved to get out of the stifling atmosphere of the attorney’s office, lined with matching sets of law books, leather chairs and mahogany wood, he began clawing at his tie and managed to untie it, while wiggling out of his suit jacket. He breathed deeply to fill his lungs with fresh air. Being in that office, hearing everything he was now responsible for made him feel like there was something heavy pressing against his chest.
And those people…
“Those people, I’m one of them now–right up at the top.”