The Hate I Refused to Give
On Saturday, December 28, 2019, I received horrible news. My dear friend, George Washington Freeland IV passed away unexpectedly. For those of us who knew and loved George it was shocking. George seemed invincible. He worked out, ate healthy, and was a fireman. His death was an unexpected blow for everyone who knew and loved George.
For readers of my books, the name George Freeland is familiar. While you may not have known the inspiration behind the character, you've read the name in my Love on Fire series. George appears in four books as Lightning's manager. It was my tribute to my best male friend from high school to name a character after him. A character who's strength, talent, and loyalty helps the band through many tough times.
I met George my junior year of high school. He was in history class with me and my other best friend Mary Jo ( the character Annette is inspired by her ). We took notice right away of this kid carrying a briefcase with muscle magazines, peanut butter, bread, and milk inside. He kept us laughing with stories of how he'd be Mr. Universe someday. We'd just look at the photos in the magazine and say ''Ewww, gross!" And he'd tease us about our obsession with Hall and Oates.
I remained close to both besties in my 20's. We'd try to get together and go out, or we'd meet up for our reunions and hang out. George took in a Hall and Oates concert with me, even though he preferred Prince. When I was a single mom, he helped out by giving me cash when I needed it. He cared for my daughter when she was burned by hot soup. He took my nephew on a tour of his fire station. We had many good times. But as time passed, we saw less and less of one another. Ashamed to say that I hadn't seen George since our last reunion. But, I thought about him often, especially when I was writing my books.
I called my mom to express my grief over losing such a great friend. She seemed indifferent and I was upset by her lack of interest in my stories about George. But then I remembered. My mom never met the young man I hung out with during my school day. The one who acted a fool in the Haunted Mansion on Grad Night. The one who walked right behind me at graduation. My mom never met the man who became a fireman and who at one time worked at a station not far from her house. The reason? George Freeland is black.
My stepfather who adopted me was extremely racist. My mom knew about George, I told her, but she said not to mention him around my dad. I already knew not to. I would've been punished for having a black male friend. In third grade, I got into trouble when at Open House my teacher told my parents I talked too much to Carl, a black boy in my class. We talked non stop about anything and everything because we were curious and smart and wanted to know everything there was to know in the world. But to my dad, this was a terrible thing and I was told to stop talking to Carl.
George would've remained my friend no matter what I was told. I was stubborn and often did things behind my dad's back because he was an ass. I'm lucky that I was stubborn. Being told in first grade to not talk to the black children in my class only made me curious. I sought them out and made friends despite the warning from my stepdad. Carl, the boy from third grade, continued to be a friend, and went on to become the Salutatorian of our high school.
As teenagers, race never got in the way of our friendship. We never really talked about it. To me, he was just George who made fun of us for being silly girls who talked about boys too much. George who'd act a fool when we stuffed him into the back of my Corvette on the way to school. As adults, race was something that came up more often. We learned from one another and grew from our discussions. But it wasn't something that was a big deal in our friendship. We were just people who enjoyed one another's company.
George, Mary Jo, and I became friends in 1981. It's now 2020, and I wonder how many kids (or even adults) have a friend their family hasn't met. As far as we've come, there is still a lot of fear and hate in our world. Kids often overlook it. They just want to be liked, and to have friends they can count on. I implore parents to not be so closed minded when it comes to who their kids have as friends. The only way we overcome hatred is to open up and talk to people, welcome them into our lives, even if they are in some way different from ourselves.
Although i hadn't seen George in nine years, I still consider him one of the greatest friends I've ever had. For me, his friendship....the laughter and camaraderie we shared during our high school years was worth the risk of punishment at home. George did great things in his life. And now at his passing, there is an amazing outpouring of love and support from all the people he touched along the way. The reason is simple...George Washington Freeland IV never allowed hate to enter his heart.