For Ava

Last night, my mom invited me and my younger brother out to a work event that involved drinking. My mom is a very serious engineer manager for an Oil and Gas company. We agreed nonetheless, because we have learned over time that sometimes her work colleagues are really fun once they start drinking and also because: free beer. And we were having fun. It took us almost an hour to find the table where her coworkers were hanging out.

When we did, it wasn’t long before the coworker across the table started staring at me, as if he couldn’t look away. Finally, he tells us his “youngest adopted daughter” is “biracial” and looks just like me. Of course she does. Unable to stand it, he comes around to the other side of the table and sits what I feel is a little too close to where my body is housed on the bench seats.

“So, everything is the same with Ava except her hair. We just don’t know what to do with it. And it’s just like yours-I mean you look just like her!” I smile. Politely I tell him it’s different talking care of my hair than my mother’s.

“You wash your hair every day?” I ask my mom.

“Every other day.” She responds.

“I wash my hair like once a month, ” I tell him, “otherwise it gets dry.”

“Malika knows a lot about this. She does a lot of research online.” This is true. I am the black daughter of a white woman, so I’ve done a lot of research into many things to do with being black.

Months ago, my good friend Courtney and I went to out to eat and catch up at the only Ethiopian restaurant in Oklahoma and were overwhelmed by a table filled with white adults and noticeably Ethiopian children. As we ate, we broached the topic of white people with babies from other countries. As I began to explain my belief that it was a current manifestation of the white man’s burden, a young girl came over to our table. She was about 4 or 5 by looking at her and she was touching Courtney’s hand as if she couldn’t believe that it existed. The same color as hers! Here were the people that had been hidden from her world, right before her eyes.

Her parents came over and apologized, explaining she was awestruck by Courtney ‘s natural hair, because she had never seen hair like ours.

Here’s the problem I keep facing as punishment for wearing my hair natural, for being black born of a white mother: I am the easy way out.

Yet, I give away my hard earned secrets. As if the knowledge is owed to them. I am now a black hair expert in the flesh, available for all the white folks adopting little black girls who look just like me because America has run out of white babies no one wants. I am the neighborhood know it all.

I want to stop playing nice with white couples who believe that raising black children is the same as raising white children, except of course, their hair texture. The very idea is offensive to people who have spent their lives being black, and know intimately that our hair texture is the least of it. I want to tell them that google is available on all electronic devices that can connect to the internet.  I want to yell at them that if they can’t start looking for answers like it’s important to them now, then their little Avas’ will notice some day.

But I worry. If I don’t tell the white people the way to keep their daughter’s hair styled, combed and moisturized, or convince them of its importance, how will the young girls fare? I always get frustrated thinking of the little girls who play in their mothers’ hair and cannot feel themselves in it. I worry about the hearts and self esteem of little girls who look up to women who look absolutely nothing like they do or will.

White people, this is your sin. Always swooping in and saving us with black skin. the best meaning intentions. Yet you deny us access to the things our hearts need in “our best interests.” You are always the hero teacher who saves us from the ghetto just in time to get into your colleges. You are constantly casting yourselves as the savior and us the tragic victims.

I want the little girls to learn how to take care of their hair as they grow. I want the people who raise them to understand that this matters. If they grow up learning only to lament the color of their skin, and the texture of their hair, it will be such a long journey to healthy self esteem. And that will not make you saviors at all.

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On Strength

Last night, my husband was angry. He came home angry and he yelled and screamed until our children were frightened and ran to their rooms. But I didn’t mind the sounds. I don’t.

I know that men are supposed to be made of some tougher material than we are, but my husband has always felt fragile to me, constantly on the verge of shattering. Somehow this makes me strong. I stand and watch. I’m a body to lay on when he collapses. And I don’t mind it. Sometimes I like it.

But today, when I came home, I was angry. I built White Houses out of mashed potatoes and then I smashed them into nothing. I went to my room to scream so the children wouldn’t hear. And when my husband came home, smelling a little of liquor and a lot of flames, I told the children to eat and I followed him upstairs.

“What did you do?” I whispered.

“Nothing.”

“You smell like an arsonist.” Radio silence.

I am angry too, I wanted to tell him.

I know that men are supposed to be made of some tougher material than we are, but my husband’s weakness has always made me feel strong. So when I sat on the edge of our bed, begging for details of a crime he wouldn’t reveal, I watched pigeons coo on the rooftop out of our bedroom window. I tried not to scream.

Where The Waterfall Starts

This is where the waterfall starts.

She paces the room weary and voice fading, whispering curses at me, at her mother, at her existence. She is exhausted from screaming, but this is worse than moments before as she shouted her list of reasons I’d burn in hellfire. She stops pacing and she melts into the floor, puddled beneath the wall where we used to hang her report cards. She’s right. She isn’t our little baby anymore.

 

When I first laid eyes on her she was made of porcelain. Skin whiter than I’d ever imagined a person could be, but flush with color like painted dolls. She struggled to open her eyes and she hated sunlight. She was jaundice. We’d spend hours sitting in the sun light, trying to turn our baby the right color. And she lay there still, so still, sometimes fear would grip me and I’d wake her. I was always careful not to shake her.

 

Her mother and I had been promised a baby boy. We had planned for him and fought over which distant uncles names sounded the most in fashion for our son. We settled on David, a strong name, a biblical name that felt powerful. We wanted our son to be born under God’s favor, even though we struggled most times to believe. We painted the walls green, because it was too cliché to paint them blue. Either way it would have been wrong.

 

When she was 6 we had our very first fight, her too stubborn to admit she didn’t understand what the 3 plus six equaled and me too excited at a chance to play with her young feelings to realize I should just explain things sometimes. A life lesson. She sat back on her little toes, and she told me she hated me. Words a father never wants to hear from his child. She huffed off into her room and she slammed the door behind her.

 

Two months ago, when she walked in the front door, she collapsed. We rushed her to the hospital, my wife holding her in the backseat of our station wagon, and me driving like stop signs and red lights didn’t exist. Her mother and I held hands as we waited impatiently in the sterilized room they gave us to sit in. Apparently they do this when your wife becomes hysterical. When they called us into the room, she cringed at the name David. Like it made her sick.

 

She has spent so long trying to explain her heart to us. And we have been betraying her, unable to hear the cries echoing through our house. We have been trying so hard to convince her that we know her better than she knows herself. It’s a delusion we have been perpetuating.

 

There is a woman laying on the ground beneath the marks where David’s name is written in pencil besides the different heights she has been over all these years. She’s right. She’s not our baby boy anymore.

 

This is where the waterfall starts.

Dissimilarity

 

He thinks that somehow it’s his fault. He tells me he thinks that, had it not been for him, she and I would have been good friends. Of course, I tell him that I agree; everything bad that has happened to me since I met him was his fault. I am only half-serious.

She hates me. The first time I saw her, at the very beginning of my freshman year was just before I met Tre. I thought she resembled me: built similarly, heavy on the bottom, light up top. We were both about the same honey color, and had the same dark eyes. Both of us were sitting alone. Presumably neither of us knew anyone else on the bright yellow school bus headed towards the first football game of the season. She was pretty and I wanted to talk to her, but I didn’t.  I didn’t know what to say. I was sure she wouldn’t be interested in me, since she gave off that vibe, same as I did. I was afraid of her.

I know better. She isn’t like me at all, not really. The list of men she slept with numbered in the 30s after the fiasco between us three. Ella: pretty, honey-cream-skinned, big booty slut. She was plenty book-smart; she had decent grades, although not quite as good as mine. She was involved in all the groups I wasn’t: Black Students Association, RCMBA, Honor Society, and some pre-med society for scholars. She started modeling slash acting her senior year. She was still gorgeous with her clothes off. Maybe that was her selling point.

“African Studies,” I told her, months later, when she asked my major while we sat coincidentally at the same bus stop on campus. I could see my breath in front of my face.

“That’s easy; no wonder you’re on the Dean’s list. You should try being pre-med.” I sucked my teeth. I thought hundreds of “fuck you”’s at her, hoping she’d become telepathic.  I found joy in the fact that she had never finished coursework to be pre-med. As it turned out, she became a communications major the next week.

The same scene was repeated another time, when we were drinking at a mutual friend’s house. I had taken exactly 10 shots. She had arrived late, with some guy in tow and already drunk. She sat down opposite me around the hookah pipe. The house was old, and the table we sat at rocked when one of us leaned on it too hard. I had been talking with the owner of the house, Allen, who had kept up with me shot for shot.

“I had to beg last semester for my philosophy professor to give me an A, so I wouldn’t lose my scholarship.” He inhaled through the blue pipe that slithered down from the high, round metal instrument.

“I actually had all As except computer programming and he just asked me what grade I needed. I just told him if I didn’t get an A I’d lose my scholarship.” I smiled as Allen passed the hose to Ella and she inhaled and exhaled quickly. Only a novice hookah smoker would exhale so fast.

“Y’all must have it easy. I work my ass off for Cs. I had to pay someone to take my last test in Biology.” Smoke blew out her mouth again as she said these words, aimed carefully at me.

“I don’t have it easy. I just work hard. And I really care about my classes.” She inhaled smoke again. When was she going to pass the hookah, I wondered.

“Are you saying I don’t work hard?” She exhaled sharply again.

“Paying someone to take a test seems like taking an easy way out to me.” I looked away from her, but I could hear her inhale the smoke again, then a sharp exhale.

“Oh, you always do the right thing then? In your classes, in your major that doesn’t matter for anything?” She laughed and choked on the smoke. She coughed hard.

Drunk, Allen had talked me out of slamming my fist up into her jaw after I had risen from the table. That’s how she is, though, insecure. She loved Tre too. She wanted him to herself so bad, but he let her go. Then, before I knew him, the last thing he wanted was a girlfriend. And then I took him as my own, and she lashed out.

 

 

I hadn’t connected the two of them until a house party Tre threw. I was drunk, for the first time in my whole life. We were brand new, had just started dating, officially. We were fragile, but full of lust. We had our drunken hands all over each other without regard to who was watching. Mine were sliding up the back of his shirt, and his tried to find their way into my panties. I didn’t think anyone was watching but maybe I just didn’t care.

His cell phone vibrated and his eyes rolled as they surveyed the screen. He returned his focus to me, letting his soft lips trace the length of my neck. Then he was called away, some friend needed him, and he kissed promises to return up and down my neck.

I danced alone, on a sweaty wall in the living room turned dance floor, eyes closed in ecstasy. I knew the words to every song. It felt like I was waiting forever for him to return.  Some mass of a woman put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I tried to free my shoulder, opening my eyes to take a long stare at her. She had a furrowed brow and she was talking but I only caught a couple words over the sound of the music so I nodded and freed my shoulder. I turned to walk away and caught little-light-skinned-from-the-football-shuttle planting her lips on what was mine.

I had never been treated this way before. I walked past them, still buried in each other’s throats. I dragged my hands along the walls in the hallway itching to push my balled up fists through them. I sat on the porch, facing the dilapidated ruins of homes that used to house families. I didn’t scream or cry, but I could feel the hot fury sending steam into the air around my head. My hands pulled and tugged at each other, unable to be still.

He found me there and sat at my side.

“Why are you out here? I was looking for you.”

“When?”

“Just now.” He smiled at me.

“I was here. Wondering why you were kissing some girl, right in front of me.” I had long since looked away. I didn’t want to look into his big brown eyes as he tried to explain it away, make it my overactive imagination.

“We used to talk.”

“And now?” His hand reached for mine. I didn’t resist but I didn’t wrap my fingers back around his.

“Nothing. She-,” he took a deep breath, “she kissed me, and I didn’t stop her. I’m stupid.”

“So I should be?” I sighed.

“I don’t want her, so you know. I get if you’re mad.”

“Yeah.” I was mad.

“I am sorry. I can tell her I didn’t mean it.”

“I don’t care about what she knows. I don’t know anything. And I was forgotten pretty quickly just now.”

“What do I do?” I looked into his eyes, and I lost. It wasn’t long before we were back at it, my lips struggling to erase the stain she’d left on his, smearing it with my lips, staining them too.

When we stopped to get air, and remembered the logistics of the situation, we decided to head up to Tre’s room. He went up first as I went searching for my purse downstairs.

“Who the fuck are you? Tre is Ella’s. You need to find your own man, little girl.” The words came from the dark skinned, round woman who had grabbed my shoulder earlier. I turned around and moved away from her cautiously. I assumed Ella was the name of the girl with overactive lips. This girl, the one who didn’t look like me, was Ella’s best friend and would later pull her own pranks on me.

“Nice meeting you too,” I whispered to myself sarcastically as I walked up the stairs to meet Tre. He was perched on the edge of the back window of his bedroom.

“I met a new friend just now.” I told him smiling as I put my hand on his shoulder. Sometimes he seemed to disappear in front of me and I felt I had to reach out and hold him in place.

“That quick?” He smiled back.

“Yeah. She told me to get my own man.” He sucked in all the air in the room and exhaled it expediently.

“Yeah, you should do that.” He wrapped his arms around my lower back and drew me to him. I was satisfied with that.

That night, even as I climbed on top of him, his phone rang and rang, desperately.   Each time I heard it, I took a mental note. By the morning she had racked up a debt of my hatred. I told myself that as long as he didn’t answer, she didn’t mean anything. She didn’t, at least, mean more than me. My mind was filled with half-rage and fear.

That morning, I woke up before him. It had been the first time we had sex. I typed in the password to his phone that he had taught me himself, hoping to show me that he was an honest man. I looked at the 6 missed calls and 18 text messages from “Ella Lorel”. The first one simply said, “Who was that girl?” and he had responded to it, “she’s my girl.” He hadn’t said anything else to her.

Sometimes she would look at me, glance over, and I’d see some sick joy in her smile. She went out of her way to be where I was, or I thought she did. Maybe it was Tre she always wanted to see, since she always showed up in immaculate dress with one hand reaching, always for him. She would always be drunk and she would tell him how she hated me, how she knew he still wanted to be with her, the sexual acts she’d perform for him, that she knew he missed. She needed him but she needed to beat me too.

She had other methods. Once, she, or perhaps her friend, Candice, trapped me in a bathroom at a club. It had been Halloween and I was dressed as a schoolteacher. I had been dancing with Tre all night when I realized my glasses were coming loose on the joints. I went off to the bathroom. It was a tiny, shitty little bathroom, with throw-up in the sink. After I walked in the doorway, the door shut behind me a little too hard.  I shook it off, and set to re-adjusting my glasses. When I had given up, accepting the glasses were done for, I headed to the door and found that it simply would not open. After I foolishly banged on it for what felt like forever, and nothing happened, I realized the logical move was to text Tre to save me. He didn’t say anything about what happened. He just let me out. But I knew she had been leaning on that door.

I always behaved: I smiled, nodded, accepting her sober apologies. She was always sorry sober. She was a bitch drunk. She’d stumble all over, always looking for Tre first, then anyone with a working dick after he pushed her away. She’d look at him as she sucked the face of a random guy she’d go home with. I didn’t get it; she was perfect. Well, she was when she wasn’t after my man, or any other, with liquor pouring into her so quickly you’d think she was swallowing water.

Tre was too gentle with her, almost apologetic. When I came to him, complaining of my name being put on gossip sites, rumors swirling that I had slept with every one of his roommates, he shrugged it off, told me not to be sensitive. I knew she had done it, and whispers of others confirmed it but he didn’t say anything. He didn’t get involved in anything between us. But always, when I wanted to cry from the stress, he would grab my arm and pull me to him so hard we’d come crashing down together, wrapped up in each other like vines.

Once she told me she loved me. She was giddy with liquor and she sat down next to me. She didn’t seem to recognize me at all. She smiled a half-formed smile at me.

“I love you.” She reached her arm around me. It burned my shoulder.

“Are you sure?” I shook off her arm.

“Girl,” she’d slurred, “we have to stick together. Light skinned girls have to stick together! I love you!”

When she smiled at me, or waved, or told me she loved me, it pissed me off more than anything else she ever did. It made some piece of my bruised ego pulse. Her argument that we needed to stick together was insulting. As if she believed that our skin tone made us allies even as she treated me like an enemy. We had nothing in common outside of these traits. We had no reason to bond. I had no respect for her perfection, not anymore.

 

 

Tre has stuck by my side. He graduated at the end of my sophomore year. He ended up in grad school in Louisiana. Still, we talked nonstop through emails, texts, Facebook and Twitter. He came back to visit often. He’d always come with gifts, and smile at me like I was a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

When I went to New Orleans for his graduation just a few months before my own, I stayed in a hotel room next to his mother. We all had dinner at a restaurant the night before his graduation. He got down on one knee and asked me in a shaky voice to marry him. Preferably soon, his mother added after I said yes. From there, my life was set.

The two of us moved to a tiny house in Philadelphia, and started saving for a wedding. It was when the planning stages were in full motion that Ricky, Tre’s best friend growing up and best man, came to stay with us.

“Yo, B, isn’t that the girl you were showing me the other day?” Ricky pointed at Ella, on the television screen, skinnier than ever and acting in a new drama set to premiere in April. Tre looked over at me before nodding.

“She is bad. You used to hit that, right?”

“She’s on t.v. now,” I said it out loud to believe it myself. I left the room. There wasn’t far to go. I could still hear them as I leaned against the wall just out of sight of the living room.

“Why would you ask about that? I haven’t even talked about her since we stopped talking.”

“I just think, she’s badder than this girl. You fucked up. You could’ve been married to this girl. She’s probably paid now.”

“I would never have ended up married to Ella. But I’m happy for her.” This was enough. Time would show that this was only the first time that I would overhear a joke about who my husband should have married.

For years after we were married, I would get mail without a return address. It had my name on it, but always my maiden name. I keep them in a box under my bed. They are nothing more than progress reports. The implied threat being that she will become a woman that all men, including mine, want. I know that if I had shown them to Tre he would have laughed and said that we should move but I was afraid she contacted him as well and how I’d feel when I saw it written on his face.

Now, we have moved naturally, to a bigger house, in another state, a new city. Both of our phone numbers have new area codes. I doubt she’d contact us anyways. She is married too, to another famous face. Their faces grace magazine covers amidst titles like “Headed for Divorce,” a sure sign that their marriage is strong and unchanging.

Nights, I cling to my husband, and remember the battle I was in for him. I think to his apology: if only he hadn’t been there, we could have been friends. Because we had so much in common, I suppose he meant. For years I have refused to see it, that we have anything in common, other than our appearance: our skin color and our body shapes. But when I lay there with him, and he rolls over away from me, my heart feels like it could stop, and I can’t force myself to sleep.

 

Tired

IMG_1041

One of my easiest to recall moments in my life was when we first moved to Tulsa. Then, Tulsa was just one single block, 3rd street from Kenosha to Hartford Street. That’s where Daddy lived and we did too. This memory takes place at night. My dad was going to take our chocolate lab, appropriately named Chocolate, out for a walk. I was determined to go with them, and when he agreed I could come, my little brother decided he had to go as well.

 

We only made it about two blocks out of our Tulsa when a police car hopped a curb in front of us, lights and siren blaring in our faces.

 

“What are you doing down here?” A face hidden behind a flashlight glare directed at my father’s face, then my brother’s, then mine demanded to know.

 

“Walking my dog.”

 

“What are you doing here?” It asked again. What else could we be doing, chocolate lab in tow?

 

“I live here, and I’m walking my dog. Is that a crime now?”

 

“Nobody lives over here.” The voice answered. Which was kind of true, except that we did, just on the other border of our Tulsa.

 

“I just told you that I do. How you gonna tell me where I live?”

 

“Sir, I need to see your id.” My dad begin to walk away.

 

“Sir, you need to give me your id.” the voice was louder.

 

My dad stopped and turned, “why?”

 

“Because I asked for it.”

 

“I’m not giving you anything.”

 

“Do you want to be arrested?” The voice asked.

 

“Just tell him your name, Daddy.” I pleaded, “I’ll just tell him.”

 

“Don’t tell him anything. He doesn’t have a right to it.”

 

“Sir, you match the description of a man who hopped a train in Edmond, so you need to identify yourself.”

 

“I haven’t been in Edmond. I live here, and I’m with my kids walking their dog.”

 

This was enough of an exchange for the voice to call back up. So another car rolled up behind us, lights flashing. We were surrounded. This one got out, and came over, flashlight in hand.

 

From then on, it was threat after threat from the two.

 

“You will spend the night in jail. And your kids will be alone, ” and “What kind of example are you showing to your kids?” My father did not waver.  

 

Finally, they decided they were done threatening him, and told him outright he was under arrest. He handed me Chocolate’s leash.

 

“Go home and tell your grandma I’m being arrested.” He told me. My brother was holding my hand.

 

“Can I come Daddy? ” My little brother pleaded, “I wanna turn the lights on.”

 

“No, just go get your grandma.” My dad said. So me, 5 and my brother, 3, headed back to our Tulsa to tell our visiting Grandma James that our dad was being arrested. As we left, an officer told my father how horrible he was, sending his two kids off by themselves at night.

 

“We live right there, “he told them again, “You think they don’t know how to get home? Why wouldn’t they say so if they didn’t?” Words that fell on deaf ears, since nobody lived downtown. Except us.

 

My grandma was visiting to from St. Croix and she scared me sometimes, so I was scared to tell her, but I did. She got her shoes on with authority, ready to go to the courthouse and kick up a fuss.

 

But as she began to head outside, a police car pulled in front of the building we lived in and they slowly let my father out. There were no apologies, despite that there was a reason they never took him to be processed. They had no right to ask for his id in the first place, let alone lock him up for refusing to show it.

 

 

 

In first grade, I transferred to a new elementary school in the neighborhood of our new house and left behind my old friends. My teacher was an older woman with a short haircut and those old woman curls that they all seem to like. Probably their hair doesn’t even grow anymore when they get that old and close to death.

 

That year, my father launched a campaign for her dismissal.

 

“That teacher has to go!” he would yell in the principal’s office every day, whether she was there to listen or not.

 

Meanwhile, I didn’t understand why I didn’t like school anymore. I didn’t know why I would suddenly start crying in class and have to be sent to the counselor almost every day. I definitely wasn’t aware of why I spent all of recess hiding in plain sight, crying, waiting for someone to ask me why.

 

At my old kindergarten, 2/3 of the class didn’t speak English as their first language, and a couple not at all. Still, we understood each other. Our teachers were calm and never spoke to me in that condescending tone. My best friend Marilyn had the same birthday as me and we spent recess running around wildly, daring the wind to outrun us.

 

This new class was all about reading. One by one we sat in a circle and read sentences in sequence. When my turn came, I would start to read the words, letters I had made my friends over a year before then, and I would start to feel it. Dread.

 

My father had come to the school and watched her teach my class. He had sat in the back and wordlessly observed until he felt he might lose it. Then the three of us sat down to speak. She felt sure she had won this battle, you could see in her eyes.

 

“So how would you say my daughter is doing in your class?” My dad asked.

 

“She’s doing good, ” my teacher answered, “still working on reading.”

 

“You mean in class?”

 

“Yes, we’re working in class to get her reading.”

 

“No, ma’am. My daughter can read.”

 

“No she can’t. We’re working on it, but she can’t.”

 

“My daughter can read.” I could see my father starting to get angry.

 

“Sometimes, kids memorize stories at home and parents think they’re reading when really they aren’t.”

 

“Put any book in my daughter’s hand.”

 

So she went searching, worried now that she might have missed this minor detail. She set the teacher’s guide in my hands. Confused, I looked at my Dad and my teacher alternately.

 

“Just read it, Malika.” My dad urged, his temper having faded. So I did, carefully at first, waiting for my teacher to stop me and read the sentence instead of me. But she didn’t, with my dad there she could not take my sentences from me and I read and read, smiling until my dad said I could stop. I didn’t stumble over a single word.

 

 

I was still in elementary school when I first encountered Black History Month. They told us about peanuts and nonviolent protest and Crispus Attucks the first black man to die for America’s independence. But nobody mentioned Malcolm X and Nat Turner when we talked about black history.

 

The first time a teacher mentioned Nat Turner to me, I was in 6th grade. He was a leader of a failed rebellion against slavery. He murdered every white person he came across, even babies, and he even had the nerve to say that God sent him on that mission. A Christian God!

 

Malcolm X? The black supremacist? The man who wanted revenge instead of peace? Who told black men and women to arm themselves?

 

“Malika, write your paper on George Washington Carver.” I was told over and over for Black History Month by teachers who were not black.

 

I wanted to write about my heroes. I wanted to write about what I loved.

 

My father tells me stories of where he’s from. St Croix, a place so different from Oklahoma. He told me about the Three Queens. The women who ended slavery in St. Croix by setting the cane fields on fire. He told me how the masters ran scared, as quick as could be to their ships. That was our revolution, that’s how we became free.

 

 

When I was 15, I learned that there was something poetic about being one of 3 black people on a Civil Rights Journey, even one put on by the Unitarians. So, there I was, sandwiched between two black girls both of whom were 18 and 3 white girls only a year younger than me, 14. But outside of us, everyone was old and white and female.

 

We watched a movie series about the Civil Rights Era which followed the antics of the nonviolent movement. Somehow this has become the norm, the sweeping away of the reality to make room for the chosen heroes and erase the perspectives we now find disagreeable. Finally, one video speaks briefly about Malcolm X and I am enthralled until the big eyed curly haired white girl sitting next to me volunteers that she thinks, “Malcolm X was just as bad as the white people.” It is thirty minutes into arguing with her that I realize she is now the person I hate most in this world. Then I am silent. Years later, she will annoyingly ask me why I don’t talk to her anymore and I will roll my eyes.

 

We watched video of Bull Connor setting fire hoses on the people marching in Birmingham, and the group who held onto each other and sang before stepping out into the square that memorialized that day. People screamed for their lives in that space.

 

“You guys here to check out the memorial?” A clearly drunk and homeless man asked the group. We told him we were.

 

“I was there,” he told us, “when they turned on the hoses.” Then he proceeded to guide us through the park, well manicured lawns between statues of dogs biting men screaming. He told us what it had been like, and he cried. He stood before a statue and he bawled like a child. I fought tears myself.

 

The older white women hung behind, unwilling to stand too close to this man whom their fathers had made. But when we started to go our separate ways, they tried to give him money for the tour. Wiping away his tears, he refused it. He sat down at a bench and picked up his bottle and drank.

 

 

I didn’t have my first drink until I went away to college. My first drink landed me in the bed of the man who would be my first love. The second drink landed me passed out near my own vomit in the street on campus. Campus police arrived and sat around with me waiting until an ambulance, I didn’t need, came to retrieve me. The next day, my white floormate would tell me I threw donuts at the policewoman who came and called her a bitch.

 

“I don’t like cops,” I told her laughing.

 

“She was a black cop though.” the roomate had reminded me.

 

I told my dad that story and even though he is still mad about the bill that night incurred ($2500) he thought it was exactly like his daughter to call a policewoman a bitch.

 

When I was still little, I watched my city acknowledge that it had birthed the deadliest race riot our country had ever seen. It had happened in 1921, and it had seen the burning down of the rich black neighborhood of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. I lived only a short walk from where it had begun and where it had ended. My parents took me along as they recorded survivor testimony of the riot.

 

I remember that they had all been very old but they told me they had been my age when it happened. The most jarring story I remember was of a baby. There was a baby in a shoebox and the teller of this story had never been sure if the baby was alive or not but it hadn’t mattered because firebombs fell from the sky and they never saw that baby or that shoe box again.

 

There was a building right near the prosperous Greenwood area affectionately referred to as the “Be No” building, as in “Be no Jew, Be no Nigger..” and so on. It was owned by the Klan. And despite the efforts of the family of Tate Brady to claim he was unaffiliated with the Klan, his wife and he owned the land that building was built on.

 

Just this evening, our city council decided that Brady Street, a street that runs through an area that used to be part of Greenwood and is named for Tate Brady, former city councilman and verified destroyer of Greenwood, would stay “Brady Street.” Their vote was to change who the street was named for. Now we are to pretend that Brady Street, Brady District and Brady Heights are all named after Matthew Brady, a civil war photographer who had nothing to do with our city.

 

 

Trayvon Martin died and I have never found words to write about it. So I listened to everyone else’ s words. To the people who could think about his death without turning him into someone else. Trayvon has never been Emmitt Till. I was invited to help plan a vigil after the verdict in the case, and I attended. The vigil’s entire goal was promoting racial healing, and people of different races showed up and were present.

 

Thursday, there was a march on city council, a march to call for action to protect black children from laws like Stand Your Ground. My mother texted me asking if I wanted to go with her.

 

“I’m too tired.” I told her.

April’s Fool

I have never been big on pulling pranks on April Fool’s Day. This is due to my complete lack of a normal sense of humor. I am actually a very cruel person, and the pranks that I think of have the potential to lose me my friends. So, I had no plans for April 1st when it came around, other than attending my two classes and maybe drinking later that night. It was, after all, still Thirsty Thursday.

                It was an unusually warm and sunny day, so I was up early and I headed to campus in a skirt, hoping to spend as much time with the sun as possible. This was my first mistake, because although the tan I received from hours in the sun made my skin shine enough to inspire envy, I would of course end up never entering a single classroom. I ran into Rell almost immediately, and we teamed up to find other wandering souls like us, who wanted nothing more than an excuse to skip class.

                We received a text informing us that Mad Mex, the king of Margaritas, was selling their margaritas for only 6 dollars all day. Of course, this meant that a trip to Mad Mex was completely necessary. Rell headed to class while me, Samira, Devlyn, Mike and Dorian took off down Atwood street for margaritas at 3:30. Somehow, we separated from the guys and wandered into McDonalds, confused on our quest for water balloons, which we felt were completely necessary for our April Fools festivities. We never did find any, possibly because we forgot we were looking for them when we exited Mickey D’s.

                As I slowly lead the group out of the 24 hour grease factory, a strange man clasped my hand. If you know anything about me, you know that an act such as this is always asking for embarrassment. I hate being touched, and I despise being touched by strangers, especially male strangers.

“Hi, I’m with Boys and Girls Club of America. We’re out here trying to raise money to help keep kids off the streets and in school. We’re selling candy as a fundraiser. Would you like to make a donation?” Somehow, this man managed to continue holding my hand even as he stopped speaking, and I looked into his hands at a box which used to house candy bars but was now empty, save a single quarter.

“I don’t carry cash.” I stated slowly as I pulled back my hand, with full force. “And..” I started, not even myself knowing the words I was about to utter, “I prefer they stay on the streets.” With these words, I calmly walked away in the opposite direction of the man, right behind the other girls who were now unable to control their laughter. It was almost a block before I realized what I had said, and that was only because the man yelled, “Are you serious?” down the street at me.

                Mad Mex’s margaritas, as it turned out were served in big tall chilled glasses, and so strong that after my margarita, despite the food that I ate before we left, almost got me hit by a car in my drunken stupor. And this was 4 in the afternoon. Mike and I ran across the street to the Hookah bar for supplies (tobacco and coals) to smoke at their house before going over to Qdoba to finish out the day of drinking and general fuckery.

                Their house is one of my favorite places. It is so full of memories, even for me, that I am happy every time I enter the door. We lit up the hookah and sat out on the front porch, smoking and drinking some more. Samira, Dorian and I passed a bottle of E&J around until it was finished. In my usual fashion, I complained that I was much too drunk to drink anymore, until the bottle made its’ way to my lips. Meanwhile, the neighbors came home, with their kids, fresh out of school for the day. They sat out on the porch, like us, unwilling to leave the sunshine which is so rare in Pittsburgh.

                The two little blonde girls played on the porch alone, not 10 feet from us, as we acted as college students do, drinking, cursing loudly and smoking. I believe once I even commented it was bad parenting for those parents to let their young children even live here. The porch we were sitting on had seen so much horrible behavior just in my time here that I knew those poor girls were ahead of the class in understanding just what happens in college. I had such a moment myself out in their street just a year before.

                When the hookah had died and the liquor run out, we joined the others at the bar at Qdoba. I was so drunk at this point I don’t remember if we walked or got a ride there. And, the moments I remember at the bar are not linear in nature. I remember coming in with samira, and ordering us both my favorite drink, Long Island Iced Teas, then following them with Fuck me Hards, and who knows what else. I don’t remember her leaving, but I remember her not being there and other people coming and going, sitting and standing next to me. I bought drinks for whoever was standing next to me at the time I finished my last drink.

                In the manner of a very bad friend, I told a guy whom my roomate had mentioned was fine, that he should go talk to her. They had never met. I explained to him that she was very pretty, much prettier than me, and she liked him. Then, in an attempt to save myself, told him that he could never mention that such a conversation had taken place. I don’t believe this act was actually redeeming. But, he did it, and she left impressed with herself.

                I don’t remember any of the inbetween of this part either. I remember leaving Qdoba and going to find a girl named Amanda who had gone to the Drag show in the union. But shortly after, I was in another bar, this time P Café. I remember going upstairs and finding a live band and being so impressed with it I went back downstairs and brought Rell back up with me. I lost him to a random red head, and since he and I were no more than friends, left him to it and returned downstairs.

                I was all different forms of wasted at this point, but I was delightfully oblivious to it. I thought I was having the best day ever, until I looked at my phone, and found a horrible bbm conversation. My friend Malcolm and I had a conversation, one in which only I had said anything. And, when I saw what I said, I wished that I had just gone to class. I had tried a prank that I was sure would get laughs. Of course, as usual, it was a prank that could only serve to lose me a friend. I had said that I was in love with him.

                Now, since Malcolm and I had a short but memorable history, and my crush on him had just resurfaced to wreak havoc upon my life, this was not a funny joke. This was a scary phrase. Although I had followed this irreversible mistake with multiple bbms explaining that had been my april fools joke, the damage was done. I was afraid, even as I looked over at him to utter even a single word. I knew any denials would sound less true than the false confession.

                Worse, I saw his furious face, as a different girl, one whom I was familiar with, was in his ear. Whereas I was having the best day, Malcolm was in hell. I felt consumed with guilt. Worse than having been annoying and frightening, I was just like this other girl, this girl I used to feel sorry for. I froze in place, not knowing how to navigate this crazy scene I had created. Then, as he passed me, I reached for him and said, “You know it was just a joke, right?”

He turned away, “Yeah, April Fools, I got it.” He moved as rapidly away from me as possible. I let him go, because that was the smartest thing I could think to do. After all, it was over by then, we would never be friends again.

                One of my favorite girls, Allison, was also at P Café and I joined her, Ellie and Mike on a trip to find breakfast food at any diner still open. We headed to Tom’s Diner, and were joined by Malcolm’s roomate Brandon and his girlfriend, Lori. We all ordered from a waitress who was clearly annoyed to still be up, let alone serving us drunken college students. We ate, me having ordered pancakes and home fries. Then, it came time to pay the check. We all pulled out credit cards.

“We can only take one card and cash.” The waitress announced. We didn’t know how to respond to this new rule. We all just held up our cards waiting for her to change her mind. But she didn’t. Finally, the waitress volunteered a solution.

“There’s an atm across the street.” Then she floated away, back to her station, as far away from us troublemakers as possible.  We all stared at Brandy, our driver.

“If I have to go across the street to the atm, I’m getting in my car and going home.” We all laughed, none of us really intending to dine and dash. But, as it turned out, we did. We didn’t even run away, we just gathered our belongings and moved out calmly, I guess the waitress assumed we were headed to the atm. But we weren’t. Poor Brandon and Lori were left with the entire bill.

                There, I thought, that was a real April Fools joke. Our waitress had been sure we were going to pay, but April Fools! We didn’t. 

Freaking Out

I find myself shocked by what I don’t remember. The night when I “lost” my virginity is scraps of memory. It was a month before I turned seventeen and my boyfriend was in college so everything was how it was supposed to be. I don’t remember what he said to me before we got into the SUV he drove, or why we parked it in the lot next to a doll museum in the middle of a neighborhood. I don’t remember if I was nervous, or anxious or freaking the fuck out.

I remember that parts of it hurt. Or most of it hurt and it seemed to last forever. I remember being annoyed by his lips, by him kissing me. I remember thinking afterwards, that you didn’t feel naked that way, you never thought about it, even if he stared right at you. Nothing about it made you feel self-conscious.

I didn’t ever feel concern over my naked body until I was in college and someone told me outright that something about my body was not as good as the same area on someone else’s’. And she was with the guy I wanted, so it mattered. And after that moment, the words that felt better than anything else in the world were his when he told me in every way, I was better than her.

I remember the first time I ever drank. Every second of that night I can playback in my head. Freshman year in college and he smiled or laughed every time I spoke to him. He hid me away from everyone else who was too drunk to notice anyways. He joked with me, maybe even at me and he made me nervous. So I swallowed the huge plastic cup full of whatever he had handed me and I smiled back.

I remember calling him when I left the bathroom at the top of the stairs because the already narrow stairs felt terrifying from the top. I remember him taking me seriously, telling me not to move and that he was coming to me. And when he got to me it was too late to go to my dorm room, so me and the half-stranger I came with joined him in his bed to sleep. He put his hands in the pockets of the shorts he let me borrow and I was freaking the fuck out.

He sent me text messages and left the library to give me a hug because I asked for it and had dinner with me in the back of the cafeteria like it was a date. Every time I knew he was on his way I got nervous. Once, I spent the night and he held me so tightly I couldn’t breathe, and I was scared.

The day before yesterday, our friend called me to let me know they were outside and he was dropping him off to me. He came in quiet and laid across my big couch. He asked for water, and what I was cooking and slowly began to talk more. I just screamed and cried at him over the phone last week. I just hated him and loved him completely in a single night and now we were eating and talking about music and I was nervous.

Two friends joined us for dinner and we all talked about good times, music, the night’s reunion. We watched the contents of the DVR and nobody missed a beat. I tried on my dress for the night and they left to meet with me later. I washed my face and put on makeup and even though he had left my apartment, a new place he had never been, my heart was racing still.

The next time I saw him he was begging me to take a shot with him. So I did, then I drifted out of the room, afraid that someone might see my heart beating through my dress. I hugged the people who were present that I liked and waved from afar at those whom I didn’t. I went back into the room where he was an hour later and somehow we ended up talking outside alone. And we were promising to be friends in the future and not to ever sleep in the same bed again. He was telling me the timing had always been wrong and I was hearing that I had always been wrong and my heart was being broken.

The next time I saw him was in a stall in the men’s bathroom and he was crying. He was in pieces and I rubbed his back, knowing it only comforted me.

Someone kicked me out of the stall, but he called for me to come back. So I stood, rubbing his back, letting him talk and cry over the worst thing that ever happened to him and feeling guilty. A guy we knew came in and made a joke about my heels in the men’s bathroom and he and I were angry. I went out and asked him to leave. And we all left the bathroom.

His phone was lost but he was too drunk to stay seated on a bar stool so I asked him if he wanted me to take him home and he said yes. It took all my strength to push him from behind so he didn’t wobble and no one there worried. But someone tried to stop me asking if this was who I wanted to be and I said yes. Yes, this was exactly who I wanted to be, I said.

When we got outside the club he threw up. Then he threw up again until his body was weak and drained and someone helped me get him in the passenger seat of my car. I drove with my left hand to keep my right hand in front of him so he wouldn’t smash into the dashboard. I thought about the time I threw up in his bed and the sheets debt I still hadn’t repaid. This person made me want to cry.

He tried to sleep on my couch but I forced him to sleep in the bed, and he went out immediately. I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up next to him fighting tears until I woke up still next to him. Someone had found his phone and was calling me and then they came for him and he muttered a quick goodbye and I felt enough space to park a semi in.

Yesterday, we all went out again, and this time, I only saw him at the end. I handed him a Hennessey that I claimed someone bought for me, but really I paid for to give him. I flirted with a guy for the promise of a drink when he wasn’t around but I never got the drink. We all went back to the house where he was staying and he went into another room talking to girls I didn’t know well, so I went home.

Somehow, I ended up back there, on the couch with him under a single tiny blanket, talking about everything and holding tight to each other so I wouldn’t fall off. In the morning, I whispered I was falling off the couch and he pulled me to him. But when he came back from the bathroom he laid down on the floor. I was freaking out. So I put the lonely blanket on him and he didn’t say anything or look up so I rolled over on the couch and thought about the feel of his arms around me and the short argument we had in the night over whether we were on a couch in a house or an apartment.

When other people in the house came downstairs, I put on my shoes. Even when they invited me to breakfast with them, I declined. I was too embarrassed to sit near him and talk about anything. So I went home and slept and tried to avoiding thinking or feeling, regretting not bothering to say goodbye.

I did get the chance later in the evening but it was weird. I felt like crying in the car when our friend shut the door behind him and just the two of us were left as he went back to his real life in another city where I didn’t exist. My friend, being him, got it, and played music loud while we rode back to my house and he didn’t ask to come in and watch tv or listen to music with me like we did all the time.

I’m shocked by the things that don’t matter. I don’t know whether the first man I had smelled good or if he said nice things to me back then. I don’t remember if he moaned or groaned. I don’t know whether it hurt a little or a lot or if it took as long I remember.

But my second man, my first love, smelled like sweat and everclear. He didn’t whisper or sweet talk me but he took his time pulling off my leggings until I had to help him and he asked if he needed a condom. He didn’t moan but all his words were breathless. And, in the moments afterwards, I was anxious and nervous and I couldn’t sleep at all. And even now, I am freaking the fuck out.

Getting Paid for It

I don’t know how exactly I first became a writer but I know how it felt the first time I was praised for it. Like cool watermelon juice down your chin in the summertime but everywhere, not just on your chin. It felt like wriggly puppies that didn’t know how to stop moving or trying to lick your face. It felt like I had taken a giant step, had jumped, had leaped from standing alone on a ledge to my dream tower bedroom surrounded by friends who got every single one of my jokes and never took offense to anything. It felt like the emptiness was driven away.

In elementary school, in my gifted and talented class, I told Mrs. Woodard I was going to be a writer. I would write the best stories anyone ever read and no one would even know who I was. That was exciting too, hiding behind my books and stories, never having to become too social or worry about what it meant to be well liked. That was the gift I had been given by writing. But, some well-meaning, good intentioned teacher along the way pointed out to many just how many of us, writers like her, never got published, never got read, never survived off their writing.  “You’re a good writer,” she told me, “but so are lots of people.”

I am a senior in college. I work nights and weekends at a new restaurant and lounge frequented by the local NFL players . I don’t serve, or bartend, even though I took classes and have experience and recently acquired the ability to pretend I like people, despite mostly feeling the opposite. I am not socially awkward as it turns out. Genetics gave me a few hundred more chances to be liked, beginning with a dramatic and heart-wrenching relationship with my first love, one of the most well-known guys on campus and most sought after. I have long hair and lightly brown skin and pronounced curves in the rear, so I don’t have to be afraid of people discovering that I am weird and distant and strange. I learned that none of those things matter if you’re beautiful. People will forgive you anything if you’re beautiful.

I get paid to be there. To eat the decadently expensive meals and drink whatever I want and smile and dance and be there. I get paid more to do this than for helping my professor with transcriptions of African radio, more than I made bartending, more than I made as a file clerk for a law firm. I get paid to be present, but more accurately, for me to absent, and a reflection of me to be there.  I am a dancing monkey. I can move my hips better than the other skinnier girls who do the same job and somehow, I seem to be better liked than them, or this part of me does, that doesn’t think or talk, just smiles and gets too drunk and has someone else drive her home and takes the bus back in the morning for my beat up Taurus that has already been dragged over 200,000 miles and is going to crap out any day.

I don’t hate it here. I don’t hate it, because I am not present to see the video they take of me dancing drunkenly, smiling a smile that isn’t mine at people I don’t know or even like.  But, I don’t hate it.

Tonight, some man, some vaguely famous actor person is coming. I already know before he arrives that he will talk to me too much. I know that he will think I want to ride back with him to his hotel because I smile too much and laugh like a hyena at everything he says even though, I know, he won’t be funny. He will be short and muscular and entitled and he will use outdated slang and call me pet names that I will pretend are adorable. He will take my phone and force himself into my world, even if just for a night and I know this, even before he is in front of me, smiling, and even before I understand exactly who he is and why his name and face seem familiar.

We, us girls who get paid to exist, do not sit at the same table as this man, but we are seated right in his view. We didn’t decide this ourselves but certainly one of the other girls would have had it been up to us. There are words not being said at our table. There are glances being exchanged. I resolve to get drunk. The other girls are drinking something fruity but I need the hard stuff, whiskey, something to dull my mind and my intuition; I must be in the moment, not ten steps ahead. The photographer comes over and asks us to blow a kiss to the camera, something I have never been asked to do, and am nervous about. I swallow more whiskey, and this man looks right at me, and my eyes don’t catch the camera at all. I have found my way into the moment.

I get up to go to the restroom, and even though it is only five steps away from me, I catch a waiter, entwining our legs and we spin around as if we are in a ballet and I am the sugar plum fairy and he is some unknown prince whisking me away from the table, towards the restroom for a moment of emptiness. I apologize and he tells me that my leg is bleeding. I am bleeding from this moment of magic and I realize I am drunker than I thought and already thinking of my bed and my pillows. The waiter runs back into the kitchen and with an antibacterial spray and napkin wipes off the blood. With precision, he applies a band aid to what we both now realize is more than a cut, it is a gash.

We have to take a picture with the man. He smiles a big smile, but it is empty. He tries to hug me, but the other girls are in the way and he tells me his name is Eric and asks for mine and I give it to him, pretending to believe he will remember me.  The honey skinned girl among us wants him. She has been going out of her way to be standing next to him all night. He leans over her to talk to me, to smile my way.

We get upstairs. The lounge is nice, everything is so high class here as always. The servers dance when they bring the bottles of champagne over with sparklers sending little white flares of light into the air from the sides of them as if to say, “drink and be merry.” So I do. Whiskey mixes well with champagne, right?

Honey tells Eric her iphone has changed her life.( Only tomorrow will I realize I am the only person left in the world with a blackberry, but this won’t matter then. ) He nods, he looks her in the eyes when he talks to her, which somehow impresses me. He is attractive and he seems smart. For a moment, he and Honey talk about twitter and I use my blackberry to find him, to browse through his timeline and see how he doesn’t misspell anything, or use incorrect grammar and I am turned on.

He has a blackberry too and when Honey takes a break, he grabs mine and does that barcode scanning thing on bbm that was so cool and hip when I got the phone.  Now we are sharing information, we can talk outside of the almost yelling we have been doing. He talks about me seeming like girlfriend material and this is all I want to hear in the world from any guy in the world because I fell in love with a man who didn’t love me back, and besides the loneliness, I have been feeling inadequate. He asks me, over and over to come to his hotel. Please, he says, I just want to spend some time with you, I’m only here until the morning. And it’s true but it’s not convincing and I am obsessive about keeping my legs closed and paranoid about the HIV status of everyone around me, even drunk.

At some point, both he and I are sitting down, on our phones, messaging each other, shooting words back and forth about what exactly will happen if I do decide to follow him back to his hotel room that my bosses paid for. I have all the power here and I know it. I have already decided to go because I would like to sleep next to someone now that the memory of my heartbreak has been made fresh in my mind by the whiskey and champagne and Honey’s face as she realizes she will not be invited where I’m going. He leaves. He hugs only me goodbye, and he disappears. I wait until the end of the night and I drive home. I change into leggings, put on boots and get prepared for the snow.

He continues to message me until I am on the elevator, headed to his room. I’m beginning to sober up and regret this decision, but I’m already here and I am afraid if I tell him I changed my mind he will chase after me and I will be too afraid to say no to someone so attractive that actually wants me. I knock and he is there, his boxers fit too snugly and I feel indecent looking at him. He leaves the light off, and timidly, I sit on a chaise instead of the bed, as if letting him know I am drawing a line.

“Will you come here?” he asks. I do, stripping off my boots and climbing up onto the bed. I wriggle under the covers, into his open arms.  They wrap around me innocently and I finally breathe. I forgot somehow, how good that felt, breathing with someone else, closing your eyes when you talk to them.

His whole body sighs but he doesn’t make a move, he just talks. My hair is in his face and I apologize, but he says he likes it. I laugh. It isn’t funny but I don’t know what to say. We talk, he asks me about this job I have and somehow I am telling him the truth.

“Last week,” I tell him, “my boss asked me to sleep with him.” Eric nods, listens, doesn’t seem to make any conclusions. I stop there, hoping he’ll get that I didn’t sleep with my married boss, even though he promised to pay my way in life if I did. To get me a place in LA, where I decided I wanted to live, and a personal trainer and a maid and expensive clothes like he did for that other girl, the one that lives in South Beach in a condo on the beach on  a teacher’s salary.

I didn’t sleep with my married boss because more than anything, the idea that I could even consider doing so made me want to cry.

Eric listens, but he doesn’t speak, as if he doesn’t want to share anything about himself, who he is. He is skeptical of me too, the drunk girl who laughed at everything he said, that actually came to his hotel room, that let him put his arms around her so easily.

I remember being young, when my father was my everything. He would lift me up onto his shoulders and let me be big. He would run in circles with me until we were exhausted and he would hold me when I was scared, in his big arms that felt safe, so I could fall asleep. I miss that feeling.

I remember that first love and how it felt in his bed. It was always too hot in his room, a place that no longer exists. The last time I was there, lying there, he had cuts all over his face, and I had thought he had died the night before. I lay down there, even though he was sitting up, and uncomfortable, and closed my eyes. I pictured the time when he held me so tightly I thought I was going to suffocate in his arms. The bed still smelled like then, even though nothing was the same, and I can still smell it sometimes when I climb into my bed, a place he has never been.

I remember how real he feels still, years later, the emptiness of absence, because he is not here.

Eric is silent, as if reflecting like me, looking back on his most recent emptiness in this room that is neither of ours, that smells like neither of us, and holds no wishes between us two.

He kisses me, and I think I kiss him back but the pace is wrong, he moves too fast and I tell him I bite in hopes he won’t do it again, but he does and I bite him, nibble on his bottom lip, hoping he will stop, stop stop. Stop. The pace of the kiss is too fast, too urgent.

But he doesn’t stop and he is on top of me kissing my neck, and squeezing my thighs. He feels unfocused, chasing a new place to kiss just as he finds a previous one with his tongue. It strikes with no force, as if out of duty because he begged me to come here, to be here, to lie here with him in the world’s emptiest, loneliest room. I finally understand that he is desperate and I am not the same as him.

I let him kiss me, over and over, lifelessly, and I don’t move or touch him. I am his doll, his play toy. He needs this, I tell myself. I stop him before he takes anything off of me. I tell him it all felt so good, and we can’t, remember? You promised I could be here and we could not have sex.

He goes over there, the other side, and waits. He thinks I will change my mind. He tries again, and again. I don’t change my mind and he accepts it, wrapping me back up in him. I am there, thinking about the emptiness in me, happy I am not desperate anymore.

Later, I will be fired, under suspicion of this act. I will continue to talk to Eric for a few weeks, he will offer to fly me to see him and I will agree but he will never do it. My encounter with him will change me, but I do not know if it makes me better or worse. At least, I can abandon the shadow of myself I have been showing.  I can remember desperation again, and loneliness, even though I am empty, the beach after a tsunami. I can write. I hadn’t been able to, my life had been feeling empty and meaningless. I haven’t found meaning. I haven’t overcome anything. I am only breathing, I am only here. I am not getting paid for it anymore.

Wars Waged On Skin

“He really is trying to find a job.” They were words she had spoken countless times before. Her fiancé, was on parole and had to get a job to avoid going back to prison. She wasn’t lying, not when she had pleaded with his parole officer, or his family, or even his friends to have a little more faith in him. He really was trying to find a job. Every evening, he came back into the house, exhausted and frustrated, and scared that he would be sent back to prison after hours of pleading and begging with businessmen to give him a job, any job.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” He hung his head as the words flowed through the stiff stale air in the one bedroom apartment they shared to find the ears of his fiancé, as she reviewed notes for an upcoming test. She looked up at him to gauge the amount of support he needed, set her work aside and opened her arms. She was always setting things aside for him.

“Everybody wants me to go back to prison but me and you,” he growled, still angry, nestled in her skin.

“I won’t let them take you from me again, okay? I’ll do something.” It was an empty promise, but sometimes it settled his anger and switched it over into love for her.

One night, he came home later than usual and she was already sleeping.  Before he knew he had made a decision to, his hands had balled into fists which struck the soft skin on her thighs and back. As the skin bounced back, he smiled. She woke up confused. He explained that he was sorry, maybe her having been asleep and not calming him down had left him too frustrated. As always, she was understanding, holding him close to her chest and humming, ignoring the bruises forming on her thighs.

Somehow, it slowly morphed into a game, a secret game between the two of them. Catching the other asleep was license to hit them until they woke up. Mornings she would look down at the man she loved and worked so hard for and scrape the skin off his back with her misshapen nails. She used to keep them manicured. Now she couldn’t afford it and school and him so her appearance had taken a backseat.

Neither told anyone else about their game. They reasoned there was something innocent in their violence; they didn’t feel any anger towards each other. They were waging their wars on each other’s skin, the battles they couldn’t win, couldn’t even fight, they could win on each other’s’ bodies.

He was dealing again and she knew. He had given up. Some nights, she fed him dinner lined with sleeping pills and she beat him hard. She would stay up all night, punching, scratching and slapping him, watching the damage bleed, bruise, rise and scar.

Reactions to the Pitt Bomb Threats

There’s a pretty girl, prettier than me, who has the same birthday as me. Sometimes I find that threatening, and other times comforting. I follow her on twitter, and on the 11th I saw her tweet that her 22nd birthday was the 22nd of this month. I thought, oh yeah, mine too. Somehow, I had forgotten, or at least completely de-prioritized my birthday, a birthday that I have been looking forward to since I turned 16 and realized it was the same as 15 except with a driver’s license. Eleven days until I am finally 22, which is like 21, only better because it’s an even number.  I don’t have any plans, and it doesn’t seem to bother me at all, which bothers me.

I expect my birthday to be ruined, like it always really is, (other than my 21st in LA, which couldn’t possibly have gone wrong, since it was in LA) but this year, not because of rain, like my birthdays all the way up through high school. The Pitt Bomber will ruin my birthday. He or she hates me. I know because the only classes I end up missing due to evacuations are the ones I really like. Worst of all, police escorted me out of my morning class in Frick, and nothing makes my skin crawl more than following the orders of or being touched by a police officer. I got both of those tragedies in by 10 am that day. The Pitt Bomber hates me, me specifically.

Every year that I have attended this university, I have said out loud, before witnesses that I would burn the Cathedral to the ground, which written on paper loses its’ hilarity, especially in the wake of the bomb threats. So, should anything happen to the Cathedral, considering the large reward Pitt is offering, I expect some previous witness to turn my name in. The paranoid three fourths of me suspects that situation to become a bag over the head, V for Vendetta style kidnapping and torture session in which my inability to respect the uniform forces me to remain in the University’s version of Guantanamo Bay for years at least, while my respective debts pile up in the outside world. When I am released, I will owe Pitt 4 times the amount I do now, and they will come to collect immediately. Or the third party, who I actually owe, will. Either way, I will wind up back behind bars, or bankrupt, and shit out of luck for a joke that really was funny every time I said it.

At first I suspected everyone. The skinny little things who never worked a day in their lives, prancing about in short-shorts and ripped tights and fake beat up, imitation army boots as if the bomb threats had given them freedom were number one on my list. People who don’t pay for school, who have trust funds, who leave their atm receipts featuring balances in the tens of thousands hanging from the machines in towers as if to remind me that even my parents don’t have that much money in their savings, have to be responsible. They don’t value their education, because the first thing they do is get drunk out of their minds and join some greek organization where they can meet others like them and talk about the extravagant amounts they spend on various meaningless accessories, tickets to Girl Talk and cologne that smells like the inside of stores where jeans cost more than my paychecks, and they don’t go to class and they claim that it’s all part of finding themselves and learning who they want to be. Those people, that group of students was always my enemy number one, since I tried to fight the entire Pitt baseball team at once when one of them called me “black bitch” like it was a joke and nothing but funny.

So I was biased, but feeling like a personal victim, I figured the enemy must be mine, and there was no other enemy of mine among the university crowd. Twitter was set ablaze one night when a post on reddit came to light, complaining of the unjust policies of the University. Everyone retweeted it (like copy and paste then re-sending under their name) as if this was the answer, as if one dissatisfied person on the internet explained everything. But I, as a student of the internet, was not convinced. The internet is nothing but a huge forum of anonymous hatred and dissatisfaction with any and everything, although I’ve found more racism and sexism and outright hatred of women than anything else. It wasn’t even as if the anonymous redditer was completely wrong about the issues they discussed either.

Time has been passing; I don’t know what I will do when it is august. In August, I have to move out of my apartment and to somewhere else, and even though I know where I’d like to be, in LA, it has suddenly hit me that perhaps the path I am now on, I could have found without coming all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and without taking out loans to get a degree that only really gets me a job offer after at least 4 more years of school, providing I am dedicated and well-published in that time. Perhaps I could have just stayed in Oklahoma, realized I just wanted to write everything, and maybe direct films and maybe act if it was fun and worth the trouble of endless rejection, and moved to LA without debt and responsibility and 4 years younger than I will be on the 22nd, with less desperation and fear and heartbreak.

Graduation matters so much. It is the final push to go out in the world and develop myself as a person separate from other names and obligations. It’s a freedom and a celebration of something I finished, even though I rarely finish things, especially things I write and edit and delete and never let anyone see unless it’s being picked up for a grade, (and then I tell myself it isn’t my best work anyways just in case they hate it, even though no one has ever said they hated anything I wrote) and I finished something here. I breezed through undergrad as if bitter that it wasn’t, for the most part, any more difficult than high school and blaming my boredom for my refusal to try hard. But I finished, and when I went to pick up my cap and gown last Tuesday and I realized I got to wear an honor cord, that I was graduating with honor, somehow I wanted to cry a little, because people never seem to believe I actually care, and it means so much to me to be recognized for so little.

I called my mother the last time the big five were evacuated. I was kicked out of Frick, again, and alarms from Posvar, the Cathedral, David Lawrence and Towers were ringing out like echoes in Schenley Plaza. I was mad, and scared. I didn’t think anyone would bomb these buildings, because that wouldn’t be cruel enough, not yet at least. This person, the Pitt Bomber, wants to hurt me, I thought, or us, or all of us students who are just trying to survive so we can pay off the debts we already have and don’t understand the weight of yet, the weight that bears on me more the closer we get to graduation. My mother reminds me of my birthday and I realize I have forgotten it again. I almost cry, shaking with anger at the realization that this person is going to ruin my graduation.

When I was too young to go to school, my dad, a full time musician and stay at home father, let me be his shadow, and he was impressed by my apparent need to learn. I wanted to know everything. Then I wanted to tell everyone else what I had learned. He called me “Miss Information” and “Professor” even when I was just learning to read from him in our kitchen and I tried to pass words on to my little brother even though he was mostly more into chasing our chocolate lab around our one bedroom apartment. It didn’t feel small then, and my parents gave me big dreams. When I entered kindergarten I had already laid out a plan to attend Harvard, and play soccer professionally while I put myself through law school until I eventually rose to be a Supreme Court Justice. I could see myself holding my diploma, smiling with my long blonde-tipped dreadlocks and my family all around me, and nothing was more important to 6 year old me than graduation. That was where I would meet the President so that he could appoint me to the lifelong position on the bench. That was where I would meet my NBA star husband, who would help me give birth to smart athletic children who would change the way our country worked and we would make everything better in America all at once.

I am graduating regardless, I understand this logically. I will receive my diploma in the mail sometime in this coming summer and I will be able to tell anyone who asks that I have a college degree after finals week ends. I will still have a cap and gown and an honors cord, and papers that remind me of my stint on the Dean’s List, and all the memories from being here and doing it, and finishing it even when I have gotten the feeling lately that it may have all been a long expensive mistake after all. I will still get what I paid for. But not what I want. The Pitt Bomber is watching and waiting to snatch away the little piece of my 6 year old fantasy that I still can capture, that I still want to capture. Maybe the President would have attended for some odd reason had it not turned into a security nightmare. Maybe the man of my dreams would have shown up too if his sister, my classmate, hadn’t decided to go home instead of living under this stress.

I don’t know for sure that the Bomber won’t be captured before the 29th, or even better before the 22nd, and I don’t know for sure that they hold a personal grudge against me. I certainly have no control in the situation and sometimes I sit in silence and accomplish that Buddhist meditation I learned from yoga where I just empty out, but when it ends I realize I am in bed and sweating and really I have just finished a dream and I don’t know what it was but I am still tired and my phone has been vibrating beside my head all night reminding me that there is no peace here. I am constantly tired, I feel like I am standing on the edge of something, and I want to jump but I have to wait and I have no idea when I will be allowed to jump, or to run away or move and I am not sure that I want either but my body is sore and my mind is blank.

I go to campus and I look around. I don’t know even 1/10th of the people in my own graduating class. I probably know the names of even less of them. I hardly look anyone in the eyes anymore, unless I mean to challenge them like a wolf does when it’s alpha dog and is checking everyone around for their respect. I was curious, even desperate to know, previously who was responsible, and why they hated me so much, why they wanted to take so much from me. Now I am solemn. I have run out of words to say, threats to make out loud in hopes that the person responsible will fear me, the alpha dog, and just stop, roll over and show their belly and look off into the distance. I am too empty, too tired. Nothing feels important. I remember my birthday again and wonder if anyone is even going to care, even my friends, even the people who have long since graduated and adore me. I realize it is me who does not care. I don’t care about the only birthday I have looked forward to since 16, and I hate that. I hate this person, this nameless force who steals my control and pushes me around like a lab rat in a maze, sniffing out cheese and running from zaps on the floor when I turn to rush back into Art of China to retrieve my umbrella that I will never see again.