Monthly Archives: January 2015

Room Sanctuary

I remember taking General Psychology freshman year, and learning about the body’s conditioned responses to stimuli. The professor talked about how in most cases where celebrities die of drug overdoses in hotel rooms, they haven’t actually taken more drugs than they normally do. They’re taking their normal dosages, but because they’re in a new environment, their bodies haven’t started to produce anything to counter the drugs’ effects. What happens is that if you take strong drugs often enough in the same places, like your home, then your body will naturally begin to counter the effects of the drug you take as soon as it recognizes stimuli in the environment. Your dosage increases as your tolerance increases, and suddenly you take the new, strong dosage in an area without any familiar stimuli, and your body isn’t prepared to defend you.

The other side of this is that once your body has ingrained its stimuli, it’ll start its counteraction even if there are no drugs around. If you go to rehab and “cure” your addiction, as soon as you come home, you’ll be surrounded with the same stimuli, and your body will automatically expect drugs. This is why people relapse.

“The best thing to do, if you really want to quit something,” my teacher told us, “Is to move. Just leave everything behind, and move.” But who can afford to do that?

I’m thinking about this on the last day before coming back to school. I’m in my bed, in my room, and I suddenly realize that this is where I’ve been for the majority of my four weeks between Africa and Wesleyan. If not at work, I’ve probably been in my room. I wonder how my parents felt about this. My dad probably didn’t mind very much. He spends the majority of his time at home sitting quietly in some obscure part of the house, not interacting much with us. In retrospect, I probably made him seem a lot more social by contrast. For my mom, it must have been hard. She’s the most social of us three, and I know she misses me when I’m away. She tried so hard to contact me in Cameroon, and I managed to have the least correspondence with family of anyone in the program. I wonder if they think that I don’t like them, or the family. It probably doesn’t help that I’m the same way with any company that comes over. When my aunt and uncle came for New Year’s, I went to my room as soon as dinner was over. I read while they all went on a walk, and slept while they had dessert. I came down to say goodbye, and then went back upstairs and closed my door.

If I told them that they were my favorite people in the world, and that I loved them all so much I could cry to think about it, would they believe me? Would they understand that?

It’s the truth. I love my family. But I can’t be around them anymore. They’re my stimuli.

On the first day of French class in Cameroon, our teacher had us make timelines of big moments in our lives, to see how we ended up choosing a study abroad program in her country. It wasn’t until I looked over my finished timeline that I realized I only started going to Africa after Edward left me. He killed himself in March, and I was in South Africa in December. I was back the next year, and then I went to Kenya. Then Cameroon, and South Africa again, and every time I come home, I’m saving money and making plans to leave. Meanwhile, I’m seeing my American family less and less.

At first I thought that this was because of my now increased fear of getting attached to the people I love. If I spend too much time with you, increasingly investing my emotions into you, that’s dangerous for me. Who knows how long it will be before you’re gone? It’s better to have you near me and around me, but not often directly interacting with me, so that I can be used to you as a ghost before you actually become one. Yet while I still think along this train of logic, and use it sometimes, recent friendships have taught me that it’s okay to become close to people. And continuously ghosting the people around me prevents me from fully living, myself. I understand that, and I try to prevent myself from falling into that, but it’s something that I can’t help doing when I’m with my family in the States.

It’s just that every time they look at me, I think about Edward. When we have gatherings, I notice his absence. When it comes time to talk about our recent achievements, I realize that he will never have any. It makes me feel like an impostor, someone occupying the wrong space. I wonder if I’m doing enough with my life, compared with what he might have done. I wonder if the people around me are monitoring me, measuring us up in their minds, trying to see how like him and different from him I am. I have to be happy, when I’m with my family, and not the sort of happy I prefer to be. A displayed happiness, at the correct level of sociability, from which he and I used to hide. Now when I go to hide, I have nothing but his memories to keep me company.

And there are so many of them. I remember being in his living room when we were both three, with my mother struggling to do my hair. As I braced my hands against the edge of the coffee table, she was brushing the hair back and pulling it tight into a ponytail puff before braiding it. Edward was watching both of us, cross-legged on the floor.
“Edward, do you think you could have braids like this?” My mom asked him. He just smiled shyly and shook his head.
“No,” I said, laughing. His hair was much too short.

It’s the little moments, those innocent moments that come sneaking back at me now. It isn’t the brutal blow that came the first year, or the agony of the second. Now, it’s just the memories. The blissful, meaningless memories. Sad, indifferent, and increasingly happy. Bothering me. I can remember him as a person, the person I knew. I realize that this is all I have, because no new memories will come in. I have to live with this understanding. It’s a new kind of pain, like a constant rub at the back of my mind that becomes ever-more irritating. Usually, I don’t have to think about it. I’m living away from most triggers at school, and have next to none in Africa. When I’m home, it’s different. Even at the voice of another family member, the memories and thoughts come rushing in until I think I could suffocate.

I never realized the extent to which one moment could impact my life, but it seems that I’m continuously discovering the ways in which I’ve been affected. I wonder what kind of person I’d be if this hadn’t happened, what sort of existence I’d have, if I still existed at all.

It doesn’t really matter, though. I’m here. My memories are here. My family is here. I need to get out of bed, leave my room, and spend time with my mother before I leave. I already know that I would hate to have myself as a daughter, someone who keeps to herself and shies away from open displays of love and affection. It must be awful for my mother. She should know how I feel about her. I’ll go downstairs, and hug her, and kiss her cheek. I’ll tell her how much I love and appreciate her, and then I’ll show her the video of me dancing, from the second part of my research presentation. I won’t think about the last time I openly displayed emotion with an American family member, and it’ll be great.

I’ll do all of that. In a minute. Thinking about it all has made me tired, and I need to sleep first.


The Second Part of the Last Night

“I was getting ready for bed,” I told him. It was partly true, but not especially helpful.
“With him in the room?” my cousin wanted to know.
“I guess so,” I said. It was lame, and we both knew it. I can’t outright lie in important situations. Call it a character flaw.
“Go to bed,” he said disgustedly, and went out onto the terrace.

By this point, we all know I’m a spiteful person. I knew it would look immature for me to point out that he wasn’t my father, and couldn’t tell me when to go to bed, but I sure as hell was not about to go to sleep right then. For one thing, no one was tired. Without everything else going on, I had to finish packing. More importantly, MC (we’re going to refer to my cousin as MC) was really upset, and I wanted him to say why. Not that I couldn’t guess. He’s an extremely possessive person, and had been rather protective of me the entire week. With the exception of times he’d been off drinking or smoking, I had not been left alone with his friends, and he’d even turned down fun activities like parties and swimming with friends whom I could tell he thought were into me. The only reason This Guy had gotten past MC’s protective fence was that it was his apartment in which we were staying. I was sleeping in his sister’s room (we hooked up in his sister’s room. I guess that was okay with him).

I followed him outside, figuring that if I could get my cousin to confess to his overprotective instincts, we could have a healthy conversation about his internalized misogyny, and how he needs to recognize that I’m a Person. That I can make my own decisions regarding the people in whom I’m interested, and that I’m not going to be charmed by every friend who finds himself interested in Me. I’m not stupid, or overly acquiescing, and I’ve had increasing experience in getting guys to leave me alone. People need to stop acting as though male interest equates male entitlement, and automatically results in male satisfaction. That’s what I would’ve told him, if he hadn’t immediately told me to go back to bed, and denied that he was feeling any type of way about the situation.

“I’m fine, everything’s good,” was all he would say.
“You’re clearly Not fine,” I told him. You’re just being a stupid man, unwilling to admit to any of your feelings, and creating more drama right before I have to get on an airplane! I thought. To add to the complication, The Guy chose this moment to join us outside.

“This isn’t just some skank you can use!” My cousin told him. “This is my cousin! You respect her! Fuck with my family, and I’ll kill you. How’s that for serious?” He stared at The Guy for a minute, then left.

I was so shocked, and pissed. I was aware that by telling The Guy that I wasn’t a skank, MC was completely putting me into the position of Being A Skank. Clearly, if I hadn’t been related to him, he would have viewed me with less respect. My value as a person should not be tied to the identities of my family members. It also shouldn’t be tied to my sexual expression, but I guess female sex positivity and the problems of slut-shaming have yet to be accepted in that apartment. Furthermore, I was annoyed that MC seemed to have put me into the Victim’s Position. I was someone who had been “fucked with”? This Guy was getting warnings and threats (which were ridiculous, given that TG is about twice the size of my cousin, the majority of him being muscle) for going near me, and I was just an innocent flower whose chastity needed protection from someone who wasn’t even myself. There’s never a good way to explain Not Flirting and Experimentation without making yourself seem like an asshole and minor sociopath, but I had serious problems with the huge power flip that had just taken place. All of a sudden, I was a girl who had been tricked by some player, who also had to beg for her male guardian’s forgiveness, and finish packing, and eventually sleep before leaving for at least a year. I was thinking about all this when TG came to sit next to me.

“Did you tell him?” he asked.
“He kind of already knew,” I replied.
“He came into the room, right after you left, and I wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“What happened??” This was another cousin, who lived downstairs. He’d just come outside. Why was he in the apartment? This situation was so ridiculous, and I didn’t feel like explaining it, so I started to laugh, instead.

“You’re here? I didn’t know you were here!” I told him.
“I’m here!” he said. “What happened? I just heard MC say ‘I’ll kill you’? What happened?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “Go to sleep.”

He went back inside, and what followed was maybe thirty minutes of silence, with intervals of conversation. I was doing a lot of reflection. TG was confused, ever-dramatic, and somehow still in the mood.
“I just have one question. I just want to know one thing,” he kept saying, before asking his question. The questions went all over the place.

“Did you ever kiss MC?” he wanted to know. Did I ever WHAT? I thought.
“You mean, like peck him on the cheek the way everyone kisses each other in greeting, or like the way I kissed you?” I asked to clarify.
“Like, kiss him.”
“Well, he’s my cousin,” I emphasized, “So, no.”
“I just think you two are really close. Like he’s oddly close to you. Sometimes I really thought you had. And I think that’s why he’s so mad.”
“You think he’s jealous? Of you? For kissing me?” This was too much to handle. He really couldn’t be going in this direction right now. I shut down that conversation, and we went back to silence.

“I’m not blaming you At All, but why did you do it?” I wanted to know. “Why did you kiss me? I could’ve just left. The flight is in a few hours.”
“Because I’m attracted to you,” he said. “I couldn’t just let you leave. I’ve wanted to do it since I saw you, but I wasn’t sure how you’d react. You’re quite scary, you know.”
“I know,” I said, glad that he remembered.
“I even would have done it this morning, on the balcony,” he told me. I thought back to the morning, when MC and I had been outside. I’d been in my oversize sleeping shirt, and TG had come up behind me and kissed my cheek. At first, MC had started at seeing “some shirtless guy kiss [his] cousin”, but had relaxed when he recognized who it was. Funny how quickly things change.
“Would you have kissed me if I hadn’t done it?” he asked.
“No,” I told him quite honestly. It clearly hadn’t been as necessary for me as it had been for him.
“Then I’m glad I did it,” he said.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” TG said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still attracted to you,” he told me. It had been less than an hour. I would hope that I didn’t become unattractive within an hour’s time.
“That makes sense,” I told him.
“But now it’ll be hard for me to come back later,” he lamented.
“You still want to come back later?” I was incredulous.
“Yeah, don’t you want me to?”
“No,” I told him. For some reason I felt like laughing, but didn’t. It wouldn’t have been happy laughter, anyway. “I don’t want to do anything right now.”

“You know, I’ll probably never see you again,” I said.
“What, why would you say that?” he wanted to know.
“Well, do you really think MC will let me be around you when I come back to South Africa?”
“He’d have to,” he said. “It would suck if I couldn’t see you again.” There was a pause. “Would it suck for you, if you couldn’t see me again?” I had to think about it.
“Yeah,” I said quietly, although I wasn’t sure. At this point, I’m becoming more used to people fading out of my life, and I’d only known him a week. I’d already made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t see anyone from Cameroon again, and I’d been there for four months. Still, he’d been good company, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Funny, that even though I was supposedly the victim in this situation, I was still looking out for the victor’s feelings. That’s some mess of bullshit. I would miss him, though, so it ended up being the truth.

When MC finally came back, he’d obviously been crying. TG left the balcony, and I set about trying to pry my cousin’s feelings out of him. Difficult does not begin to describe it, for multiple reasons.
I don’t have much tolerance for people who say they are fine when they are clearly not. I know that this is something of which I am guilty of doing, but only because I have a system by which I abide when it comes to this.
If I’m upset with someone, I will lie to them twice about my feelings. If I’m still not okay the third time they ask, I will either exit the situation so as not to have to lie again, or put up a finger to show that I am too overcome with my emotions to speak at the moment, but will attempt to organize my words to bring them up to date on the problem. Making a point of showing someone how upset with them you are, but refusing in words to admit to the existence of a problem is one of the stupidest wastes of time and energy of which I can think. It honestly does no one any good. Not the person who wants to try to fix things, and definitely not yourself. Why do people sit on their emotions? It only makes them feel worse in the end. When people refuse to tell me their problems, I’ll eventually change the subject, or leave them alone about it. You can stew in your unpleasantness by yourself.

This was just harder to do with MC, the leaving him alone part, because of the intense time pressure. I was leaving soon, and I didn’t want to leave with my cousin hating me for some nonsense. No one needs that. I kept wheedling him.

“If everything’s really okay,” I finally said, exasperated, “Then you won’t care if I go kiss TG again. What would you do? Should we find out?” I was so close to doing it, too. Part of it was for spite. The other part was also curiosity. I’d had increasingly more time to reflect on the first kiss, and I was trying to figure out if it had been sweet, or nefariously calculated. I wanted to kiss him again, to see how it would feel, but my wiser side told me to stay where I was and not be a brat.

“It’s all fine,” he said. “It’s all fine for you. You can just go back to America. I have to stay here with him, and when he brags about you to everyone, I’m the one who’s going to have to hear about it.” I realized right then that although I loved him, my cousin was a bit of an asshole.
“You’re not upset about me at all,” I exclaimed. “You’re upset about yourself! You’re mad because you think of me as some conquest TG made, and not as a person who thinks and feels and does things and has a will of her own. Did you even ask me if I’d wanted to kiss him? Did you think at all about my own power as a person?” I considered explaining The Experiment to him, again, but decided that would probably lead down a long conversation about asexuality and more of his misogyny that I didn’t have the energy to address. It was late.

“You know, you don’t actually talk to me,” was what I ended up saying. “Or, you tell me your problems, but you don’t actually know anything about myself, or my life. You think that when I don’t want to watch movies where Idris Elba is about to abuse women, it’s because of some annoying feminism on my part. You don’t understand what my triggers are, because we’ve never had a deep enough conversation for me to express my scariest thoughts to you. And even now, you’re too caught up in your own hurt, irrelevant feelings of betrayal to actually hear me as a valid person arguing for myself.”

“Well, whatever,” he told me. “You can do what you want. That’s what you do. I don’t care.”

I looked at the cousin I loved, the cousin who’d seemed like a magical rescue angel last year, and looked over the balcony, thinking about how I’d been using South Africa and my time with him as an escape from thinking about my actual problems. But the problem with escaping from your problems is that you attempt to hide any traces of them in order to avoid dealing with them, and our great relationship was based on a foundation of shallowness, which was probably being ruined over this shallow hiccup. I wondered if I was about to lose my cousin and my place of refuge, and realized that it was Christmas. I started to cry. I was about to go home to what was now the worst time of year from me, when the real loss of my other cousin, the one person I’d been able to share my scary thoughts with, is inescapable. In a few hours, I would be going home to nothingness. I would sit in my room and be surrounded by Edward’s absence. I would come downstairs to my mother trying too hard to keep holiday cheer going, guilting me through the activities I would not have been doing with her anyway, were he still alive. I would leave, and try to imagine him behind me on the stairs, eventually giving up in recognition of my need to stay sane.
I didn’t want to deal with any of that. I wanted to stay here, and pretend that I wasn’t replacing him with the people around me. But if the people around me hated me, or just didn’t see or respect me as a person, then I would have a double emptiness with which I’d have to contend. I was so tired, of everything.

“Edward,” I said into the hands now covering my face, “Why would you even let me come out here, if it was going to end like this? I thought I was progressing. Is this what it’s going to be like forever? Why, Edward?”

I did not care how confusing all this would be to the ignorant MC, who had a three-second understanding of my family history. If this seemed dramatic to him, then it was just my turn to be the dramatic one. At least my issue was real, and pertaining to myself, and not a simple problem of lust or stupidly misplaced masculine pride. I continued to cry.

“Hey,” said my cousin. “You know I love you, right? And I’d do anything for you.”

That was nice.

“Then talk to me,” I told him.

The First Part of the Last Night

“I have a present for you,” he said, the night before my flight home. “Close your eyes.”

For a long couple of seconds, there was nothing. Then his hands were taking my face, and he kissed me.

We’d both been out for almost the entire day, so our lips made the kiss rough. It was also tense, as if we’d both been afraid. He later confessed that he’d thought I might slap him for it, and I had been nervous since I’d closed my eyes. I knew he was dramatic, and I’d been trying to figure out if he was going to kiss me, and if I wanted him to do it or not. Then it had happened anyway, before I’d had time to work out my thoughts. Despite the awkwardness of its execution, this was the sweetest way anyone had kissed me, and I knew I would miss him. I decided that it wasn’t important to analyze how into the kiss I actually was, and realized that I’d probably gotten myself into this in the first place. I kissed him back.

I should take a timeout to admit that I’m an asshole. I’ll probably only accept this accusation from myself, mainly because I’m the only person with enough understanding of myself to make such a claim and know why I’m making it. I’m not Always an asshole, but sometimes I slip into it without being aware. Especially when I’m in researcher mode. After spending the majority of my later childhood either ignored or in chosen silence, I’ve developed an increasing fascination with human psychology, especially social psychology. During my more obnoxious times, I used to amuse myself by saying things that would make people or groups feel awkward and uncomfortable. Although like Emerson, I still think that comfort is overrated, I’ve since reigned back on purposefully making people feel ill at ease. However, from time to time I still find it interesting to do things, and see how people will react.

“That’s not very descriptive,” my friend told me, in a conversation about Future Farming. He’d asked me if I’d ever Future Farmed anyone, and I’d told him that while I hadn’t, I sometimes made myself open to it by Doing Something.
“I know that it isn’t descriptive; because I can’t describe it,” I told him. “I just Do Something, or I Don’t Flirt with people. If I make myself open and inviting to people I find attractive while simultaneously not expecting anything to come from it and maintaining a convincing innocence even with myself, then sometimes things happen. So it’s more like you’re seeing if anything will happen out of detached curiosity, but expecting nothing to come of it. It’s like an experimental pastime, where you can’t have bad results.” Theoretically.

The problem is that the results have been getting more complicated recently, and this scenario was one example. I knew he had a girlfriend, which is why I didn’t feel ethically bad for him about it, especially because we’d ended up becoming pretty decent friends over the process. I didn’t feel bad for the girlfriend, either, because they’d worked out some sort of pass system. I’m all about pass systems. My best friend has been in one this school year, and after four months of various men trying to convince me that “on ne mange pas le riz toujours” in order to tapper mon dos and get me to give up my fictional fiancé, I’ve decided that open relationships are the way to go.

“Can I make love to you?” he whispered.
“No,” I told him. I was actually so shocked. This guy. It was the second time I’d been completely taken aback by him in about ten minutes. No, he could not Make Love to me, for multiple reasons. First of all, I didn’t want to. Second of all, even if I had wanted to, what kind of stupid idea would it be for me to have sex with someone five hours before flying out of the country to maybe come back a year later? And how bold was he, expecting to have sex just like that, after a week of nothing? I wondered if allowing him to kiss me had made him stop being afraid of me, and regretted it a little. The most salient thing of all to me, however, was his word choice. “Make love”? If my experience from Cameroon and the rest of my family is any measure, African guys are charmers. They are also slightly dramatic. And they do not say completely what they mean. To my understanding, it’s impossible to make love to someone with whom you are not in love. We were not in love. This guy wanted to fuck. I wanted to laugh, almost, not in a mean way, because he was clearly putting work into making The Mood of the situation seem exciting and romantic. We were just hooking up as quietly as possible, so as not to arouse the suspicions of my cousin, who’d be back in the apartment soon.

Apparently, he was already in the apartment. We stopped, he slipped out of the room, and I barely had time to sit down before my cousin was in the bedroom, sitting on the opposite bed. He looked angry. I’m sure I looked scared, and that was mainly because I was no longer wearing pants. I gave silent prayers of thanks for my housecoat, which I was still wearing and had carefully arranged on my lap, and hoped he couldn’t see more of me than I wanted him to.

“Why aren’t you dressed?” he asked me.

To the White People I Just Don’t Like (Racial Unhappiness from Early Cameroon)

(According to Clara, anyway)

For two weeks, I let you touch my hair because I wanted to be friends. And by touch, I mean pull, grab, braid (even if it meant forcing my head into uncomfortable positions while I was trying to converse with someone else), twist, and hold up to your own faces and heads. That isn’t touching. That’s an exhibit.

Think about that.

For two weeks, I told myself that it was okay. In trying to get closer to you, I allowed you to make me feel strange, and different. Other. Cameroun out here telling us that we’re all the same, and every day I’m a fucking attraction for you all to remind me that we aren’t. And even when you realize that maybe what you’re doing isn’t good, you keep doing it, because you “just can’t help” yourself. And so my comfort, and my personal space are compromised in the name of your interest, your satisfaction, your finding a reason to talk to me and around me.

If we were anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with you after the first time that happened. Because I know myself, and my worth, and I’m worth goddamn more than existing for other people’s occasional pleasure.

But we’re in Cameroun, and there are only nine of us, and I don’t want to “bring the same problems over, when we’re all American.”

But we’re all fucking American, and you all brought your micro-aggressions over anyway. And I’m going out to lunch with you, and listening to problematic statement after problematic statement. I’m getting roped into doing things that require spending more money than I want to, and when I try to stick up for myself, I’m being a cheap problem. So let me be quiet for a little bit. Let me try to be your friend. You’re nice people, I realize. You just make me feel severely uncomfortable at least twice each time we hang out. Continual discomfort, with occasional flashes of anger.

After a guard questions our citizenship, because we don’t look like you. Whose right is it to start making jokes at our expense? Yours, clearly. And we’ll let them happen, because we want to be friends, even though each joke is an aggressive chant, a differing refrain. You’re not like us. You’re not like us.

Don’t tell me that African babies “are the cutest babies”.
Don’t comment on “the alien hairstyles” you see.
Don’t turn to me to see if what you said was racist. We both know you were racist. You just want me to say that you weren’t.

But let’s be friends. Let me sit here and listen to you, and validate what you say with my silences. Let me hate myself, and you, a little bit, inside. You’re good people. You have good intentions. Let me bide my time and wait for an opportunity where it’s safe to point out something Wrong.

Here we are! In a conversation about gay rights, you tell me that I should really understand, seeing as we colonized them and forced religion onto them.
Oh, so there’s a “we” now? Now that responsibility is on the line, I’m allowed to be part of a “we” with you? Never mind that I am absolutely NOT part of this “we”. Never mind that I’m “them”, and that my father was colonized by your fucking “we”, never mind that HE had religion forced into him until he forced it, and You, Out. Never Mind the fact that you are only using my, my father, my family, my tribe, my country’s continued pain as a way to make yourself sound worldly and knowledgeable in a simple conversation. You don’t give a shit about us. How do I know that? Watch.

“Um, I’m not a part of that ‘we’.” Simple. Smiling, conversational. What a funny point I just brought up!

Now watch You get offended. Watch You blow up at this. Watch Me cause You pain by telling you that while you were in fact pretending to take responsibility for some distant event, its effects are currently staring you in the face.
And now we need to have a conversation about how I don’t make you feel comfortable in conversations? How you know that I’m offended, and have every right to be, but I have to be nicer when I address you, and I can’t just be as aggressive as I want.

White girl, if I leapt out of this chair, took my extensions and used them to slap you in the face (mimicking the hair flips You use as a sign of superiority), it wouldn’t be aggressive Enough. Bathe me with your tears; I didn’t bring anything to collect them.

Fuck that, though, and fuck This. Clearly I can’t win by smiling around you, and the pebbles are building up on my back. I can’t hope to educate you, so let me stay away for a bit. I have a friend. I have a single friend here with whom I don’t feel afraid to be honest. If he gets out of line, I can put him in his place. There are no politics, there are no boundaries. With him, I can be me, and I won’t have to worry about any bullshit fucking sensitivity feelings.

Can we take a break to talk about how ironic it is that nine times out of ten, the people telling me not to be so sensitive are doing it so they don’t have to wallow in their own discomfort and sensitivity? It’s easier if I’m the problem. Right?

Next time you tell me that sometimes you wish you could change your race, so that you won’t stick out as a white person, I’ll leave.

You don’t realize how beautiful it is to be comfortable. I’m sure you Think you do. You don’t.

We can still be cool, we can still talk, we can call each other friends.

Don’t accuse us of self segregation. I’ll still be around you. You can still come to me with questions. Ask me to explain things, and I will. You won’t pay me, and this isn’t my job, but I can help you out. I won’t do it on my own. You’ll only understand racial politics, and comfort, and internalized racism, if you decide for yourself that you want to. And then I’ll explain things to you, and you’ll understand.

Or you’ll just pretend to understand, then go and tell everyone else that I don’t like white people.

So what now? I’m just a little old antisocial reverse racist, I guess. What should I do?

Do you want me to be with you, and be upset with things you do, feeling like less of a person, invalid, unimportant, hating myself for not being able to say anything? Or do you want me to call you out (except calling out is too aggressive, so let’s say I’ll gently point things out) when you do things that are problematic (except in saying that, you really mean that you never want me to say anything, so that you can continue to do the same things with the bonus of feeling like you’re a good, socially just person)? I was told that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Telling people they’ve offended you isn’t nice, and telling people that they’re racist is mean. So can I just go away for a bit, coming around when I feel safe, and am okay not telling the truth?

Nahh because apparently, not constantly being around people isn’t nice, either. How do I win this game, and still feel like a person? How do I play while keeping my self respect? Who’s the ref? I’m guessing you’ll want it to be one of y’all.

So tell me what to do, white people who should be my friends, and as a woman of color, I should only be happy to do it.

Midnight October Love Letters

I miss you.

I miss having you in my bed, wrapped up in my arms and legs as much as I am wrapped in yours. I miss being able to feel your hands on my opposite shoulders, as they have made their way all around my back. Your arms are long. I remember you demonstrating this two falls ago. And now, even if I wanted to roll away from you, I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t, though.

I’m sorry that I didn’t kiss you. I was scared. I still am. Thank you for not pressing it.

Thank you for staying the next morning. Thank you for sitting by me, in the chair that makes me sneeze, and watching Bob’s Burgers. You’re the first one to do that. You’re the first one I would’ve wanted to do that, and I didn’t even need to ask.

I don’t know what will happen when I go back. I see all these different versions in my head of things I want to happen, some with you, some with you later. But I know that I want you back in my room of lights. I want to be nestled with you, I want to watch Sunny with you. I want to be able to cry in front of you, snot pouring from my nose, and not have to worry about being unattractive. I want to talk and be listened to, to be appreciated for my simple skin and words.

I love you.

I’m not sure how, but I know that I do. I’ve half thought it over the last year, and I know it now. I love you. And it sucks, because I’m not sure what can come of it, or what I want to come of it. But I love you. I’m not in love with you, but I love you. And I worry about you.

I miss being angry at you, being so frustrated that I don’t even understand how we could have ever interacted with each other. Sometimes, you’re insufferable. But I suffer through you, and you suffer through me, and we sit down together, and when we stand back up, we’re friends again. I don’t know how we do that. But we do.

Ton pied es mon pied, and your successes will be treasured and rejoiced by me. Let me into your life as much as you dare. I understand what I’ve done in the past, and I understand your fear. I understand why you wouldn’t trust me. I do not say that you should; I do not ask you to. It’s just something that I know you have to do, eventually. We’re XXXX and Khalilah. That’s what you said, once, and that’s what we still are. We’re XXXX and Khalilah, and I miss you, XXXX. I miss you.

And I love you.

Taxi Thoughts

The taxi is in traffic, and I’m going to be late. Yaya told me to come to him with my paper at 7:30, and it’s now 7:25. Not that I actually think he expects me to be on time, but as this will be our last meeting before I hand over my research paper, I’d sort of wanted to be punctual. As close to professional as possible. Plus, he’s really busy with his teaching, not eating, and choreographing dances for the first lady. I don’t want to hold him up.

We aren’t even halfway, though. We’ve passed the Star Building, gone through Tsinga and Mokolo, and are only just coming up to Chateau, where things are especially jammed. I wonder if it would make any sense to line the roads here. Maybe they are lined, but I just can’t tell, because no one cares about traffic laws. All the taxis are just pushing up on each other, yelling and bargaining to each other out their windows, swapping change and taking advantage of those who are distracted. The only minimal amount of space is around the cop in the road, whose shouts seem mainly to be ignored. Our row is maybe 5.5 cars across now, and my guy just yelled at a vendor to get out of the street, only to have another car move into the vacated space. This would’ve been easier if I was still living at Nkolbisson. From there, it’s a two-minute trip to Carrefour Meec at 100CFA, and then Chapelle Nsimeyoung without proposing. Instead, I’m back in the house of the spoiled screamers and the silent demon of a girl who follows me all day and kicks me in the face at night. It took 15 minutes yelling at taxis passing Carrefour Bastos, until this guy finally agreed to take me for 400CFA. Robbery.

Robbery? A guy on a motorcycle passes by the cop. His hand dips, the cop shouts, and then the moto is speeding away up the hill, with the cop trying to chase him on foot. Halfway up, the cop realizes there’s no way he’s going to outrun a moto. He halts a taxi that’s just gotten out of the mess of cars, and hops inside, presumably to continue the chase. The taxi doesn’t move.

It’s pretty easy to imagine what’s happening in the cab. There are passengers in the backseat, and everyone’s waving their hands around, jerking their heads. One passenger clearly is not having it. He didn’t sign up for a moto chase; he has places to go, see his briefcase? In a detached way, I think about how crazy this is, and how bold les Camerounais are. I would never imagine myself standing up to a cop. Not here, where I need them to respect my Visa and passport, and not in America, where I am realizing I will be increasingly terrified of them. If a cop got into my cab and started chasing somebody, in all likelihood I would be quiet and hope that the chase stopped somewhere close to my destination. I don’t question authority figures.

Not only authority figures, though. I seriously have problems standing up for my basic rights and conveniences. If you’ve paid to be on your way somewhere, and someone suddenly tries to change the direction, you should theoretically be able to righteously object. I know this. I would do it, too, on behalf of someone else. Not for myself, though. You would think that with a white mother and decent education, I would feel more entitlement, but I honestly spend so much time trying not to bother people. One time a cab stopped for me, and the woman in the back seat refused to squish over for me, motioning for me to squish into the front. The woman in the front motioned for me to squish into the back. This had been the first time I’d actually seen someone refuse to share seats, and it was two people! It made no sense to me. You always squish into cabs, no matter how big you are (and granted, these women were rather large). I was so confused, and took such a long time trying to figure out how to force my way into the cab without actually forcing anyone to do anything that the driver just left me in the street. It wasn’t a huge loss. Another guy was right behind him, with more room. But still.

This guy is still arguing. It’s amazing, mainly because I’m sure that this isn’t a big deal to him. I wonder if he even sees it as standing up for himself, which would make it into more of an Act. From what I can see, he seems to view the situation as an annoyance, or a minor bump in his daily path, and arguing is just a simple way of making it go away. What I’ve noticed is that Cameroonians make themselves important. It’s not just a Cameroonian thing, actually. My Congolese relatives do it, too. It used to make me uncomfortable, being around people putting on heavy airs. Berating waiters and sending back food; chastising people for dirty shoes; giving side-eyes to people walking and eating; and generally giving the impression that everyone else in the world who is not immediately with you is merely sharing your space, and lucky to do so. I’ve been with Yaya as he takes perfumes out of their plastic, sprays them on himself a Few times, and then tells the poor student selling them that he won’t buy them because they’re disgusting. Eventually, I came to see this behavior as socially acceptable assertiveness and annoyance with people who haven’t yet begun to properly assert themselves. It’s like the Look Good, Feel Good, Do Good mantra come to life, but with the idea of power. Not a question of confidence, but an assuredness. I should try it. I will try it.

The guy has finally decided that he’d rather get out of the cab than be involved in the chase. The driver wants to be paid, so all of traffic waits while the guy takes out his wallet, hands over the bills, and insists on making sure he’s been given the correct change. He leaves, and the taxi finally pulls away, but the moto is long gone. Sucks to be that cop.

My cab driver wants to know what happened.
“Il a volé,” I tell him. “Le moto. Tu n’as pas vu?” He hadn’t.
“Ah bon?” he says, and laughs. “Mon pays!”

Then he asks for my number. I correct my posture, deciding to begin practicing my own assertiveness, and Look at him.