Monthly Archives: March 2015

How Are You?

Go –
I’m not going to acknowledge –
Not – it. It. Nothing.
Just leave it alone. Leave me alone.

I’ve graduated dentists. As of last year, I no longer go to a pediatric dentistry, but instead go to a dentistry for grownups. It’s a five-minute walk from my house, just around the corner, and a sort of fancy (to me) experience. You have someone who cleans your teeth, another person who gives you a consultation, and they give you a baggie with a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and coupons to take home at the end.
“Your teeth are beautiful, your teeth are wonderful, your teeth are in such great condition! Good job!” the lady who cleaned my teeth told me.
“You have five cavities between your teeth,” the consultant told me.

It’s been a week since those cavities were taken care of, and my teeth still hurt. I can’t sleep on my side. I wake up in the middle of the night with my gums pulsing. I can feel my blood pumping, through my teeth. I also can’t eat or drink very much. Hard things, like bread crusts, hurt. Hot things hurt. Cold things hurt. Sugary things hurt. It’s a kind of physical agony, my teeth are bringing me.

If you acknowledge it, if you tell something to leave, isn’t that admitting that something is there? And if you think something is where nothing is, does that cause the something to become manifest?
Something was created out of nothing. Everything was. He –
There is nothing there. And I don’t need to remind myself of that, because the act of reminding is the act of washing away, and the act of washing away that which is not there is to have created something to be put there in the first place.
If you make it go away, you simultaneously stick it there.

The day we found out about Edward’s suicide was the same day a lot of people found out whether or not they were accepted into an Ivy-league school. The next day, there was regular high school to go to. I remember sitting in my economics class, trying to arrange my thoughts and act normal. It wasn’t working very well. All around me, people were whining about deferrals and rejections. These people were devastated, as I was in shock. I hadn’t applied to any Ivies, mainly because I hadn’t wanted to spend another four years with people exactly like my classmates. Only, judging from the dejected looks on most of the faces in the room, that wouldn’t have been a problem, anyway. We were all in two very different worlds.
“I have cupcakes!” one girl announced, walking into the room holding a tin of mini cupcakes in one hand, and a tube of frosting in the other. “These are for all the people who have just heard the worst news of their life.”

It was bizarre. I stared at my class. Did these people really believe that this was the worst news of their lives? Was it?
They didn’t need the cupcakes. I did. I actually had just heard the worst news of my life; I should be eating all the cupcakes. I stood up to, I didn’t even know, grab them all? Take them out of the hands already grabbing at them? Throw the tin onto the floor? Then I remembered that it was Lent, and I had given up sweets. I couldn’t even eat the food that should have comforted me.

Go away. I’m not saying this out loud, I’m just thinking it in my head. To speak would be to make this real, but I can’t control my thoughts. I can’t marshal them anymore.
I’m sitting in class participating more than I’ve participated all year, because if I keep my mouth running, if I keep saying the things on the outer edges of my mind, I won’t have time to delve into my deeper chaos. Just talk, and talk, and laugh, and say nonsense that sometimes makes perfect sense, and don’t think too much.

“Question on your belief in ghosts,” he said.
“Do you believe that ghosts are restless spirits that wander our realm,” he said.
“I think ghosts are manifested ideas,” I said.
“I think people can create their own ghosts by fixating on ideas they can’t completely accept/work out,” I said. “And it’s possible that they can work in other ways, too. I don’t know.”

“How are you?” that random somewhat friend asked.
“I’m fine, thanks, how are you?” I answered. I’m in agony, I thought.

It’s come to the point where I’ve realized I don’t want to be alone. I’m slightly afraid of it, wary. When I’m alone, there’s nothing to distract me from my thoughts. Nothing, and lately all my mind wants to do is turn Edward back into a ghost and plunk him down into a chair to talk to me. Only this time, I wouldn’t be in denial about it. This time, I would be aware of my own manipulations. It would be a deliberate step into madness that I’m too responsible to take. Last night I made toffee, to distract myself. That lasted until the baking was done, and then I was stuck with a tray of candy too sweet and hard for my teeth to handle. I’m in the same spot I was three years ago: heartbroken, and unable to eat to take my mind off things. To take my mind off of what it is not supposed to be on.

It’s weird, advancing through life with the ever-present possibility of going off the rails – purposefully. At this yearly checkpoint, my own New Year’s, I’m in a much better place than I was last year. Little by little, I’m getting through the bereavement. I’m improving. But it’s still so hard, still so sad, and I am so tired. It’s that sadistic tired where you can’t even sleep, because as your eyes close, your mind is wide awake. I am in agony. Mentally, physically, emotionally.

Cheers to a new year.

Ghost Babies

The ghosts are back. Two brothers and a sister, coming as toddlers. I’m not happy to see them, and they’ve never seen me happy, but that hasn’t stopped their visits. They enter my room with smiles on their faces, and their smiles turn to frowns as they notice my tears. My crying scares them, and so do my arms that reach and clutch for the ghosts, pulling them close to my chest, but I can’t help myself, because I’m afraid, too. You would think that we would all get over this fear, this sadness and confusion, or that the visits would decrease. Instead, they come closer and closer together, and all that’s changed is the additional element of expectation.

Now, when I see the videos, or read the articles of black boys, girls, men and women being shot, as I start to curl up and cry, I know that it won’t be long before the ghosts of my children will be in my room with me.

It’s bizarre, seeing my children and not knowing if they’re ghosts because they’ll die, killed for their skin, or if they can’t yet live because they haven’t yet been born.

“I’m sorry,” I tell them. “I’m so sorry, babies. Please, just stay with me.” I pull my ghost children tight against my body. I can’t let go of them, don’t want to take my eyes from them, because I know what will happen the second I blink. I’ll blink, and they’ll be out of my arms, older, and dead on the ground. I can see my dead children. I can see my children, dead. They’re dead, and bleeding, and sirens that do not belong to ambulances will be blaring in the background. I take the dead ghosts back into my arms, and I rock and cry into their heads. I rock and cry and curse myself for bringing them into the world to suffer and be killed.

“I’m sorry,” I sob over their bodies, thinking that if I could pull them back inside of my body to prevent their pain, I would. As I press them into me now, I can feel them being hurt later. I can feel myself losing them. An invisible force sits itself on my chest, suffocating me before slicing into my body and trying to rip my insides away. I choke against the feeling, struggling to hold onto the ghosts. It’s bizarre, simultaneously having and not having my children, in all senses, and still wanting desperately to protect them. I want to undo my mistake, whatever I have done to put them into harm’s way, before realizing that I can’t. You can’t take back what hasn’t happened.

I can feel the ghosts inside me now. Unborn, not yet conceived, and the love I feel for them is stronger than anything I have ever felt. I know that to have them solid before me, not as ghosts, but as living and breathing people, would make me happier than anything else in the world ever will. I can imagine myself raising them, nurturing them, guiding their growth. I want to tell them that I’ll protect them, and keep them safe forever, but I know that I won’t be able to. It’s bizarre to think, to realize, that more people will be ready to respond to what they perceive as threats to their money, drugs, and religion, than to acknowledge their complicity in the perpetual threat to my children’s lives. Every time they leave my sight, I’ll be worried for them. I’ll never be able to trust that the steps they take will be on safe ground, when lives can somehow justifiably be taken for sandwiches and cigarettes, or for nothing at all.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fearing for the people I love. No one deserves that. I want to be able to trust that the world is balanced, and that each of my children’s actions will have an equal and opposite reaction, but maybe what laws are to physics are mere suggestions to people. Does everyone deserve justice?

No one deserves anything: neither happiness nor sorrow; comfort nor discomfort; pleasure nor pain. We only deserve life and death, and the opportunity to make something of our lives before the death comes. Perhaps it would be selfish of me not to give my children any chances at life. Perhaps it’s better to live, and risk having your life stolen, than not to live at all. Perhaps these interactions I have now, with the ghosts and the news, are my preparation for constant fear. One way or another, ghost or human, I’ll have my children. I want their futures to be as bright as I know they themselves should be. I’m just terribly afraid of having the world cast shadows on their futures to match the melanin in their skin. I’m terribly afraid of having them taken. I don’t know if it’s better to have them and lose them, or to be haunted by their ghosts. No pure happiness or comfort lies in either direction, but it’s hard to judge which side tips the scale further.

No decisions need to be made now, though. I have time, and I’ll have other opportunities to think about this—I just need to wait for the next news segment.

Impressionable Childhood

I love my nose. I’ve always been supremely proud of it, to the point where it’s almost a fault. As a child, I was somewhat obnoxious about it.
I have an African nose!” I used to walk around saying. “You see how it curves so beautifully out of the arch? You see the symmetry of the sides? Look at this bridge, free of crookedness or bumps! My nose is perfect, and beautiful!” Even thinking back on those days, I can’t help but laugh with glee at the tremendous amount of satisfaction my perfect nose gives me.

The funny thing is that all this nasal confidence came completely by accident, due to a childhood misunderstanding of ‘big words’.

In elementary school, we had this program called WINGS, which I guess was sort of our public school system’s version of the ‘gifted children’ class. We all went to regular classes, but at certain times of the day, or on certain days of the week (depending on which grade you were in) all the WINGS kids would go to a classroom downstairs to learn about other things. We did advanced math; studied Greek mythology and ancient societies; looked at abstract art; played chess; all that great and random stuff. The class was taught by Ms. Leonard, an African-American woman who still visited her family on The Continent and would sometimes take breaks to talk about it. Looking back, Ms. Leonard was probably the first person outside of my family to ever give me somewhat of a grounded and positive representation of Africa. I did not fully appreciate her at the time. She was a little too testy for someone who worked with children, and we were never completely comfortable in her classroom.
One day in WINGS, we were talking about mummies. It was the Ancient Egypt section of class, and I was excelling. I was super into learning about ancient societies, Egypt in particular, and I was very much being a know-it-all explaining the mummification process, pyramids, and the systems in place to trap and confuse pyramid robbers.
“That’s right,” Ms. Leonard was saying. “People throughout time have broken into and stolen from a number of pyramids. In fact, it was in the news a little bit ago that some men found mummies in one tomb, and hacked off their noses.” This seemed like a very strange, randomly rude thing to do. We wanted to know why the noses had been hacked off. “Well, African people in particular are known to have very prominent noses,” she told us, “And the men were attacking that.”

Understand that I had no idea what the word prominent meant at the time. Ms. Leonard was actually telling us about a hate crime. Whoever broke into the tombs saw the noses sticking out on the mummies, and hacked them off to make them smaller and respectable, effectively ‘fixing’ the large ‘African nose’ problem. It’s beyond disrespectful, and pretty disgusting.
I thought that prominent meant something like stately, and important. So to my understanding, Ms. Leonard was telling us about a different sort of crime, still disrespectful, but of jealousy. In my mind, when the vandals saw the magnificent noses on the mummies, they recognized that their own noses were unimportant and worthless in comparison, and out of jealousy for the gift God had given the mummies, they hacked off the noses to feel better about their own. It made sense to 9 year old me.

In the car going home that night, I retold the story to my mom.
“And then they just hacked the noses off, Mom!” I said, “Because the mummies had African noses, and they didn’t like that! Imagine if that had been me. I mean, look at my nose. It must be pro-mi-nent. I have an African nose too, right?”
I could tell that my question had made my mom confused and slightly uncomfortable, and I wasn’t sure why. She made some noise in between agreeing and disagreeing, and I realized that she must have been embarrassed about her own nose, which was very nice on its own, but rather small in comparison to mine. Looking in the rear view mirror, I began to compare my nose to my mother’s. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how amazing my own nose was. If someone were to come up and want to hack it off out of jealousy, I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe my mother wasn’t just embarrassed, but worried that this might actually happen. Bad things happened to beautiful people all the time, people with noses much less perfect than mine. And it was, I decided, a perfect nose.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I told her, as she still hadn’t completely responded. “You don’t need to worry; you can just be happy for me!” I went inside the house, and have loved my nose ever since.
I loved my nose because somehow the idea got into my head that it was something to be proud of. It was only in that one not-even-discussion, too. I had never thought about noses before. No one ever said anything else about noses for years after, until we read Tintin comics in a French class, and people began to talk about how racist Herbés drawings of black people were. By the time I realized that this was something that might cause people shame and hurt, it was too late for my self conscious to switch gears. I simply decided that all the racists out there were particularly stupid in this area, and I even felt a little sorry for what they must obviously have lacked.

Sometimes I wonder, if my vocabulary had been better back then, would I love my nose today? If someone had said something negative about big lips to me, would that have stuck, also? I was lucky to grow up in a world with Angelina Jolie and J. Lo, paving the way for me to accept my larger body parts and understand them as things to be desired. It’s just scary to think about the little ways in which our perceptions about right and wrong; good and bad; attractive and unattractive have been shaped. There are so many insidious influences waiting to warp us as we grow up. This is how we have so many social institutions that we can barely understand.
Thank goodness my nose escaped, perfect and safe.

One in Six

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too hard inside.

We won’t say dead. I’ve felt dead inside, and this isn’t that. It’s more of a Dull feeling. Ever since I came back, I’ve just felt different. Part of me is worried that this is just some bullshit feeling and I’m being dramatic without realizing it. Maybe in three years I’ll look back at 2015 Khalilah and roll my eyes. For now though, I’m here.

I don’t want to see people as much. Part of it is because we’re all rushing around, constantly, and don’t have time for meaningful interactions. At least for now, I’m kind of over asking people how they are and then lying quickly to each other about our lives or emotional states, before moving on and away. I’m over going to parties to see friends, but instead getting felt up by random guys, and still somehow not being brave enough to push them away from me. I’m tired of freezing up in important moments, then replaying them over later and trying to change the memory to make myself feel better. Maybe I did push him away. Maybe I punched him in the face. Maybe I gave his leg a cool tap and walked away, saying, “You’re too distracted” over my shoulder. No, I didn’t. I feel bad, and guilty, and I don’t want to feel the way, so I make myself feel Dull instead. But then the dullness sticks to me, in other moments. Moments that could be meaningful.
I’m in the bathroom before our dance group is about to perform, doing my makeup in the mirror. I’m actually sharing the mirror, with another girl I know. She asks me how I’ve been, and I tell her the truth: I’m weird. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s reverse culture shock, but all I want to do is stay in my room and not interact with too many people because everything comes at you at once and it’s all so very overwhelming, and it doesn’t really mean anything, anyway, and what incentive do I have besides class and work to go out into a campus that cares more about its rights to use illegal substances than it does for the slain Muslim students, or the AfAm department, or any black lives? She listens and makes the right noises, and asks if she should do a cat-eye or leave her eyeliner the way it is. I tell her to try extending it (she does, and it looks better), and ask how she’s been. She tells the truth: she’s very stressed, because she’s committed to all these activities, and school and work are getting crazy, and all her friends have so many problems, and they’re leaning on her for them. Are you taking care of yourself, and your own problems, too? I ask her. Well that’s the thing, she says. It’s hard, and I wish my friends would think of that, too. And then both of us have finished our makeup and someone’s knocking at the bathroom door, and in the lull, I leave. Should I have stayed? If it had been last year, I probably would have. Maybe I just trust people more to take care of themselves now, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
I’m at dinner with my friend. She’s telling me about how some girls want to post pictures of known rapists and assaulters around campus, so that everyone can be aware. They won’t even need to say why their pictures are posted; they can just put them up. I think that’s a great idea, and I hope they do it. She tells me about one guy who broke into a girls house, came into her room, and assaulted her while she was asleep. I picture myself waking up to someone sexually assaulting me, and burst out laughing. It’s probably the best laugh I’ve had in a while, and it just keeps going.
“That is so terrifying and awful that people have an evil creature named who does that. The guy’s an incubus,” I say.
“I know! And wasn’t it that not even vampires way back when could do that?” She says, “They couldn’t enter your house without permission. So you’re worse than a vampire!” We laugh so more. We don’t find it funny. But it’s too appalling and horrendously frightening an idea to do anything else. My system has shut down to everything except laughter.

When I’m done, I think again about how my reactions to things have changed. It used to be, when I was little, that Rape was a bad word. It was a word you were afraid to say, precisely because you didn’t understand what it meant. You didn’t understand how something like that could be possible. And what was sexual assault?
Now, though, it’s part of my weekly vocabulary. It’s gotten to the point where I can have someone tell me she’s been assaulted, and my first thought is, “Oh, you too?” I’m not shocked by it. If anything, I’m shocked if it’s the first time. There’s something deeply fucked up about that. You shouldn’t become jaded to body violation.
Maybe I’m not. It still bothers me when men take liberties with my person. I want the rapists and assaulters the hell off of my campus. Actually, I want more than that. I want to light a hundred matches, and burn each of them out on the violator’s dick. I want to put him in a box and force him to listen to the screams and cries of whoever he’s assaulted, not during the actual event, but every time afterward, when she’s had to relive it in her head. At the very least, I want to punch each of them in the face. But I know that this will never happen. Even if given the opportunity to, I wouldn’t do it. I think that some part of me has just accepted that this is going to happen, and expects it to continue unchecked, and the rest of me doesn’t have the energy to stop it. That would require a lot of energy, and many feelings. Too many for the dull person I can feel myself becoming.