Category Archives: Experiences

To MC

I got your email. Wrong cousin reaching out. And I can’t answer.

“Do you think people change?” I ask our cousin.
“Yes,” he replies.
“Do you think HE has?” I press.

Sometimes when it’s cold, I curl up and flashback to crawling on your floor.
I roll over and see your feet stomping down at my head.

“If you touch my things, I will slap you!” You told me.
“If you slap me, I will kill you,” I responded.

“How are you smiling while you tell me about this?” a friend asked. “You have a huge smile on your face while you talk about killing your cousin! It’s scary.”
“I didn’t even realize it,” I said. “I’m not happy about it. I think my body just reacts to ridiculousness with mirth. I was in a domestically violent situation. That’s ridiculous. I don’t think my body can think about that without reacting like it’s a joke.”

My biggest regret is not smashing your bottle of cologne on the floor. Sometimes I think about you wearing it, using it to get girls, and I feel scared and a little sick.

“He never apologized for it?” our cousin asked.
“He apologized the next day,” I said. “But he always does. And he always does it again. He reminds me of an abusive boyfriend who regrets his actions when he sees you bleeding, but still beats you up next week.”
“You know, I’ve heard that about him!” he said.
“And you’re still cool with this man?”

The best part of all of that was being able to leave. Having the resources and connections, and STRENGTH of will to get myself the fuck out of an abusive situation. And a year later, after the second rape, I left the country. This time, I’d been the one locking myself in a small living space in the cold. Still curled up on my side. That part doesn’t change.

“Leaving isn’t enough. You must stay gone.” Thank you, “Frida”.

We aren’t okay. We were, and you destroyed that. I can’t forgive you for it. Not out of hate, or spite, because I feel neither of those things for you. All that I feel, when I happen to think about you, is fear and sadness.

You were the first human long con I was aware of.

“maybe i’m being selfish again asking only for what i want. i’d like you to tell me what you want.”

What I want is for the past two years never to have happened. I want to be rape free, con free. I want to have a cousin I’m cool with, and only one dead. I want South Africa to be a haven, and Congo a conflict-free possibility.

That’s not how things work, though. You can’t erase the past; you can only learn from it and move forward. I can’t go back to an abuser. They always blame you for the abuse if you go back to it, and they never think about the intense emotional burden the abuser hurls onto you, even from across oceans.

What I want is for you to change. To listen to others. To control your anger. To reflect on yourself, your thoughts, your actions. To take responsibility for your life, your failures and successes. I don’t think you do any of that. I don’t think anyone makes you.

Your friends enable you. They don’t care if you’re a monster; they don’t care about what’s happening to your soul. I do.

I think the best care I can give to myself, and to you by extension, is not attempting to see you or speak to you. Maybe that way I can heal. Maybe that way you can finally be sparked into growth.

This is your sign.

Existing Resistance

It’s a Saturday night, and I’m in the first floor bathroom of the Brooklyn Museum, waiting on a friend. The whole museum is packed with people for First Saturday, and the bathroom is no exception. I look at the reflections of black women fixing their hair, touching up their makeup, smiling at each other. Strangers compliment each other’s style. It feels nice in here. My friend comes out, and we exit into a wave of black bodies, with occasional allies.

I did not expect to be here, or in a situation like this, for a long time. Two weeks ago, I stayed home during the Women’s March. Crowds make me nervous. Marches give me flashbacks to marching around campus with The Former Editor of the Ankh, and the aftermath that came from sharing the post I’d written about him, mainly from the people who had organized and marched with us.

I feel like self care at this moment in history is a luxury. Every moment that I take to recharge or focus on my mental state is a moment I am not organizing or protesting or calling my five representatives, something the newly woke people on my Facebook timeline constantly point out to me. And yet, it is so hard for me to get my body out of my house on the weekend. It is so hard to leave my bed, or turn on the phone when I’m not at work. I’m afraid that if I try to push myself in my Off time, I’ll have nothing left for when I need to be On.

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At the end of chess club, two students are late being picked up. They hang out as I organize my classroom.

“Why was Martin Luther King Jr. shot?” they ask.

“Do you really want to know?” I ask them. The two black five-year-olds nod, and move to lie down on my carpet, heads propped up in their hands as they listen to me explain capitalism, slavery, Jim Crow and Civil Rights in as simple a way as possible. Their parents come in midway through, standing silently in the back of the classroom and listening as I speak.

“As long as black people believe themselves to be strong, and powerful, and worthy of good things and good treatment,” I start to wrap up, “And as long as they continue to fight for everything they deserve, they will be a threat to wealthy white people. People care about money more than anything else. So they need to take away our leaders so that we become unorganized, and they need to do it in a way that scares us so badly that we stop resisting. That’s why they shot him. But it hasn’t worked yet. The struggle continues, and we keep resisting, because we have to. You have to, too.” I’m not even sure I’m saying the correct things, but no one says otherwise.

When everyone is gone from chess club, another teacher finds me on the floor behind a table.

“I’m just exhausted,” I tell her.

“I know how you feel,” she says. “Sometimes while I’m talking to them, I just get so scared. When we talked about Civil Rights and what’s happening today, they were like, ‘Wait, this isn’t over yet?’ and then I think, ‘Maybe you don’t actually have a future!’”

The next day, after Guided Reading, I tell the kids about Huey P Newton and Shaka Zulu.

“Teaching IS activism!” a former professor writes to me in an email.

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 This time last week, I was sobbing on the balcony inside Turtle Bay, because the bouncer had insisted I give up my mace, and my friend had wanted to go inside anyway.

“It’s not safe here, though,” I’d said. “I’m not safe. I can’t defend myself. They aren’t even checking any guy’s pockets! How can a place put out a dress code that makes it nearly impossible for women to have pockets, that makes it so women need to carry purses, and then only check purses and not check into men’s pockets?”

The bouncer was inside now. I walked up to him.

“So you just that guy in here with his knife?” I asked. There was no knife, but he had no way of knowing that. “You didn’t check him! You haven’t checked any men! How do you know he doesn’t have roofies?”

“Listen, ma’am,” he told me. “Usually, we do. We’re usually supposed to check men, too.”

“That’s not helpful,” I told him, “Because you’re being negligent right now. You’re only going into purses here, not pockets. So when I walk home tonight, I’ll be defenseless. And if anyone can’t walk home tonight, if anyone gets date-raped in here because you allowed someone in here with drugs in their pocket, that’ll be on you.”

“Whoa, whoa,” he held up his hands. “That’s not my call!”

“It’s completely your call whether you check or not!” I yelled, before walking away.

Triggers, man. They really sneak up on you out of nowhere. I hadn’t realized how much my peace of mind hinged upon my ability to fight off attackers. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I’ve internalized that I cannot control what other people will do to my body. That at this point, leaving my house makes me feel like I’m Asking For It. When people had started to write off the Women’s March as a white feminist movement that prioritized pink pussies grabbing back over all else, I’d felt validated for not going. Now, I feel Sojourner Truth by my shoulders, sadly whispering in my ear that I’m a woman too, and those issues actually still do severely affect me. You can’t protest if you’re afraid of going outside.

Everything is political. I lean into nihilism. I tell my students about Angela Davis, Harriet Tubman, Charles G. Woodson and Madame C. J. Walker. I read about Josephine Baker, already planning a school wide celebration for May 20.

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Tonight, Saturday night, I’m wearing jeans, a bodysuit, and an oversized cardigan. I have pockets, and new mace in my boot. As my friend and I walk out of the bathroom, our outfits blend into the crowd. Everyone falls uniquely into the same categories, either casually chic with splashes of ankara, or dressed fully to impress. Men are in dashikis. The DJ plays “Wobble” and everyone in the museum begins to fall into step. A little later, I walk past OSHUN, ever-sporting tribal marks, as they pose for pictures.

“This is a lot,” my friend says, and I agree with her. But in this case, “a lot” doesn’t mean “too much”, so we stay. We stay, and sit, and talk, and people watch. We catch the end of a performance.

“I was feeling so guilty about coming out tonight,” I say, “When I haven’t been going to any protests or being especially active. But this is sort of what we’re protesting for, isn’t it? These people all look like they’re enjoying themselves. They look happy. We need spaces like this to be human, to feel free. To just Be. And events like this are important to come to, because their popularity will increase their frequency, and because I love the way everyone looks. Afropunk used to be the only place black people could congregate en masse dressed like this. It’s like non-political existence is the greatest resistance. You don’t see this all the time, especially now, but it feels so normal and that’s beautiful.” Maybe we could make the world like the Brooklyn Museum, I think. Is that what Love Trumps Hate is all about?

When we leave to walk outside, I check to make sure my mace is still easily accessible. My friend asks me if I think I’ll pass my fears and anxieties onto my children. I think about the babies I saw at the museum tonight, the toddlers with their mothers and the happy families.

“No,” I decide. “They’ll know the world they live in, but all of my fears would be irrational to anyone to hasn’t had my experiences. I wouldn’t want to pollute their mental states. I’d shield them.”

“But you’d want to protect them,” she presses. “You’d say, ‘Here, take this pepper spray just in case,’ and then put it into your daughter’s head.”

“No, no, no, I wouldn’t.”

“Yes, yes, yes, you would! Because you’d be too afraid, otherwise, for her safety.”

And that’s when I remember: “You’re right! I would be too afraid, but that’s why I’m not having children anyway. I don’t want to pass anything on, and I don’t want to worry about anyone being raped or murdered. So this conversation is irrelevant!” I feel triumphant, but she’s laughing.

“You forgot that for a moment though, didn’t you?” she says. “You forgot that you decided that. The museum made you forget tonight.”

She’s right. For three hours, surrounded by generations of existing black people; smiling, confident women; and happy children, I forgot my learned fears. The fear came back when we left the museum, but differently. This time, it was accompanied by a tiny bit of hope. It was dulled enough to allow an asterisk next to my No Children decision.

NGs

Walking to work, walking to work. It’s cold outside. I keep wrapping my scarf around the lower half of my face, but the loops somehow keep slipping down and exposing me to the wind. I start over again. Step, step, step, wrap. Step, step, step, wrap. Freeze (arms only; feet keep stepping) for half a second, return arms swiftly while casually to my sides. Tilt chin forward, fix eyes ahead on nothing, step, step, step, step, step.

There’s a man on the sidewalk, with a dog. The dog isn’t scary; he’s just part of the scenery. It’s the man. He isn’t necessarily scary, either. I just don’t know if he’s the type to try to call out and bother me or ignore me. I hope it’s the latter, make sure my hips aren’t swaying and my body isn’t suggestive, and walk past.

“Good morning” he says, when I’m behind him.

It isn’t a nice “good morning”, or a friendly “good morning”. It’s a “good morning” that makes a point, and the point is: You Probably Thought I Was Gonna Try to Holler or Bother You or Some Disrespectful Shit Like That, But INSTEAD I’m Just Out Here Trying to Greet People like the Good Fucking Person I Am and Look At You, Rude As Hell Just Walking By Any Old Stranger Without Having The Decency to Acknowledge Them Because of Some Preconceived Notion You Had About Men But You Should Feel Bad Because I Sure Proved You Wrong, Didn’t I?

No, you didn’t.

Honestly, I might have felt bad if he’d said, “Good morning” in a completely friendly, genuine manner. I probably would have turned around to say, “Good morning” right back. That’s happened a few times. This time, though, was just gross. It oddly reminded me of a similar scenario:

Walking home, walking home. It’s dark, and late. Two men are strolling in front of me, taking up most of the sidewalk. I’m a fast walker, to the point where the gait of these two men has my femurs and fibulas trying to jump out of their skin to get around them. I really want to pass the men, but to do so I’d now have to walk between them at an awkward pace. I don’t want to do that. Don’t want to draw attention to myself. So I wait until we’re all at a corner, and then use the widest part to quickly, yet casually, walk around them at as much of a distance as possible.

They notice me.

I can tell, because they’ve been talking the whole time, but are now both suddenly silent. Are they looking at me? It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, It’s probably nothing anyway.

“Don’t worry, miss,” one of the men says. “We’re nice. We won’t bother you. You don’t need to be afraid.”

Except now I’m not afraid, I’m angry. Angry at myself for being read so easily, and angry at the man for talking to me. If you recognized that I could be scared of you, and understood why, then why wouldn’t you change anything about the situation to to put me more at ease? Why not move to one side of the sidewalk so as to stop dominating it? Why not continue to talk with your friend, and not make salient my passing in front of you? Why not –

At the gym, at the gym. Cycling through the elliptical. Cycling, cycling, cycling. I’ve started using mantras to motivate me. I remember when my research adviser told me not to eat for thirteen hours before dancing, because it would make the body get stressed and go into a trance, so I could dance better. I’ve started to go into trances on the machines, feeling my body occupied by something that wants to make it powerful, rather than overpower it. I come up with curses for the men who have wronged me, and chant them to myself in time with the motion of my feet. To the second rapist, I wish “impotence…impotence…impotence”. To the liar I wish “isolation…reflection…penance…healing…”. To the first, I have yet to come up with a vengeance that is good enough. But everything helps, and when I get off I’ll feel accomplished and calm.

“How you doing?” asks the man who has walked past me four times now, whom I have ignored four times now. He hops onto the machine next to mine and starts chatting, interrupting my mantra flow. I don’t even completely know what he’s saying. Something about ‘Have I read his book yet?’ That’s right, he sent me a link to a book he’s written on finance. When he introduced himself, he immediately told me how lucrative his business is.

Gross.

“No,” I tell him. I could add that I haven’t had time, but I don’t feel like conversing. I want to get back to cursing. I turn my head away to focus, but he keeps trying to pull me back to talk about nothing (and not the good kind of nothing), and I keep turning back away. Finally, he says,

“You seem like you’re nervous, or scared, or something.”

I want to scream at him. I’m not nervous, or scared. We’re in the gym. I could get off my machine, kick him in the crotch, and leave. He’s at the disadvantage right now. I’m just annoyed, and bothered, and unable to focus on my work. But I look directly into his eyes and understand that he thinks I’m flustered because of the attention of a rich businessman. This whole situation is a power trip. I’m at the gym, so I’m probably insecure, and don’t know my own worth. He’s sees it in me, sees me as young and inexperienced, and is swooping down to show me as much of the world as will get him into my workout leggings.

Gross.

“You don’t have to be,” he’s still talking. “I’m not here to bother you. I’m nice.” Flashes his teeth.

Gross.

I don’t even know what I say back, but he finally leaves. I think about coming up with a mantra that curses men who understand what their presence could negatively do to women, but allow it anyway. If you think that your unwanted presence scares me, take it away. Don’t force your unnecessary company on me, simply because you want my attention, and want me to see what a nice guy you can be in the uncomfortable situation of your design. If I’m on the street and I clearly don’t want to be bothered, you telling me that you aren’t bothering me is still bothering me. If If you rudely tell me good Morning, to show how polite you can actually be, you were still rude. The fact of the matter is that I don’t want anyone speaking to me, that I need space to be in my head by myself, and your talking to me to disprove my thoughts is an intrusion that immediately strips the validity from whatever you might be saying.

“Well how am I ever supposed to talk to girls then?” a friend asks me as I complain to him.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Don’t? Not if you can tell they don’t want you to. Nothing positive can come from forced interactions. Is that really hard to understand?”

Surreality

“How are you?” my white coworkers ask me at a meeting. I’m at a meeting.

This morning, I woke up and saw that Trump was elected president. And then I re-saw it, and re-saw it, because I couldn’t believe it was real. I don’t believe my reaction was uncommon. Apparently, though, it was uncommon enough to allow for the reality of the election results.

I really am a minority in this country.
That’s something you always know, but it rarely feels concrete to this extreme.

And now I’m at my real meeting, waiting for it to start, with real tears welling up in my eyes.

I am so. Scared.
And. Disillusioned.

“At least Trump is pro charter schools,” one teacher says. “So we’re safe! We still have our jobs.”

I don’t want to work here anymore. I don’t want to work here anymore.


“These charter schools weren’t even started by a black person, but they’re supposed to help black people?” he said angrily, at my old campus. He was a product of one of the first. “So much of it is bullshit. I used to get in trouble all the time, because if you cut corners in line you’d have to go to the end. They had colored lines on the floor to tell you where to walk! I was not about that shit, like are you serious? It was way too controlling, so I always cut corners just to show how stupid it was, and then I’d get sent to the end.”

“I think the benefit people see in these schools is that they recognize some of the world we live in,” I said. “We live in a white-dominated society. So if a white person wants to create schools that teach black kids how to successfully conduct themselves in white society, some people are for that. Some people think it can help. And we hope that along the way, the kids will gain confidence and connections. Maybe they’ll turn out like you, and see it all as a system of bullshit and wrongness, but at least you ended up at an elite university, with better tools to attack your problems.”

“Who would want to function well in white society though?” was all he had to say.


I always bought into the idea of teaching the whole person. I thought that learning chess would help with decision making, and round out the soul. I believed that it would help to learn how to conduct oneself in the master’s house.

What do they say? You can’t dismantle the master’s house with his own tools?


I need to go away. I’m still at my meeting, being antisocial as anything. I’m the only woman in the room, and I’m already pretty quiet to start with. I’m the only black adult in the room. White men, white men, white men!


“We’re not being sad today,” they say. “It’s bad, but we still have hope.”

“My friend got called a nigger in Times Square last night after the results came out,” I didn’t tell them.

“I’m just going to put positivity into the world today,” one guy says. “I’m going to smile at everyone I see.”

“Dude, you can’t do that!” The leader of the meeting says. “You’re a white man with a bald head! Someone called me a racist today when I ordered my coffee, and I voted for Clinton!”

“Clinton is racist too,” I actually do say.

I need to get out of here. I need to go to sleep.

No. I can’t sleep anymore. I need to be active. I need to do something. I need to quit my job. I need to take my money out of the bank. I need to join a gym, and get in shape. No longer for a rape revenge fantasy, but for actual survival. I need to cut down my eating, and cut out bad things. Carbs, sugar, anything that’s processed. I need to change my lifestyle.

I need to watch the news and read the papers. I need to stop hiding from everything. I need to be fully present in the world, because not enough people are, and then something like this happens. And in order to be fully present, I need to fully process every bad thing that has happened to me. I need to cry for a week, understand how things have happened and why. I need to get the flashbacks out of my head, or at least get to the point where my lions are only kittens. I need to, I need to, because my president has advised grabbing women by their pussies, and I have never taken the time to fully think about those implications.

I need to make art, and join festivals. I need to learn how to sew my own clothes, so I can stop being dependent upon companies, because if I lose my job, I lose my ability to go out and be frivolous.


“Political consultants have been predicting this for months,” one guy says. “It’s not about reality to them. It’s about opinions. And if people think that there are more pink Skittles in a bag of Skittles, then that’s what it’s going to be.”

Am I a Skittle? Are people like me Skittles?

I need the white men in the room to stop asking how I am without really caring about the answer, or I will scream.

Safety

To be an author. To put pen to paper and weave tales that transcend spaces and times. To create characters who are meaningful to others outside of your own world. It’s a feat. I’m in awe.

Sometimes, when I’m reading, I find too much of myself in a character. The wrong parts of myself, the scary ones. And I stop reading so much as watching, regarding what happens to the character I see as myself, wondering where the line comes that will separate us, wondering how much of my own life will go on to mirror the character’s fate. Sometimes I feel trapped within the pages of the story, even after I have closed my book, and I can’t help but look around for the author of my own life. Do authors write the way I do? Do they live inside their own heads so much that as they witness real life, it is rearranged in a romantically abstract, distant way? Are any stories purely fantastical, or are they merely recordings of how things are being seen? If the latter is the case, whoever is writing for me cannot be far away.

I don’t want to be an Uma. “Love Marriage”. V V Ganeshananthan. I remember why this book was so alarming to me. Eyes that see Other Worlds, that come with ears that hear Other Voices. When her character fell off the road into bushes and screamed, I screamed too. It didn’t matter that no one could hear me, or that no scratches showed up on me. I could feel them on my face.

“I want to know what’s going on inside your head,” he said, and I knew he wasn’t talking about the chess game.

“What’s the last thing you wrote about?” he asked later, as we walked around looking for his car.

I told him about the ghosts, the rape, the kiss on the forehead.

“That’s deep,” he said, and I let his words hang without agreeing. “Do you feel protected now?”

“No,” I told him. Never, I thought.

What I wanted to say:
There’s a boy at school who has severe behavioral problems, but he isn’t defiant when he doesn’t listen. He just lives in his own world. One teacher thinks he has autism. He definitely has trouble functioning with the group, and usually it seems like he isn’t there. But then you put a worksheet in front of him and he can do it, even if you’d swear the entire time he was staring out the window, he’d been ignoring you.

“He just needs to focus,” one teacher told me.
“He needs to believe that the world is safe enough for him to be sane,” I said.

When he was younger, he used to be fine. That’s what mom says, anyway. But then, he walked in on dad trying to drown mom in the bathtub, and it was over. He shut down.
That makes sense. Some truths are too much to deal with, so we cocoon ourselves away from them. He cocooned his mind, he was young enough not to feel guilty about doing it.

What I wanted to explain:
Sometimes, I think that’s what I do. I dull myself, so I won’t have to process things. Sometimes it makes me seem very ditzy, and not there. I’m a purposeful airhead. I have to be, or I’d never be able to leave my house, trust anyone, do anything. So I just can’t think, or process, too much, and I’ll get by.

What I wanted to point out:
I don’t know you. You are a stranger. You present as a man and teach chess in the Bronx, and that’s it. But I am alone with you. We are in a car, your car, and you are driving: I am dependent on you. You think I’m attractive, you would have asked me out if I hadn’t told you not to. You could rape me right now. Because the men who already have hurt me, have all known me. As a stranger, you owe me nothing. And if you hurt me, it would be my fault for going with you in the first place. That’s terrifying. Even if I recognize this, I will not process it, because the more I think about it, the closer I am to jumping into traffic.

What I actually said:
“No, but it’s still a nice thing to have. I’m not safe, but  know that someone in the world cares about me.”

He nodded. Dropped me off. I made it to my next stop without incident, without attack, without Other Voices or paralysis.

Soul Interactions

She’s so beautiful.

Not physically. I mean, physically, she’s pretty, but it’s more like her insides are shining out of her, and I can see them.

“You can have so many soul mates,” my friend once said. “It’s really just that they all came out of the same soul circle. So when you’re born, you came from a group of souls, and you can find them out in the world. And that’s why we’re soul mates.”

I wonder if this girl is one of my soul mates.

She finds me in what has now turned into a party. I’m talking to a guy, and she comes in just as he’s asking me “what I am”. It’s always so weird interacting with people in my home town, out of the social justice, aware bubble, but I find these interactions easier than I used to.

“But really,” he’s saying. “Are you light skinned?”
“Do you see me?” I ask him. “What kind of question is that?” I’m being sarcastic, making fun of him. He knows it, she knows it, he flips me off exasperatedly, and I answer.
“My mom is a white lady from Ohio,” I say, “And my dad is a black man from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m Congolese-American.”

I can tell by their blank yet friendly expressions that they’ve never heard of Congo.

“Well, whatever you are, you’re beautiful,” she tells me. “Like so so beautiful,” and this is nice to hear, because I can look in the mirror and tell myself I have beauty until I’m convinced of it abstractly, but it means something coming from a girl who is a stranger, out of nowhere in a way I can instantly believe.

“Do you know what I am?”
“Are you mixed?” She nods. “Hispanic and…white?” She laughs.
“I’m Cuban and Lebanese!”
“Oh wow, how did that come about?”
“…Sex.” We laugh.
“No, what I meant is, how did your parents meet?” Her eyes widen and she smiles like she has a secret, then leans in and whispers in my ear, “In a mental hospital.” She sits back on her heels and looks at me.
“That’s amazing,” I say. “Like actually really hopeful. How are they doing now?”
“Well, my dad has been dead since I was really young, but my mom is pretty good,” she says.
Our souls reach out and hug, and she clasps my hands, and we continue talking until she has to go check to make sure her friends haven’t left her here. “They tend to forget me.” It’s my friend’s house. She’s friends with the guy, who invited her other friend, who invited her and a lot of Random people.

I’m sitting alone for a minute, and then a guy from high school comes over. I haven’t seen him since New Year’s Eve, but really a week before that when a bunch of us were in his house eating latkes.

“How have you been?” he asks me, “Since the last time we spoke?”I think back. “Comparatively better,” I say. “The last time I saw you, life was not very great, was it?”
“Last time I saw you, your life was terrible,” he answers.
“Yeah, it was!” I laugh. It’s hilarious, because it’s true, but also because I would never think to call my life terrible. I mean, privilege. I think back. “Well -“

“What happened to you?” Across the room, the guy has been listening to our conversation. “Did you have a pregnancy scare or something?” He’s joking.
“Actually, I did,” I tell him. Because of my rapist, I think in my head.
“Yeah, so did I!” He’s still joking, though. “Hard life!”
“…Should we maybe not have this conversation here?” My friend wants to know.
“No, I really don’t care. If anyone listens in, they’ll just be upset by what they hear,” I say, then give him bullets. “So basically, I finally yelled at my parents about how they handled my rape. We’ve been repairing our relationship. I dated a guy for a bit, or I guess I had been when I saw you last, but he was waayyy more into me than I was into him, so eventually I broke up with him. Or tried to, but he held on for about a month. And then the day after he finally let go, this guy with whom I’ve had an on-again, off-again thing with told me he loved me. And I loved him back, and we were happy for a minute, but it turned really sour and sad and has gone on until last week. Which is sort of extremely heart breaking, but I can’t do anything about it. And also, I went to South Africa and got raped again.” I burst into laughter. He is, what someone else comments from across the room, horrified.

“Are you joking?”
“No! Isn’t that ridiculous? What freaking luck!” I laugh and laugh and laugh while he rocks back and stares at me, not knowing what to say, and that makes me laugh more. And then we’re interrupted by an arguing couple. The guy tears out of the house, and I hug the girl as she sobs, and I am thankful that I have not at least been like this. In a house of strangers watching my relationship deteriorate.

She’s back. She finds me again, and takes my hand in hers, and we talk. At one point, she tells me,
“You are just amazing. I feel so good talking to you. You know, you get people. You would be a really good psychologist, or like a therapist,” and that’s cool. She invites me to play a drinking game, but I’m staying away from being drunk for a while, so I leave her, and the guy from high school comes back.

“You know, I worry about you sometimes,” he tells me, which is surprising, given that we rarely see each other. “Ever since that party four years ago, when you were so drunk.”

There was only one time I got drunk four years ago.

“Was it the summer?” He nods. “With Derrick?” Nods. “At Dominique’s house? You were there?” Nodding nodding nodding. “Oh, shit,” I say. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I ruined that party.”
“No you didn’t,” he says. “You mostly just talked to me. You told me you weren’t going to live to 19.”
“Oh yeah,” I say. I can’t believe myself how nonchalant I am about this. “I believed it, too. I’m sorry I said that. But clearly I did live. And now I’m still here, and I guess I will be.” I want to tell him that I’ve let Edward go. But then I think about how I spent my entire commute home from work seriously considering suicide, and decide not to say anything. I’m not drunk. And laughing about my troubles with someone who takes them seriously actually makes me feel better.
“I’m here,” I repeat.

And then, the couple is back, and things have escalated. Fists fly, neighbors come outside. I watch my friend, the homeowner, dodge a punch and then begin to choke a girl out. I go into the kitchen, and find my girl barely conscious. She’s in a chair, head tipped back, hair covering parts of her face. Her friend is trying to slap her awake, to no avail. She’s drooling. I take a napkin and dab at her mouth, and she tries to move her hand, slowly, to help. But she just sinks further from consciousness. Her soul is crying.

“How did this happen?” I ask her useless friend, the one who brought all the chaos.
“She had half a bar of Xanax. And then she’s been drinking. And she had a huge Red Bull.” A stimulant, depressant, and DEPRESSANT.
“Where are her friends?” Who allowed this to happen? Why was no one looking out?
“I’m her friend,” the girl says, defensively.
“Sure you are,” I say.

I wonder if this is what she meant earlier when she talked about her friends leaving her. Everyone is crowding into the kitchen now, piled around her. They argue about whether to move her, to call 911, to take her to the emergency room, or just to dump her somewhere to sleep it off. One guy keeps shouting that he knows about “Sports medicine. I majored in it!” The couple is still outside, arguing.

“Let’s just go back to our frat,” Sports Medicine says.
“You have a frat house?” I whip around. They nod. “Why would you bring all of this here? Into a stranger’s home? Why didn’t you just go to your frat?”
“It’s the summer,” they respond. I am disgusted.

I pull aside the guy from before. The one who invited the girl who invited everyone else. “I hope you understand this is your responsibility.”
“What!” He’s shocked. “You’re blaming me!”
“No,” I say. “You aren’t entirely to blame for what happened. But you invited strangers into someone else’s home. You are responsible for what the strangers do to the home. And look what they’ve done.” He takes that in.

“That girl,” we look at her. “She’s depressed, isn’t she?”
“Have you seen the cuts in her arm?” he asks in response.
“No, I never looked at her arms.”
“Well, they’re serious. I hadn’t seen before today. Yeah, she’s not okay.”

“She’s going to die,” I tell him “Unless she gets better friends. She needs someone to look out for her. To care about her. You need to do better.”

Eventually, she wakes up a little, and they take her to her boyfriend’s house.

There have been so many times that I’ve wanted access to prescription medication, to knock myself out so I wouldn’t have to deal with anything. Nightly panic attacks are real. Anxiety kills, too slowly. But I’ve always stayed away, and this is why. I’ve had my time to be a party foul. I’m at the wrong age to go off the rails now.

There are too many beautiful girls who bring light into people’s lives while privately (for the most part) being miserable. Too many girls who smile and laugh at things that really make them want to cry, who drop heavy truths while projecting weightlessness. It’s tiring. I don’t want this to be the reason we’re soul mates.

If I ever see that girl again, I expect it will be a long time from now. But our souls have touched, and mine will be sending hers as much support and love and strength as it can, from now until then.

Alien Encounters

I’m at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for my connecting flight and struggling to connect to the “WiFi gratuit”. Finally, deciding that today needs to be bullshit-free, I give up and glance around, and for the briefest half a second make eye contact with a white lady with Senegalese twists. She obviously just had them done, because her edges are pullllling the skin on her face. If they were any thicker, she’d look like Alien. Her eyes light up when she sees me, and there’s a sharp intake of breath like she’s about to say something. Not today, not today, I’m thinking. Today is my bullshit-free day. Quickly, slickly, I keep my eyes dulled and continue my head turn, not showing that I’ve registered her, and ending with my eyes a good 90 degrees away.
But this lady. This lady takes her cart of stacked high with suitcases, and wheels it directly into my line of vision. She’s headed toward me. I’ve already Committed to looking in this direction, so I have no choice but to return eye contact as she gets closer…

“Your hair is even cooler than MINE!” she says, beaming proudly.

I’m just over here like Damn. Not even 4am and there’s already some bullshit. Why does she think that her hair is some standard of cool for mine to compare against? My hair is the color of Space Dust. Her hair is the color of Brown. And yet her regular twists, that so many black women wear, are super duper extra cool. On Her. The black girl sitting next to me, I kid you not, has Senegalese twists. Why doesn’t Alien say my hair is cooler than the girl’s, as opposed to her own?
Because then it wouldn’t be about her? Because black culture only becomes cool when appropriated by whiteness? Because we both (probably) know that I wasn’t going to acknowledge her “cool” hair otherwise?

Alien is still smiling at me, her eyes getting wider. Oh, I think. She’s waiting for a response from me. I make the corners of my mouth sort of pull away from each other in a low energy smile-grimace, quietly say, “Thank you,” and look down.
After a pause, she leaves. I wonder if I was too unfriendly, then I realize I don’t care. I don’t want her as a friend. My friends know better than to bring that kind of bullshit into my life so early in the day.