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Walking like Wilma

Some things stay with you forever. Like the Flintstones walkers. When I was younger, my friend lent me an entire season DVD set of the Flintstones, and I watched that every day for a long time. With pixie sticks. I would just go through pixie sticks, sitting on my couch, pouring the powder into my mouth, devouring Flintstones episodes.

The animation was always interesting, in how people would travel with their bodies. I don’t mean the whole thing about using your feet to start and stop cars. I mean their actual walking.

One episode had Fred and Barney up to some nonsense, and Wilma and Betty had to go looking for them. At one point, Barney says, “Uh-oh! Here come the girls!” When you saw them coming, you knew that “Uh-oh” was dead right to use. Wilma and Betty are walking up the street with their bodies leaning forward at something like 45-degree angles to the concrete. Wild. Incredible. Physically impossible?

I tried and tried to walk like that, until my mom told me to knock it off. I think I embarrassed her by doing it on a walk with extended family. Sometimes, I still think about trying. It’s been so long since I watched that episode, I doubt she’d remember what I was doing. That would make me doubly weird, the kind that comes not from no one understanding your explanation, but no one believing you could have one to begin with. Flintstones walking. I’ll do it in my room.

See Ya

It’s like sleep away camp.

When you start, you aren’t sure what to expect. You don’t even know if you really want to go. You don’t! It’s because you’re scared. Nervous. “I’m always nervous, but I’ve trained myself to see it as being excited.”

So, there you go. Nervous excitement.

Despite the nerves, you go, and it’s a little bumpy at first. Getting to know new people, making connections, testing humor and vibes…that all takes some lightly-treaded time. Then, suddenly you get that click, you find your people, and you stick with them. Life is beautiful, all things considered, when you’re together. In partnership, you make each other happy.

Five months of sleep away camp.

Then, camp is over, and it’s time to go home. Back to daily life without each other, with the new bond stretched. Parents load your self and your stuff into a vehicle, and drive off. You cry, because you don’t want to be separated. You cry, because you loved the time you spent together. You cry, because you’re determined for this not to be the end.

It’s like sleep away camp, except that we’re adults. We have jobs, too, which means we can afford to see each other again, more than once a year. Plane trips can replace train visits. And in the meantime, it’ll be like writing to camp friends, the ones you absolutely kept in contact with. Only this time, we won’t need to wait on snail mail. There are myriad ways to keep in each other’s lives, what with “the wonders of modern technology”. Sleep away camp where after, I could theoretically see your face every day, even if I couldn’t physically touch you, and it wouldn’t be from an old, still, kodak shot.

You pull me into you, and I flashback to hugging someone goodbye my last day of camp, falling into a pile of luggage from the sheer will not to let go. We’re already lying down, so there’s nowhere to go except deeper into the fold of our limbs. You squeeze me tight and I drink the moment in, making a memory to take for the ache that will come later. On the last day of camp, I sobbed. Now, I brush my tears away quietly, calmly. You promise to let me know when you’ve arrived safely, and I watch you from the doorway as you leave. There are more tears, but they’re tears of happy anticipation, not heartache. Tears of peace, not of loss, because this is like sleep away camp.

It’s just like sleep away camp. Except, with the potential to be better.

Okay.

Pop. Six. Squish. Cicero. Lipschitz.

“Write about how you’d think it would feel falling for an artist,” he said.

Immediately I think of the artist who ain’t shit. Who finds theirself in multiple others, who cannot be tied down. I think of the artist as an anarchist, activist, revolutionary sprung to life from “Eyes of Zapata”, leaving hurt souls and broken hearts in their glorious wake. That would be the wrong kind of falling.

But then,

“You’ve been involved with too many drug dealers,” he told me. “It’s your type.”
“No, it isn’t,” I told him. “It’s not something I want, or look for. It’s just happened.”
“Exactly.”

“But you still don’t smoke,” he continued later. “You’re almost against it, and I don’t understand how.”

I explain about Edward, leaving William out. And I explain hide-and-seek depression, and not wanting to rely on a substance to get me through life. He understands a bit.

“It just seems, dangerous,” I say, “To be away from reality for so long.”

For the poetry unit, we have a slam. All the teachers perform. I bring my friend, a poet, to perform as a guest. Their words are transformative. Through inflection and imagery, an exile from family becomes an exodus; a stint of homelessness an adventure through another dimension. Another teacher conjures spirits and mystics from a funeral. The threads of so many basic concepts are spun into beauty, so that you forget where you are and what is happening. Black artists are magicians who turn sorrow and torment into ornaments and experiences coveted by those who don’t know better.

If reality was a desert, I imagine stumbling through it and falling for an artist as an oasis. Discovering someone who blows the sand into beautiful glass and makes us forget our thirst. Together, we’d make a completely new experience for ourselves, retreating into our shared consciousness, weaving stories and imagery around us to survive the elements.

 The only danger is that we’d still be thirsty, even if we didn’t think about it. The elements would still be there, even if we didn’t pay attention to them.

It might not be wise.

But I guess falling for anyone isn’t always the wisest thing to do in the first place.

What It Could Be

“I don’t even know if it really was love,” I tell her. “I thought it was at the time, but then most of that was revealed to be lies anyway. So I don’t trust anything. But what I do know is that 90% of it was sad.
“I think that because of the weirdness with Dad growing up, and from being so, so close to Edward and then dealing with his suicide, I don’t think I know a love that is healthy. I don’t understand love with the absence of pain.”

She started crying.

I wanted to write a pitch for CRWN’s love issue, before realizing I had nothing sensical enough to say. I considered dragging up What it Might Be, but didn’t feel like recycling. So instead, I allowed the issue to pass, while continuing to reflect. Then I listened to John Legend’s project.

This time, I think that love may be flying through a trapeze in pitch black. You can’t see where you’re going, or really any of your surroundings, but you can feel out what’s there.

Trust.

As you spin, contort, and flip yourself through the air, there’s the moment where you let go of the ropes and poles on which you hang. You fly, blindly, arms outstretched, ready to be

Caught

And hands feel you, grab you, pull you out of the air and back into the motion of a loop, before tossing you on and allowing you to fly again. Maybe you’ll go off flying together, waiting for nets or other hands to catch you. Maybe they’ll let you go for a minute, but come back to catch you later.

Maybe they’ll drop you, and you’ll fall.

You have no idea. You can’t see. You can only follow the motion of your hoops and crests. Can only fly off on your faith.

If the hands do drop you, you have to fall with faith, too, and hope that new ones appear to catch you before you hit the ground. Maybe you’ll fly higher with them. Who knows.

If you crash to the ground, will it have been worth it?

I don’t know. Falling, you probably won’t think so.

When you’re at the peak of your arc, though, after the first time you’ve been caught and flung up again, you’ll know that this is the best feeling in the world.

At least I hope so. I can’t really remember, and I’m still swinging. I won’t let go for sadness or abuse this time.

Who Wants to Be in a Piece?

I wrote this to be performed, then realized I have no performers. Eventually I want to turn it into some sort of visual story. As my visual skills are lacking, that may take a while. So in the meantime, here.

 

I heard that after she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses.

I wish I could do that. All of that.

I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. More than that, though, I wish that I could want to go somewhere that no one knew me. I wish that living amongst strangers were an attractive dream, and not a nightmare. It would allow for the possibility of escape. But right now, walking amongst strangers is one of the most terrifying experiences I go through.

What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers?

Repeat: “After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her, so that she could walk outside and be sad without wearing sunglasses. I wish I could –”

Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile? I want to be friendly; I want to be kind.

In high school, a speaker came to our school to talk about bullying. He told us the story of a man who was so depressed that he jumped off a bridge. In his suicide note, the man said that he would turn around and commit to living, if one person smiled at him on his walk to the bridge from his home.

I think about that story every day.

I think about calls I never made, and texts I sent too late.

I think about my own jumper.

I don’t want to be the inadvertent cause of another.

BUT –

I don’t really want to be that friendly, either. To strangers. Who don’t know me, and who could misinterpret my intentions in smiling. I don’t want to smile at the wrong person and then regret it.

Hidden Thought: “Edward”

What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think many people think about the extent to which this happens. You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. What you don’t realize is that there will come a time when you’re walking through the city with an acquaintance, and you will pass by a group of guys on the corner. You will notice them noticing you, and why shouldn’t they? You look good. Hair nice, new lipstick, skirt with the slits. Let ‘em watch! you’ll think as you walk by, until you notice them peel off the corner and start to walk behind you. And for three blocks, as they continue to walk behind you, your acquaintance will talk and talk and never notice how silent you are, how rigid you are becoming. As you hear the low murmur of their voices, punctured by sinister laughs, as you begin to be confused about whether their footsteps are shaking the Earth, or you are just shaking, you’ll be thinking about the keys in your purse, wondering, if I push them between my fingers, can these work as brass knuckles? Or will that just make them mad, and rougher with me? If I just submit without trying, will they be gentler? Will anyone believe me after? Will they blame me?

Thought: “Of course they will.”

*Everyone pauses, Thoughts look at Khalilah, then all resume walking*

Repeat: “What I didn’t realize would happen after I was raped: I became afraid of men. I don’t think – ”

You will be scared out of your mind, because you will know that those guys are there to rape you, that they will rape you. This you will know, even after it turns out that the guys were just walking, and have turned off somewhere else, because this is what you have internalized: if someone you know and trust, someone who could be a friend, could do this to you, then there is nothing to stop a stranger, someone with no connection to you, and no reason to care about you, from violating you.

From One side: “You’re stupid to want to look nice. You’re an idiot, trying to be attractive, just luring them in, and expecting them not to touch you. *Getting closer to Khalilah’s face* Don’t smile at anyone! Do you want to be asking for it?”

From Other side: “Edward.”

*Thoughts begin to walk in imperfect circle around Khalilah, stepping out of the circle to speak, and then re-entering as she speaks*

There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note.

“Don’t let him die.”

On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy.

“What’s wrong with him, Khalilah?”

On March 25, a jogger found his body.

“Why can’t you be friendly?”

On May 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body.

“I never said, ‘he did not rape Khalilah’. Stop worrying that I’m spreading a counter narrative about you, and worry about yourself.”

*Khalilah stops smiling, turns from a Thought*

“Well fuck you then, bitch.”

From other side: “Edward.”

*Everyone stops walking*

You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose to let one run wild over you, so you can combat the other? It’s like a game a whack-a-mole where I am both batter and target.

*Resume walking randomly, not in a circle. Thoughts should be pretending they have somewhere to go, intersecting Khalilah/each other like traffic, but without forcing anything (if that makes sense)*

He is 1,728 days dead. And she would be 301 days old. I’ve got ghosts on each shoulder.

Does he have any? Does he have ours? The man whose name I am legally no longer allowed to say. Would he deny his daughter? My daughter? The proof of his perpetration. His friends, fellow activists, would no longer be able to send me hateful messages, or accusations, or spread their guilt-induced counter narratives, not with her around. She would have to be female, I know, because I would hate any son in his image. Any man.

“Edward.”

Please, please stop saying his name. I’m not even thinking it. I’m not saying it.

Thought from other side of the room: “You can still feel his dreads sometimes. You still see him when your eyes are open, and feel him when your eyes are closed. You can still hear the contrast between your moans and his laughter – ”

*Khalilah runs over as it speaks, faster now*

I don’t want to, I don’t want to. Those aren’t things I want to hold onto, those are memories I want out of my thoughts –

Thought from the other side of the room: “Edward.”

*Khalilah whirls around*

NO! Stop. He isn’t here. Why don’t people understand the power of names, the power of calling someone? Call a living person, and you summon an idea of them. When someone is dead, the idea of them becomes their essence. I do not want to deal with his ghost right now. His nonexistence. He left. He left – me. You cannot call him; I cannot call him – 

*Thoughts have been moving closer to Khalilah as she unravels. They pull cords out of their pockets, and begin to move quickly around Khalilah like a Maypole, binding her*
*Different thoughts begin to speak, in round form. After the first gets out two sentences, the next begins, and the next after the second’s first two sentences*

“He is seventeen-hundred, twenty-eight days dead. And she would be 301 days old. There are too many dates on the calendar. On February 16, we found his suicide note. On December 24, he told me that he was better. That he was committed to being healthy. On March 25, a jogger found his body. On March 20, he told me he loved me as he invaded my body. You ever get to a place where your traumas seem to trump you? Where you’ve got to choose one to let run wild all over you, so you can combat the other?”

“I wish I could be publically sad. I wish I could walk around crying when I felt like it. After she died, her mother wanted to move to a place where no one knew her. More than that, though, I wish I could want to go to a place where no one knew me. What are the social rules for when you walk through strangers? Whom do you greet? At whom should you smile?”

“You think, Oh, well of course. A man did this to you, so you’ll have trust issues. 

*When Khalilah is sufficiently bound, one Thought moves to cover her mouth. She struggles around, moving her head to get out the last bit of monologue, while one Thought goes to get tape*

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT MY THOUGHTS ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER MY EXISTENCE. SOMETIMES I THINK I’LL HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN GETTING BY AND LIVING, AND ACTUALLY MAKING SENSE OF WHAT’S HAPPENING.

SOMETIMES I THINK THAT I’LL GO INTO MY HEAD TO ORGANIZE MY THOUGHTS, AND I’LL GET LOST. I’LL LOSE CONTROL, AND MY THOUGHTS WILL ALL SWIRL UP AND CONSUME ME AND I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMPLETELY SPEAK AGAIN. IT’LL JUST BE ME, IN MY HEAD, MUTE, WITH MY TRAUMAS.

*Thought finally succeeds in taping Khalilah’s mouth shut. It gently runs its hands over the tape, pressing it down more firmly, as the others stand watching, still holding their ends of the cords*

*A New Person enters, dressed in ordinary clothes*

New Person: “What are you thinking about?”

Knowing Moments

When the only person in the world with eyes that scare me was younger, she watched her grandmother get out of the bathtub. Years later she would talk about it, while showing a picture of a rip in a curtain, taken in the bathroom of a restaurant. The picture would be blurry, not really focused on anything, but you’d be able to make out the light shining through it. The light made the rip look, to me, like a bird. It made me think of the birds on my back.

People still ask about my tattoos, and it always surprises me. I think it’s because I’ve forgotten, for the most part, that they’re there. Maybe it’s because they’re things I’m already thinking of anyway, messages I’ve internalized. My tattoos have become a part of me to the point where I’ve forgotten I once paid someone to ink them into my skin, and feel more as though they’ve emerged on my body as manifestations of my thoughts. If my body were a house, my thoughts would be the ghosts haunting it, writing warnings and messages onto my walls.

This bird does not look trapped or free; it looks suspended. Janelle Monae before she steps into Q.U.E.E.N.ship. And through it, I can see, what? It’s unclear. Hope? Light.

Her eyes, and their directness, terrify me. She’s the only other person I know who has seen The Man in the corner of her room. I feel as though her eye contact asks something of me. I don’t know what, though, and I can easily understand how they could make a grandmother still, freeze her as she stands in the tub, capture her forever as the light glints off of her.

I look into those eyes and see the silhouette, feel the softness of the skin and the dampness of the towel. I feel safe. I don’t want to leave, and I haven’t even been here.

“What do you believe in?” he asked me.
“Moments,” I told him, except now I think that was the wrong answer.

What does belief mean? A lot of it, I think, has to do with faith, or accepting something to be true. I don’t know if I’m in the position to accept anything to be true. Things just happen, things just are, things are not. Things can simultaneously be and not be at the same time, and I would never want to tell you which. I think on an abstract plane, I hold faiths and beliefs. Concretely, though, I would not be able to state them and be fully there with them. So maybe I don’t believe in moments. I do, however, know them.

For such a long time now, two ideas have been repeating themselves to me, overlapping with each other and expanding together. They are

Moments

and

Traps

If the moment is right, it can trap part of you forever. Some bit of your mind will stay there, even if you don’t want it to, even if you aren’t always aware of it.
Some of the strongest moments are ones I was not even present for.

When my uncle was at a state dinner, his food was poisoned and he died.

When my aunt found my cousin’s body, she lay down next to it and told him to look after his brother.

When my father was five, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated, and Coco Meta had a man pretend to be her husband on the train because he spoke all the languages.

When the only person in the world with eyes that scare me was younger, she watched her grandmother get out of the bathtub.

And then there are all the moments that do belong to me, constantly swirling around my head too fast to be inked down. I could get lost thinking about all of them. I already am lost, for the most part. My mind is so split, fractured as different moments lock different parts of it away.

Half of these may reveal themselves to be lies later, and that part of my mind that believed in them will be gone forever. So believing in moments is dangerous. Recognizing, knowing, and holding them is another story. They are what I have.

Security

The one exception to the safety rule, the one time I feel completely comfortable in my body’s space, is very irrational. But I’ve dealt with so many irritating irrationalities, finding a helpful one is not something I’m going to worry about.

“I love your shirt!” the girl at the register tells me. And tells me, and tells me. She can’t get over it. “It’s just so cool, and the thing is most people probably don’t know what it means.”
Ah, we have a connection. Black women who share some level of consciousness.
“Yeah,” I say, gesturing with my thumb toward Darren. “He didn’t even know what it meant.”
She looks at him and nods like it’s nothing unexpected. “You should walk down 125th street in that.”

I bought this shirt partially because I like the design, and partially to spite my landlord. Since the second week I moved in, we’ve had ridiculous male-female debates over issues such as weaves, respectability, harassment, and hoe-ing.

“You’re a hotep,” I finally tell him.
“A what?” he asks.
“Look it up,” I tell him.

“This says, ‘an Egyptian word that means “to be at peace”‘,” he reads off his phone. “Hey, I like that!”
“You’re looking at the wrong definition,” I reply.

“Woah, woah, woah!” he comes back an hour later, reading off of Urban Dictionary.
“‘Black men who are only concerned about matters of social justice when it comes to black men and have little or no regard for the health and well-being of other members of the black race unless those people can serve to uphold their misogynistic societal ideas.
Hoteps are bitter black men who are somewhat progressive though undereducated on issues of racial prejudice and use pro-black rhetoric to support ideas that are clearly not in the best interest of all black people.
These men are typically misogynists who display a particularly high level of disrespect for the thoughts, bodies and experiences of black women, black homosexuals and black children. These men regularly espouse anti-intellectual and anti-scientific beliefs about nutrition, women’s menstrual cycles and child development on social media.’
“That’s not me! I’m not a misogynist, I love women! They just don’t know how to love themselves right!”

“Mmm-hmm,” I say, and go upstairs to order my shirt.
Four weeks later, I have it. It’s oversized, and I crop it badly, but not so badly that it doesn’t still look god when I wear it. A black tank, with orange and green designs around large letters that spell out, “AIN’T NO HOTEPPIN’

The shirt is perfect. I wear it the entire weekend. I go everywhere in it. My waist beads poke out from underneath it, the burgundy of my combat boots complements it nicely, I pair it with leggings and long skirts, jackets and sweaters, or by itself. Any other shirt that was cut this way, I would wear it in the daytime only. But this shirt, I almost prefer to wear in the dark. It protects me better than mace or an oversize pullover ever could.

Why? I think it’s the message. The message for monsters to leave me alone. Ain’t no hoteppin’ means I don’t have time for bullshit, for men who would harass me or waste my time, follow me or try to hurt me. When I wear the shirt, I am unequivocally Not Asking For It, or For Anything other than Respect. And despite the fact that most monsters probably don’t understand the writing, I do, and that means my mental state is secure and confident. I can stare men down, I can sit where I want on trains, and I can walk through the dark with less fear.

“Dear L train,
Thanks for Jessie. She wore, skinny jeans, no lipstick, and a pair of scuffed black boots that looked like they could kick God’s teeth in.”

That’s how I feel. Safe in my brain, secure in my body. I feel like even if a third rape were to be attempted, I would be able to stop it. And I would know that no one could ever call it my fault. That’s probably the best part: existing, and only being responsible for myself, without mentally taking on the responsibilities of those who would do me harm. It makes me feel lighter, clearer.

I wish I could translate it to my other clothes. I wish I didn’t need to wear my lack of consent in writing, in order to feel safer.

For now though, if it works, I’ll take it.