Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Two Moments

In a flash of a second, the train door was gone.

No one noticed.

Or maybe they did. It would have been hard to tell, because the door was back so quickly she never even reacted herself. She was still focused on the open book in her hands, strategically placed in front of her face to avoid making eye contact with strangers. Anyone watching might have thought that she missed it as well. But the corner of her left eye absorbed everything it could, taking it in to process later. Through the doorway were not the inner workings of the subway system, but an entirely different area that looked to be bathed in amber light. She picked up hills and the ideas of faint music, but by that time they had reached a legitimate stop, and she might have confused it with musicians from just beyond the platform.

For a while, she carried around the memory, half expecting someone from another world to pop out of a sewer grate one day, in crotchety need of directions to someplace or other. After a time though, she let it go. Life was not a Douglas Adams novel, and even if it was, most of those characters met ridiculous demises for the sake of allegories.

*      *      *     *     *     *

The two boys leaned forward eagerly as the air shimmered before them. They fell back in surprise as, with a rush and roar, they found themselves nearly on the interior of a huge metal tube, filled with rows of people. The first to recover made a pinching motion with his fingers, and the tube was sent away.

“You opened it in the wrong place!” his friend complained.
“Well, at least no one noticed,” said the first boy. “No trouble done.”
“I don’t know,” the second pushed. “I think a girl caught us out. There was a weird look on her face.”
“Girls always have weird looks on their faces. You think too much. Besides, one person seeing anything doesn’t make much of a difference.”

They packed in their things and left the spot on the hill.

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.

A Memory

The first time I can remember an adult man making me uncomfortable, I think I was about 6 years old. If I’d met him at my age today, I wouldn’t call him a man, I don’t think. He was probably only in his late teens, early twenties at most. This is what my twenty-two year old mind rationalizes. But to little me, he was a freaking man, and that impression clouds my memory.

He was also an art teacher at my summer camp. I think his name was David.

When I was younger, I would go to summer camp at the local elementary school. A lot of my friends did too, as well as students from the four other elementary schools in the district. The other girls in my camp group weren’t people I knew, although most of them knew each other, so there were a lot of times in the beginning of camp when we were supposed to be quiet in an activity and they’d all be talking. I mention this to highlight that while they got attention for talking to the friends they already had, I would stick out as a quiet girl. This was years before I became a quiet person. I was actually quite boisterous and loud as a child and I made friends pretty easily, but I also didn’t stress about it. So for the first few days of camp, I was very content keeping to myself in our group’s classroom activities, then ramping up the energy when I was back with my friends in the gym. My gym antics won me a lot of new friends. My classroom silences won over my teachers, sometimes a little too much.

David liked me because he though I was so polite, and also pretty. He said this, not just to me, but to the rest of my group, and really anyone around whenever we happened to bump into each other. The bumping into each other happened a lot more than you’d expect. I didn’t just see him in class. He was on the playground. He was in the hallways. I saw David more than I saw any other teachers or counselors, and each time I ran into him, he’d praise me. He got into the habit of just picking me up and putting me high into the air. He made a song about me, and he’d dance around like a lunatic singing it. When I saw him in the hallways, he wouldn’t let me go by without hugging him first.

I hated all of it.

At first, it was okay. It even helped me befriend the other girls in the group, but barely. The thing was, promises on promises, I was the only kid in camp who was being sung to. It made me stand out. I was always the first kid who “got” to be lifted into the air; it made me cool that I didn’t even try for it.

But I didn’t like standing out in this way. I didn’t feel that I merited preferential treatment. I found it strange, the way David held me when he lifted me up, with his hand spread so that his palm held my stomach while his fingers could press into my chest. When I was walking in the hallway, I just wanted to be able to walk without being stopped and pressed into a man’s body. Being serenaded made me boil over with embarrassment from the first day, but no one seemed to notice or care. If anything, my embarrassment made them all laugh, and David played off of that and hammed it up even harder.

The only thing I appreciated was that he appreciated how polite I was. My mom had stressed politeness pretty hard to me, and I knew it would make her proud that an adult had taken notice of my good behavior. So throughout the entire summer of camp, I was incredibly polite to David. I endured everything with a smile, and if I felt particularly tired or uncomfortable on a certain day, I would simply run and hide in the bathroom until he was no longer around. That’s how I got through the summer.

The next summer, I went back to camp and David was still there. I didn’t want to go through another summer of alternating hiding and endurance, so I decided to change my politeness tactics. That first day, we were coming inside from recess and David was in the doorway, waiting for me. He growled out my name, then began to bend down to scoop me into a hug.

“Hi David,” I said to him, extending my right hand for him to shake (in place of the hug). “Would you mind not singing to me this summer, please?”

In the car ride home, I told my mom about how David had been making me uncomfortable for so long, but how I had finally asked him to stop. I knew that she would be proud of me for sticking up for myself while using the tools she had taught me.

She was disappointed in me.

“Khalilah,” she said, stretching the middle syllable of my name ever so slightly, “That’s so sad. You must have made poor David feel bad. Just because you’re feeling sensitive, you still need to make sure you aren’t hurting someone. What if he doesn’t sing to any kids anymore?” Good, I thought.

But that’s the thing about childhood, and having behaviors ingrained into your system. I knew how creepy and strange about myself David made me feel, but my mom also made me feel incredibly guilty for trying to get the source of those feelings to stop. I’m sure she didn’t understand the extent to which David’s behavior with me was Not Okay. I’m not even sure if I’ve done a good enough job of outlining it to the readers here. I don’t remember everything that happened fifteen years ago, only a couple years after my memory had fully developed to begin with. All I remember now are snapshots of running into him, and the feelings of shame, discomfort, and mild fear this man brought to me. And then I also remember that for the rest of the car ride, my mother impressed upon me the importance of thinking of others, and not just our own feelings. That the feelings of others are vastly more important than our own, even if we don’t particularly like the others in question, even if they make us feel slightly unsafe or upset. By the end of the car ride, I felt like a piece of shit for speaking up for myself. Not that I had the vocabulary to explain that.

It turns out it didn’t even matter. The next day when I saw David, he made me hug him. And then he picked me up and sang to me, and didn’t put me down until the end of his song. I decided that if he couldn’t even listen to my polite request, I didn’t need to waste my time enduring him anymore. Thanks to my mother, I knew better than to stick up for myself any further, so I opted to spend the rest of the summer hiding in the bathroom whenever I thought he was around.