Barrymore

I don’t really know what the feeling is. Not exactly depression, but a sort of lowness. And also lightness.

Without you, I feel, light?

“Do you still love me?” I whispered.
“Yes,” he replied.
“You do? Love me?” I pressed.
“Of course I love you. Always,” he answered.
“Then don’t leave. You’re the only one who loves me but hasn’t left,” I told him.
“Hush,” said my friend, and wrapped me up in his arms.

When you had me in your arms, before, I remember knowing that it wasn’t enough. Love is not enough. I realize that I’ve learned this before, and then somehow forgot. It’s sobering, sad.

Sometimes love is bad. Or the person you love is bad. Or the love leads you to bad situations. This one wasn’t bad. It was just empty. Without commitment. And the funny thing about empty love is that is drags you down. Or, at least it does that to me.

There’s something awful about knowing you’re with someone who loves you but cannot do anything for you. That their love cannot protect you, or make you grow. Stagnant love.

Here comes a thought…

Now, the stagnancy is gone. I feel like I’m floating away, now. Sometimes I’m up high, looking at possibilities. Sometimes friends tell me to shush and pull me back to ground me, and that’s good.

So, I mostly feel good, I guess.

I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.

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Collective Friend Mindsets

I think I went to go back to meeting. Capitalize that M. Meeting.

Meditation, the other m, has not been working. I get too restless for it. Start to stress that I’m wasting my time, begin to feel guilty about taking so much time on myself. I’m not sure what the difference is in my mind between lazing around binging television and sitting quietly by myself thinking about nothing, but it’s there. I used to meditate instead of going to Meeting. Now, I need Meeting to meditate in the presence of others doing the same thing.

Maybe it’s also that in Meeting, it’s okay to have thoughts. Once, before Garnet ever sang about it, a friend told me that when you meditate, your mind must be blank. It’s natural for thoughts to come into your mind, but they cannot rest. You have to let them go right after. I have trouble with that. If a thought goes, I want to replace it with something else. Kind of like people. Only, that’s futile.

I realized that this year is exactly the same as 2012. The dates fall on the same week days. March 24 will be on a Saturday; March 25, day of discovery, will be Sunday, and that Tuesday will be the 27. Six years already, and we’re back.

I didn’t answer my mom’s calls for a few hours, and she panicked. Called my friends and landlord, put out feelers to find me. I was on my friend’s couch, wrapped up in their arms, safe. When I came home, she crumbled in front of me, sobbing. She’d thought I was chasing Edward again, and William. Thought I was dead.

It was embarrassing. Hilarious. Sobering. Overwhelming.

I still can’t do things for myself, it feels, without taking from someone else. Can’t turn my phone off for my mother’s peace of mind. Can’t tell the truth without hurting someone. Can’t stay alone without shutting others out.

“I’ve been watching a lot of ‘The Good Place’,” a friend tells me, “And thinking about my actions and what people “owe” each other. And it’s hard, because there are people who solely concentrate on themselves, because they only care about themselves. That’s wrong. But then, there are people who spend too much time on others and not enough on themselves, and you also owe yourself thought.”

“Besides,” I add. “Spending too much time on others might not be helpful to them in the long run. You’d only be giving them what you thought they were owed, which might not necessarily be what they actually need.”

I want to go back to capital-m Meeting, I think. To get lost with other souls, communally individualistic. Find Friends who don’t know me.

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.

This Time

The third one is of a giant woman riding a giant leopard, with giant hair billowing around her head. Behind her is an eagle, swooping toward her, talons outstretched.

It isn’t attacking her. That’s what some people think.

She isn’t supposed to be me.

“She looks like you!” says a lady in the locker room.

“You don’t look like her,” my friend tells me.

“Cool,” I say. “That’s not what it’s supposed to be anyway. They aren’t supposed to exist. you don’t have leopards and bald eagles organically in the same place. The world wasn’t made for that. But my body was. And she isn’t real, but she exists anyway, and maybe that’s powerful.”

I can now pull myself up if I subtract 80 pounds. Last week it was 90, the week before that it was 110. I don’t know what’s changing. Most days I’m too tired to really work out, now that my day has been extended.

“I hope you’re making more money than Oprah, with how busy you are,” says the only other Congolese person in Flatbush.

“Je travaille plus pour l’humanité que pour l’argent,” je lui répond, but I’m not even sure if that holds. It sort of does. I’m happy not to have immediate financial worries, but I’m also terrified of getting cancer, or getting locked out, or breaking technology, or losing health insurance and having to pay for birth control again. So when it comes down to it, there are more lucrative things I could be doing if I believed in a future after four years.

I also wish I hadn’t picked this month to go back on bc. I wish I could know the reasons behind how I’m feeling at this moment. If it’s the administration, my own mental health, the changes in hormones, or the anniversary.

“I should apologize. I know I haven’t been a good friend, and I was supposed to make it up to you tonight, and I came so late we almost missed the concert,” she tells me on the train. “You must hate me. I bet you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this fucking bitch!’”

I don’t use that word. I look down and see the leopard’s paw poking out.

“I didn’t expect to see you out last night, even though I invited you,” I tell her, slowly. “So when you showed up, it was beautiful and amazing. I was so happy to see you because it was such a surprise. But tonight, when I needed you, and you knew I needed you, you sort of let me down. And it feels like things work so much better when I expect nothing from you, because then it can always be nice. But I don’t think I can count on you anymore.”

They ride away.

Five days later, the friendship is over. Apparently telling her the truth about my feelings was uncalled for. It’s wrong to say that I can’t count on her, she tells me, but I shouldn’t have expectations for her either. So, you agree with what I was saying? What? Oh…yeah. Whatever, it still shouldn’t have been said. She doesn’t need that in her life right now.

“What you have to understand,” he explains later, “Is that people want the truth but not really. You are a no hold bars kind of lady, but not everyone can handle that.”

“What I am JUST realizing,” I say, “Is that people really aren’t honest, but I always assume they are. I operate under the assumption that everyone is being 95% straightforward with their thoughts and feelings, just as I am. But everyone else just assumes I’m like them. So when I’m being honest and up front, they think I’m being shady and hiding things still. And if what I’m saying bluntly is harsh, they assume I’m much nastier underneath.”

“…Yeah, actually,” he agrees.

“But honestly, I think I’ll keep the vice,” I tell him. “I’m trying to spend as much time in reality as possible, and I don’t need already-toxic people dragging me away for their own sakes.”

It’s only ever been the most negative, the most toxic, the ones who stole the majority of my energy, who haven’t been able to handle my honesty. Who have left. The toxic ones, and you.

Were you toxic, Edward?

I don’t think so. I definitely think you unleashed a swath of demons into my life, I know The Man used you as a gateway, and too much of my energy got tied up into yours. But I’ve let it go. Or I’m still letting it go, and it gets better all the time, and I can feel myself getting harder. I just have to remind myself of that during this time of year.

But you definitely didn’t like my honesty, either. You didn’t like that I saw parts of you and pulled them to the surface.

Your sexuality. Your body negativity. Eating disorder. Drug problems.

Suicide attempt.

So you lied to me, a lot. And in the end, I believed you, because I wanted to. And it was so much worse when a jogger ran into the dead truth on the morning train tracks.

2016 was about being conscious of energy. 2017 is being mindful of time. Where is my time going, what am I doing with it, who am I spending it on, and Is It Being Wasted? I don’t have time to waste on people who will steal my energy. I don’t have time to waste with lies. I only have time for the truth, for understanding, for enlightenment, and for advancement. Shadows, go away.

Edward, come back.

I’m just kidding. I know you can’t.

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?”

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.