The Secret History of the World

In my mind, there is a beach. The sand is auburn and amber, although you can’t tell if it’s really that color, or merely the result of the sunlight. Everything is bathed in the sunlight’s steady, bronzing glow. Picture Saturn, picture the edge of the world before Xi threw the coke bottle off of it. Where he saw green forest, everything is metallic, shimmering sand. As he saw clouds below him, you know that beneath all of this is Space.

I step into the sand, then sink. I cannot tell if I’m falling in, or if it’s rising up to meet me, coat me, but either way I am soon in up to my neck. It does not hurt me, or scratch me, but holds me, warmly. I am protected in the sand, blanketed against the world. I look out at the galaxy, at the gold-bronze-ruby-touquoise colors that shoot off before me and swirl around me. My mind’s eyes are presented with a kaleidoscope of wonder. Then the sand holding me begins to slip away, pouring over the edge of reality into a beautiful nothingness, and I pour away with it.

I am floating, I am in pieces. I am nothing, in the most beautiful sense of the word. Usually, nothingness equates an absence. How can you have nothing without the relativity of something? Like this.

This is the kind of Nothingness that produced everything, the Nothingness that can still be found everywhere, that has replaced its Absence with the Wholeness of Possibility.

If you pushed this Nothingness together, packed it hard and struck it against something, it would Spark. Ideas, movements, actions, beliefs, beings. It is all-encompassing. It is pregnant.

Except

You cannot strike Nothing against Something

or Anything

If this Nothing is perpetually on the edge of Something, and I, along with the pouring sand, am perpetually spilling over edges, then I am now simply tumbling, tumbling, tumbling, tumbling, tumbling every non-instant of every non-moment there is. The motion is so constant, beyond rapid, that my perspective never gets the opportunity to noticeably change. Nothing is happening to me. Nothing is changing. Nothing feels safe (capitalized? maybe not). But also. Nothing is wrong (again, capitalized? I’m not sure).

You thought I was helping you out, when I allowed you to spend the night, opened my bed to you. You were helping me. It was good to have someone else there. We never touched, never felt pressure to do anything other than talk and sleep. Purely platonic companionship, at the most necessary of times.

The heat from your body allowed me to do Nothing without dissolving. I was in my mind while safely being anchored to Earth.

That’s all I want right now. Another body, to keep me grounded, to remind me that I am real and whole and not nNothing (capitalized or not).

Come to the beach with me, and stand apart from the sand. Float on a platform as I pour over the edge. Allow me to flow into the Nothing, to share your space and bits of your person, to spread up through the ceiling, to sail and hang and tumble. Then, stand up as Something, take a net to pull me together, strike against me until I spark back into myself.

Maybe, eventually, you’ll spark me out of my mind as well.

For now, though, this is what I can handle. This is the base of what I need.

So, thank you.

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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.

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.

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.

Presence

“We’re going to do a vulnerability exercise,” one of the teachers says. “It’s gonna be weird, it’s gonna be uncomfortable, it might even be excruciating for you. But we’re gonna do it, and it’s gonna be good practice. We always ask our kids to do things they don’t want to do, even if it makes them uncomfortable, and now we have to do the same.”

We pair up. We’re going to spend two minutes silently staring into each other’s eyes.

“This is how you fall in love,” I say. “This is the love experiment.”

I’m surprised that I’m talking. Surprised I found the space to do so.

“It is,” she laughs. “It’s the love experiment. Four minutes of this is supposed to make you fall in love with someone; two minutes is supposed to boost compatibility.”

I have no problem making eye contact with people. I just lock on and hold. My partner has more trouble with it. I can read it in her so easily. She is timid, scared. The directness is too much for her. I see her steel herself, straighten up, then shrink back down. Her shoulders slump, and she laughs, then quickly shuts herself up. She remains slumped, but tilts her face up, widening her eyes and forcing them to stay wide.

She’s beautiful. I want to hug her, to tell her that it’s okay that she’s so scared of so many things, because she’s still here regardless. I want to push the hair back from her face, grab onto her shoulders and pull her into the air. Looking at her, I feel like we’re in the pit of some valley, wind swirling around us. I want to climb mountains. I want us to be birds.

I wonder what she sees when she looks at me.

We switch.

My new partner, she cannot handle this at all. I feel so calm, and she is so nervous. She keeps laughing. I start to count in my head. 1, 2, 3, laugh. 1, 2, 3, laugh. Without fail.

This whole morning, these exercises, have been so bizarre for me. They’ve been strange for everyone, but I think they affected me differently. I watched everyone else become self conscious. Everyone was amazed when we analyzed our walking patterns, while I have always thought about mine. There was so much uncomfortable laughter as we switched up the body parts that led us around the room, our gaits and tempos. We looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care about any of that. I didn’t care about anything.

Do I care about anything?

“What are you passionate about?” he asks our third time out, and I am amazed at how blank my mind goes. I can’t think of anything. I’ve been letting so much go. Expectations and disappointments, betrayals and hopes. My entire canvass is empty.

“Moments,” is what I finally answer. “Everything is always changing, and I’m not sure I believe in anything anymore. Nothing can stay as you’d expect it, and it might come to be that nothing ever really was as you knew it, so I can’t tell you what would make me passionate this minute, because it might not be the same tomorrow. I can’t answer any of your questions. If you want, I can tell you dreams about 7 children and 210 great-grandchildren, or galleries that transform into learning spaces and open mic nights, but understand that those things aren’t real, and may never be. You need to understand that I’m not creative; I just see things weirdly and recount them poetically but all it is, is me copying down my own ideas about what I perceive. So maybe, in a moment, I can find passion. But it will dissolve as soon as the moment passes.”

I looked into his eyes and said all of this, and could tell that he was impressed. But I hadn’t wanted to impress him. I was not trying to make someone fall in love with me; I was simply speaking a depressing truth. And I felt little connection, even as my eyes continued to hold his, and saw them widen to hold even more of me.

My eyes have finally held her still. 27, 28, 29, I stop counting after I reach 30 and she no longer laughs. It is funny to me that these activities were so hard for the others, but so easy for me. When we come back to the circle, everyone talks. My partner says my vibes were so chill, they calmed her down and made her feel safe. I open my mouth, and start to say that I felt nothing when I looked at her, that eye contact has been a necessity for me. I have always forced myself to hold eyes with people, just as I have always been conscious of the way I walk. I have to be aware of how I’m presenting myself to others, because if I don’t hold myself to Earth, I don’t know were I might accidentally float away to. My consciousness has to be on the ground, or I won’t be. It’s why I disappear in groups, without anyone to whom I can anchor myself. It’s why I can move ridiculously in crowds, because I don’t expect to be seen, and don’t mind if I am.

This human thing, it’s new to me. But all of them, they have practice. They seem to connect with one another so easily, until it is required of them.

I open my mouth to say all of this but the last sentence, but we’re in a group. Someone else is already talking, and I am already floating away.

Spirits

A few weeks ago, I had a terrifying thought: at the time, the last man to kiss me had been the second rapist. I hated that thought, hated that feeling. It made me unclean, stained. If my body was a ledger, there was nothing below his mark; nothing to make him forgotten.

Tonight, the train doors open, he steps onto the train, and I’m saved. I’ve only ever dealt with bad ghosts. Ones who have made me afraid. But here, I have a happy spirit. A safe one. Lindo.

It’s funny, because the first summer he saved me, he definitely associated me with the extraterrestrial. My eyes he told me were planets into which he was afraid to look. My aura reminded him of that of a goddess. He called me the Princess of Enlightenment and Higher Powers. Yet he never worshipped me. He just washed me over with appreciation, and allowed me to exist in his space as I needed to. My only safe space in the world for a brief period of time was in South Africa, in a drug dealer’s small apartment.

He’s on the train, now. His clothes, his hair, his smile. He’s dancing around, sliding in slippers, hoping for tips. I don’t want to give him money (his dancing isn’t great) but I don’t want to ignore him, either. It would be wrong to just let him go.

It’s not really Lindo. But it’s his spirit, inside this guy. This is where he could be, were he not where he is. It’s nice to know that there are others like him in the world, and that they are doing okay. More spaces are being created for other people. It’s hopeful.

He sits next to me on the train, debating out loud whether to take off his shirt (sweating from dancing) or put on a jacket (it’s cold outside). He miscalculated and still has a few stops before he needs to get off the train. Classic.

One time, we went to get burgers, and he was so lost in thought he didn’t realize the elbow he wanted to lean on was in the air, not on the table.

“You remind me of my ex,” I tell him.
“Your ex?” I nod. He laughs. “Oh, he used to dance around, too?”

“No,” I tell him. Although as I shake my head, I flash back to the morning I woke up and walked into his living room to see him standing on his sofa. Smoke wafted equally out of his blunt and lungs, swirling around the room, picking up the light of the morning to make an ethereal haze. Twisted, he sang with the music, and jumped off of the couch, spinning around the room and kicking out his legs. He loved me, he said later, because I let him be himself. Because I could be in his space without taking up his space, and he still felt free to do what he wanted. So yes, in every way, he danced.

But I don’t say this to the spirit on the train. Instead, I hold up my palm and move it in a circular motion to encompass his body-space. “It’s more – “

” – The aura, huh?” he says happily.
“Yeah,” I agree. Auras.
“Well, you remind me of my ex,” he responds. “The aura again.”

Then it’s his stop, we say goodbye, and he leaves.

And I remember.

All of those memories are from the summer of 2015. I only saw Lindo in the summer of 2016 once. The night after the rape. I hadn’t wanted to see anybody, but he came by, and came up to the room, and sat on the bed and talked to me. He sat where the guy had been as I folded my body far away from it. I never told him what had happened. I never told him anything that happened, the entire time I knew him. His safe space came with forgetting. Midway through his visit, he stopped, leaned forward, and kissed me on the forehead.

“I can touch you now,” he said, “I’m not afraid. That’s the kiss I wanted to give you last year. It’s for someone to watch over and guide you always, for protection. Now you have it.”

He’d been the last. Immediate protection, to begin to cancel out the ledger mark. I’d forgotten.

Every day I unpack something new that’s been repressed. Thank goodness for the dancing spirit, reminding me there are positives that can come slipping into life as well.