Tag Archives: Conversation

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.

Surreality

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

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

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

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

I am so. Scared.
And. Disillusioned.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Am I a Skittle? Are people like me Skittles?

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

Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” I told him. Never, I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soul Interactions

She’s so beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asexuality and Queerness/Not Yet

Pulse and Pride and Social Justice culture got me questioning my queerness.

The beauty of my asexuality is that it leaves me equally attracted to men and women. The ugliness of it is I’m left disappointing even more people.

Heyy pretty lady 🙂

Unanswered messages from women I right-swiped before being hit with fear.

Pride was Sunday. My friend wanted to go, and I did, too. I packed gray lipstick when I went into the city, and then couldn’t put it on. I didn’t want people to think I was using pride as an excuse to look weird, wild. Blue hair, rainbow shorts, gray lipstick, what are you doing in this place you don’t even feel completely welcome? It would have been my own individual pride. Taking the opportunity to lean into myself and try to feel safe. My flag isn’t rainbow. It’s gray. And purple, white, and black.

There’s some documentary about asexuality on Netflix that people (straight and queer alike) love to tell me they’ve seen. They all seem to have appreciated and learned a lot from it. I hated that documentary. Found it thoroughly depressing. The icing on the cake was when a group of asexuals went to Pride to show their presence and pass out little pamphlets about asexuality…and the majority of the gays and lesbians there either laughed at or derided them. One guy even said, “I don’t agree with your way of life,” and then continued to cheer for the rainbow parade.

So, there’s that. There’s a reason I have trouble talking to women I find attractive. We can match on Tinder, we can wine at queer dance halls, but when it gets to the point of moving past that, I freeze. I don’t want to disappoint women, give them lady blue balls. It’s ‘easier’ to do that to guys, because to a certain extent that’s already written into our patriarchal culture. With women, I’m afraid of hurting their feelings by slipping into the role of the “straight lesbian” who’s fine kissing but uninterested in anything else. I don’t know how to move past that block. And it sort of feels like I should, a lot of the time, if I want to be taken seriously under the queer umbrella. How can I claim queerness and more easily be with men? How does that work?

“The thing is, I could have been somewhere like Pulse,” I’m saying to my friend. “I mean, we’ve been places like that before. And they do feel safer. Not even in the sense of the outside world judging, but because the people I interact with there actually care about consent. And what if I just wanted to go somewhere and dance and feel safe and not get handled, and then I ended up shot and got on the news and was dead? What would my family, who does not acknowledge asexuality, think?”

“They’d think you were gay,” she says simply. Easy.

That agitates me, and at first I can’t tell if it’s not because of the strong Congolese sentiment against gayness, and the desire to still be accepted by the most distant relatives. Maybe that’s a part of it, but I think a bigger part is knowing that it just isn’t. Easy.

Yes, I could pass as straight for the rest of my life, and there’s a privilege to that. I guess really anyone could. Pass. It would just be easier for me to do so. But that puts me at increased risk for damage to my person. Real, real risk. Like

Clockwork.

The message comes in from my friend.

He’s in NYC. There was an apartment I’d been looking to move into, subletting from an alum. Her roommate brought him into the city. The man whose name I shouldn’t legally say now, since he threatened to sue me for defamation of character. Apparently, it’s wrong for me to name my rapist to the public. Not that any of that matters, because he’s here. He’s here, and lions have turned into kittens, and my mind is beyond spidering and I want to

actually, never see another man. They’re scary, in the deepest sense of that simple adjective.

Also, a bit, I don’t want to see another person. I can’t go outside for it. I want to cocoon myself in blankets and stay in my bed where loved ones can come visit me and tell me stories and bring me tea, but please don’t expect me to go outside again, or into the city, where he can just pop up on me.

The thing is that the break and spaces just now, between saying what I want and actually putting something in that looks like it could finish that thought, is the amount of time it takes me to unthaw and keep moving and unpack everything, and by the time that happens I’m on the C train going towards Pride. Realizations and asexual situations and the energy it takes to do all that have me tired. Of course. So instead of going to Pride, I just stay on the train until I’m in Times Square, and then I shuttle over to Metro North and ride that train home. The whole time, I berate myself for being a bad queer, and chastise myself for wearing short shorts when there are regular men all over the place. Pride would have made what I wore safe. Pride would have drained my mental energy.

I’m not really sure what I feel now, going home. My mind is a soup of questionable ingredients. Guilt-confusion-fear-uncertainty-acceptan-pri-shame-alertness-fog are the only things that briefly bob to the surface. Mostly I feel tired. A man sits next to me and I turn the pages of my book into a cocoon until I can fall asleep.

Fathers’ Day

Do I make the long distance call? Do I have a father to call? Would it matter either way?

“How was the doctor’s?” my mom wanted to know as I walked in the door. I took a moment to steady myself, trying not to jump. I had not expected to run into her right away, nor did I particularly want to speak with her. I was pretty stuck in my head, and my feelings, and wanted to sleep.
“It was unnecessary,” I told her. In a half second I decided to stick with blunt honesty. Her feelings would be okay, and I’d be able to speak as I went to my room. “They used the same website I’d used myself to check my shots, so all they did was write a prescription for malaria pills I won’t be needing. They don’t take insurance, though, and because my father would rather sit in a car under the sun for an hour and forty minutes than be in the same room as me, I had to put it on my card.” I was on the stairs.
“That’s not true,” my mother started to protest.
“It is,” I told her. “He hasn’t spoken to me since you told him, and he won’t take the chance of having to speak to me now.” She hadn’t even told him the entire truth. He thought I was ‘only’ assaulted. I wondered if he would have stopped talking to me years ago, had he known the first time I’d been introduced to sexual assault. I wondered if knowing that a rape had taken place would be enough to have me kicked out of the home.
“He loves you,” my mom was saying. It was true. My dad loved me. He still does. But,
“That doesn’t matter.” This was more importantly true. I knew that he loved me so much that it pained him to think of anyone violating my body. I knew that the pain was so intense that he didn’t know how to deal with it, let alone how to comfort me. I knew that he felt personally ashamed of what had happened to me, and of his inability to protect me. I knew he loved me so much that all he could do now was reject me, and hide from my presence. I could understand all of this. I am my father’s daughter. I love him, too. I will continue to love him as I resent him for loving me the wrong way, and abandoning me in my time of need.
“You just need to talk to him,” my mother, another person who was not loving correctly, pressed.
“Actually, he needs to talk to me. This is not my job.”

This is a father’s day post. We can skip the ensuing argument with my mother on his behalf; the tears she shed over my situation; the yelling accusations she made, calling me selfish when I opted to sleep instead of comforting her until her tears stopped. We can talk about mothers, or parents who suddenly no longer parent, another day.

She’s knocking on my bedroom door. She’s at my bedroom door, knocking.
“Dinner is almost ready,” she calls to me.
“I’m not hungry,” I say. My mother has different types of silence. I can tell from this one that she’s upset. She thinks I’m purposefully trying to hurt the family by refusing food. I’m not stupid. I’m also not hungry.
“Please, don’t be difficult,” she says, coming into the room. She’s in the room. It’s unnerving how much tension she brings in with her, nearly all on account of my father, who is downstairs and still not speaking to me.
I’m being difficult.” It’s a question, posed as a statement. “All I want to do is sleep.”
“This family has been hurt,” she tells me, coming closer, “And we need to make it right. Please come eat.” We need to make it better. Who is the we here? And how has This Family suddenly become the victim of the situation?
“I was raped,” I say, tired. I see that she shrinks back from the words, so I repeat them, louder. “I was raped,” I decide to shout. “I WAS RAPED. And you two have only had to hear about it. So why are you asking me to do all the work to fix the two of you before I can begin even to fix myself?”
“He cooked, Khalilah.” She is going to cry again. “That means something.”
Actually, I think, I think it means that he’s tired of American food, just like he’s growing tired of America. I don’t say anything out loud, though. I just roll over and stay still until after she has left the room.

It isn’t fair. I could laugh at those words. How often did I say them as a child about nonsense matters? And here, staring a fully unfair situation in the face, they have lost their power. Of course it isn’t fair.

What will happen if I go downstairs? I’ll eat, my mother will eat, my father will eat. We will not speak to each other. I’ll get up, wash the dishes, and go back to my room. My father will continue to ghost me. It is unlikely that things will change.
What will happen if I stay here? My mother will eat, my father will eat. I will sleep. My father, who loves me, will notice my absence. He will think I am spiting him, will fail to see his own actions and will assume that I am rejecting him. By doing what is best for me in the moment, I sever completely all possibilities of any reconciliation. It will be certain that nothing will change.

I get out of bed. I go to eat. Nobody really turns down fufu, anyway.

Now, it’s Fathers’ Day. I am in another country, an ocean away from him. We still have not spoken. What do I owe this man? Does he want a reminder that he has a daughter? Will his love for me make that too painful?
If I am being perfectly honest, I do not want him to be happy. Not for this. Not now that he has contributed to my pain by failing to fulfill his title. The situation is painfully ironic. If I say something, he might think I’m being mean.

Not saying anything would be akin to refusing his food, though. Nothing really means anything anymore. I can do this. Take a deep breath, smile. Even if he can’t see you. It’ll sound less fake.

Happy Fathers’ Day!