Tag Archives: Conversation

Tableau 4

When we get back to the apartment, I head for the fridge. I’m pulling out a stir-fry when Mwanza slaps it out of my hands.

“You’re not eating,” he says.

“Not yet,” I reply. “Give it back. I need to heat that.”

“You don’t get this, do you? I said you’re not eating.”

“You cannot be serious,” I laugh. “You’re drunk! Do you think you’re my parent? Am I on restrictions? We dieting?”

“It’s not a joke! What happened back there? I have to fight some guy off of you, you ruin our night, and now you’re going for waffles like nothing’s wrong. What the fuck, Bitumba.”

“What the fuck me?” I am incredulous. “I ruined our night? First of all, we didn’t have a night together to begin with.”

“And whose fault is that?” He moves toward me, and my stomach starts to feel weird again. “You barely went near me all night. You wouldn’t have noticed if I left!”

“Mwanza, are you kidding? I was following your plan. Which was disgusting, by the way. But we did what you wanted.” Like we always do.

“What I wanted. You think I wanted to watch you flirt with other guys? Dance with them? I was supposed to leave with the girl no one could get. Not the skank everyone touched. A guy thought he could kiss you!”

“But he couldn’t, and I showed him that.” So much nonsense has just flown at my face; I don’t know how to respond, so I settle for a low blow.

“Are you really mad that a guy tried to kiss me? Or are you jealous that your knot-headed friend didn’t want to kiss you?” He’s staggering closer to me, and my stomach hurts more, but I can’t stop talking, can’t stop dripping derision from my lips.

“Poor Mwanza, let down by all his women!”

He shoves me then, hard. One second my feet are under me, and the next they’re gone. My arms flail out in a stupid attempt to grab a stabilizer, but there’s nothing to hold on to. I’m crumpled against the fridge, and Mwanza is inches from my face, breathing heavily. I don’t know how he moves so fast. I see his chest heaving, and our eyes widen together as I inhale – and get hit with a wave of understanding. Every part of him, his face, neck, arms – I grab his hands to confirm – smells of vanilla.

“When you said I wouldn’t have noticed if you left,” I say slowly, “That wasn’t a hypothetical.”

His fist clenches. Unclenches.

“What did you do?”

Silence.

“Does your dick smell like vanilla, too?”

His hand slaps the side of the refrigerator, so hard that magnets fall down. A couple of them bounce off of his head. It’s funny.

“Be grateful that wasn’t your face,” he says. “Women who are disrespectful can still get slapped.”

That’s so ridiculous, I can’t hold in the laugh. It comes barking out, before I wipe it into severity.

“If you slap me,” I say to him, “I will kill you.”

 

He kicks the fridge now, and tears out of the apartment, banging the door shut behind him. I slide until I’m lying straight on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

 

It had never occurred to me that Mwanza might be lying about the love, too. I close my eyes. This whole time, at the window and in my head, I’ve taken his love for granted, berated myself for not meeting him in what I thought he felt. I was wrong. Amazing how much energy I wasted, calling myself stupid for not being into something that seemed perfect on paper. Perfection does not exist. Couple goals are made up! We don’t love each other. We don’t want each other. This can end, and we can be free to exist Elsewhere, Otherwise. I almost smile. I would be happier about it if the message hadn’t been delivered so violently.

 

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

 

“Bitu! Bitumba!” Mwanza is back.

He tries to pull me up, but I roll away from his hands. You can smell tobacco on him. He has made himself into a vanilla cigarette.

“Don’t touch me,” I say tiredly. “Go away again. You tried to hurt me.”

“You hurt me first!” There’s a squeaking sound, and I feel a puff of air at my back. Is this man kicking at me now? I sit up and stare at him.

“Damn it, Bitu.” He slides to the ground. Mwanza is art. The way he moves is graceful fast; even his violence seems choreographed. Now he just lets one foot slip out over the floor, allowing his body to follow, keeping one foot anchored while bending that knee. I don’t think he appreciates his physical gifts, this beautiful monster. He probably feels the same way.

“You, know, I’ve said sorry,” he says.

“No, you haven’t.”

“Well, whatever. Sorry! But you didn’t apologize for anything, either.”

Me apologize. I didn’t do anything.”

Exactly! You don’t do anything with me anymore. I saw you at the club. You danced with everyone. And the way you looked? Happy. The love of my life doesn’t care what I do. She’s happier with others than she is with me.”

Maybe I was wrong about being wrong.

“Did you just call me the love of your life, after you fucked some other girl in my vicinity?”

“Why do you think I did it? You didn’t even notice! You don’t see me anymore. It’s like you’ve forgotten who we are, Bitu. We’re the lovers who came from different parts of the world to be together. I set you up here; this country has the two of us in its seams. You’re pulling away, I don’t know why – why? And it’s tearing the seams and it’s hurting us!”

“What do you think love is, Mwanza?”

“It’s pushing through white-hot pain, withstanding all, because you know you’re supposed to be together.”

“Do you really think that?’

“I know it.”

“I don’t want that.”

“You don’t want anything, but you don’t say what you do want, either. You being so damn impossible to please, but I’m wrong, because, ‘Oh, I pushed you; I threatened to hit you; I fucked some other girl.’

“Do you admit that you did all those things?”

“It doesn’t matter!” he yells. “What do you want?”

I don’t know,” I whisper. I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. Tears drip slowly out of my eyes. Mwanza grabs my inner thighs, and pulls me across to him.

“You want this,” he says urgently. “Us. This.” He tries to kiss me, and I try to bend away like before, but we’re too close to the floor and he pulls me in through the small of my back. He tries to kiss me again, and I turn my head. Again he tries, and again, and again, until I don’t care about stopping him anymore. I let him kiss me, and I let him pull me to bed, and as much as he’s claimed to be hurt by it, Mwanza doesn’t seem to care when I go into my head.

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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.

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.

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.

 *                           *                              *                               *                                 *

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.

*                              *                               *                                *                                *

 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.

*                                *                                *                                 *                                   *

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.