What Your Eyes Should See

The imagery alone for this piece made me want to read it again and again.

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baby snake imagines itself as a coiled root unearthed and then an autumn twig and finally transforms into a locomotive slowly sliding across the tar into the dark belly of the undergrowth

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Cleveland

Part II: Ruthann

I don’t know why my parents are the way they are — why they think better of themselves when compared to everyone else in our community. Their senseless thinking over the years — impressed upon me and my two sisters and has shaken us in ways I cannot describe.

I have always felt the need to empower myself — to grow outside of the box they fought to pin us in, and I hate that things have taken this turn. But if not now, then when?

I love my father. I idolized him growing up — he was and in some ways is still my everything.

I can’t pinpoint one thing. There are many reasons my love for him is as strong as it is. I attended the most prestigious schools. I am well-versed in using my mental power to gain leverage in situations that require debate or negotiation. He instilled in me the need to be financially stable, so I would not rely on anyone.

The irony of the last statement isn’t lost on me. The bulk of my savings came from him, ensuring I would have “the perfect life” with or without him around.

He has crossed a serious line, though. I doubt we’ll ever be the same again.

I work hard at what I do in order to have the life I envision for myself. I had recently moved back home because the building where my loft is caught fire (electrical issues and the like). The fifth and sixth floors were the most affected. I live on the sixth floor.

Those floors are being gutted and renovated, and rebuilding will take about thirteen months. So my being back at home was a temporary thing.


I met Cleveland three years ago at an outdoor music event two neighborhoods over. A benefit concert. Proceeds were to be distributed to the city’s children’s club and rec center.

Cleveland had been the DJ, and something about the way he looked up and smiled at me was beyond appealing. I think — at that very moment; I yearned to know more, and I pursued him.

Yes, I walked up to him after I noticed him step down for a break from his booth and introduced myself. I had every intention of learning more about him, and I did. So, here we are …

Two young people in love and fighting to stay in love regardless of our parents’ feelings toward it.


Cleveland has his struggles with my parents, and I have my struggles with his. Our families outside of our homes, though, simply want us to be careful, yet they support us.

I know sometimes he looks at me and sees a woman who has it all — one who has never had to bend or break herself for much. But if you walked a mile in my shoes, you would see things differently.

From jump-street and at first glance, I am labeled as a Black woman who can get whatever she wants because of my complexion. No one knows the battles I have fought to do what I do.

I have been called every name in the book as it pertains to light-skinned Black people, many of which, I will not repeat, but a few echo without ceasing: Light bright, red-bone, and high yellow.

I am the Content Researcher for the university’s library and I did not land this job when I first applied and interviewed for it.

I have a dual master’s in history and political science and got my undergraduate degree in marketing when I was 20 years old. It took me three attempts at this career choice to do what I love doing.

The first and second interview processes had been tainted with microaggressions and subtle attempts at belittling my character and accomplishments.

The third time I applied and was called in for the interview, there had been a different director. I wondered why, but as soon as the first few questions during the interview were asked and answered, I knew.

Racism, when in terms of Black people, does not see the complexion of a Black person. It sees a Black person.

I have struggled with the color of my skin, as God has gifted it to me. I had many feeble attempts at getting darker. I would tan for hours on end to appear a light brown color for two weeks to only return to my natural state.

If you hear “You’re passable” enough, it sticks, and trust me, you want more than anything to belong amongst your people, so you do what you can to … gain their approval.


It wasn’t until Cleveland said something to me one day that made me recognize how beautiful I am just the way that I am. I came home from work distracted by an intense argument between me and my co-worker. He stated he was sure I’d climb the hierarchal ladder at the library because of my skin tone.

Not because of my credentials or exemplary work ethic or stellar attendance, but because of my skin tone.

I was seething from the discussion and as I told the story to Cleveland, he said, “Ruthann, he’s jealous. And jealous people use their anger to hurt others. You’re hurt now, aren’t you? So, right now, he’s winning. Don’t you give him that.”

And after I heard him say those words to me, I stopped crying. I looked at him and knew I didn’t want to be with anyone else. I only wanted to be with him. He pulled me into his arms and I stayed there for the night.


We are tasked with finding another temporary residence while my building undergoes renovations. His parents are kind enough to usher us in on such short notice, but I don’t feel welcome here. I know we won’t make it for the next eight months. That’ll be impossible.

I see the look in Cleveland’s eyes — the intensity — the strain. He wants more than anything for us to be in our own place without the looming gazes of others beating down on our backs.

I want that too.


Originally published in Lit Up via Medium.

Part I