Today I thought about your dimpled cheeks, the swollen paunch of a full belly from too much milk, and the midnight coos that morph into wailing demands to be held. I yearn for you sometimes. This . . . this right now moment, is one of those times.
I want to hold you, to feel your tiny fingers sweep over my eyelids, and search for the peace that lives just behind my eyes. I carry you in my dreams — to term — you are brought into this world smiling instead of crying.
“Such a happy baby. It’s a girl!” The doctor shouts. His nursing team whisks you away in the middle of my trying to digest I managed to bring another Black girl into a world that hates her before it even knows her.
I hear hurried voices stretched to their highest octaves as they seek out your weight. You are tossed and turned under luminescence and bound in cloths, swaddled to perfection. They lay you over my lactating breasts.
I am expected to feed you, to pour sustenance into your minutes-old body from a worn-out one and as hard as I try, I cannot.
I wake up from this dream. I lift my shaking body from my bed. I pat my way to the bathroom in the pitch darkness of my room. I find solace in a place that echoes and I cry. I leave my memories of you there.
To my unborn daughter: I am glad you are not here to see the shrinking in parts of this world — to feel constant pain when you don’t want to. I am relieved I did not lay claim to terror for you; an inheritance of depression — a gift you shouldn’t have to unwrap. I know you wouldn’t have liked it here. In fact, you would have hated it.
And I would layer myself in guilt.
Why would I give you red-inked skies, viruses that mutate into unstoppable killers, bigotry at every corner of the world, and poverty nestled under the beds of Have-not families waiting for their moments to have? I knew better. I know better.
But, I still want you.
I am not strong enough to settle into the reality of what this world would have done to you. I am not brave enough to say, “I did it! I gave birth during a pandemic!” or “I’m raising my child in the middle of the apocalypse!” I would steep in blame — fully saturated; bitter to the taste. No one would want me then.
So, did I do this for you or for me? I had a choice. I could have taken the chance of getting pregnant and not succeeding, at least, not naturally or I could have allowed fate to bring you here through tools of misuse sharper than the Devil’s tongue.
They said my body would fight me and I believed them.
It is normal for me to harbor some form of regret — natural to be reflective, but I will admit, I feel this deeply: I did what I thought I needed to and I ignored all urges to try for you. I ignored giving you a chance at life and seeing what my body could really do.
But when I watch the screaming mothers of murdered boys, men, women — all of them wrapped in our skin or hear the violent cries of sisters and brothers demanding justice or smell the lies that drip from the slits of our leaders’ mouths or learn of those believing a price is sufficient for a life, I am thankful I was too scared to take a chance on you.
You deserve better, much better. And this place . . . this world I call home would wolf you down in its fanged mouth and tear your flesh from your bones in five bites. Morsel-of-a-human-little thing: you’d be the perfect dinner. No one’s serving you up on a platter. No one.
My beautiful, unborn daughter. I love you and I am sorry I was too afraid to try.
A breath. A sigh. A brokenhearted woman who can’t seem to catch the eyes of her lover from another, spent too many nights in blunder. Had to give her cheating husband the divorce he wanted just to quell the thunder in their home, there lies dysfunction, so the street, he roams.
Originally published via Twitter as an experiment.
*Thanks to Peter at Peter’s pondering for doing his rapid rhyme posts. I’ve been inspired to do a few more.
The drunk lady up the block slips me $20.00 to get her some Newports and a case of Budweiser. The stink on her lips follows me. I fan the stench with my right hand but it still lingers. I enter the corner store, tell Javier what I need, and ask for two Chick-O-Sticks, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and an Arizona Tea — Peach.
He moves like molasses leaving a mason jar. I summon a quicker pace from him that lets him know the drunk lady is waiting. Her money is good here. She’s a faithful customer. Everything she buys is killing her, but Javier doesn’t care. He’s got six mouths to feed.
These products have warning labels. He’s not responsible for what people do and don’t read.
“That’ll be $17.89.” He shouts at me. Spittle forms on his lips. Little white globes of foam huddle in the corners of his mouth.
I give him the $20.00, collect the change, and get back to the drunk lady on my stoop waiting for her daily vices. She is paper-thin.
Her hair is wiry wisps of auburn that doesn’t move.
She coughs and her chest rattles. She begins ranting about our rights. Her speech is slurred but I understand every word.
“He ain’t no leader. You see what he’s doing?! He’s taking everything he can from us. I haven’t seen someone try so hard to suppress the vote in all my years. This year is the first of many I refused to let slide by without my say. I registered to vote on Thursday. I gotta voice, you know. I wanna be heard.”
It’s Saturday and I hear her. Mama — on her deathbed, told me to listen to the rants of the drunkards. They’re deep within their moments of truth. So, I tolerate her. I listen. She tells me about her son who has been locked up since 2007 — a drug charge. Weed possession and over $5,000 in the side panels of his car doors.
I haven’t seen someone try so hard to suppress the vote in all my years.
“He was seventeen when they got him. Come through my backdoor, busted it down. All I could hear were shouts of ‘Freeze’ and ‘Get Down!’ Men in blue shuffled their way throughout my home. I used to tell him to stay off them corners. Corners in the hood are trouble. But he saw fast money and brotherhood. I couldn’t give him anything else. All I had was love for him. Love and heartache and tears and fear. The streets had everything else. Twenty-five years ago, I studied law. Passed the bar. Met this fly guy who promised me an escape from the slums. Tell me, why am I back here?”
Night falls. She raises her rattling body off the stoop, clutches her bag of goodies close to her, and waves goodbye. I ask her for her name. Months had passed and I never once asked, but tonight, it seems important that I do. She’s still talking about voting, inept leadership, and racist bastards, and how she meant to change the world as she wobbles down the steps.
She shouts it back to me. I catch it. I tuck it in my jeans’ pocket to reveal later. I watch her zig-zag slowly up the block. Her hair clings to her head. She pats her pockets, searches for her keys — finds them, she quickens her pace.
There is a burning in my chest as I watch Lorraine. I breathe slowly. Inhale. Exhale. I calm myself with a meditation method I learned from my boyfriend. He’s zen-like, a D-list Gandhi. I breathe and fire stings my lips.
I am swallowing the heat of this nation and Lorraine, formerly known as the drunk lady, is the only person I can think of at this moment.
Speak of the devil and he will appear. He will have anything you want and will fight you at every turn to get you to take it. “Be smart. Don’t take anyone’s shit. Everyone is a bullshitter if they try hard enough.” Mama had so many words of wisdom.
I remember them now . . . Right at this moment of my burning chest and fiery mouth. I can’t stop the burning. I can’t stop the pain. I gulp down my Arizona Tea, peach flavor sticks to my insides.
I belch out the cries of a dying nation.
Speak of the devil and he will appear.
I feel better, but it doesn’t last. The burning, it’ll come again. It always does. Black people stand in pits of fire — not merely of our own doing. Some of us are thrown there. Others are planted there at birth and expected to find our way to safety unscathed while more obstacles pop up at every turn. Lorraine was planted there. She’s still scraping. Still attempting to reach the top. Still struggling to find her way out. I owe it to her to listen. I owe it to her to fan the flames away from her direction. But even after all of this . . .
The burning will never stop and no one can put out the fire.
“Today, I will leave you.” She says this to my back. I hear her. I feel every word as they leave her lips. She caught me cheating on her, in our bed, with a man. Not another woman, but a man.
I love her. I do. It was never my intention to hurt her, to cut her deeply the way I have, but I want him. I love him too.
We met at a local café on a sunny, summer day fifteen years ago. She has ocean blue eyes.
Ocean. Blue. Eyes.
I was instantly attracted to her.
“I’ll have a grande non-fat white chocolate mocha and a blueberry muffin, please.” I say this to the Barista. He prepares my order with the finesse of a seamstress. I wait in anticipation for the hot, miracle-working liquid to touch my lips.
I spot her. A goddess trapped in an awkward body. She walks like she’s trying to pry herself from a foreign, encapsulating shell. She wants to break free. Every step of her stilettoed feet announces her presence.
“Venti caramel macchiato, light foam, extra caramel with a shot of espresso and a peach creme danish, please.”
She places her order with the Barista casually. This isn’t her first time. She’s a veteran. I placed my bet that day on her. I won. We were married within six months and now, here we are.
“I never intended to hurt . . .”
She puts her hand up in the air between us. I pause my speech. My apology isn’t necessary. She eyes my lover as he dresses frantically. His perfect body squeezes into the outfit I spent minutes removing from him hours before this moment.
She packs her shoes, clothes, grabs the bedroom television, her jewelry box, and secures $1200.00 from the safe in our closet.
“I’ll have Devin come by tomorrow for the rest of my things. Expect to hear from Chaffey, my attorney. Pierre, you could have at least gotten a fucking room, but our bed?! The same bed we’ve shared for fifteen years?! I hate you!”
What was there for me to say? I knew she was leaving. I also knew she wasn’t coming back. I say the only thing I thought was apt to say.
“Your body is an ocean.”
“It’s the first thing I said to you after we made love the night of our honeymoon. Your body is an ocean.”
“‘I know every wave.’ Yes, I remember. Too bad I couldn’t keep you from exploring other bodies of water, Pierre. Fuck you!”
Every word stings. I don’t want to lose her. But, I know I will. I watch her pile her things on to a hand truck and click-clack loudly down our hallway. She is leaving. She isn’t coming back.
My lover finger-combs his hair and stands awkwardly before me. He wonders out loud if his body is an ocean too.
“No. No. Your body is my playground.”
He shoots me a look of disgust but kisses me passionately anyway before leaving.
I sit here now. Alone with my thoughts and the echoes of my home. These walls house many secrets and my lover and I create many more. But I still think of her. I still miss her. I still want her.