there are no ways of explaining I want the bigots of the world to feel something other than stacks of money lining their pockets or fantasies of distasteful uprisings at their command
I want them to feel . . .
I have lived for forty-one years in skin that makes authoritative figures overuse power — in a body that gravitates toward both men and women — and of a gender that loses every inch of reward as the years pile on
I’m three-times hated by the bulk of this nation and we want to talk about anger — the type of anger I have is bottled up, stored for the perfect moment — you get used to saving your energy when you’re living the way I’m living — you know, merely existing, trying not to die at the hands of a racist misogynist gone rogue — trying not to lose a sense of hope . . .
a sense of pride
I used to believe that if I loved another human being hard enough that intensity of love would be shared with another, then another, and again in strings of blissful divination, but times are harder now and love isn’t flowing freely as it once did for me
now, I rage silently, afflicted by a nation that would rather stake my body to a tree and call the hounds — feed my fragile flesh to their young — tell them, “She wasn’t what God wanted anyway,” and they’ll believe it they’ll even pass down those tongued lies to their children and another generation of putrid souls would roam this earth
black. woman. bisexual . . . three strikes before one foot leaves my bed every single morning you may think, “How does one live every day afraid to be who she is?” and I would say, “I have been afraid of living since the womb let me go.”
the eternally oppressed know of no other way
we are damned in the beginning and further damned as time presses forward anger? no . . . what I have in me for what this world is cannot be described as anger there is no word for it there never will be
We are all substantially flawed, wounded, angry, hurt, here on Earth. But this human condition, so painful to us, and in some ways shameful — because we feel we are weak when the reality of ourselves is exposed — is made much more bearable when it is shared, face to face, in words that have expressive human eyes behind them. — Alice Walker
She examines the tips of her fingers — her nails . . . she’d let them grow too long once again. Tonight, she’ll clip them. That’s what she’ll have on her schedule for a Friday night. Among watching whatever series her perusing eyes land on, courtesy of Netflix, and washing two loads of clothes — she’ll clip her nails. She lifts each finger closer to her eyes, scrutinizing them equally. The beds of her nails are splitting. There are hangnails on at least three fingers on each hand. What do they say about hangnails?
Most people experience hangnails when their skin is dry, such as in the winter or after being exposed to water for a prolonged period. A hangnail can become infected if exposed to bacteria or fungus. — Healthline
And this is what she gets for pruning in the tub several times this week. Mika’s body had been aching — her left leg shot twenty seconds of intense pain through her entire lower limb hourly. Her old high school athletic days were coming back to haunt her: iliotibial band syndrome, arthritis, headaches, and neck cramps. On top of all this, she and Zee had broken up just two weeks ago. She promised herself she would not sit around and sulk on her days off. But what is she doing? Sitting around . . . sulking . . . on her days off.
Just as she was thinking about Zee, her phone rang. The Rolling Stones’ Miss You blared through the device’s speaker louder than normal. She’d changed the ringtone three days ago. It seemed fitting at the time. She blows a huff of air out of her weakened body and answers the phone.
“Hey, Zee. Did I leave something at your place?”
“Hello, to you too, Mika. No, you did not. I called to see if you wanted to go to The Ladies of Neo-Soul concert on Sunday. Regardless of what we are now, we still love a good time.”
“This Sunday?! As in two days? Who’s headlining?!”
“Yes, Mika. This Sunday . . . Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Cleo Sol, Alex Isley, India Arie, and Amel Larrieux.”
“Are you shitting me?! Of course, I want to go! How much are the tickets?”
“The not-so nosebleed seats are $115.00 each. If you’re up for it, truly up for it, I’m on the promotional page now. I can buy the tickets.”
“Yes! Lock it in, Zee, please! I’ll get the money to you next week.”
“I didn’t ask to be paid back. I offered. You accepted. Let’s leave it at that.”
The tone . . . It’s always Zee’s tone that crawls up the spaces of Mika’s temples and crushes them until they throb. Why is there always a snide attitude? It’s not just with her — it’s with everyone. But it was also this same tone that attracted her to Zee — Zinobya Adamson. She fell for her within moments after meeting at a Funk Festival four years ago. At the concession stand, she’d purchased a corn dog, waffle fries, and an iced tea. She turned around to get some napkins after crowding her food on her chest and ran right into her. Iced tea, a mix of ketchup & mustard, and waffle fries’ crumbs landed on Zee’s The Roots’ T-shirt.
Mika apologized profusely, but Zee dismissed it simply with, “It’s no big deal. I have two more shirts just like it. I purchase multiples of my favorite things for this very reason. I mean . . . you just never know, right? I can change after I get my order.” Mika recalled that day just as it was yesterday. She jumps out of her mind and back to their current conversation.
“Zee, do you always have to be so dismissive? So . . . whatever-ish to people? I know you offered, but it is also good manners for me to offer to pay my half, especially since this isn’t a date.”
“So whatever-ish?! Mika, please don’t start. This hypersensitive shit is one of the main reasons we aren’t together anymore. For the love of God, you’re from Yonkers! You can take a few blows to the chest and give them just as well as I can. Let’s not act like you can’t.”
Mika sighs into the phone. Another argument. Out of nowhere. And it hasn’t even been ten minutes. She licks her bottom lip, sucks in a full breath — straight from the diaphragm, and quickly gets the details for the venue, time, and where to meet for the concert. She doesn’t want to waste her night seething in anger from this conversation.
“I’ll come to pick you up. The show starts at 7:00 p.m., so I’ll be at your place by 5:30.”
“Nah, Zee. I’d rather drive myself. So, we can meet up at the front entrance of the venue and I’ll spot you unless you spot me first.”
“What the hell, Mika? I can’t come to pick you up now? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take one car, get there, get parked, and already be with each other instead of looking for one another?!”
“Just the same, I’d rather drive myself.”
“Okay, fine. Meet me by the two columns in front of the center by 6:00 p.m.”
“Cool. I’ll see you there. Thanks for offering.”
She tries to remind herself what caused her to fall for Zee — it comes in and out. The reasons hover over her and she remembers: she’s confident, smart, independent, originally from Miami, FL, can cook like her late grandmother, and never hesitated to show her public affection. When she was with Zee, people knew it. They had been a beloved couple — there was no hiding — no sneaking around. They were free, and she loved that feeling.
Sunday arrives quicker than she imagined. She has belly butterflies, a nagging headache, and her sinuses decide today is a good day to be annoying. She will let nothing keep her from this show. A chance to see Zee again so soon after the breakup — a chance to be near her . . . she wants this. She even thinks she needs this. The headache and sinus issues will be combated. She is going to this show.
Mika steps out of her midnight blue SUV. Her multi-colored Dunks match her tie-dye Peanuts T-shirt. Her jeans are fitted with patched holes in the knees. She has medium-sized bamboo earrings in her ears and is carrying a rust-colored clutch. She spots Zee just as she locks her car. Zee struts toward her — body wrapped in a sky blue sassy romper with matching color stilettos. She is carrying a black clutch with accompanying black accessories. She looks amazing! Mika nearly trips over her own feet, walking to meet her.
“You . . . You look good, Zee. You look damn good.”
“Thank you. You look good yourself, Mika. But then again, you are always sharp in anything you wear. I like the Dunks.”
“Thank you. I like that romper. You better be glad we aren’t the same size cuz I’d be raiding your closet for that one.”
“Ha! Your words only. Are we gonna be civil tonight?”
“I think we can manage that.”
“Okay, then. Shall well?”
The ladies make their way to the entrance. Zee presents the tickets for scanning. Their clutches are briefly but thoroughly searched. The night is young, and the music settles into their hearts. Zee locks her arm around Mika’s and plants a kiss on her cheek. Burdened by their past, could they be stepping into a future?
And how they still sneak up on you sixteen years later
We meet the afternoon chill in the air with our bodies tucked further into warm clothing. Jernee steps out before I do and I hear my neighbor briskly skip down the stairs. The faint scent of liquor speaks to me before he does. I nod — say “Good afternoon,” and attempt to mind my business by watching Jernee search for a proper spot in which to relieve herself. He is the type of person who does not understand personal space. He comes closer to us and, unlike Jernee with him, she growls under her breath. I step back from him — putting at least three more feet between us.
I recall the time and it’s just barely 1:45 p.m. He is home on his lunch break. He smiles. He sends his “Heyhowyadoin’” to me within seconds of stepping on the final stair. It’s all mumbled together — glued, yet I am fluent in slurred speech. I know this speech just like I know the smell. I know the smell. I know the smell. He has tried to hide it with Old Spice and two gulps of water but to no avail. I cock my head to the side and whisper to myself, this cat is drunk and is going back to work. Hell . . . naw.
He tells me his grandchildren have been staying with them. I know this. I speak to his wife — to their little ones. I see them as they come and go. They are beautiful mini models of their mother and father — his son and his son’s girlfriend’s children. He says as erratic as a functioning alcoholic can, “They get up at 4:30 in the morning sometimes, see. And you know, I don’t get up until 6:30 and that throws my day all off, you see?” I do see. I understand. One’s sleep is important.
He steps closer again. I step back. He holds up one hand and quickly says, “I ain’t gon’ keep ya. I know you gotta walk ya dog.” I thank him. He wanders off toward his car and away from us. His wife knocks on my door five nights later. She has a flier in her hand — an invitation to her church for some sort of celebration. It is the same church she drags him to on Sundays. And I understand — I get it. She is looking to God to save her husband. Just like I was looking to God to save my mother — to save me.
I don’t have the heart to tell her I do not do large gatherings — even if they’re outside. I do not do well in crowds nowadays and neither would I want to. I take her flier. I smile at her. I tell her to have a nice night and to be safe. She smiles back and thanks me.
I ran to the church for so many reasons in my early twenties. I ran even harder in my mid-thirties. So much of me wanted to heal my mother and so much of me needing healing of my own.
I drank because I couldn’t get my mother to stop drinking and doing drugs. I drank because I was afraid of coming out. I drank because I was going through a series of harsh breakups and couldn’t find the answers why. I moved out of the townhouse my best friend and I shared. I left. I gave no reason — only a 30-day notice and paid my half of the utilities and mortgage for the next two months, or was it just the following month? That detail is foggy.
She faced me the day I told her with tears in her eyes, asking me to please talk to her. And I couldn’t. Here was a woman who would cause me to stop drinking. It would occur several months after I moved out. The night I knew I wouldn’t drink anymore, my best friend and I had attended a work-related party at a small pub near her place. Her colleagues — her comfort zone. I am told I had too much to drink. I am told, on the way home, she had to pull over to the side of the road so I could vomit. I am told she had to help me up the stairs, get me into some pajamas of hers, then help me to the toilet so I could vomit some more.
I awakened the next morning in her bed and could not remember what had happened and why I was there and not at home. She was sound asleep, but her expression had seeped in worry. I got up to use the bathroom, and this caused her to stir. I asked her what happened, and she told me. She calmly said, “I was not going to take you home where I could not keep an eye on you. You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And that was my “A-ha!” moment.
When a person loves you enough to ensure your safety in your inebriated state — when they care enough to make sure you’re not sleeping in the clothes you upchucked in the night before — when they clean you up, change your clothes, and guide you to their bed so you can sleep; there is nothing else that can match that. Cold turkey is what they call it, yes? I stopped drinking.
I could not imagine what she must’ve been feeling to do all of that for me and not completely cuss me out, as I had done so many times with my mom. She cared about my life — she showed me. I don’t think no one ever had before then or I had forgotten it if they did.
A year and one half later, I brought Jernee home. I was determined to shield myself from the past evils that attempted to drag me down with them. I needed this four-legged creature to keep me safe — to give me joy. I had something to do when I awakened — something to train, to feed, to nourish . . . to love. I had a feeling of purpose again just barely two years before — I felt I hadn’t, and I did not want to go on.
So when I see my neighbor and he is running away from whatever demons chasing him — I understand. I may not know the cause. I may not know exactly what’s beating him day in and day out and pulling him toward drowning his sorrows in tempting liquor mid-day. I don’t even know why he feels the need to talk to me — to step into my space, but I can listen.
Had it not been for my best friend, I would’ve been following the paths of my maternal great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, aunts, and uncles — my mother. I understand because I can still see the bottles of Hennessy and Tanqueray and Old English my mom kept stored in her home. I can smell each one of them while they’re still locked in their casings. I can see her struggling to piece back together a broken home — a dysfunctional family — unruly boys.
I see myself trying to find a way out. I hear my best friend’s voice . . .“You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And I understand.
If you were to ask me what more do I wish I had, I would tell you . . . courage. Courage to face my fears. Courage to be uninhibited in the face of love. Courage to give more of myself in my writing — to denounce holding back. True, I do share myself with the reading world and true; I find it important to be vulnerable, but some things I wish to lie out and which are completely bare, I . . . hesitate. I shoot for the moon but always miss — my aim isn’t what it used to be. I’ve lost my touch.
There is a woman — there’s always a woman or a man, yes? Isn’t that how most stories go when we’re reminiscing or thinking about what we could have done differently or what we may have missed? There is someone or something perfectly placed within our path to mislead — misdirect us. But, there is a woman. She is new. And she could be someone on loan to me for a short while to lend what my life needs at this moment. Or, she could remain here for an entire season and a few more seasons to come, but who knows? She is here now, and I am terrified.
I wish I could explain what the issue is or how I have merged into this lane of fear, but these days, building new friendships is harder for me than they’ve ever been. I am debating with myself daily on what I should and shouldn’t do and the sanest part of me is louder . . . I should take more chances.
The worst isn’t always the outcome.
What do you have to lose? Everything you’ve gained has had struggle related to it and this should not be any different. So she doesn’t know the biggest parts of you yet — that’s life. These things arise and gift themselves to our newest members with time. Day by day, bit by bit, reveal who you are. It’s scary, yes! It’s completely and utterly horrifying, but she will do one of two things . . . Stay or leave. And you will not know which one it will be until you open up your mind and break down the wall to let someone else in.
The thing with new people is, when you’re queer, coming out is a constancy — something that doesn’t disappear. New people will get to know that aspect of you and you will have to remove the cloak and make the big reveal. There is never any fanfare and no one is around to throw confetti and play your favorite 90s rap songs, but . . . it will happen. And when it does, the moment you fear most, the “will they stay or leave” moment you shiver down to your toes about will introduce itself. Will this person be a lifer or will they shift away from you without the tiniest bit of acknowledgment?
I am debating with myself daily on what I should and shouldn’t do and the sanest part of me is louder . . . I should take more chances.
Of course, you think about the worst that could happen because there have been so many situations with the worst outcome in the end, but then again, there have also been outcomes of acceptance — of love — of understanding. Every new person isn’t a test drive dummy to see how strong they are in the face of the sweetest taboo. Stay here in the baby steps of things for just a while longer. If she’s ready to walk and you’re no longer afraid to move away from crawling — get there, but . . . don’t rush.
Everyone doesn’t need the biggest parts of you. You can give them morsels. They’re easier to chew.
You are a strong enough writer to do more.
And what do I mean by more? Those children’s books your friends and family members keep suggesting you write — that type of more. That one creative nonfiction essay you’ve been meaning to pen and submit to The New Yorker — that type of more. The poems you have built up in your heart, leaking out of your mind, and filling up space in your soul you state will be your next collection to publish the traditional way — that type of more. You can do this! This is what you do! You write!
What are you really waiting for this time? What else needs to occur to allow you to move forward with making at least one of these things happen each year? What?! That good old friend of yours, yup — fear. Listen, didn’t you say a couple of years back you would not allow fear to take up residence in your mind anymore or in your heart? What happened to that person who was coming out of her shell, refusing to be cornered? I had a great time with her. She was cool. Bring her back.
I find it important to be vulnerable, but some things I wish to lie out and which are completely bare, I . . . hesitate.
Life isn’t always going to be this fresh and this full of hope and ready for you to spelunk and take full advantage of it. You must strike while you can. Go explore the caves of this world — take your laptop.
“Fifteen minutes at a time.”
You still carry this phrase with you from one of your older cousins. It helps. It works. It gets you where you need to be each day, and I want you to use this phrase to help turn things around in your life for the betterment of it. With her — let her in. Give her a chance. But, accept what will be with things: a friend or a partner or nothing. . . Go into it knowing you are learning a mystifying yet beautiful creature and you have every right to.
However, don’t search for anything you don’t really want to find. Fifteen minutes at a time each day — you never know, maybe this is what you need to push you out of the pit you dug for yourself of late. “Slowly. Surely.” If love — any form of love is there, don’t walk away from it.
Write through it all — that’s what you do, isn’t it? Write it all out in a way that connects with the masses — that fuels their very souls. Pitch a publication here. Submit an article there. Don’t let the past rejections continue to board up your creative walls. You must keep them free from shade. Do what you know you can. Write your broken, loving, misguided, disruptive, combative, and intense heart out, child. Write it out!
Go get what is yours and what has been designed for you. Stop reviewing it in your head and allowing it to slip away from the tips of your fingers. Bring it to life. You can do this. You can. You were born into this world for “such a time as this.”
What happened to that person who was coming out of her shell, refusing to be cornered?
Now, pull yourself back, shake off the dust of the past, breathe in deeply, and shoot for the moon. It’s time.