This is a raw piece, my latest short story. I’m not that political, but it includes some vaguely political feelings. The story is fictional, but I’ve pretty much felt every emotion in this at some point in time and this whole piece is very close to my heart. It’s not perfect and I don’t think I’m done with it yet, but I’m excited about all its potential.
The first time I saw him, I had already heard of him, but the mental image I associated with his name was nothing like the man he really was. He was younger than I anticipated (although I admit I thought he was older than he actually was) and, from what I could tell, possibly quite handsome. Possibly quite fit. I didn’t have a very good view – I was about five meters away, wasn’t wearing my glasses and he was looking away from me – and then he wasn’t.
It was as if he felt my gaze on his face, his body, his messenger bag and Timberland boots, his fresh haircut, his inner being. He turned and looked straight at me for no apparent reason and our eyes locked. It was the first of thousands of times we’d get lost in the lifetimes hidden behind our irises, in the depths of our pupils, for about a million years. There was something so familiar about him, yet so new.
I wondered – What kind of music does he like? When was he born? Is he an only child like me? I didn’t know. But I wanted to. At the same time, part of me looked back at memories that had yet to be made – hand accidentally touching hand, lips brushing neck mid-snuggle, all-nightyellingthrowingripping struggles, heart literally aching deep, understanding how every cliché about the soul and its romantic antics came to be. They flashed through my mind, so familiar, so fresh, like they were things that had already happened – things that had become part of who I was – things I could never forget. But back then, of course, they were yet to be dreamed by our Reality.
“Hey girl, you’re kind of beautiful,” his eyes said. “You are, too,” mine said.
His body spoke up. “This has never happened to me before,” it said. And then he was like a deer in the headlights – scared, bewildered, cowardly running away.
For two months, we didn’t actually speak. Then one day, I was walking down by Restaurant Row after a miserable date when he pulled up next to me in his bright red car.
“Hey, stranger,” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
“Need a lift?” he asked.
I agreed and hopped into the passenger seat. “So,” I asked. “Where are you from?” We started talking, ended up getting drive-thru fries and parking on a side street with the seats back, just chatting about nothing and everything. At some point, his hand brushed against mine somewhere near the gear shift and I thought – “This. This is what I was remembering when I first saw you.” Our fingers interlocked and our palms fit perfectly together. We smiled to ourselves. We fit.
For the next two years of my life, he would be my every joy and every ecstasy, every cry and every agony. We fell in love.
It was fast. We had some similar interests and our minds were near-carbon copies. We both actually liked piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Our bodies clicked neatly together, which didn’t make sense to me since he was so tall. As we grew bold enough to cross the invisible lines between us, even the strangest intersections of our bodies seemed natural. Comfortable, even. He’d put the knob of my elbow between his lips, I’d press my ear against his hip and listen with full attention to the sounds of his body.
I’m not going to explain what I loved about him or why or how or where or when. There are many wheres and many whens and countless whats, whys and hows. I could give a lot of reasons – he was a fantastic harpist (random, I know), he was the epitome of sex with his shirt off, he made good flan, he was funny, smart, charming, talented, kind, loyal. Honest, forgiving, supportive, good at listening. He had good taste in music. He had good taste in shoes. He was a painter.
But all those things mean nothing. They aren’t reasons you fall in love. I mean, Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are pretty much all those things, I think, but I’m not in love with them. Well, okay, a little. But that is not why I fell in love with the man in question.
It was our chemistry. And honestly, I don’t think anything about us except what was between us really mattered.
There was one problem, though. As much as he gave himself to me, there was always part of him that held back. One night we had a fantastic dinner and went back to his place to end the night – in a fit of passion and drunkenness, I said, “Have you ever met someone you wanted to marry?” It took every ounce of courage I had to say that.
“Have you ever met someone who thought they were subtle, but weren’t?” he shot back.
“Yes. Me,” I laughed.
“You can’t meet yourself, dummy!”
“But I do – every day, when I see you.” Our eyes locked, like they always do, and he saw that I was serious. “I know girls aren’t supposed to ask, but…I belong with you.”
“I can’t marry you,” he said.
“Why not? – Wait, are you already married? I bet she’s hot. Or did you get married in New York? I bet he’s hot,” I said, laughing.
“No, for seriously, I can’t,” he said. “My grandfather would disown me. You’re…not like us.”
At that moment, we were tangled in the sheets, soft breath against breath, with my fingers firmly gripping your shoulders. Your skin, my skin – like hot café au lait, unmixed. It was then that I realized the invisible lines between our bodies had never really been crossed – we were two different worlds that only happened to collide with every sunset.
See, as you may have inferred from his status as a harp virtuoso, my darling man had grown up with certain privileges and opportunities. After my awkward marriage proposal, he gave me the lowdown. Rich grandfather, born and raised in Alabama, a former member of Ku Klux Klan – a sick man. Both in behavior and health. Millions in his pocket. Thirteen major properties along the East Coast. Fifteen grandchildren. Nathan, an older cousin who married a Black woman, had already been disowned. He hadn’t told anyone in his family about me, which explained why he never tagged us in pictures together on Facebook or mentioned me on his blog. I was his secret and he was going to keep it that way, he said.
He had student loans, he explained. He was a painter, he needed the money. He didn’t want to be the other one left out. I was hoping for, “Someday, baby. Someday,” or, even better, “I don’t care what disgusting Grandpa Jared says, it would make my life to wake up next to you each day.” Instead I got, “So yeah, sowwy,” and a kiss on the cheek.
Sowwy? “Sowwy” is not a word, at least not for a man. Then again, I guess that says everything, doesn’t it?
I’ve got some Spanish in me. And this is kind of a racist thing to say, actually, but every drop of Latin blood I have coursed through my veins at full speed and before I knew it, I slapped him, threw his alarm clock at his face and flipped over his nightstand. “I don’t know who you are anymore,” I spat. “Or who you ever were.”
I remembered a moment we were laying down together in Hamilton Park when all the yuppies and their dogs and their children were gone. We couldn’t see any stars in the sky because the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area is, well, kind of polluted. “This sucks,” I said. “I wanna go somewhere with stars. Have you ever seen real stars? They’re so beautiful.”
He touched my cheek and we looked at each other for a long time. For once, we didn’t lock eyes. He studied my face – my secretly square jaw, my slightly upturned nose, my odd little upper lip with its two tiny beauty marks. Out of nowhere he said, “I’ve got all the stars I need right here.”
It was the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. To this day, it’s a moment I can’t forget.
How could a man who could say something like that pretend that I wasn’t worth the leap?
I slammed the door as I left and I walked home in the dark. I went home and got ready for bed. As I undressed, I looked in the mirror and saw myself, all of myself, all there. I loved what I saw. Not in a, “Wow, look who’s sexy,” way – well, actually, yes. I saw someone with talents, thoughts, values, memories – things that deserved to be passed on. So yes, I looked sexy – like I needed to bear children and share everything that I was, everything I came from, with them. If I wanted that, I’d need someone to make babies with – with whom I could also share my total self.
I loved myself. But then I hated myself because despite how much I adore me, myself and I – he, he was still there. My heart held on to him tightly as my body and soul rattled in anger. He was still inside me. I still loved him. And I wanted him to change his mind. I just didn’t know how or if it was even worth it anymore.
I had spent the past two years flying with him down roads we had never traveled. We had discovered things about ourselves and each other. We made new friends together. We ate out at fancy places and at rundown joints. We had seen each other in suits and evening gowns, pajamas and t-shirts. We held hands, we kissed, we made love – we shared popsicles and soup. No one in the world knew me the way he did.
Even before we ever spoke a word to each other, it was clear – we knew more about each other than anyone else knew about us, not even ourselves.
I considered going back, apologizing and blaming everything on the alcohol. But I knew it would always bother me that he couldn’t even pretend like we had a future. He would never stand up for me, so there was no point in standing up for us. Within the next two days, I stopped reading the news religiously because I’d want to puke every time I picked up a paper. Race, money, race, money – that was all everything was ever about. It’s so easy to campaign for or against abortion, gay marriage, reform and change of any kind until those hot-button issues jump into your life and take you hostage.
Honestly, while I was very aware of all the stereotypes and all the hate in this country, I could very often hide behind the diversity of my city and our small-town feel. “Hey, what’s up, Rashon?” said the Indian deli cashier. “Hey, what’s good, man. Gimme some loosies. Chang’s trippin’ today,” replied the African-American customer. “Chang’s greedy!” replied the clerk with sympathy. “That’s why I don’t go to China Garden anymore – Chinese-Mexican place around the block. That’s the best.” “Oh yeah? Thanks, Imma go there next. Peace, Mo!”
Through the whole conversation, I’d never think, “Wow! Listen to this Indian man and this Black man talking about that Chinese dude.”
After a week, interracial marriage was officially my thing. If someone said, “I just feel more comfortable with someone I can share my culture with,” I’d say, “Listen, you ignorant twit!” and put them in their place. A friend once said, “I don’t think Sean and I would have cute kids. I mean, he’s so White!“ and I snapped, “Mixed-race children are the BEST. See how sexy Hispanics are? They are the future!”
I’ve never been very political, but it hurt to hear that people everywhere are judged for things they can’t change about themselves and that there are hordes and hordes of narrow-minded people who disrespect their potential to be great or different. The goal is not to be colorless or genderless or sans religion – it’s to be respected for whatever wonderful thing makes you unlike everyone else. For no one to think that it makes you any less likely to achieve whatever form of greatness you choose.
I couldn’t forget him, but I tried. Every time I tried, I just remembered everything I was trying to forget. And then I would fall in love with him all over again and then my heart would break again. It would be fresh again. I would cry. What I said, what he said – it was all so stupid, but it meant so much.
He tried calling me a few times, acting like nothing had happened. We had to have dinner seated across from each other about ten days after the fight at a mutual friend’s party. We made small talk like nothing had gone wrong at all. A few people asked us personal questions because they didn’t even know we were over.
Two weeks after the end – two weeks too late – Grandpa Jared died. My ex-man was $1,545,645 dollars richer – and that was just the insurance money. He got a cottage – sorry, pastoral cottage estate and farm – in New England. He had it made! I remember wondering if anyone wrote him a card – “Congrats! Yo racist grandpa is dead! Funeral party on the yacht?”
I was on Facebook playing Bejeweled Blitz when he sent me a message in Chat and basically ruined my game. “Hey, fleabag,” he said. “Fleabag” was his ironic term of endearment that I never really found endearing.
I had already heard the news at this point. I thought carefully about how to respond. “Hi,” I said.
“What are you doing Friday?” he replied quickly.
“Why?” said I.
“I know this is super awk – ” how do you even pronounce that? – “buhhh…can you come with me to the funeral? I’ll have no one there to like, talk to and stuff.”
“Your brother? Your eleven billion cousins?”
After a pause he said, “They’re all racist jerks.”
I had never heard him say anything like that before, but it explained why he didn’t go home very often. With a bit of hope and hesitation, I asked, “Where is it?”
It was in Maryland for some reason. The car ride was a bit awkward at first. We tried to fill the silence with music. He plugged in his mp3 player and pulled up the new Black Keys record. We both got super excited about not having to talk and turned the volume all the way up. Nothing. We plugged, unplugged, tried my cell phone, tried my mp3 player, tried his mp3 player again. Nothing. We would’ve tried the radio, but some kid ripped off his antenna during a high school fight and beat another kid with it – it was all over the news.
I was a bit worried, but he had it all under control. “Let’s see what’s already here,” he said. He pressed play on the cassette player. It was “Blue” – “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” – by Eiffel 65, also known as one of the most awesome songs ever. His face lighted up. “It’s my Nineties mix! Oh man – I missed this!” He grinned relentlessly and I realized I was still in love with every part of him – both the man and the child inside.
We rocked out to the best of them – the Macarena, Mambo No. 5, even boy band classics. We had to replay the whole thing about six times to get us halfway through the drive before we got sick of it, but while it was fresh, it was fresh. We started talking about our childhood and as we reminisced about everything from Pokemon to Hot Wheels, I realized we had never spoken about this before. Ever. He told me he was on his high school track team, that he used to play the drums but his family somehow decided the harp needed his whole focus, that he used to eat nothing but chicken with ranch dressing. There were still things about him I didn’t know, things waiting to be explored, things I needed to fall in love with but that I knew I already would. It felt good.
When we got to his aunt and uncle’s house, he introduced me to everyone and they were nicer than I thought they would be. They were…welcoming, even. “How come we’ve never heard of you? How long have you two been together?” asked one of his grandmothers, Tess.
“She’s dying,” he whispered. “Give me a bright future in her mind.”
“We’ve been together two years,” I said proudly.
“Oh, wow. You’re too secretive!” Tess scowled at him playfully. “When are you getting married?” she asked.
We didn’t know what to say. We looked at each other and everyone in the room laughed. In a way that was encouraging but kind of creepy, his mom winked at me in the middle of it all.
Later, when we were alone, he confessed to me. “I lied. They’re not all racist. Just some of them. Like Jethro.”
“Well, his name is Jethro, so I assumed that much – “
“Hey, hey. My middle name is Jedidiah. Don’t judge,” he laughed. “I just wanted you to come with me and for some reason I knew that would work.”
“It did,” I said.
We went to the funeral. Surprisingly, I didn’t have the urge to puke as people praised his grandfather for his “leadership” qualities. Yup, everyone knows strong leadership and organization is the key to killing Black people. It was disgusting.
Soon, it was all over and we were getting ready to go back home. He went to bid his relatives good-bye and as he gave Grandma Edie, Jared’s widow, a kiss on the cheek, I heard her say, “Take care of yourself.” As a side note she whispered excitedly, “She’s so pretty. We like her.”
I wanted to cry.
As we drove home – armed with a stack of blues rock cassette tapes stolen from his Uncle Eli – we sat in silence. I had so many questions, so many things I wanted to say. I was filled with words and emotions I had never thought or felt before – or maybe I had, but they all felt strange and unfamiliar. Finally, I said something. “…Your family is nice,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “Did you like my mom’s pie? Please say yes.”
“Yes,” I said. “I can’t believe how good strawberry-rhubarb is.”
“Can’t believe you never had it before!” he said. “Did you like her bread pudding? Please say no. I love bread pudding, but hers is so disgusting, I have no idea why -”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“I don’t either! I don’t know what she puts in it that makes it –”
“No, I mean, I don’t understand you. And what you said before. And why you brought me here. And why everyone liked me and why one second ago, you chose your grandfather’s money over me and now that you have it, you pretend like everything’s okay!”
He screamed my name to shut me up.
“I chose you! Damn it, I chose you! I chose us – I’m a painter! A. Paint. Er. I basically do and make nothing. I wanted us to have something. Why don’t you understand that?”
In the past few weeks, the possibility that he was doing it for us had never crossed my mind.
“Now, I can pay my loans. Hell, I can pay your loans. We have a place to live – or we can sell it for whatever and buy a place that doesn’t have sheep and chickens. I’m someone now, I’m something. And it hurt me to say all that to you about not telling them and stuff, but I did what I needed to do. You need to trust me.
“I mean, I don’t even know if you want me back, but I can’t stop thinking about you – that sounds so corny – but it’s so bad. I’m just glad it’s over, I’m glad they like you, I’m glad you’re still as beautiful and talented and amazing as the last time I saw you –”
I cut him off, because I decided all this didn’t matter anymore. Honestly, I didn’t think anything except the white-hot, heart-pounding, pulsating, indescribable force between us really mattered. “We’re not in New Jersey yet, are we?”
“No. What does –”
“Open the sunroof. Let’s look at the stars. Real stars,” I said.
He touched my face. “I’ve got all the stars I need right here.”
I flashed back to that moment in Hamilton Park. Until then, I thought he said that, very intentionally, because it was the most romantic thing he could think of saying and he wanted to get in my pants. But as he laughed and said, “But okay, I guess a few nightlights wouldn’t hurt…,” and opened the sunroof, I realized he really meant it. He looked at me and saw stars.
He pulled the car over and we leaned the seats back to look at the sky. After a few moments he said, “It really is beautiful.”
Our hands met somewhere near the gear shift. Our fingers interlocked and our palms fit perfectly together. We smiled to ourselves. We fit.