These Days: A Memoir

My Dream

I dream of walking down 13th Street to my home, where I will rest for the night. This is my neighborhood. The streets are neatly paved, the sidewalks without cracks. The silent night lit with the stars and the moon, yellow light beaming from brownstone windows, and holiday lights glistening around thin trees. My neighbors, too, are silent. Strolling home hand-in-hand, or hands in fall coats. On the concrete, my heels slowly click, because here there is no rush. A relaxed smile of pleasure slips on my face as I observe the night. I make a right down a curving side street, my street, burrowed in my secluded neighborhood. I hum a tune that dances through the night air, fusing with the wind that sweeps my feet off the ground and onto my front steps. I twist my key into the front lock of my brownstone. Upon entering, I am met by my partner, who has awaited my arrival – home.

We used to dream together, on the top bunk of your bed on 13th. Our sleepy eyes lingered on our view of the Empire State Building as the morning sky overwrought from dark blue to purple. I would dream of us married, living happily together in Greenwich Village. You had introduced me to this dream. You walked me through the neighborhood and expressed which apartments you wanted to be yours. I would stare in amazement at the expansive brownstone windows, revealing baby grand pianos and white stairwells inside.

Questioning my worth

That morning I asked you, “Why do you like me so much?”

I would later realize that that was silly of me, to question my own worth. But you told me. You said that I am well-spoken, kind, and beautiful.

Taking pictures of me in Times Square

In Times Square we are standing in front of residential apartments. The architecture is so beautiful that I refer to them as doll houses. I am wearing your friend’s glasses for fun, and you begin to take pictures of me. When I look at my reflection on the phone I do not like what I see. This happens often. You snap photos of me, and I don’t like what I see.

You are eager to show me the photos. It is simply my face in black glasses. However, your perspective is different. You can’t see why I don’t like my reflection. You are not privy to the ways in which they tell a black girl in the ghetto that she is not beautiful. Part of me feels that you are naive. And you are. Naive in a humanitarian way. Colorblind, so to speak.

The first day we hung out, you took me to a burger restaurant. I told you about my high school, how it was a private school in Buffalo. How the black kids thought I was a nerd. How the black girls called me a “coon,” and how they judged me for hanging out with white kids. You couldn’t understand that. It was too much for you.

Asking again

Soon, I’d ask you again.

“Why? Why do you like me so much?”

I’ll tell you to tell me. Tell me all the ways that you like me, just so that I can remember. So that I can carry this warm feeling with me everywhere I go. This feeling called love. So that I can hold onto this affirmation, that I am valid.

“Why do you have to be a narcissist?” you ask.

But I am only trying to remember that I am loved.

Holding me in bed in Greenwich Village

In your arms, in bed, in Greenwich Village, I feel happy.

On the train holding hands

On the train we are holding hands for the first time, and everything else is melting away.

Loving me into acceptance

Your love renewed me. With your love, I could forget about everything bad from my past. I could forget about the social construct of race, and how it was the defining mark of my life. I could forget about being called “ugly” at age five. Forget “nigger” being shouted at me as I walked to school. Forget my mom calling my hair “ugly.” Forget having to fight my cousins, forget no one being there to protect me. Forget adults drinking and children dancing in living rooms at midnight. Forget hopping broken gates in flip flops. Forget playing in abandoned houses. Forget the rhythm of “Grove Street” by Waka Flocka Flame. Forget marches down Washington, chains under ships, hoses and dogs.

You are holding your hand out, reaching for me, and all I have to do is grab on. Get past all the wrongdoings of my childhood, and spend my life with you. And it is what I want to do. It would make life easier.

it’s over

In my sophomore year of high school I read The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. In it, the protagonist Pi finds an island of paradise with food and shelter. However, soon Pi discovers that the island is carnivorous. My English teacher said that paradise cannot last forever, that at some point we must get back to our journey. Pi must leave paradise to get back to his reality. Alone and stranded with only a tiger and a small boat, he must find his way back to land. Back to society.

One night, months later, I sit awake on a bench in Washington Square Park. I am on the outskirts of my dream looking in. I observe the brownstones that I once desired, that symbolized my dream life. Then, I realize: there is so much more outside of this. This is not the extent of the world. This bubble of paradise within a complex city is beautiful, but not sustainable.

You called me a narcissist, but what you don’t know is that my mom doesn’t realize she is worthy of being loved. We say we have kindred spirits, my mother and I. Coincidentally, any time I am happy, she is happy. When I am lonely, she says no one has been by the house. When life feels monotonous, she too is following a grueling schedule.

After moving to a new city at the age of eighteen, I have now felt more lost than at any other time in my life and have often found myself asking the question: who am I? Around millions of new people I have to finally answer this: who am I?

I return home to Buffalo for Christmas break seeking my answers to normalcy. However, my crisis continues. How do I fit in? How do I become human? I am now wondering why I don’t wear extensions, why I won’t buy high top Vans. Why I am more concerned with paying for clean food, a metro pass, and rent than a new fur coat.

I watch the ways in which the people of Buffalo operate, in which my mom operates.

She now refers to me as

“Girlll.”

Her once “aggravating clients” are now her frequent friends. She now calls Buffalo “The Town” like everyone else on Facebook.

At my cousins’ house I am trying to figure out how to be me again. And most of all how to make these people like me. How to connect with them. I am withholding every urge to disagree on why it’s okay for the kids to jump on the couch, or why you shouldn’t sell drugs and smoke weed all day when you have a newborn. I am wondering if I should settle in Buffalo, if I should get acclimated to this life.

Back at my mom’s house, my mom is still talking to the abusive man she said she would leave alone and that’s when I realize – I don’t want to follow your footsteps. I realize that I am already normal.

I realize that I was taught to sit down and listen. To do my chores and be grateful. To respect my elders. I realize that it’s okay that I like Old School Vans with velcro straps. To turn the music down while driving. To have curls and show them. To talk properly or what they call “white.”

This visit, my mom doesn’t talk of her love for Tretorns.

These days, I am trying to run less and sit more. These days, I am trying to accept that that is my face in the picture. That I am beautiful. Regardless of the internalized racism I was surrounded by as a child. These days I know that I like Tretorns and hiked pants. These days I am learning that the negative parts of my life have also accounted for the positive.

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