“I’ll always be viewed as a hyper-political symbol before I get to be a human.”
I. 10:30 a.m.
when I wake up
in the morning
and see all the faces
I just can’t
I wake up and pour myself tea because I have bullied myself out of drinking coffee daily. I anticipate working today because it is a type of healing for me. I can go to bed feeling like the powers that be have not overpowered me because I wrote or edited something that defies them. I gather my papers and prepare myself for a call with a writer.
The phone rings as I head to the window to open the blinds. The writer tells me about his concerns. We talk about his essay, fascism, and other things that go thud in the night. He sounds relieved to not only discuss his essay, but also the world, which is a special gift to be given as an editor. Toward the end of our conversation, he says, “Wow. I didn’t know people like you knew about stuff like this.”
Silence is the death of a lot of things. I know this, but I still let it fill the space between him and me.
I respond, “What do you mean, people like me?”
“You know, gay folks. I didn’t know y’all cared about race shit.”
I get quiet. I am baffled that because of the perceived femininity in my voice, someone who knows nothing about me would decide so many things, even when I’m positioned as an authority on the very thing he thinks gay people care nothing about.
Power is a social construct. Often, who is seen as powerful or expert has little to do with experience, muscle, wit, or scholarship, but with what society has already decided. There is no material or intellectual evidence that a person deserves power; we just know this person should have it. Despite my blackness, in his imagination, my queerness erased my knowledge of race and social justice.
I conclude the conversation: “I care about ‘race shit’ deeply and I’m not unique in the gay community.”
It is 11:00 a.m. when I hang up the phone. I sip the tea and watch a few cumulus clouds steal the sun away from me. I think of what was stolen from me in that brief conversation. I’m always going to be viewed as a hyper-political symbol before I get to be a human with a complex history. The desire I have to be engaged as an individual with an intersectional sociopolitical journey is rarely ever more than prayer. It is sad, I think, but there are things to do.
II. 3:00 p.m.
I’ll be damned if I want most folks out there to do unto me what they do unto themselves. —Toni Cade Bambara
The pain is iridescent. Which part of the pain disappears and which part is ultraviolet depends on the eyes observing it. The world and people alike ritualistically dirty me in domination, even in the most casual ways, but there is no one to wash my feet with their hair. The great desire of social and political domination is for us to believe that when someone is marginalized, they are too entangled with oppression to have moments of sociopolitical clarity: The marginalized person cannot see past their struggle far enough to articulate their own pain, let alone articulate solutions that may produce relief or revolutionary action. I am stuck at the end of the day, washing blood and mud from my skin in warm water in the hope that I will miraculously make a lotus flower bloom. As an artist, I can’t shrink into fear when the world is a scary place. I must tell the truth about what I witness.
I am the son of a woman who seemingly had me out of thin air. It was not immaculate conception that reared me fatherless, but an addiction to heroin and jazz music. Poverty made it hard for me to believe I had a heavenly father, so I just listened to Courtney Love, Nina Simone, and boys who looked like angels but behaved like demons.
When I read stories about the Passion of Jesus Christ, the red blood and yellow faces, my green goes deep like the leaves of the poplar trees that dreamt me up. He was just crucified once. I often feel like God is God, and I am too, except I get crucified often and my father did not warn me. My flesh was not born with a prophecy living underneath it. The days I am killed and resurrected are not considered holy days.
My mother said, “When you are feeling blue, go for a walk or make yourself feel beautiful.”
I can’t seem to walk fast enough to outpace the conversation from this morning. I want to outwalk my body and leave it behind. I want to become a ghost. It is embarrassing to be a ghost, I think, haunting others to remind them that you were once a physical self. You can’t let go and dive into something bigger than yourself, be it oblivion or something more colorful. I still desire to leave the burden of my body, my voice, and my history behind.
The walk doesn’t help me lose my body or blues, so I walk to the black sanctuary of the barbershop. The sounds of Notorious B.I.G. ooze through the speakers as a barber sweeps the freshly cut hair off the floor and debates loudly over the politics of the day. The barber pole spirals red, green, and black instead of red, white, and blue. I am safe now. I think, if no one is there to wash my feet with their hair, then perhaps I should cut my own hair and wash my soles myself.
A black man invites me to his throne. I sit down and watch his cape gather around my neck. The conversation is enjoyable as I watch my hair delicately fall from my crown, soft and quiet.
“I am fine.”
He speeds across my head with clippers. I anticipate being beautiful once again.
“Yeah, the weather is pleasant.”
His conversation gets more complicated. “You know, I don’t think that gay folks are bad. I think they were put here to help straight people out.”
The irony of someone in the middle of service telling me that my sexuality means I was born to serve is not lost on me. The comment stabs, but I can tell it was accidental. I am not sure if that matters so much now that I’m bleeding. I don’t know how to address it, so I bleed in silence. He takes my cape off and dusts the hair from my face. I pay him for my haircut and my insults: another capitalistic insult to injury. I die gracefully like some people’s messiah.
III. 8:00 p.m.
This above all, to refuse to be a victim. Unless I can do that I can do nothing. ―Margaret Atwood
My mother would say, “When everything goes to hell, go to the grocery store, buy your favorite food, buy wine, go home, and just cry.”
The air in grocery stores feels different to me. The combination of necessity and desire makes me joyfully delirious. Do I want this water? Do I need these cookies? Of course, I absolutely need this wine. I fill my cart halfway and check out. I love watching the items pass along one by one. I smile harder and sound more pleasant for the cashier in an effort to appear unmoved and at ease. Life’s easier when you pretend life is easier. I call a Lyft and wait outside for the driver to arrive.
“Can you pop the trunk?”
I stuff the groceries in her car, and she barely speaks to me, which is a type of utopia. Peace on the road to reflect is a luxury I don’t take for granted, especially on days like today.
I think of the phone call and my barber’s comments, and how daily it seems like I struggle to try to invite the world to see me how I see myself; not as a servant, not as an anomaly, but as a multidimensional being. In historical context, I came here as property, mule, nigger, faggot; am I the delusional one for attempting to be a son, an artist, a man, a queer person? These thoughts, plummeting toward me in moments of peace, comprise of a lifetime’s worth of microaggressions. You are only allowed as much complexity as a misguided person or an essay or a piece of media created by someone observing you offers, and not an inch more. And these are the moments that remind you: Technically, you might be the mad one.
She drives. Blue and red lights soak up the car’s windows, and sirens disrupt my utopia. The officer says through a speaker, “Pull over.”
The driver obeys and my heart says goodbye to me. My palms sweat and I hold my breath, depriving myself of oxygen to greet death as gracefully as I know how. I often think that I am planning my own fate, but in these moments, I know this is a lie. I am always one incident away from being executed by the state.
This is the final step to crucifixion, I think, as the officer steps closer to red vehicle. I’ll have nothing to archive but a few essays and some tweets, and my mother will have to do the unthinkable. He asks for license and registration. I imagine myself no longer as a human being, but as a carrion to be shared on social media.
The officer walks away and the driver apologizes to me. I say that it is no problem. Of course, there is a problem, but it seems beyond worth mentioning when my last breaths are going to be in the backseat of a red car in the parking lot of a bank next to a Chick-fil-A. The officer returns. With his every step the small pebbles, leaves, and sticks on the ground make a gnarly kind of music underneath his boots.
The officer asks the driver, “Ma’am, are you male or female?”
“What does the ID say?”
The officer gets louder. “Ma’am, I’m asking you a simple question.”
My driver seems to be on another side of the marginalized person’s experience. Some of us go along to get along hoping to live one more day. Some of us are tired. She is fed up. She already knows that death is likely for her, and dignity is the thing she is never going to give up. Her dignity will live on even if she does not.
“I am giving you a simple answer. What you need to know is on the ID.”
I think I’m reaching a peace about the reality of my life and the end. My body begins to shut down because those functions no longer matter, and the taste of blood as my last meal would be too cruel an ending. My hearing gets worse, my eyesight blurs, I can’t feel anything; my body is soaking in a numbness that will protect me from the gunshots.
Feeling rushes back through me as we drive off. “I’m sorry again,” she says.
I have no idea how we are driving, or if the afterlife is just an echo of earthly life. Maybe I’m just a ghost willing to live an embarrassing existence. I don’t have the energy to tell her that it’s fine.
I enter my home and put all the groceries away. My phone vibrates and lights up. The love of my life is calling me. I place the phone between my ear and my shoulder so I don’t lose focus on the groceries. He asks, “How was your day?”
I answer, “It was just another Tuesday.”
Myles E. Johnson is a writer and the author of the acclaimed children’s book, Large Fears. He can be found on Twitter @hausmuva and his published work is available at hausmuva.com.