NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 96

Lost a few things in all the confusion, modernity’s been hard on people. Friends are already giving lip service 1. Each summer we drove north to Lake Michigan, several couples in our twenties, a week of walking the dunes and swimming, of heading out into the dark with a flashlight and a roll of toilet paper, a bunch of black people out in the middle of nowhere, not that we ever talked about that. to the question of what to do with their bodies, you’re still stuck on what to call yours, an old scar you’ve picked at for as long as you can remember. You used to think it was out there waiting for you, the little black dress perfect for every occasion, the answer to the identity crisis you didn’t even know you were having, your very own box, so many letters down, so many across — something you could feel good about putting on a book or passing down to your children — something to replace the lie passed down to you, the other lies passed down apparently to each of your parents, yes, shame doing what shame does for as long as there have been birth certificates, nations legislating the most natural thing in the world and, oh, the irony of it in relation to the millions displaced or stolen by those nations, the millions still living with the consequences and thus your resolve to find something free of all that misery, or at least closer to what you’d lost. And how many Amharic, Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Shona, Swahili names — or just cool words — had you dutifully tried on, yes, one after another, yet none ever quite fitting the way you wanted, which is to say without a need for explanation, without some pretense that you’d ever been to Africa. And thus the ensuing worry — and would it ever end — of whether coming up blank, yes, if this failure meant you were lost, too, as if there really was a Lost-and-Found and you’d simply been too lazy to ask where it was. As if you were the one who’d lost it, that if your people had simply been watching where they were going — as if when Ali asked a bloody Terrell, What’s my name? again and again, he was asking the right person. 2. They say our memories are actual physical events, the same neurons firing as during the original experience, and it’s true I can see our tents in a semi-circle under a canopy of oaks and pines, hear our quiet conversations in the mornings, the early risers sipping coffee from the same tin cups we’d use later to brush our teeth, our only nod to hygiene besides swimming which is to say, by the end of the week, we reeked. And could the nightly camp fires ever be too big, each of us adding our two cents as the night’s storytellers embellished the day’s mishaps, a joint and a bottle of Peach Schnapps going around and around until first one couple, then another bid goodnight. 3. Lately, when the house feels too empty, I go to the café to write. I like the distractions, the pretty young woman with two afro puffs giving a quick peck on the lips to the girl with blond dreads, the songs I’ve never heard or the songs I haven’t heard in years, Al Green still moaning, moaning for love, forever turning that long high heeee into a world, a wonder. 4. Was I the only one who thought about our parents during those trips? That generation, witnesses to every manner of humiliation and threat, how unlikely it was that they had ever camped, witnessed the entire spectrum of brown skin against a blue, sun-speckled lake, the sun setting on a beach in an all white county anywhere in the United States. Yes, even years after the dark days of assassinations, of four little girls blown-up in a church, long after my cousins’ grandfather yelled down from the jail that he was already dead, to take care of his family, later the undertaker saying his insides looked like hamburger — was it possible for the people who lived those stories to really live? For my mother, say, to truly enjoy her dinner downtown each Mother’s Day, that tight look on her face, not that she ever let fear stop her — and, yes, a certain admiration for that. But also anger. And ask me about the junior high school she transferred me to, the teachers that refused to call on me, the students who pretended I wasn’t there, that all she said before giving her shy, awkward child to those people was, The world is white so you better get used to it. 5. Late night chill in the air, the books I’m too sleepy to move shifting as I pull up the extra blanket, as I recall how well we all got along, even after a night of torrential rain, our tents at the bottom of a hill, even at the end of the week when all we could think about was a hot shower and real beds. Huey and Grace, Aaron and Pam, Michael. 6. And shouldn’t there be a rule that if you keep a man’s name you have to stay friends? 7. I don’t remember if I ever told my mother about those trips, only that she and I were still close, that we talked about everything except the things we never talked about. No idea if I tried to convince her, say, of the beauty of a dark wood, of those impossibly dark nights, black times black times black draping around us like velvet. Did I ever tell her about the first time I looked up on a night like that, the sky so jam packed with stars it was terrifying? 8. Not that I would’ve said terrifying. Roughing It Naming Yourself