“Our breath is brief, and being so
Let’s make our heaven here below,
And lavish kindness as we go.”
― Robert Service
I carried this book, pages swept with sea, torn and stained by a hurricane
I carried it to the desert and here it sits
On this old desk
Next to the marigold
Im having trouble being here. I’m having trouble moving forward. What is there to do that can be more important than sitting with a feeling?
I am not certain that I am ever going to be the kind of person that I admire. Maybe it is best time to start to understand the kind of person that I am, right now.
I am the sort of person that takes a long time to figure out a move. I would be a terrible bore to play chess against, because I am forever lingering. I’ve wanted to be the type of person that moves quickly and in a way that propels a growth. Maybe I can be positive in the lingering feelings. Maybe that could be enough for now.
I just know that all I ever want to do is lie in bed and read dead poet’s words. I want to sit in the soft sand again and listen to seagulls fight over corn chips. I want to laugh with my family in the dewy grass and share memories until they feel real again. I want endless night hours, filled with slow dancing to Bruce Springsteen and slipping between unknown meridians of time, because it doesn’t matter, really. I want to sleep in my dad’s oversized old t-shirt until I feel better about waking up and making decisions that move me forward, away from here.
Remember when you were afraid to sleep alone at night and so you drove to Utah and almost ran out of gas on that winding road until you found the one fuel station for 90 miles and inside was a woman and you talked about adventures and bought a postcard to mail to your mom. You drove another ten miles to a camp spot and cooked yourself spicy noodles and drank a beer and watched the sun set. You read Abbey in the tent and liked yourself. That was the spring of 28. You kept going toward Las Vegas, and called N and R who told you to get your tired butt to their hotel and drink champagne and dance all night at the UM show. The desert air hung over you like a chandelier and you peed near the fountain while the colors swirled around you in safeness. When the sun rose you drove all the way to Joshua tree on that bumpy road and wondered how many people have died in the Mohave desert and if your bald tires would explode from heat exhaustion. The acid lingered in your veins and your kaleidoscope eyes took in the empty expanse of boulders and silence. You sweat through the days under the tapestry fort you constructed between two rocks and covered your skin in coconut oil to protect it from the dry winds. You ate oranges and climbed barefoot and wrote dozens of pages and touched your face to feel real and read Tom Robbins and cried a lot. You felt like you were going to fall off the edge of everything. You drove to the ocean and jumped into the freezing water and did a cartwheel and bought chips and salsa from the overpriced pier restaurant. You wore that kimono every day over your swimsuit and a chaco tan of dust and sun on your feet. You called old friends and asked for advice. You listened to some of it. You drove to a hostel in Pacific beach and smoked cigarettes with strangers. You forgot yourself for a little while and denied your truth. You reached out to the edge.
Then, you slowly began again.
Every night I dream of a baby. At times they come to me in the form of a sick animal, or a deformed child that no one will have. But they are always for me. And my acceptance of each of them is palpable. I am always willing. As if I understand a stronger purpose and I feel capable, whichever way it will show up.
I dream of the same faces each night. The same jealousies and grapplings in how to arrange my own face so that no one will hear how loud my heart beats. I wonder if sadness is a tree that grows in sleep.
I feign apathy, or worse, contempt. What I know even in dreams is that this is a temporary solution to a root problem. I wake to find my long limbs pulled tightly to my chest, and there is an ache involved in the uncurling of them. I wonder if I am scowling through the night?
My mother tells me that she is searching for an old photograph of my grandmother from the 1960s. In it, she is poised and silly and smiling in a camper. My mother says that we are so similar, and it brings her peace to be in between.
I sit and wonder about how everything is connected. A therapist tells me that my heart feels a lot of pain, and that this will be the struggle for all my life. I tell her thank you, because I do not know what to say. Later I drive to the dusty park and sit in the hot car and cry. The electric green desert plants of this place seems to always understand the heavier part. Lately it seems that the only thing to focus on is focus. I feel my breath slowing down to a dull hum while the world is speeding up. I feel as if I am watching history, or a dream I have had before. I sit on the deck and the rain patters the tin roof. The garden bed seedlings reassure me of something I cannot name. I bought myself a pottery wheel, and placed it out there next to his tool boxes and bike parts.
Sometimes I cover my hands in wet clay and bring my face inches from the cylinder between my palms, hypnotized by the forming of something new.
Other days I turn it on just to slowly watch it spin.
I grew up in North Minneapolis. I attended Loring Elementary on 44th and Thomas. I spent summers at YMCA camp, swimming in Victory park with Hmong, Black, Somali, and white kids. I always “saw” color. I remember being punched in the stomach in kindergarten by the class bully, Dante. He was twice my size and called me “dumb white girl”. I told on him and the principle called our parents in to discuss discipline.
Even then a part of me was learning. I knew that he had learned this compartmentalization from grown ups, just as I had learned to fear the large black woman who cornered my mother at the laundromat. Fear is unchecked covert racism.
I knew that as a small white child I held privilege. I knew because I didn’t fear the police. I was never taught how to be compliant, or submissive to them by adults. I was taught by example that they were my protectors.
In fifth grade we moved to the suburbs, and I found myself in a startling new world, just 30 minutes from my old neighborhood. I became one of 28 students; a class of all white faces. I had never played soccer, or any organized sport. I was behind in every subject except reading. The system was entirely structured around safety, and everywhere I went, I felt cocooned by a false sense of it. All of a sudden, I could ride my bike, without limits and parent-appointed restrictions. There was no “Bad Neighborhood”. In the winter of 3rd grade while at Loring, we studied and participated in Kwanza, instead of Christmas. My new classmates had never heard of Kwanza. My older sister had it worse I believe, though she never would speak of it to me then. She unfortunately entered the scrutinizing world of middle school, in a district where the median household income was 3 times that of our North Minneapolis demographic. She was tormented by white girls. Ostracized for dressing “ghetto”, wearing the wrong shoes, and loving basketball.
It takes humble unpacking of core beliefs to dismantle one’s self-image.
I, along with many other white people, have believed the lie we’ve told ourselves. I vote liberal. My mother raised us early on as a single parent with the bare minimum child support coming in. I received subsidized everything. I try to be a voice for marginalized people, whenever possible. So I thought that I was “good”. How could I be racist?
I am learning that I must unlearn so many false institutions of truth. Human race depends on classification as a survival technique. We observe and take action based on what feels “safe” and make choices through learned patterns.
It is up to us as an ever-evolving species to change behaviors that are not working. We are better. We need to act better.
I’m frustrated and sad for you. I’m so sorry that you are still fighting, and I am sorry for my complicit complacency.
There won’t be many chances to learn the same lessons. I fear that this reckoning is overdue and undervalued, even now. I will work to deprogram innate strategies of living and seeing this world. I will use my heart and awareness as a white woman to protect and defend the right for black people to feel the safeness that I have been privileged with.