Love letter to my black family

I look in the mirror and dissect myself. The darkness of my skin. The shape of my nose. My too close together eyes. My nearsightedness. My eyelashes sparse, but long. My collarbones. The goldfish birthmark. My curly, frizzy hair. My long fingernails. I see myself as a mosaic of you, my cousins, my aunties and uncles, my grandparents, my greats, my great greats, five generations away.

Beauty was discovering you, here, in my own image, here, in the language I crafted to celebrate you.

No sound is more powerful than the names we give each other. We die with two names, the one we said to the world and the one said at barbecues.

I have sat on stoops, on stairways between the grown folks and children and listened. Listened and learned how to speak with love.

Our love language is laughter. We laugh our way to healing.

To the white teacher who called my mother ugly. To the white mother who called my uncle a nigger. To the white cops who beat my uncles : your grandchildren and great grands will read about my beautiful black family and love them the way you were afraid to. They will know them by name and the cartography of their imagination will have a space occupied by my black mother. By my black uncles. By my black grandmother.

Our love is defiance. In spite of everything love. Until it hurts love. Until it makes us angry. Until we are happy again.

I cannot remember the sweetness of the peppermint and Pepsi my auntie put in my mouth when I was knee high to a church pew, but I remember the sweetness of her laugh, rich with smoke and ruby red lipstick that sometimes got caught on her teeth.

I cannot remember my grandmother holding my infant body, cradling me close to her heart, but I remember our last hug, her tiny chest pressed into my developing one, the smile in her eyes magnified behind her glasses.

I still feel her laugh in my bones.


Open Letter on the Subject of Cow Fields

Let me tell you about a road thirty-seven miles away from your doorstep where rain pleats the moss on oak bark, where faces weep sweat under Carolina straw hats. 

Country Line Road is two lanes bordered by pines, kudzu, and wide open fields, overgrown and underworked. 

You once told me that nowhere was Hanover with winters below twenty and an open window over your bed that chilled the top sheet to frost. 

I say nowhere is a cow field, a bare-chested farmer in undone overalls spitting tobacco into the wind. 

Nowhere is a window into wilderness, chiggers, raccoons, and squirrels high jumping off a tool shed. 

Nowhere is a Waffle House with a blacked out “l” and miles of unlit county roads. 

Nowhere is a lone cursor flashing on a single blank page, a white room lit blue by a laptop screen, the crick of tired fingers typing and backspaces an eight count on a stubborn key board. 

But sometimes, I dream of a cow field, of empty grass peaked by trillium and buckthorn. 

I dream of home, of Airport Road, of parking curb side to watch an Boeing 747 come in. 

That is my nowhere. 

Nowhere has infinite patience, no regard for time, for schedules. 

It just keeps growing. 

Open letter on the Subject of Sniffing

Yes, I sniffed you while in line at the AMC theater. You called me on it, your brows lifted into confused flat backed D’s. The girl at the ticket counter looked down at her shoes, bite her lip, looked at her screen, then towards the bar which was closed for the night. She was saving her laugh for later. 
You offered advice on the art of subtlety which I shall in future politely ignore.   
I cannot remember the way my grandmother smelled, what detergent she used on the blanket I wrapped myself in while watching cartoons on the floor. I cannot remember the smell of her kitchen, the soap she kept in bathroom, or books she owned. I cannot remember what brand of cigarettes my great grandma smoked, the names of the perfumes on her vanity, or the scent of the mildewed pages of the harlequin paperbacks she owned by the dozens. 
I don’t remember the smell of my momma’s old Ford, the black one with burgundy interior, but I can map for you the smear of the bug guts on the back seat.  
I can remember the smell of the boy I had a crush on when I was ten, fresh cut pine and rain misting on summer asphalt, and when it rains here, I remember lip smackers lip gloss, Limited Too, butterfly clips dissipating to glitter as a basketball smashed into the top of a girl’s head, the blood bubbling on her scalp and Coach Morgan with blue surgical gloves on telling me and my classmates to take a knee. 
Somewhere in your cologne, body wash, deodorant, and sweat was something I wanted to remember, a story to tell later, or a moment that lingered on the edge of memory that I wanted to relive again. Going to see Shrek with my uncle, cousin, and sister, smearing popcorn butter on my lips and puckering them with a soft smack, the scent of the hand soap at Festival 18 in Crestwood. Something in that moment made me lean over and breath deeply, audibly.  
Was is weird? To you and the girl behind the ticket counter, yes. 
But not to me. Sorry, not sorry. 

Open letter to the man who bought me my first “girly” drink

It was pepto bismal pink with a cherry and pineapple speared on the rim, ten dollars for five ounces of fruit juice and a tea spoon of vodka. It was everything you didn’t like, artificially sweet and light weight with more fruit than punch. I drank it anyway.

I dug around for the cherry at the bottom while you told me about your childhood. Detriot born and raised, middle kid of three. You didn’t drink your beer with a lime wedge.

Dave’s had a chill like a leaky pipe and juke box with top forty hits from a decade ago. You weren’t a No Doubt fan. I imagined kicking off my flip flops and climbing on the table to dance like the rail thin white girls by the bar, but I kept my ankles crossed, still stabbing at the cherry at the bottom of my drink.

You had good intentions. I was a newly minted twenty-one and never had anything stronger than a glass of wine. I was as buttoned as baby’s breath, but definitely not a sweet punch kind of girl.

I can’t know if you thought you had me pegged. I wore flowers in my hair and skirts to my ankles. I’d kick my shoes and occasionally you would find me balled up somewhere barefooted with ink stains on my hands. You thought I was a floetry-esque hippie. I listened to heavy metal.

I remember the hot beer sitting on your coffee table, the tv fritzing while the Heat played the Spurs, your eyes slick as glass and tired. It was what we had in common.

You took me to a bar with a top patio that had fairy lights and roaches the size of zippo lighters. We didn’t stay long. I asked what you were drinking.

“Grey Goose. Can’t really do mixed drinks. Shit makes my stomach hurt.” It was Thursday and the bar had a five dollar deal on Long Island ice teas. I sipped  in silence.

I thought you should know, the woman I am now wouldn’t have let you order for me. I am not a simple syrup vodka splashed cherry. I’m more a honey Jack straight- as spiced as I am sweet with a kick that is not easily forgotten.


Open Letter to the Half Smushed Honey Bun Sitting on the Counter

I don’t know why she left you there, occupying the limited counter space of our kitchen. There is plenty of room in the cabinet, a sparse closet pantry, but she has left you there to mold in our humid little kitchen. You aren’t edible now. You’ve been splattered in dish water mixed with a capful of bleach. A residual film of grease occupies your waxy label. You are bisected and un-pretty, no longer an uniform sugar glazed spiral.

Why didn’t she just eat you?

You’ve been sitting there for over a week and everyday she passes you, her phone on speaker while she yells at whomever is on the line. I am sorry she mistreats you and has left you here to decompose.

I want to take you to Piedmont Park, remove your greasy wrapper and throw you to the ducks. I want you to have purpose, to recycle back into the earth, to become food’s food, then plant life, then perhaps cycle back again into a honey bun, be eaten again and start the process anew.

But you are not mine. You belong to her, and her plan is for you to be no more than waste.


Open Letter to the Person Who Stole My Debit Card Number

I wonder if you ordered the chicken nachos with an extra side of guacamole while I measured out two-thirds of a cup of salad and a divided a foil pack of spicy tuna between a Tupperware container and the only meal I can afford to eat today. I wonder if you got the house margarita while I counted change at the bottom of my drawer, hoping I had enough for a bottle of water. It is taco Tuesday after all. I wonder if you stayed for dessert, tried the churros with a scoop of vanilla ice cream while I can only think about fresh fruit and meat that doesn’t come out of a can.

I wonder if you ate comfortably, if your stomach threatened to reject its contents once the bill came, if you felt any sense of remorse or guilt, and above all, why. Why steal my information for a meal worth less than a couple of Venti coffee orders from Starbucks?

You didn’t stop there. You went shopping at Lenox, grabbed who knows what from Dick’s Sporting Goods, all on my overdrawn, penniless account. Was it worth a pair of shoes? A camo hat and tent?

You took more than my money. In fact, I had none to take in the first place. You took my sense of security, forced me to spend hours in fear while I wondered will I able to pay my rent on time? Buy groceries? Afford to fuel my car to go to work? I was paralyzed, listening to campy music while on hold with the fraud department of my bank. I measured through my limited options, trying to find a means of control.

There wasn’t one. I cried. I spent two weeks penny pinching and in one day, you spent more than I did in a month. Fourteen days of financial frugality erased by one day of fraudulent transactions.

And worst of all, you made me feel like it was my fault. That by simply using my debt card, I deserved to be robbed, that I failed to observe some basic tenant of smart consumerism.

But this is your fault. This will always be your fault.

If you were my friend, I would have taken you to lunch if I could spare it or even cooked something, gotten a couple of beers to commiserate over a rough job search, an economy that still doesn’t feel new college graduate friendly, soul crushing student loan debt, being priced out of apartments by gentrification, and tuition cost galloping past available financial aid.

But you aren’t. This is your problem. I’m just fitting the bill.