Election Day

My neighborhood is observant. I am surrounded by deep traditions - there are people of Bangladeshi, Mexican, Russian, Orthodox Jew, Guyanese origin - all within feet of my apartment. That’s just who I know about. Our streets are regularly filled with sounds of ancient songs and rituals that show the deep love my neighbors have for their ancestors, their children and our experience on this planet, and our polling place this morning was a breathtaking example. Bright eyes and weary souls converged to exercise their rights as collective citizens of this nation. All people of one place, one Brooklyn neighborhood, gathered together as an indication of the staggering global impact of this election.

I made space for each elder woman to go ahead of me, exchanging glances of appreciation and recognition. My shoulders shook unexpectedly. I thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Shirley Chisholm. I thought of Frances Webb and Constadina Tachco; two great-grandmothers whose trauma I feel in by bones. I thought of my mother, who brought us to every polling place I can remember. I thought of my little sister. I thought of my Baba who I had dinner with last night, relaying stories of her work at the Los Angeles Times during the 70’s journalist strike: equal pay for equal work; and my aunt who I sat across from: a career Diplomat with tours in Karachi and Damascus who still gets asked about her marital status. Ringing, ringing in my ears:

“Not in your lifetime, I’m sorry.”
“Because, honey - girls can’t do that.”
“I know - it’s different for girls.”
“Did you try asking with a smile?”
“You just have such a strong attitude - I’m worried it’ll be harder for you to find love.”
“I suppose I just figured you’d adopt.”

“I know he’s difficult - can you just try to be a little nicer to him?”

I stood in the booth and cried softly, and I knew the neighborhood had me. I knew my ancestors had me, and my love, and the matriarchs I’m blessed to still have, and my sisters and brothers and chosen family, and the families that we’re making. Everyone seemed to smile at one another, and I went outside to take my obligatory “I voted” selfie. 

As I crossed the street toward the train, I heard a kissing noise like a dog was being called. I reacted in the direction of the noise to find a pair of eyes looking at me hungrily.

“Ooh. Beautiful,” he said. “Thank you, mami.” He kissed at me.

What. Just happened. Embarrassment. Rage. Feeling like prey. Already vulnerable, happy - now rage! Rage, rage, rage. Yell at him. Do SOMETHING. You just exercised your right as a citizen of this country - you are not an OBJECT OF HIS LUST for christsakes.

I walked away. Kept walking and put it up on Facebook and considered quitting everything to walk out on the Brooklyn Bridge and scream at every single person to walk out today. Just walk out - do nothing but rage, rage, rage to your polling place and vote and carry our babies and hold them up and tell them that we’re not. Going. To take it. Any more.

I cried openly on the train platform. Deflated. Objectified. Whether I like it or not.

cough

muscles wrench,
up all night.
hack away -
their best attempt at exorcism.

We Got No Sleep.
he says.

muscles spasm,
sore red tender raw

sorry -
she says.
muscles sore,
try their best to cleanse

No Sleep. 
again.
to say:

I did not help.

I drew no bath
I made no tea
I rubbed my own back and
laid,
and prayed
you would just
stop.
So I Could Sleep


And there they lay:
the boy the girl tight muscles over
organs,
forging way for new

all wanting the same, praying
it would stop.

 

burning

We evolved from 'co-workers' to 'something else' at an eviction party.  

At the office that day, he took a piece of paper from our boss' desk. In an attempt to woo me there, he folded it up, took a red sharpie out of his pocket and wrote: 

PARTY! 
1310 Cortelyou Rd. 
Q to Cortelyou
Exit train, turn left
Walk two blocks, right next to 'PICKET FENCE' 

I was in one of 'those' moods: itching to go out, 'knew I shouldn't,' but 'knew I would.' I went home first, which didn't make sense commute-wise. I got cute, choosing my vintage brown clutch to carry my directions in. I referred them to the cab that didn't make sense money-wise. 

The party was themed like a carnival and reminded me that I was aging. A group of friends set up different areas. I went for the tarot reader. 

Sitting uncomfortably on the floor in my pencil skirt that made me feel pretty but overdressed, I shuffled the cards and placed them. After a moment, the tarot reader looked me in the eye and told me a man was about to come into my life. Or, that he was in my life, through work, and it was turning into something more. She fixed her gaze and advised that we'd be better friends than lovers - I should be sure to keep it to work.

The fact that they were roommates led to no confusion as to whom the cards were referring, and initiated a strangely intimate secret. There was a slight tension throughout the next several months as I blissfully paraded around their apartment, sexed up, falling in love and recklessly ignoring my fortune. 

In typical fashion I stayed until the very end. Just four of us sat in a circle, singing and playing guitar. In low light he played me an obscure Leonard Cohen song that I can't ever remember. We shared a cab to our separate homes, drunk, tense, and didn't kiss. 

My directions stayed in my brown vintage clutch, to be found once a year or so when I'd take it out for an occasion. I'd forget, and really forget - no pretense. After getting ready, I'd open the clutch and there it would be. Goofy young handwriting in red sharpie: 

PARTY! 
1310 Cortelyou Rd. 
Q to Cortelyou
Exit train, turn left
Walk two blocks, right next to 'PICKET FENCE' 

I would take it out. Hold it, touch it, brush the writing gently with my fingers. As time went on it awed me that we were ever so youthful. And hopeful. And in love. Regardless of where we were - Brooklyn or the Hudson Valley, speaking or touching or no - I would walk to the room he was in, open the clutch to him and say, "Look what I found." Wherever we were we'd smile. 

When all was said and done and I was packing to leave, finding it again wasn't a bittersweet surprise but a wrenching, sick twist of iron in my gut. I'd put it in with his things, he'd put it in with mine, passively daring each other to throw it away. It was mine to toss, he said. Finding the note in a pile rendered the pile not trash anymore, and there it would sit: reminding us of what, I don't know. 

I moved, then four months later moved again, then again four months after that. In Brooklyn, finally, again, almost two years to the day we left the city, I unpacked boxes I hadn't touched in eight months. That fucking piece of paper emerged from my watercolor case. I didn't remember putting it there, but that doesn't say much. It could have been either one of us. 

I held it, unfolded it. I realized I had never done that before. He wrote it on the back of an old budget from the theater. Old handwriting, from many people. Seven years. I folded it back up. 

I wasn't crying, I wasn't angry, I wasn't sad. I wanted to make peace with this piece of paper. I should hang on to it, keep surprising myself, use it as a barometer for growth. But this particular piece of paper had never played that role, and I had to stop trying to force things to play roles they just aren't fucking meant for. it would never be a surprise again. Somehow, I needed it gone. 

I could send it to him. 

I cringed, annoyed myself. 

I could throw it away.

Inadequate. When I wake, it would be there; in my little trash can, staring at me. Who knew how I would feel about it in the goddamn morning? Right Now was what mattered. And Right Now feels fucking uncomfortable. Like an old suit that fits 'fine,' that you keep around for job interviews or costumes, but you just feel uncomfortable in it and you don't want to touch it, and each time you take it out all you feel is how you felt during the worst circumstance you last wore it in. Waking up to see that goddamn red sharpie note on the back of a fucking seven year old budget in my trashcan? Fuck. That.  

I grabbed a scarf, my cigarettes and keys and the goddamn directions to an eviction party that happened seven years ago and I left. The east river was only a block away. I walked toward it.

Ghosts of eight, nine years ago - one of my lives prior to the one I need to exorcise - mingled with new development, trees, walkways and neighborhood kids skateboarding 'round midnight. No camera, no music, no phone. I paced. I lit a cigarette. 

I held the seven year old folded up piece of paper, took my lighter to it, and set it on fire. 

It really should have dramatically gone up in flames, but it smoldered to a large grey ash. It smelled like burning dusty old paper. No one looked, because it's Brooklyn. It wasn't dramatic, because it's life. My guilt flamed a little then turned to a slow burn with the paper. I considered saving it and turning it into the thing I almost burned but couldn't bring myself to. 

Instead I placed it on the ground and watched it slowly burn down into the Brooklyn waterfront. I smoked my cigarette. View of the Empire State and the Chrysler and the new World Trade, construction lights twinkling with pride, boasting its new spire. Over my right shoulder, I hear a "Hey cutie. Whatchu doin'?" 

I flicked my cigarette in its direction and I went home.