A Black Scar in the Carpet

a creative nonfiction piece

As she past the black dress on the floor, she was reminded of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC. Many years previous, in her theater design class, she watched a documentary about the designer of that memorial, Maya Lin. During the documentary, there was a veteran who had called the memorial nothing more than ‘a black scar’ within the earth. This dress was that for her living room floor.

She had set it out to dry two days ago. It was to be worn at the funeral of a distant aunt. The young woman didn’t own any black dresses. She only ever ended up buying them for funerals and then never wore them again. Her mother had suggested that she go to the local thrift store. She had and was happy to find two outfits for under fifteen dollars. The young woman had planned on attending both the wake and funeral. This was before she knew that later in the week she would be traveling to Arizona to help her husband say goodbye to his grandfather. Now the dress would be worn to the grandfather’s funeral instead.

Death had been lingering in her mind for a few weeks now. A conversation with a friend had reignited an old curiosity around the death of one of her uncles. He had died at the hands of the police. There had always been mystery around his death. He was alive. The police officers entered the room. They pushed him to the ground and then he never got up again. This was all the family knew. She had promised herself that someday she would meet the men or women who were in that room when her uncle died. She kept thinking about her uncle.

This had led to thoughts of her other uncle, the sweet grumpy one who had died less than a year ago. His birthday was coming up. He would have been 51. She knew this because for his 50th birthday they celebrated. Her mom got pizza and ice cream cake and invited all his friends. The young woman and her husband had joined. She had taken many, many pictures that day. She had felt connected to her family and so happy. After all, a main reason she moved to North Dakota was to get to know her family better.

Her efforts had not gone as she had hoped. They were all busy and had lives of their own. They were also different than she was and many of the numerous clan didn’t know her. She had grown up in cities far away. Many of them had grown up in North Dakota on farms or ranches. She knew they loved her, but during family events she always felt separate, not really knowing who to talk to. Her family loved her, of this there was no question, and if she needed help they would drop everything for her. She had desired something else though. She wanted to feel that she belonged. This would only come with time, but she knew her time in North Dakota was in its final lap. Her husband and she planned to leave within the next two years. Now was the only time left to make true connections. Being a military brat, she knew how hard it was to maintain relationships over a distance.

This desire to belong was only deepened by the sense of cultural bankruptcy which became more apparent daily. She had grown up off her reservation, away from her tribe. She didn’t speak her language or understand the traditions and customs of her people. In the past year, for the first time, she had bumped into many who were interested to know and understand her culture. Which put her in a particularly difficult situation since she didn’t know it herself. Her mother had done what all the elders of her time told her, “Get off the rez.” Now this choice, made before the young woman was even a thought in her parents’ minds, caused her to feel set apart from her tribe.

On top of this, she missed her church family. It had been two years since she had been to church, but she finally missed them. She had left because of questions she had about the character of God. These questions had proved large and vast. They would take time to answer. Sitting in church growing bitter would do no good, or so she believed.

Quietly she sat down at her black kitchen table, staring at the dress. All she could think about was the great longing in her heart. Since moving to North Dakota she had lost a friend, an uncle and now an aunt. Soon her husband would lose a grandfather. Her mother had somehow survived the loss of both her parents and three brothers, not to mention the aunt who helped raise her and the grandmother who was a mother to her. The young women questioned if she had the strength to be like her mother. Could she survive more loss? Did she even have a choice?

The long black dress on the floor seemed to grow and shift. It was a reminder of the trip her husband and she would take in two days. It was a reminder of another ending of a life. The names of her uncles, her friend and her aunt pounded in her head.

Endings had always proved problematic for the young woman. She loved potential and an end was the death of potential. In the past few months she had become more comfortable with endings, but the end of potential for a human life still caused her great trouble. She had yet to open the cards she received after her sweet grumpy uncle’s funeral. She couldn’t. Like many she sought to delay the end. This was a lie.

Truly, the only lie she tolerated. You can’t delay the end of a life. Maybe this was why she couldn’t bring herself to pick the dress up off of the floor. If she disturbed it, something could happen. If she moved it, she would have to acknowledge that something was happening.

This day was the day her distant aunt would be buried. The day before, the young woman had seen the grieving family. They had asked her to return tomorrow, but she knew she couldn’t. Being at the wake had made the names pounding in her head grow louder. She had to be there for her husband. Soon he would be the family grieving.

She felt inadequate. Her power had always been in words. They made things clearer and signaled so much in her life, but when death came to visit the young woman, words failed. The things she depended on so often. They failed her. They were useless and wrong and out of place. They were nothing. They are nothing.

I wish I was White

Three days of the new world after the US election…

Day 1

In the early hours of November 9th  my priority was consoling my friends and family. I wasn’t shocked. A deep fear came true. My paranoia had ensured that we had some semblance of a plan. Failing to console those I love, sleep found me around 3 am.

Waking up very late, my Facebook feed found me. The rush of pleas for action from my liberal white friends were too much. My bedroom closet held me as I tried to prevent the sobs from finding their way out of me. I had work to do. I had to go to work.

I was able to get my husband to work and myself. At 3am we were leaning toward leaving the country. This had been the plan. My husband thought I was crazy at 3am but before I left him at work he mentioned that Malta would be a good choice. I told him that I felt myself wanting to fix it, the country. Not for me but for my mija yet to be named by our pregnant friend. Who will protect her? I wondered. I promised him I wouldn’t act on anything.

The world felt different. Every white person was now a threat. Hyper vigilance flooded me with anxiety. Paranoia fueled the hyper vigilance. All white people are now a threat. I live in a place where 216,133 people voted for Donald. We only have 570,955 eligible voters. Over half of the people here voted for Donald.

For work, I had to do some shopping. I found myself not making eye contact. A white man in a suit came up behind me in a coffee shop and I jumped away. What would happen now if he tried to hurt me?

Is this how white people have felt all the time? Fearing that people of color might hurt them. Assuming that people of color are always a threat until proven otherwise. It was exhausting.

A flower shop I visit often was my only respite. I knew I was safe there. The owner came and gave me a hug and then gave me flowers before I left. But…

I had to go back out. To prevent from hyperventilating I came up with a way to difuse the fear. “They’re robots. They are all robots. Cops are robots with only one gun and I can see it. I can see the gun so it’s ok. They look like droids from Star Wars. Those droids are harmless. They’re robots. They’re robots. They’re robots. They’re robots…”

All day, if I didn’t know you and you were white you were a robot. My own racism moved from passive to active.

I left work early because I could. I couldn’t keep the sobs back anymore. At home and knowing I was safe I released the sobs.

After work, my husband and I headed to a friends. I needed to play with my mijo. It was a nice night. I received an apology for being called crazy for having thought through what we would do if this happened. That was nice.

There was a moment. My pregnant friend was truly terrified. She is pregnant and moving somewhere where she couldn’t get the right care for her children was not an option. But…

My mija is going to have beautiful olive skin. She is going to look closer in skin tone to me than to her mother. My friend knows and understands what this could mean for my mija. I could see the fear and uncertainty in my friend’s eyes.

Coming home the deep sadness found me again. I asked my husband what he needed. Should we stay and fight or go? He was on the fence and we agreed to take our time to make this decision. Then he asked me what I needed. What did I want? What did I desire?

I could have lied, but I just said, “I wish I was white.”

Day 2

After a day of trying to avoid eye contact and feeling like I was traveling back in time. A time when raping women was done by gentlemen regularly. A time when you could lynch a black person for having the wrong look on their face. I wanted to try to be me. Loud, bright, radiant, vibrant me.

Driving to work, I turned up my music and sang and danced. Work was quick, my last day at the job. I received many thank you’s and compliments.

My boss, a large emotional joyful strong man said he was proud of me. I love him and his hug was a huge comfort.

Then off to work with kids at an after school program. It was rough but ok.

My dad called to check on me. Before the election we had a conversation. He believes that I am overreacting. One of the many people who think/thought I am crazy. “Now you know where you live,” he said. It was hard to hear him. I felt broken. He was trying to reason with me and my emotional brain couldn’t hear the words.

Quick dinner with my hubby then off to play board games at another program with kids. I submitted an application to a leadership program. I so deeply desire to not lose momentum. I want to keep growing for as long as I am able and still breathing. Then a late night movie with my hubby and friends.

On the walk in, I was trying to get my husband to explain to me how it is to be white. Is it possible that being a white person means that you can’t see the world the way I do? Can’t see that there exist many America’s depending on who you are? At the concessions counter, I tried to engage the cashier in conversation. I was trying to still be me, a person who cares about people. My voice was too soft for her to hear. She didn’t hear me.

We made it just in time for the previews and found our seats. The people behind us kept placing their feet on our seats. The first time that my seat was kicked I tried to rationalize. Maybe it was a kid, maybe it was a person who had really long legs, maybe…maybe…maybe.

When no apology came I tried really hard to just stay in the movie. When the second kick came I decided to move seats. I told myself that it didn’t matter who this person was. When the movie was over though, I had to know. I looked up to see an adult female with dark hair.

She and the man with her had put their feet on and kicked my and my husband’s seats throughout the movie. Maybe it was purely an accident. Maybe they were just grumpy. Maybe…maybe…maybe…

When they left the question I asked was, “Did they see me?” On the walk to the car, my husband said that he didn’t want to say anything because he wondered if the seat kicking had to do with the color of my skin. He was afraid of what might have happened if we said anything and didn’t want the trouble.

As we walked up the stairs to our apartment I apologized. My husband is white and if I could just be white too maybe we wouldn’t be having these problems.

I wish I was White.

Day 3

Deep sadness found me again. I didn’t want to do anything. This was the first day of a chosen time of unemployment. It was supposed to be a joyous day but I didn’t feel joy. It was my freedom day.

I wrote a little while my husband slept. Then I tried to laugh with my snoozy husband. I asked him what he wanted to do today. He said he wanted for me to enjoy my Freedom Day. He got up and headed into the living room.

My writing partner and I touched base. We had been doing this almost constantly since election night. She had found the most profound sense of strength while I was still swimming in deep sadness. She shared with me images of Kamala Harris; a woman who had inspired my writing partner. We agreed to meet later in the day to talk about the future of our writing. We agreed that we were both different people now and that this was a new world.

My husband cooked breakfast while I watched TV. Then we enjoyed Hamilton’s America. It felt good to feel something other than sadness. I felt jealous and inspired, but I couldn’t write. I choose comfort instead. My husband and I cuddled and napped until the afternoon.

When we finally woke up my husband headed to the living room. I drew myself a bath and then met with my writing partner. We talked about who we are now. We talked about planning our next moves. We talked about a desire to take an aggressive stance toward our writing. There was work to do and we we’re going to do it.

Coming out of the meeting I noticed an email response from a friend. There was a group of Lutherans meeting about race relations. She had invited me. Feeling super vulnerable I wanted to know what I was walking into. In her email, she stated frankly that she didn’t know if this meeting would be a safe space for me.

I talked to my husband. He instantly said he would come with me. I didn’t want to put him in danger. I want to protect him and all the people I love and now my skin more than ever puts them at risk. I needed him to know that if we stayed this was the new reality. From here on out we would be at risk. Not like when we lived in the city. In the city, we were rarely ever truly alone or isolated. If a person wanted to harm us there was the chance of someone helping. Here, where we are now that is not the case. You can go on a walk in a neighborhood and not see another human the entire time. Then he said, “You would not be putting me at risk. The hate and racism of the other people would.”

No decisions were made. We headed to dinner and planned on a movie after. We talked about a novel we are in the beginning stages of writing together. During dinner I was still on edge a bit. Everyone around us was white. My new paradigm meant they were all a potential threat, but I had my new shoes and looked great. I felt like me and that kept the fear at bay.

We came home deciding to save the movie for tomorrow and build a fort. Instead we headed to bed and fell quickly to sleep.

 

+ + +

 

Now it is day 4. I still wish I was white. I don’t want to have to fight. I don’t want to have to live through history. So many have said over the past few days that we are stronger. We being people who have been marginalized, killed, oppressed and other wise beat down. Surviving that makes us stronger. Having something to fight for makes us more powerful.

All I want though is to be safe and be me. I love people and believe in them. As my faith in God grew I went from saying “I believe in the good in people” to “I believe in the God in people”. Adam’s creation story tells us that God breathed life into him which means that each of us has a little bit of that inside. Now that my faith is in a wonky space I think it’s both. I believe in the God and good in people.

This means that I don’t want to walk around life feeling that everyone I don’t know is a threat even if that’s true. I’m sure on some levels it is. You never know what a person is capable of and I choose not to limit the potential of anyone.

Moving forward I don’t know what my husband and I will choose, to stay or to go. I know which way we’re leaning but I don’t want to commit that to the written word until we’ve decided. I don’t know many things about the days to come. I don’t know who I am now.

I wish I had wise words to sum up this post, but I don’t. I guess I wanted it out in the world to serve as a view into one person’s experience. This is what it has been like for me. Hopefully that’s useful to someone.

My Friend is Dead

My friend is dead. This fact sits in the air that surrounds me. It’s hard to write about because its everywhere. I’m not sure how to feel or how to describe what I am feeling. I know this is an odd thing to post about. My first blog post and this is what I want to write about but can’t.

My friend is dead. I feel like a leech because the entire time he was dying I kept getting ideas. I am a writer. Sadly I am inspired all the time in all circumstances. My writing partner and I are working on a piece involving death. His death gave me many ideas this felt weird and wrong.

My friend is dead. I don’t like using phrases like “past on” or “at rest”. He died of cancer. There was nothing peaceful about it. Nothing sweet or nice. And now he’s gone. Dead. He’s family was from a different state so I won’t get to go to a funeral. It’s hard to realize that he’s really gone. I keep passing his desk. It feels unreal because other than a calendar that stops in November it looks as he left it. The theatre where he worked and I work on occasion will be hiring someone to fill his position soon. I am certain I will like this person but terrified of them sitting in that desk.

My friend is dead. I didn’t know him that well but it hurts. I feel like the middle-eastern tradition of wailing is the only honest way to address a death of a loved one. I am Native American and at funerals there are specific things that everyone does. Roles to be filled. There is crying but only for a time. At the one white funeral I have attended everyone was so composed. The family members sat quietly crying. I want to wail.

My friend is dead. No matter how hard I try to talk about it, about him, it feels off. I feel like I’m talking around the subject. About me. About large societal expectations. About greater philosophical questions. Eventually I will run out of things and all that will be left is the simple fact.

My friend is dead.