Monday, September 11, 2017

Racism in Three Retellings of Magic

I get a letter in the mail from the library in Athens saying that a book I borrowed during summer camp is 3 months overdue. If I don't return the book in 2 weeks I'll have to pay the county $900 dollars in late fees (or at least it FEELS like $900 when your 12 years old and can't remember the exact amount). I ask my grandmother to take me to the librarian to explain that I had actually left the book after I checked it out -- so it should actually still be at the library. We get there and the librarian looks at me through leery eyes. You can tell she barely believes me when I plead my case, but I assume that's because the case itself is just so hard to believe. My grandmother watches observantly the entire time. She's not amused. The librarian looks in the system and finds that the book had been returned even though my account had still been flagged. She sends me away. I am relieved. When my grandmother and I get back in the car, she explains to me why she felt so uncomfortable during the visit. She says that watching me try to prove my innocence to that older, white librarian and her resultant disdain, reminded her of growing up in Georgia in the 1950s and how black people were treated so poorly by whites during that time. In that moment, too young to try and wrap my head around the cosmic horror of racism at that age, I

       Peer out of the car window and will myself into the greenery zooming past our window. My black skin molds itself into the soil of the summer earth. I am surrounded by earthworms, beetles, tree roots, and dirt. I relate my story to them, and ask, if they were the librarian, would they have believed my story. Would they have believed that boys like me could leave books at the library after rushing back to a van to get back to their summer camp? The earthworm slithers around my soil and takes a taste. He tells me that I taste reliable and he had no reason to believe that I was untrustworthy. I hope that all the magic I have is enough to stay in the ground for all of eternity. 

I am 18 years old and I am walking back from a late night of studying in the library. The dorm is only about half a mile from the library. Truthfully, I enjoy these walks back because they are rare, pristine times in which I am not needed by a class, job, or internship. It's just me and my headphones in the willful, omniscient night. As I walk down the sidewalk, I notice a white woman who looks like she might be in her mid-20s walking on the same side of the sidewalk as me. I am never sure what to do in these moments. Do I walk slower so she doesn't feel like I'm trying to encroach on her space? Do I walk faster and try and pass her so that the racial tension can strip itself away like a band-aid? It doesn't matter. She makes the decision for me. She looks back behind her and sees my nocturne frame walking in the shadows of the night, illuminated momentarily under the streetlamp like a fleeting moth. She clutches her purse and swiftly crosses to the other side of the street. I'm not quite sure how I feel about her decision, but when the ambiguity of feeling takes hold I--

    Call out to the spirit of her purse in a moment of inanimate communion. Her purse approaches me in the form of a slithering leather snake; a call-back to its previous life. We are not quite sure how to communicate. I wonder if the snake only knows how to hiss, but am relieved to find it speaks fluent English. I ask her if there was anything I could have done to make myself less threatening. The snake suggested that I carry a messenger bag or suitcase studded with garish rhinestones. She says that no one who would carry something that tacky could be considered dangerous. She pauses for a moment of self-reflection and looks back at her owner and gives me a knowing smile. We both chuckle briefly under the streetlamp before she slithers back and leaves me to walk back to my dorm contemplating snakes, leather, rhinestones, and if I even NEED a messenger bag....

At 21 years of age I am sitting in an apartment drinking a 40 oz of Colt 45 because it is cheap. My boyfriend at the time is sitting on the couch next to me because against all odds I have found someone to love in these modern times. He gets a call on his cellphone and wrinkles his face at the caller ID. I ask who it is. He tells me it's his mom. We glance at each other briefly with a look of mutual concern. He tells me he's going to take the call outside. I agree reluctantly or understandingly. To this day I am not sure which. When he returns he has the same somber look he always has after talking to his parents. I ask what they talked about and he says the usual: school, work, you. I ask him if his mom asked about me and he says no. He tried to bring me up but when they heard my name they changed the subject. The subject being a girl he's been dating in addition to me because in these modern times, it seems like most people are polyamorous. He says that they asked about her, and if he was planning to get serious with her. He breaks down in front of me. He tells me, through tears, that he didn't realize how hard it would be to date a man -- let alone a black man. I can feel him readying the guillotine with his tongue and I--

      Focus on a jar of honey that has been sitting on his counter for the past few days. We had been using it to mull wine during the winter with cloves and cinnamon. I can no longer hear the words he's saying as my ears melt into syrup. My arms drip. My legs drip. My eyes glaze. I am crystallized into a honeycomb. I can feel a warmth pulsing around me. I call out to the warmth around me and receive a message in return. I can feel him, his girlfriend, his family, her family. I am the honey between the interstices of their combs. My leaving is the glue holding them together. 

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