Midnight, Still

I woke up at midnight and everything is still the same. My clothes, that I’d fallen asleep in, still flatter me more than nudity. The window is still open. The air still stagnant. The other half of my bed still warmed by a Macbook Pro. Law and Order: SVU is on — an episode I’ve already seen — with Benson still wearing that vacant look of disgust.

People are sleeping and if I had a cigarette, I’d smoke it slowly out front and think about all of the things I could have said when people were awake. Things like, “I am scared” and “I am writing short stories that I want so badly to be good so that I feel like I am worth something” or “If you could run where would you run off to” and “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Instead, there is no cigarette so I browse Tumblr. Or Racialicious. Or rewatch an episode of Awkward Black Girl. Or get to writing those short stories I still can’t believe I’m writing because it’s not even work at this point. Not work like this. It’s cultural appropriation without the malice, because they are my stories to tell. But for some reason, and maybe this is true for a lot of people, being who you are is like exploiting what you always have to come back to. If I defer being myself, there’s enough self to save for a day when I need it, when the subway is shut down, when the storm is coming, when the heart not only feels alone but is alone. I can be myself another day.

I had a dream I birthed a set of red-haired twins, of uneven sizes, and the father was the only man I’d ever wanted to love. If you say a person’s name enough, you can tattoo their spirit on your teeth, on your gums. He is my mouth, still. I had these twins and he was gone, still, like now. Which is unsurprising. Rita Dove said it, When has the ordinary ever been news? One of the twins grew and grew, the other cried and cried. Cried without tears so there was no fear of drowning. There was no way to console the baby and I remember saying, I am sorry you are alive. It hurts and I don’t understand you. It will hurt a lot and you already know water cannot absolve the pain you feel. The other baby was toddler sized only a few hours after being born. He ran in circles and nuzzled me and asked who Daddy was and I pointed to the shadow of a desk. And every time the bigger child asked me who Daddy was, because the sun was moving, I’d scramble to find the longest shadow, the one most like a human, the one big enough to fill the space he’s trying to fill. I forget my mouth is someone else’s, so when the father does come home and asks how I came to have these children, I tell them they are more his than mine. He looks over them; the crying one is a ball of mournfulness and shrinking into the tiniest, loudest little thing. The bigger child is a man now, towering over his father, and asks him why it took so long to come back. Father says nothing. The crying baby disappears but the sound of his cry is in the walls of the room. Father says he will be back. The big boy and I know this cannot be true. But we sit together, labeling the shadows for the things and people we want them to be. And the cries of a baby still vibrate the walls. Without a sound, tears fall from my eyes.

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