In It

“I’m a failure.”

“Don’t talk like that, baby.”

“You know that I’m a smart person, so don’t you think I’m smart enough to know that I’m a failure?”

I can’t think of anything to say. I wish I could think of something to say, something light hearted and warm, something that made him feel like less of a failure, but I’m too crushed beneath his statement to be able to think on my toes. I can feel some part of myself falling, fading. This is bleak.

Earlier that day, I had asked him if he could go anywhere in the world, where would he go. He told me that his dream is to live on a boat full of dogs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It sounded quixotic, but it also wasn’t the answer that I was looking for. Most people say things like Japan or Oaxaca, but he’d rather go to the middle of the ocean, where there are no people and there isn’t much to see.

“I just want peace,” he explained, which is when I realized that most people want to experience the world, but he wants to escape it. I wonder what could have happened that was so awful that he doesn’t want to see the pyramids, or the Great Wall of China, or butterfly migrations, or Niagra Falls, or the stock exchange, or the tallest building in the world.

I realize that this is a recurring theme. He had gained some weight a few months ago, and he told me that he likes it because it makes him feel safe. There are so many aspects of being a man that I will never understand, and there are especially so many aspects of being a black man that I will never grasp, and this is probably one of those things I can’t understand, but it also makes sense.

Later that day, as we’re lying in bed, and he’s next to me sleeping, I look at him. I really, really look at him. It’s cliche to say that he’s a tortured soul, but perhaps that’s the simplest way to say it. A more complicated to say it would be: the world punishes people who live at the crossroads of emotional depth and intelligence. There’s something very difficult about seeing the world the way it really is and continuing to survive inside it. To withstand the cruelty of the world so rawly, with no buffer between him and the pain – it’s destruction.

I know he wants to save the world. To protect the children. To defend the defenseless. He is a hero in his own way, even as the world rejects him. And I’ve reached the point where I love him, and it has nothing to do with fucking him, although that helps, too. It has happened – I just love him in a way that can’t be explained or broken or dissolved. So I wrap my arms around him while he sleeps so I can protect him from nightmares. I hold his hand as he battles demons. I am here, and I am doing this, even if it destroys both of us.

Reciprocity

He’d been writhing in pain on my bedroom floor for three days now. I must have gotten used to the moaning and twitching because all of a sudden it was worse, and we had to go to the hospital. It was 3 am on a work night, which felt mildly inconvenient to me as I tried to wipe up the puke and pile him into the car. Driving through the streets which were eerie and empty and filled with rain as he sat there in the passenger seat, curled up and crying out.

As we pulled up to the emergency room, I could feel something evil inside me. Not the evil that has always been inside me, but the new, foreign evil that has been sitting in the pit of my soul like a rock for the past year or so. The evil that someone else put there, that I’ve been trying to get rid of for months now. The evil that says, “Fuck him, why the fuck am I doing this?”

I think there must have been something special about being at the emergency room with a lover in the middle of the night that made me feel that way. That reminded me that people can be disposable, and what am I going to get out of this by the time he’s feeling better. I guess that’s my inner cut throat feminist talking – I’ve spent so many years putting my empowerment first because no one else ever did, but now that I’m feeling pretty top dog about where I’m at in life I’m starting to wonder if that’s still the most useful thing I can do. Because I know what we, the feminists, are going to say about me, a feminist, dropping everything important I’m doing in my life – my work, my friends, even to some extent my writing – to take care of a man. What is he doing for me that makes it okay for me to do this for him.

But I’m sick of thinking that way. What if I just love him, and what if this is just something I am deciding to do, even if it’s not in my best interest and will never be in my best interest. What if I want to take care of him because I find there to be something fundamentally redeeming about caring for other people. What if I don’t mind suffering for a moment because it will ease the suffering of someone I love? And maybe it doesn’t matter that the person I love is flawed and fucked up and might never be able to repay me. What if the nature of love isn’t transactional.

Although maybe that thought has less to do feminism and more to do with the last time I was at the emergency room. Maybe I’m thinking about leaving him here and never coming back because I know that’s an option because I’ve been left here before. That’s what life experience can do for you – it can show you certain ugliness that was beyond your own imagination. It can taint your mind. But even as I think about leaving because sleeping in my bed alone without anyone else’s problems but my own would be easier than taking care of him, I realize: nah. I can’t even stick my feet into the shoes of the people who hurt me and feel okay. I can’t walk around in their shoes, treating other people the way they treated me and feel good about myself. The evil that he put in me was just an idea, but I will not let it change me, sour me, turn me gray. Just because I’ve been hurt does not mean I can hurt other people. That’s not how it works. I wish I had realized this years ago, but I’m realizing it now, which is just in the nick of time.

I’m starting to think that maybe I shouldn’t have been so cruel. That I shouldn’t have treated men with the same nastiness with which they treated me. Starving them out, ghosting them, abandoning them. All those things that looked like female empowerment, all the nasty text messages, all the drunken tirades, all the cutting insults – it’s not that I regret doing them, it’s that I would regret doing those things now because I know better. The world doesn’t need me to create any more men in pain, even as I’m sitting here, watching him writhing. I know in another instance I would feast on his pain. It would feed me for weeks. But perhaps we’ve had enough of that.

So I grab his hand and tell him I love him. I am not going to be that monster, not today, not now. I’ll probably be that monster at some point in the future, but in this moment, I am the angel that I always knew I could be. I am nurturing him, because he needs to be nurtured. I am caring for him, because he needs to be cared for. It is not easy, and there is no reward, but I am doing it nonetheless.

I am doing it because I don’t want to be the person who says no when the people I love are in pain. I have heard “no” from the people who love me when I needed them the most, and it was perhaps the most painful thing that I have ever experienced. It filled me with dust and stains and sand and sin. It made me evil to be so unloved. Which is why I have to be here, right now, helping him, because to turn my back to him would be to let the people who hurt me know that I deserved it. But I didn’t deserve it, and he doesn’t deserve that either. None of us deserve that, but it’s still what I got. But that’s okay, because it hasn’t changed me beyond the recognition of love.

Gangsta Boo at the Grocery Store

“Look at all this space I have! I just love it!” Gangsta Boo is standing in front of the prepackaged meat section in a fairly crowded Trader Joe’s in Nob Hill, San Francisco. His arms are outstretched, which is taking up a lot of space because he’s a big guy, and all the invariably yoga-pants clad, 95 pound, skinny white moms and tight lipped, neck-scarved single white gay men are ducking and darting around him like water parting before Moses.

“Big scary black man! Everyone run away! Watch out! He’s making carnitas!” I laugh and wait for him to barrel down the next aisle so I can follow in his wake. It’s true – we almost have an invisible force field around us as people cleave away from the aisles and walkways when they see us coming.

As we continue to weave our way around the cramped store, picking out various sundries for the rest of our Sunday afternoon, Gangsta Boo makes a point to shake the hand of every other black person in the store. Granted, this isn’t a very daunting mission because, well, it’s San Francisco, so there are only two other black shoppers in the store, but Gangsta Boo shakes their hands and asks them how they’re doing like he’s running for President of the Minorities in San Francisco or some shit. It’s quite charming, and it’s also quite a scene to behold, like a quick cultural infusion of East Oakland in these otherwise gated San Francisco streets. They’re not used to us here.

That’s when the pretty black girl who works there strolled past us. Gangsta Boo immediately dropped his Hawaiian BBQ chips in the cart and cooed, “Hey, what’s your name” and followed her down the aisle. I know in scenario like this I’m supposed to be incensed by the flagrancy of that move, but I knew what it was about. He came back moments later, grabbed my ass, and said unprompted, “Just had to show my black queens some love. She’s not really my type, but, y’know, hadda let her know she looked good today.” Sure, I get it – not really the tactic that I would use, but I don’t make the rules. This is Gangsta Boo’s world, I just live in it.

“Did that lady try to stop you?” I asked, gesturing back at the white woman who was glaring at us.

“Yeah, but it was gucci, she’s just looking out for her people, and I appreciate that, but I told her it wasn’t like that.”

“Okay, buddy.”

A Life In Shambles; or,There Is No Such Thing As Glory

My brother posted this tribute to my father earlier this week. My sister sent it to me, and I read it with an emotion that can only be characterized as chagrin on behalf of both my brother and my father because: yikes.

First and foremost, I know that I’m skilled at assigning animosity to mere phrases that might otherwise go unnoticed, but that’s what I sensed when my brother referred to himself as my father’s “only son.” In a previous post, I scoffed at my father’s self reference to himself as “Father” with a capital “F” and how that is on some ways blasphemous because according to his religion there is only one Father, and that is “God the Father.” For my brother to refer to himself as my father’s “only son” likewise echoes the sentiment of Jesus Christ as God’s only son. And also it’s 2019, there’s no such thing as gender, so there’s no such thing as sons, and, guess what, I’m a son, too. So. Yeah. I didn’t like that.

There is also my brother’s self deprecating take on carrying on our father’s legacy. My brother admits he is not up to the task with what I read as condescending stab at feigned humility. But, mostly I like this admission

But how could I, blessed with no great attributes, match, much less surpass, a man of towering intellect who was a trailblazer in his field? I’ve taken part in no great historical moments. I’ve undergone no profound personal transformation, experienced no miraculous epiphanies. I’ve launched no enduring, influential apostolate. I’ve written no books, appeared on no television shows.

Don’t worry, big brother. I have great attributes. I have towering intellect. I have taken part in great historical moments. I’ve undergone profound personal transformation and experienced miraculous epiphanies. I’ve launched enduring, influential crusades of my own. I’m working on a book. But I’ll probably never be on a television show because we got YouTube now. Or, what I’m trying to say is: I’m my father’s daughter.

My brother inserts the expected platitudes of looking up to our father, something in which I refuse to indulge myself. He bemoans my father’s loss of mental capacities as an irony – I saw it from the very beginning as a gift from God. But what really irritates me is this fetishization of suffering. It’s 2019 – we’re all aware of white privilege, so for my father, a white man, to wax poetic on the spiritual trials of suffering falls flat. My father is a man who never really suffered in his life because of his white privilege but who caused many other people to suffer. To ascribe a sense of saintliness or nobility or integrity to the suffering he experienced at the end of his life smacks of the tone deafness of the Catholic Church in its ability to address what are today fairly pressing issues on race.

The fixation on suffering as moral redemption is misplaced both in this article and in the overall Catholic philosophy. I grew up with the idea that my suffering will bring me closer to God, yet when I went into the real world I realized that this philosophy of voluntary pain, of masochism, was just another way to keep women in their place, as subservient house wives. It is a philosophy whose only end is to keep you down.

I reject that. I also reject the idea that my father is automatically getting into heaven. To claim to know God’s will is blasphemous, and to aver that my father is in heaven is to claim to know God’s will. It is not humanity’s place to judge who goes to heaven or hell, no matter how good they seemed to be on this earth. Because the fact of the matter is: I don’t think he was a good person. I don’t think he’s going to heaven. He and I have unfinished business. When I go to heaven, if I see him there, I’m going to fucking stab him.

Bad Mood

I’m supposed to be a feminist. Yet here I am, self destructing on dick as usual. Oh, the other feminists would vote me off the island if they knew about all the shit I did when no one was looking. The company I kept. The dicks I sucked. I feel like I should feel guilty, but I don’t, because I’m a woman, and feminism is for me, even when I make bad decisions. That’s the beauty of the movement – it is what I want it to be because it’s by me and for me.

I feel alone. Which is why I’m doing these bad things in the first place – being bad is an easy way to feel a sense of companionship in a dark place. And, honestly, the companionship that I have in the feminist movement…doesn’t really do it for me. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to say that out loud. I’m supposed to belong and toe the party line. But, fuck it, I don’t want to.

The feminist movement is too bright and too pure for a monster like me. I feel ugly around everyone else whenever I’m there, like my ideas are too gauche and my face is too big. The only reason I showed up to the feminist movement is because I never knew how to abide by the status quo, but now that feminism is its own type of status quo, I’m feeling itchy in my skin again.

I’m not allowed to criticize the feminist movement. I made too much money off it to speak out about things I find to be trifling. I’m not allowed to admit that I like it when he grabs me by the throat and tells me to bark like a dog because I’m depressed and it’s the only thing that takes me outside of myself. I’m supposed to bark at him to get his hands off me and then I’m supposed to leave, but I can’t because, like I said, I’m lonely. I’d rather be with him without my morals than alone and totally pure. Unfortunately, he knows this, and I am losing more than just my morals when I’m with him, I’m losing my sense of self, which isn’t his fault because I’m the one who showed up here in the first place.

Feminism doesn’t fulfill me. Not the way ten inches of toxic dick does. Feminism wasn’t there for me with its riant platitudes and nacreous ideals. Feminism didn’t hold my hand and tell me it was going to be okay. He did, and this is the price I pay. Late at night, when it’s dark, I’m sick of being a feminist, so I let him fuck me in a way that hurts me because I can’t think of a better anodyne for right now. Feminism could never do that for me.

So. This is my eloquent cop out. My emotions and my need to luge through a netherworld of irresponsibility. I want to feel small for a moment, and he lets me be small in a world that expects me to be big. I want to shrink in his arms as far away from the person that I am supposed to be, and he will hold me, and he will tell me everything will be okay, even if shrinking into myself is only me, getting closer and closer to the person who will one day fucking kill me.

Mother Knows Best

“You need to clean,” he says brusquely as he hops in the shower that I already started for him.

“Okay,” I reply because what the fuck else am I supposed to say. He slams the bathroom door, and I proceed to gather together all the empty beer cans and arrange the pillows on the bed. This is something I’ve never done for a man ever before, and I wish that it were sweet, that it had been my idea, but, also, it never would have been my idea because I don’t like touching other people’s stuff because I don’t like them touching mine. As I put the yellow Gatorades back into the fridge and arrange the lube, lotion and deodorant in a neat triangle on the dresser, I realize: what the fuck. What the fuck am I doing and who the fuck do I think I am.

This is very out of character. In a flash, I ask myself: is the depression that bad? Yeah. Yeah, it is. Oh, would you look at this, I’ll do anything to be anyone other than myself, including cleaning the apartment of a man whom, yeah, I love him, but, no, I have never done this before. Or, maybe I’m not depressed, maybe this is what love does to a person. Nah, it ain’t that deep. I just want him to like me and I’m too sad about the world to say no.

I fold up the blanket, drape it over the couch, and sit there and wait patiently for him to get out of the shower while World Star plays on the TV. I don’t change it. I don’t look at my phone. I don’t ask him to hurry up. Instead, I think about the person I used to be: at any other point in my life, I would have said, “No” and walked out the door. But I don’t feel like being alone tonight, so I sit on the couch with my hands folded in my lap and try my hardest not to think about a god damn thing. Clear my head. Keep it empty. Just because I know if I let my head fill with thoughts those little demons will come back dancing across my consciousness. My self doubt. My anxiety. My self loathing. My insecurities. Keep them at bay! Clean his apartment! Do whatever he says! Be anyone other than me!

He comes out of the shower, lightly towled off but still dripping, and totally naked. I’m fully dressed, sitting on the couch, and he walks right up to me.

“Kiss it,” he says.

I kiss it. I wind up naked all over again with his thumb in my ass and my face crammed into the couch, cumming and writhing even though we have places to be right about now. It doesn’t matter. I quietly put my clothes back on after we’re done, and all I can think about is My mother doesn’t like me. Which is probably why I feel some sick sense of relief in cleaning his apartment – my mother loved making asinine chores for me to do as a kid, such as ironing the napkins and dusting the base boards. They were empty chores, meant to teach me discipline, but ultimately it didn’t work. She doesn’t talk to me anymore. This is probably why I’m doing all these irresponsible, self harming things. My mother loved me best when I cleaned the house and took my spankings. Maybe he’ll love me best if I do that, too.

I watch him get dressed, and I wonder if he cares that my mother doesn’t like me. I doubt it. I should just keep that to myself.

I see some dirty napkins on the floor, and I pick them up and throw them away.

You Can’t Take It With You

“Go home! Go home!” Some bitch with a British accent is yelling at me and Indigo. With a sigh of exasperation, I realize: this is not what I came here for.

I came here to get a drink with my friend and have a good time. But things went a little sideways after some woman at the bar kept bumping into Indigo. In a huff of frustration, Indigo politely asked the woman to give her some space. It wasn’t a crowded bar, and it certainly wasn’t a club – in fact, it was a fairly nice, upscale bar, so asking for some space is a reasonable expectation.

Apparently the woman didn’t take kindly to Indigo’s request, and made a snide comment. This caused Indigo to roll her eyes, and that’s when the British bitch (who through later observation seemed to have no social connection to the woman at the bar) started yelling, “Go home!” at us.

“We are home!” we retorted because, yup, we’re both born and raised in the East Bay, baby. But what really bothered me was the fact that she had a British accent – and we all know what the British are famous for: being colonizers. She certainly wasn’t from here (although, you can never tell with crazy people. I think it might have been entirely possible that it was a British accent she bought online and wears around town so she can seem exotic or whatever). I also noticed, much to my chagrin, the knock off Chanel purse, at which point I felt like: nah, fuck her.

The interaction eventually escalated, but don’t worry, dear readers, we clowned her pretty hard. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make here.

The blight of gentrification has been one that has taxed us locals in a pretty depressing way. This interaction was just the most blistering example of it, but we’re dealing with pretty much the same thing on a day to day basis: people who aren’t from here essentially telling us to leave. It’s definitely a bummer, mostly because this is our home. We are from here, we grew up here, and we’re still here. Yet the gentrifiers look at us as the interlopers.

I could wax poetic about the sense of entitlement that they have, but, meh, I have spent so much time complaining about it that I think I’ve tired myself out on the topic. Rather, I would like to state that I reject the idea that this is more their home than mine. In fact, if anything, these gentrifying interlopers are nothing more than drifters, wandering from city to city, without a true sense of home or belonging. I think this is what makes them such sour people – they had no sense of belonging in the place they came from, and we certainly aren’t giving them a sense of belonging here because this is our home. Not yours. I imagine that being confronted with the reality of not belonging anywhere in particular, with nowhere to come from and nowhere to go, would drive a person crazy. From my personal experience, feeling robbed of a sense of home has made me pretty fucking angry, but at least I have a home. As much as this place changes, and the streets look different, and there are so many new faces, I still have something they will never have: my childhood memories, my childhood friends. There’s something special about having known everybody in this fucking city for years, through thick and thin, for better or for worse. It’s comforting.

They have no comfort. And I don’t think we should give them one. Of course, this is why there so desperately trying to build a sense of home in a place where they don’t belong. This will never be their home, and they know it, which is why they want to destroy it for all of us. Because they’re bitter, sour people.

But they can’t take it away from us. As much as they try, those of us who are from here will always be from here, no matter how many people leave, no matter how many sports teams leave, no matter how many new buildings pop up, no matter how unfamiliar this place becomes. We are not aliens here. So long as we stay, we have something that cannot be taken away from us.

I am home, and they will always be homeless. They can have the nicest houses in the city, but they will never have a home. Not while I’m here.