Another black man is dead. My fingers are poised to write something. Anything. People need to hear. People need to know. But I can’t type. My hands are shaking and my head hurts. I have to leave my office to get some air.
Another black man is dead. I can’t think. I can’t think. IcanthinkIcantthinkIcantthink. I CAN’T THINK!!!!
Another black man is dead. Ok, today is the day. People will know how I feel. I’ll write it in 300 words or less, maybe 140 characters for those who want to sympathize but need it to be in small, digestible bites worthy of their acknowledgement and not a quick swipe. Because who wants to be inconvenienced by someone else’s truth. But I can’t stop crying. I can’t stop.
Another black man is dead. I scroll through social media to see what people have to say. There’s a lot of silence. Some people reach out. Mostly there are platitudes, grief wrapped in Hallmark greetings that are also meant for Paris, and Syria, and Orlando, and… copy-paste.
Another black man is dead. I think about my father. Tattoos and dark skin. Six feet and intimidating. Growing up, kids in our neighborhood always called him Mister. They moved out of his way. “Your dad is scary,” they said. I laughed. But when I hear that Terence Crutcher, a father, is shot down, that this “big bad dude” scared someone enough that they demanded his life in consequence, I think about my father. I stare at my phone and debate calling him. But I know I’d sob the moment he picked up the phone and I don’t want to worry him. Not today.
Today a white friend wrote about Terence Crutcher, about all the shootings. I am sitting at my desk at work when I read his post. He said, “I’m nearly at a loss for words, and if you are being silent right now, I can only hope that is the reason why.”
His words leave me gasping and when my vision blurs and my eyes burn, I know I have to get up and leave or my coworkers will find me crying on the floor. No one can see me. I am thankful I’m at work 20 minutes before everyone else because I have enough time to grieve. I have enough time before I have to put my mask back on.
I choose to be silent, not because I’m at a loss for words or because I don’t care or because I have nothing to say. I choose to be silent because there is something at the back of my throat that claws its way forward whenever I read that another one of us is dead. They’re coming for us. I choose to be silent because if I don’t, I will scream. There is something in me that wants to be heard but when I think about releasing it, I see the people I call friends shrinking away in fear. They don’t get it. They won’t get it.
I am sitting at my desk at work when I hear about Alton Sterling. Another morning Philando Castile is executed. Sometime over the weekend, in the midst of locking myself away from the world, Terence Crutcher needed help and caught a bullet instead. I don’t hear about it until Monday morning.
I read the news and my hands shake. Tears stream down my face. My breathing is labored. Every inhale is thick and rough and I think I may pass out. I have to be silent because it’s coming. It’s coming from the back of my throat, from the tips of my fingers and the bottoms of my feet. I feel the pain of thousands of souls, bent backs whipped, flesh torn, Nigger. I have to be silent because I’m at work and I’ve never had a conversation with anyone beyond how cute my daughter is or what I did over the weekend. I have to be silent because all I see are white faces. I have to be silent because I cannot be Her. I cannot be that woman who loses it at work because she is undone. I have to be silent because who will understand what’s it’s like to get into your car every morning and beg God for another day. You tell yourself, “God has big plans for me. So today is not my day.” But there are men and women who have their own agenda and today could be it. Today could be my end.
Nighttime is the worst, especially when I am exhausted. A thousand torments flood my mind. I worry that someone will think I’m casing their house when I walk in my neighborhood. I worry the clerk will think I’m stealing when I stop in the gas station convenience store to use the restroom. I worry that my SUV will break down and when I stop to get help, my movements are too erratic. Nerves slur my speech and my humor is taken for rebellion. “She was sassy.” Someone sees a “white” baby in the backseat and suddenly this car must not be mine. And then I watch the last bit of my life pool out of me on the dirty asphalt while my daughter sleeps in the backseat. Please Lord, let her be sleeping. And when I knock myself back to reality, I tell myself, “Stop being ridiculous. It’s just a dream.” When I read about Terence Crutcher Monday morning, I gag and wonder if I can make it to the trash can. His car stalled in the road. That could’ve been me.
I want to close my door and sit on the floor and let the tears pour down my face. I want to shatter my keyboard. I want to curse and scream and rage. But I don’t because someone may be there, someone I don’t see, and they may look at me and see things I try to smooth down. Angry. Black. And I could lose my job. A coworker walks by my office and without looking at me he says, “Good morning.” I am thankful he doesn’t see my red eyes or that I’m frantically pacing. He doesn’t see my panic.
I have to be silent because who do I talk to?
Who will understand my desire to cling to my husband when I’m the only black face in the room. “Don’t leave me,” I hiss. “I won’t,” he says. He doesn’t get it.
We talk about each death. He wants to know how I feel. A torrent of emotion rages out of me. I am raw. He sits silently. When I am done, I temper my boiling feelings with philosophy and theory. Here is where I roll out my degrees. I pretend we are two people having a scholarly debate because I want to rely on my intellect and not my emotion. But the longer the conversation goes, the more that falls away. Soon, I am the only one talking. “There was this time…” “And when I was 8….” “And he called me a Nigger because I smiled at him…”
And when I stop talking my husband’s gray-blue eyes pierce me. He’s been quiet for a while.
“Do you get it?” My question is pleading and desperate. I need to know that I am not alone. I need to know that the white man I married acknowledges history, and fear and pain, and racism, and justice and and and
He understands, yet he struggles to empathize. I don’t get it. We are both hitting the same wall but from opposite sides. How can I bridge the gap? How can I tear down this wall that I don’t understand. It takes a series of conversations before I realize what it is. Privilege. We are in the third year of our marriage and just now I realize it’s privilege. All the times I screamed, “I don’t get it??!” when someone treated me one way and he the other. When someone looked at me sideways and he didn’t see it. Privilege. I had never seen such a thing before.
Another black man, another black father, is dead. All I can do is crawl inside myself and pretend I am living somewhere else.
Another black man is dead. All I can think is that They have killed enough of our men. Soon one of the dead will be a woman. A bastardization of the law of averages. Will that woman be me?
Another black man is dead and I am silent because I don’t think anyone is listening.
[Originally written and posted on my previous blog, Critically Unhinged, 09/21/2016. Republished by Sammiches & Psych Meds, 10/06/2016.]