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Now You See Me

I had danced that night. But just to be clear, if there’s music, I’m going to dance whether that happens in the car, in Target, or in Safeway. That night, I danced smashed between people, not minding the sweat, the smells, the sometimes offbeatness of the person beside, in front of, behind me. We were all there for the same reason: to enjoy Rev Run reminding us that he is so old school.

He is so old school. So am I. Listen, you don’t want to mess with me when it comes to remembering obscure lyrics to old school songs. Man, that night was fun. There was so much wine, so much sangria (are they the same thing?). I don’t know how I got to the end of the night only having had a few sips. Actually, I do know; it was the music. I was too busy with the music.

There were police officers at the exits, probably because the crowd was large and because there was alcohol. Melanie asked Poppy to carry her wine out for her because the cops won’t stop a white woman. Poppy said something like, You don’t think they’ll stop me with a big ass glass of wine? Tonya had a quizzical look too. I smiled. Melanie smiled. We knew. Adult delinquent that she is, Poppy said sure, fill ’er up. Oh, don’t look at me like that. We’re four grown women fully aware that we aren’t supposed to take the wine out. We were wrong, sure, can’t argue that. We weren’t buzzed, no one was drunk, just carefree, enjoying the California night, walking back to our hotels.

We walked out together. Poppy walked by the cops and received nary a glance. Melanie walked out and immediately an officer was upon her, asking her to dump her drink because, you see, it’s not allowed outside the party area. Oh. Maybe he thought Poppy had water. I can’t remember whose drink was dark. Does it matter? They both had cups. It’s to be assumed they both had wine coming out of a party serving wine.

I’ve been detained before. I’ve been questioned. I’ve been followed and harassed and I’ve been eyed suspiciously. Hell, I’ve been outright accused. But this was the first time it happened with people who aren’t black, who don’t experience this treatment regularly. They know it exists and they know it happens. But witnessing it firsthand, realizing that your black friends adjust their behavior because they know what’s coming? That’s what I’ve been thinking about incessantly. I don’t want to be the reason they know for sure the stories they hear are not trumped up. And yet, I am part of the reason. My skin color makes me part of the reason.

And then Tonya asked what I didn’t want to address: How did you know they would stop you? I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want my white friends to know how naked I felt, how exposed, with their seeing, their knowing, how it feels to anticipate behavior from someone else. Melanie looked at Tonya like she had two heads, which actually pissed me off because I know Tonya. She is aware. She is smart. She knows shit like this happens. But when it’s thrust into your face and rubbed into your eyes, all you can do is question. How did you know they would stop you? You KNEW they would.

We just know.

I thought Tonya was going to walk back there and tell those cops what she thought about this bullshit, she spun around so fast. It was like a flash of grenades going off inside me, bombs that hit fast and hard, then rained down in my insides, causing pinpricks of sweat under my arms. I knew she absolutely could go back and say something, our wrongness for purposely taking the drinks out becoming moot. It never crossed my mind to contest Melanie’s poured out wine. It never occurred to me because it’s simply not something I, as a black woman, would dare to do. I knew Melanie would be stopped and I knew I would keep walking.

I started walking.

The grenades are still going off, alarms are ringing in my head. Keep walking, Tonya. Please don’t go back, because I can neither leave you here to contend with what I’m used to any more than I can continue to walk away. It feels like someone came behind me and put a cloak over my head, draped it around my body. There are weights at the shoulder seams that force my neck south, slow my gait, make me feel decrepit, tired from dealing with the same shit, the same shit, repeatedly, continuously, lesser, worse. The hood keeps falling forward as I look at my white friends. It falls with every step, making it darker, darker. If I close my eyes they’ll be invisible. It’s funny. I vacillate between wanting to be seen, noticed, feeling like my very presence, because I’m black, is so often overlooked. And yet, this time, because I am Melanie and she is me, we were seen. Oh, but how I wish we could have strode out and not been noticed. But then it’s not fair, regardless of color, to expect to only be seen when good.

I am good. Can you not tell just by looking at me? I want it to be written on me, tattooed into my skin this one is a good one; don’t let the color make you think differently.

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Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m immune to things happening just because I’m black. Once, in the subway, I was stopped because the officer said I hadn’t swiped my card. As a regular on the train, I know it’s unnecessary to let the turnstile close behind each person. You simply tap your card. Whether it closes doesn’t matter; what matters is that your card is read. A white man went through, then two white women, me, and another white woman behind me. None of us let the gate close. The officer walked up to me and asked to see my card so that he could verify I had paid because I was so close to the woman ahead of me. I still remember the grenades, like synapses in my brain, flashing. Head fireworks. I heard them. They nearly drowned out the two white women who protested on my behalf. “You didn’t stop me, and I nearly stepped on her heels.” I hated that I needed them to tell someone else that I was good, to vouch for me, to see past black.

The night of the wine, when the officer stopped Melanie, the atmosphere changed immediately. The previously jovial night was sullied now with the soot of reality. It inserted itself on our lenses, then smeared its icky black goo into our beings. I am black inside and out.

I am forever tainted. By this, by everything, by too much.

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