I have cautioned myself against loss. I have given up a little of the dreaming.
Picture a life: the small apartment full of sprawling plants, music, and low, moody lights; there’s a refrigerator stocked to adequacy, a couple of oil paintings and candlesticks, some stacks of books. There are dirty sneakers and cheap wine in the front hall — the kind of life assembled out of air by two people in their early thirties who decided some time ago to throw their lots together. No flash, no easy money, just a little respite from the world. Caesura from anonymous cruelty.
We think a lot about the future, the past. We’re big dreamers we two, which like love is one of the things that binds us. Every day when the sun hammers out across the blue steel bowl of the sky we resume the thread of what might have been, who we may still be. We pick it up, rearrange it, and see where it might lead.
We play that game: Where will we live in 10 years, where would we raise children, would we do it at all? A house in California or a cheap Berlin cold water flat? Will this be the year we finally buy a Christmas tree?
I should add perhaps, or is it obvious, that this game is both an implicit promise we make to each other and a kind of construction; it is a baffle against the world.This game is both an implicit promise we make to each other and a kind of construction. Click To Tweet
And it’s in thinking along these lines lately that something else occurs to me; there’s a threat I should have seen before and many have seen before me — something written plainly enough. It surfaces now and again, dull and prehistoric.
It’s something we don’t often think about, something we don’t often feel. It occurs to us only when it occurs sharply — as a painful afterthought — often as a stranger’s observation intruding upon the plainer reality of home and being known to one another.
One of us is black; one is not.
Incidentally, people we meet are often unable to conceive that this optical difference is not a point of regular, if not daily thought between us. This is a phenomenon we find both amusing and, maybe, symptomatic, but is in any case one that fills me over and over again with a gray, vague sadness.
Yes, one of us is black; but that isn’t what muddies the dreams.
What muddies the dreams is wondering what might happen when we leave the house, where else we might live safely, what odds we would accept as an appropriate level of danger in getting in the car and driving, oh, anywhere.
One of us was crossing a San Francisco street on the green light — this was shortly after the San Francisco Police Department shot and killed one unarmed black woman and shortly before they shot and killed two more — crossing, as I say, on the way to the market (wearing a burgundy lambswool sweater and jeans) when a fat white cop in a cruiser sailed through on a chancy left-turn and shouted, get out of the fucking way. Then they stopped, and shouted again.
It can happen like that: banal but lethal, a cracking-open of the eggshell-thin reality between life and the chance of becoming an item in the news — someone else’s story. How easily it can happen!
This memory is only one of many, ours and other people’s, a bitter tide that never quite recedes.
So like many we’ve learned to be these clever, amateur meteorologists of violence. We’ve crossed the street, we’ve decided who steps out of the car to pump gas based on how good the odds seem. We’ve made this decision, moreover, unspoken.
Anyone with a passingly moderate intelligence can understand that this reality is so, that the blanket cultural brutality against blackness is real, that it’s wrong. The last few years in the United States have been instructive, for those who didn’t already know it, in the unique, pervasive, and sophisticated American architectures of racism: how certain people are made and kept poor, how life is stolen from them and how, exactly, that deck is stacked — who gets to die without reason.Like many we’ve learned to be these clever, amateur meteorologists of violence. Click To Tweet
Strides against this are rooted in a sweeping American tradition of violence against brown bodies, of containment, commodification, of pointlessness and bullshit.
And from the insistent, repeated, indelible footage of violence, to the language we use to talk about it, this fact is visceral. This fact is physical, its lingo intimate, a lovers’ tongue for everything from hatred to disgust to anger to fear, language for us and them, for me and you.
But in the language about bodies and guns and violence and the videos of bleeding and dying there is one other missing fact.
Yes. Something is missing from this language of the body, something that (like understanding, like compassion), I have been longing to hear. It’s implicit, not yet spoken, but it’s also the crux of it all: a cry for more, for everything, for something so small — space and time enough for love.
“Do you still like me?” either of us will ask, a few times a day.
“I guess I still like you,” gentle shove, smack of the head, a few times a day.
We fix each other mugs of tea; we buy flowers simply for the reason that it’s Wednesday, or Thursday, or Sunday; we keep plums in the icebox. Either of us would kill for the other, a joke we make, but it’s also true.
Home, its music and lights and the small, familiar constellation of daily tools — the intimate heart, the space for dreaming — is in its own way another kind of promise, a vow we make every day to keep each other safe. And it’s occurred to me lately to wonder, as we sit at home watching the reports come in from Ferguson and Chicago, from Baltimore (ain’t it hard, just to live), from Charleston and North Charleston and Baton Rouge and San Francisco and Falcon Heights, whether after all I’ve been making promises I can’t keep.
We’re conditioned — all of us, everyone who is or knows or loves or encounters black women and men — to curtail futures. To hedge bets. We’re taught to shorten imagining, extinguish possibility, put our dreamings to bed.
Last week some time, I can’t remember exactly when, I stood in the kitchen to fix another drink and watched the clouds sail in across the broad and lovely town — or was it filthy and drab. I stood exactly as though I could bear, again, to hear the news. It was hard, the way it often is here at twilight, to tell whether the light was about to rise or fall.
It came then like a flash — predatory, surfacing — the knowledge that without thinking about it I have adjusted my expectations, cautioned myself against loss. I’ve lost ground. Like all of us I have given up a little of the dreaming, and want it back.