Monday, October 13, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 4


Brooklyn was never a place I needed to escape. My mother’s house was. I spent nights in the park, after closing hours. I was more content with the feel of a bench then the pain of our apartment floor. Benny was always my mother’s favorite. He was nine years older than me and ten times darker. He’d left home at sixteen, even though you can’t leave home when you live right across the street. He started shacking up with this older woman, from around our way. Mom was upset about it, but he was old enough to make his decisions. Her words. She kept her disappointment quiet while she clasped the hush money he brought for her, once a week. I wasn’t old enough to understand how he could spend the whole day on corners and still manage always to be paid.

When Benny left, I thought I’d get to sleep in the bed with mom. We only owned a twin bed, and after I was old enough to sleep alone, she made sure I slept on comforters on the floor nearby, every night. Benny fought her on this. He said that a child my age needed the warmth of his mother. I once heard her reply, “Not if he looks like the cold of his father.”

I was a product of his hazel eyes and wavy hair
skin so fair
her son but,
you would’ve sworn she thought I was daddy
my daddy
the way she stared at me,
knowing our fate,
pupils piercing and soul full of hate

Benny and I had different fathers. Mom met his dad while she was in college and after a freshman love affair they ended up pregnant. Mom dropped out, but Benny's father stayed enrolled. Benny grew up with a dad that was trying to finish school and support his child’s mother. Textbooks and index cards with psychological terms lay around while he was breastfed. He spent his daycare days in one provided by the school and nights tucked in between both of his parents. After seven years of school, Benny’s father left our mom. Once he graduated, he decided that he wanted a different life for himself; a life that didn’t include Benny or mom. I was born three years after their split. Mom was living in the housing projects on the other side of the park and spent the years before my arrival trying to ignore the catcalls of neighborhood men. She worked retail and begged floor neighbors to watch Benny, when the makeshift afterschool center was decommissioned.

Without him, I wouldn’t have my heartbroken
without you I’d still have my figure
I was the essence of beauty
and you stole that from me

It wasn’t long before Carlos was a huge part of mom and Benny’s life. He was a man who continuously offered to help with grocery bags, walk Benny to school, and ask my mother on her first real date. People say I look just like him: hazel eyes, wavy hair, skin so fair…
Carlos was locked up three days before my mother gave birth again. They say it was the biggest drug bust to ever happen in Brooklyn. I’ve never seen him. I don’t plan on it.
She spent the rest of my life blaming me for my father’s absence. Whenever she went on tirades, she spoke of a time of broken condoms and the need for money, because of my impending birth. Her thoughts were never together, always fragmented:

“Whenever it’s time to provide they leave you.
Where are you now?
By myself, I have to do this by myself.
You look just like his ass.

Benny spent those nights covering my ears, but I heard everything. When I was old enough to walk out of the house without her caring, I started to sleep outside. It was during one of those nights that I met your father.

I took in Damali’s story, while Brooklyn buzzed around us. We’d spent the afternoon at a coffeehouse talking about his new book and my writing aspirations. We walked around Fort Greene and found ourselves on the steps in the middle of the park, where he begun telling me about his childhood. We were a few strides from where he and my father grew up and I could envision a small brown, but tough, boy holding the hand of a man he’d only just met.
My dad spent his evenings jogging in the park. He was the type of person to notice a child here, wake him up, and take him under his wing. Damali and I were the same age. I wondered where I was during his rescue mission. Was I tucked in? Was I watching the evening news with my mother? Was I avoiding homework, by singing with mom while she cooked dinner to the radio? 

I’d spent the night before flipping through the pages of Damali’s new book. After hearing his story, I understood the pain that sat between each line:

Mommy, I’m not him
Mommy , I’m not him
But she told me,
From 6-feet deep,
In my dreams,
You are him, you are him, you are WE

I reached over and touched his hand, “Wow. Did you see my father often, after that?”

“Of course. Your dad coached our community basketball team, he handed out food at the pantry, and sometimes he’d take us on these dope field trips.”

“Really, where?” 

I was confounded. I didn’t know my dad spent so much time across the park, in his old neighborhood.

“We went to museums, arcades, sports games, and several other places. He’d always take out all the young boys, an informal mentor to us all. It was cool, but those trips aren’t the ones that really resonated. The ones that meant the most to me were right here in this park. He’d sit us on these very same steps and tell us about the hell he’d been through and why it was important that we got out. He’s the reason I’m sitting here right now.”

The pieces of my memory started to mend. My father came in on most Saturdays, drenched in sweat and warm-ups. I knew he played ball for a few hours, every weekend, but now I knew whom he was playing with.

Damali continued, “When your dad died, we leaned out from our windows. I think we were expecting it to be a prank. We just knew he'd walk right back in and yell "PRACTICE" at 2pm. I watched boys of all ages look out into the courtyard, holding the tears back that your father always told us to use. Black boys cry he would say. They’re allowed to cry, he told us. No one cried. 

Rico and his boys were off the corner, the bodega owner closed down shop, and the whole hood was quiet. Out of all of those boys, about twenty of us were consistent. Sixteen out of that twenty went away to college and did something with their lives. Every single one of us came back home. We could have traveled the world. We could have assimilated into suburbia, but your father’s legacy showed us how important coming home was. That’s why I’m here. He’s why I’m home.”


The next evening, after a full day of work and stress, I was still recounting Damali’s story. The man I grew up with was a businessman. He boasted networking events, suits, and splendor. He’d never spoken about Damali nor any of the other teenagers he’d helped. I knew my father was a good man, but what I'd learned surpassed the notions I was raised with.

I was lost in thought when Malaki walked into my office, “Jai, are you okay?”

I snapped out of my trance and shuffled some paperwork, on my desk, “I’m great. There’s just some stuff on my mind.”

“Anything I can help with?”

Malaki flashed a smile and made his way across the room. Sitting at my desk, I was able to view all of his six-foot, slim, and chocolate delight. I wondered how other women were able to keep their composure around him, as I felt my hands begin to shake.

“No. I’m all right, I swear.”

Malaki took a seat in my guest chair, “I really enjoyed your company the other night.”

I leaned back in my seat and looked around the office, through the glass walls, cognizant that we were alone, “It was nice. Why are you at work this late?”


“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“I saw that you were working late, and I didn’t want you to have to leave the building alone.”

I smiled, “I do it almost every night. I’ll be okay.”

“I’m aware, but it didn’t truly bother me until today.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know, Jai. There’s something different about you.”

I started to pack the things on my desk, concerned that our innocent flirtation might grow wings. He assisted me, closing my planner, lifting my briefcase onto the desk, and making his way closer to where I was sitting.  He leaned down, I froze, “This could be incredibly inappropriate, but if I don’t put myself in proximity, I don’t know if you’ll ever have the chance to attempt something that you’ve always wanted to do.”

He was right. I pulled him in and kissed him.

I want to write
but my mind is suffering from withdrawal of your intelligence
You speak thunder
Raindrops falling from the tip of your tongue
Clouds in your daydreams
There is a storm in your lips 
And only I can hear it
I hold in urges;
of asking
every question I'd wanted to know the answer to
and constipate with them when you leave
you are the sh*t of dreams
the stutter of speech
the batting of eyelashes
and grinding of teeth
and I'd rather write for you
than to you, 
so don't ever leave

Perfection is not the word
Excellence, precision, flawlessness
No Roget's Thesaurus Synonym can cover it
I've searched for words to describe you
When English wasn't good enough
I searched for foreign languages
With words, that would come from my throat
That much sweeter
So that they could have the pleasure 
Of being adjective to you...

But last night...
last night you said the sexiest thing I've ever heard,
between breaths, 
you said, "Let me be your sanity."


You can find Erica's books, here.

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