Driving directions to the beach house
(1.) Follow the best travel route for your Black skin. A route that passes through major cities and thoroughfares. One not too isolated and one that won’t drive you to rabid fear if your car breaks down along an abandoned road. (2.) No sundown towns. (3.) Nothing too rural. Just a wavering black ink line that skims the razor’s edge of safety to the Atlantic coastline. (4.) Flee the knotted heart of Texas. (5.) Tremble over the dashed Louisiana-Arkansas border, but don’t delve too far left or right. Uncertainty lurks in the grayed out lakes and woods on either side. (6.) Adjust course for the trees, their broken corpses littering the road in Hurricane Irma’s wake. (7.) Traverse further through this country made manifest. (8.) Cross the James River and the historical slave trail you were once forced to walk, hands bound in rope, as part of a slavery reenactment during seminary camp. (9.) Veer toward the lonely dunes edging the Virginia shoreline. (10.) Even though you want to drive into the waves, stop. Your destination is on the left.
Self-portrait at a rest stop in Louisiana
I sketch myself in charcoal against Bossier Parish. The cracked asphalt is my throne. My kingdom, a gleaming red-and-white gas station, opens its gaping maws behind me. History erases the lines from my body, so I slump forward. Sorrow arches underneath my black tank top, a hump of ill-gotten knowledge. I brush in penny brown for my skin. The strokes dig trenches across my forehead and stretch my oval face longer than what it is. Two quick hickory-colored dots for eyes and a blush smear for lips. Here, I draw a tangled wreath of gray crocheted locs to frame my face. One ear tilts toward the leather-skinned white men gathered behind me. Toward the woods that reek of soil rich with Black blood. Grief scales my arms and coils upward to wrap around my neck. I am Medusa in turmoil.
Photograph at White’s Creek Lake in Mississippi
My hair is made of ropes not used for hanging. Half form a crown of my crown. The rest fall like roots stretching to the wet earth. Joy radiates from the suns of my eyes and gushes from my wide-open mouth. Water laps up toward me like long-lost kin as I reach over the blue lake. My fingertips pluck life onto the glassy surface. This is evidence of magic.
At 8:25 p.m.(GMT-5)
My thoughts whisper, “You’re lying next to a dead man.”
It must be true because Kevin usually snores when he sleeps and because he’s not snoring now then he must be dead. Dead. Dead. I killed him.
“No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t,” I mutter in response.
If I do not counter each intrusive thought with the truth then the lie will take hold and I’ll be wrestling it the entire night.
But to be really sure, I rest my hand on my husband’s chest. It falls and rises. Kevin doesn’t stir from my touch and I debate waking him up. Despite my emphatic truth and my hand on his chest, I need to look him in the eyes and have him speak to me in a coherent sentence, or three, to make sure he’s not dead.
I can’t sleep. I’m waiting. For sirens. For gunfire. For gruff voices in the dark. For hushed violence. For the lock on our hotel room door to twist and turn. For my Black body to be ripped from the bed, fingers clawing at the rough thread count. For terror. For real death.
My daughter cries out, and my half-awake mind warns, “The men have come for you!”
I stopper the screams flowing upward like bile because there are never any men, but loud noises will undoubtedly bring them to our room. I pick up my daughter from her pack ‘n’ play, carry her to the king-size bed, and nestle her between Kevin and me. They both snore while a heaviness presses me down into the mattress.
I wait again. For the inevitable. For sleep like death.
Postcard: Charlottesville, Virginia
The stench from last month’s rally still hangs in the air but inside the CVS, it was like the clerk opened all the windows and a breeze came through. I was floating. I wanted to wander the aisles, but we had someplace else to be. Too many people watched us walk back to our car, and I held my hand in my pocket like I had a gun.
In three hours, we’ll be at the beach.
They did not kill me here, so I’ll be seeing you soon.
This story was a finalist in our 2020 Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction.