We’re alone now, I want to say

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By Samyr Ahmad

We’re alone now, I want to say

Her words sound familiar. I’ve heard them regurgitated in crowded classrooms and halls, and I’ve circled them in hefty books and articles, but in this moment, they feel too near for comfort, as if they’re coursing through my fingers and spine and eyelids, as if Ma and I have acted them out day after day in her studio apartment, but the fact that I still don’t fully know what they mean sends my eyelids to twitch. I wish she’d read me without all the empty academic jargon or cluttered four-syllable words, narrate my life back to me in memories and scenes, so I can finally understand what’s happening to me.

What one cannot consume, many can

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I know, too well, how Black folks navigating white spaces have had to prove their worth and humanity by flaunting their intellect. But I also know what we risk when we stop stunting, even in the presence of one another. So I dare not call her out. No snitching, not even here.

Right. Right, I respond, making sure to nod my head and open my eyes wide. I can’t admit my ignorance to her. The way white classmates and professors casually rattle off book references and theories as if they were as rudimentary as the alphabet puts me in the way of thinking that it’s common practice here to assume everyone within these gates knows everything, at least everything worth knowing.

That damn buzzing, the constant thumping overhead against the windowpane, makes my inner ear itch, but soon the church bell across the street chimes against my typing, and I think maybe He’s trying to tell me something: a warning I’m perhaps too arrogant to heed, or a hope I’m perhaps too cynical to trust. Nevertheless, I’m trying to be still on the couch and listen.

The whole truth is, I still, no matter how hard I resist or deny it, long for their approval

I don’t fully know why I keep putting myself through their fire. I keep reassuring myself that to be where I’m unwanted, or at the very least unexpected, is an act of resistance and self-affirmation, and other self-righteous pandering that feels good in the ear, but I’m becoming annoyed at how often I catch myself leaning so confidently on half-truths. The validation from Ma, Daddy, The Culture, isn’t, by far, enough, even though I want it to be. I want online payday TN them to want me.

C’mon now, you know who they are, I think. The question always feels like a timid admission of guilt, not ignorance.

I try my damnedest to quiet this longing, mostly on rugged, old couches, with affirmations and critical race theory and flattened guilt, and though it calms and lies dormant for days, weeks at a time, I have yet to fully purge it-hack it up into the bathroom sink like the rancid poison it is, or onto the threshing floor like the demon it is. On days like this, when I sit as low on the couch as I feel in front of white folk and I give in to the desire to be seen under their gaze and raised high by their hand, I wonder if other Black folks on predominately white campuses have managed to rid themselves of this desire. More important, I wonder if they had to swallow something hard in its stead or if they found something soft inside leftover in its place. When I return, I’ll ask.

Ma’s been at 315 McCandless for three years now, longer than I’ve called one place home. She’s folded her 300-pound body, 50-something years, and 20-year-old dreams into halves and thirds to fit into this 700-square-foot space. Three layers of earth-tone drapes adorn the two windows. Her king-size bed layered in a faux-fur throw, a knitted quilt, and a down blanket takes half the room, and a mound of pillows of all shapes and sizes sits at its head propped against the wooden headboard that nearly touches the paneled ceiling. The room isn’t cluttered with trash or untouched items; it’s just barely appropriately full. Every solo piece of furniture is wide. If they must stand alone, they must take up space. Every small object is multiplied.

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