What We Talk About When We Talk About Forever

li-penny

I’m starting to think about the meaning of forever.

Or at least your version of forever.

I am someone who seeks refuge in girlhood traumas. Some of these regrets have crystallized into telltale battle scars, markings I carry around like an old medical bracelet. These scars identify my weakness for sharp objects. Once upon a sleep, I dreamed of polished and poised personas crafted by the mystique of Ivory Towers, dimly-lit libraries crammed with intellectual masochists. I constructed an authorial identity out of the preservation of pain. I let my speakers quake with the wounded vows of all the saddest music I could find, poured over the lyrics as though they were guidebooks to self-destruction. For a while, I was the girl who ate darkness.

You think that you know all of me, that you have made it through the fire, traveled to the innermost circles of my neuroses, survived the valley of the ashes, rescued the sleeping beauty. But you were, and always will be, a tourist, too ashamed to claim your voyeurism. You have seen me at my worst and I fear that this is not enough, because a cocktail of depression and fear can be infinite: I’ve come to know that it is vast and contains multitudes.

I am the one who questioned you and your feelings from the beginning, even when you lavished me with mementos of our summer love, nurtured by a plentiful supply of pot and childish trust, tokens of sincerity draped in the sheepish vulnerability of a man who rarely brought girlfriends home for dinner.

I am the one who wanted to add you to my little black book of bedpost notches. You clung to magical thinking, the persuasive powers of optimism.

Your friends are running, tripping to the altar in droves; the brides believe that marriage is the holy grail of adulthood success, that life cannot be complete until you become someone’s other half. Then follows the high-pitched coo of baby talk and the baby showers and eventually the family photo albums and the Facebook status updates with Baby’s First Steps! I have to confess that such perfectly packaged suburban tradition makes me wince, even somewhat nauseous. I look at your sister-in-law, who has gleefully abandoned any ambitions to resume her journalism career. She is content to spend the rest of her days obsessing over the right baby formula and the right public school and serving as the touchstone for her growing brood, Mother Superior, Mommy Dearest. She has cocooned herself with the trappings of maternal bondage, tossed out her previous identity, labeled it as a period of distraction. But how can a woman pledge to keep carving out pieces of herself, day after day, year after year?

With all of the media’s mouth-foaming over whether or not “women can have it all,” doesn’t the reign of Mommyhood root itself in self-sacrifice, sacrifice that is deemed a life fully lived? Maybe it’s because I’m terrified of losing myself, morphing into a creature of routine, a life where creative pursuits are deemed frivolous and selfish. I want to drink my fill. Esther Greenwood was terrified of that damn fig tree and I think I’ve got one growing in my backyard, tree limbs sagging and drooping with rotten fruit.

I don’t know if I’d meet your expectations of what it means to be a “good mother” or a “good wife.” You want someone to take care of you in a way that equates matrimony with picket fences and five year plans, a sense of necessary conformity. I have a habit of scurrying off into the wilderness of self-imposed isolation when an overload of social interaction drains my energy. On top of that, I often wonder if you are ready for what comes after “I do,” when you must accept the fact that interracial marriage and the children of interracial marriage will be seen as anomalies within our very white-bread community.

After all, as you have so willingly revealed, your own father has been known to let the N-Word slip when he thinks that no one is paying attention.

In the past, I have had to sit down and explain to you, with the patience of an adult explaining to a child why he shouldn’t touch a hot stove, the racism I have encountered and the racism my family has encountered, dissecting every detail to the very last syllable, the very last intake of breath, slicing it open, magnifying it to the extreme in order to reveal its ugly, twisted insides. It’s something foreign to you, something vulgar and teeth-gnashing. This makes it difficult to comprehend that people without white privilege are people without power.

Even now, you still don’t understand. You tell me you don’t like thinking about the negative and the negative involves racism and racism isn’t my problem, or your problem. Does that mean I’m someone else’s problem?

How would you explain racial injustices to our son or daughter? How would you explain to a daughter that when you are not white, namely a young girl of mixed racial backgrounds, that suddenly your body and your hair and your sexuality become public property, that strangers think they have the right to touch you because they submit to unabashed, culturally-encouraged fetishization and exoticism? How would you explain to a son that his blackness is a liability, that if he looks too black he could be perceived as a danger, a threat, but if he doesn’t look black enough, well, then, he may as well not be black at all?

How would you explain any of this when you have lived at the top of the totem pole?

Another month and another wedding invitation stuffed in the mailbox. For you, marriage only means “settling down,” fulfilling that silent obligation imposed by your parents and their their parents and their parents before them. Marriage means a mortgage and someone to cook you dinner when you work late. Marriage means to continue the family bloodline. Marriage means never having to say you’re sorry.

For me, marriage is like the unknown depths of the ocean, filled with night terrors born and bred from the darkness of my heart. TC mark

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