Monday, February 17, 2014

"Innocent" by Daphne Horton - 2013 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

2013 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist


by Daphne Horton

Sayquan looked me clean in the eye and said; “You crazy”.  Coming from an eleven year old kid, it resonated and I was thankful that there wasn’t anyone around to laugh.  He’s the nephew of my boyfriend Michael, who must have overheard this from some mean chick in the family.  Everyone thought I was the pretty one in the neighborhood, and that’s how I felt about mostly every girl except myself.  If only being pretty in the hood was like in the Mean Girl movie where what the It chick says, goes.  Most would say, moving from a house in Queens, back to a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn is backwards.  But much to the bewilderment of my suburban dreamer friends; I’ve remained for almost a decade, happily; as during the days we said goodbye to Brooklyn.  I’m back post the birth of my Queen, an eleven year relationship with her father, and find myself stuck between the dumb pretty girl that I was, and the pretty stupid thirty-six year old that I am.  I’m living in a virtual world of a character such as Antoinette in Jean Rhys, The Wide Sargasso Sea, minus the opprobrious white man; the catalyst to the mumbo jumbo behind Ms. Antoinette.  Of all the white men, that one captures her.  The mid-aged divas don’t welcome my presence these days since they’ve gotten hitched up in every which-a-way, or several ways; and go to great measures to insure that anyone who challenge their post undergo great discomfort.  Its not as though I’m missing out on much, but it may seem strange that I stopped attending the annual barbeques, though likely; food wouldn’t be offered, the card games, though someone just may mistake the money next to you for theirs, the gatherings at a local mason lodge where you’ll know everyone by name, or the “perfect ladies only” work lunches at my Brooklyn Campus job.  But my neighborhood has great respect for money (as most people I know) and I always seemed to have it so saving the proper women, I hear that I am missed but I’m sure it’s the opportunity to say to an outsider; here’s our crazy rich girl.  I found a new friend.  When I pass the mirror; it tells me that someone will come along as Antoinette’s mothers’ told her.  Attaching to a few hood saviors is more than about making bad love, or unfortunate connections.  And don’t make the assumption that your knight will not be the one that needs saving as the rich girl Antoinette, as well as her mother, or girls like me.  I’m suspicious of every stare, and the chuckle of passer byers.  The paranoia is confirmed when strangers ask unwarranted questions such as, why so serious, and what’s wrong, or worse; am I o.k.  I can see interest in their eyes.  If I give any answer, and they are unmoved; and I’m pretty sure that they may just laugh; I’d be worse off than before I started.  So by the time I met Michael, I’d already learned to hate at first sight, expect bad love, to battle with my fist, but never learned to tackle a word nailed to me by the female nemeses of Brooklyn.   

You see in Crown Heights everything is desired, fought for, measured and coveted.  If Amanda’s hair is the longest, she must believe she’s the cutest, and if we do squats like Crystal, our thighs and hips will expand too.  An equal society.  I grew up there since the age of eight.  This self-proclaimed Aphrodite, dropped in from California into my sisters beauty parlor that I worked at on week-ends, equipped with an oversized chest which looked like part of a circus act, filled with semi-precious equipment for a girl on the go, and added to the aura of her proclamations to also be the product of a line of gypsy’s.  She was equipped with a deck of tricks, Tarot cards, and enticed us by offering free readings.  Up until then, we never went near her.  The negligee adorned instead of clothing Aphrodite also dubs as a prophet who was skeptical of my reading the Jesus bible, publicly asked me; “Do you really love Jesus?”  Though I acquired a B.A. in English Literature, I’ m not half a quick wit as most of my peers which speaks volumes for street smarts.  I am mistakenly brutally honest; most believe my remarks should be the focus of a reality show.  But since I’m not confrontational, I don’t have entertaining answers on impact.  I believe God prepared me for this moment.  “Jesus Christ is not your baby daddy, no need to fight over his love.”  Plus I borrowed the first half of the line from a poem in the Word Warriors anthology.   

It was fate; the elusive Michael made his first appearance at a barbeque directly after I brushed off his advances on a street corner.  Although I was charmed by the words; “I don’t do this often”, I thought; “Neither do I” and kept going.  I woke up the next morning with a sense of urgency.  I actually called him, something I’d never done before.  Inside I knew this could only be sexual; another first, channeled by more than an inkling that out interest in each other pissed the women off.   

When we returned home from our third week-end trip to the Myrtle Beach bike-rally, I left the suitcase packed for weeks as if it symbolized that the trip had not ended along my romance.  I measured our love by the summers.  Mostly everything in my suitcase remained untouched, with tags; as I was.  My tags are only visible in this town.  We took his youngest sister Shavonne believing the trips may broaden her horizons, and she convinced her reluctant best friend; the humble Lela, to get away from the Brooklyn culture for a change.  I was happy to accommodate them both; Lela’s mother is a client of the beauty parlor.  When we approached the Marcy complex, Michael announced; “Get in the back seat”.  Shavonne, and allegedly his friend complained that I rode in the front seat the entire ride last year.  I’m even called crazy at work, (although I’m known as the smartest secretary) but the work women (and most people I know) have teens from everywhere under command.  That’s one reason I respect them, but I’m not sure they have much for me; especially after the poem that I wrote about work which didn’t pinpoint the members I insinuated were retards.  But about twenty minutes into the ride, Michael reached back, held out his hand and asks that I come into the front; but I didn’t have the energy to save him.  I believe girls go through a princess stage, this was mine.

Shavonne possessed the coveted beauty.  She craved compassion from the sisterhood as we all do; and found it.  At an early age she became a leader of a new sect of women that proudly parade their male scars like New-Brooklyn army wounds.  I wanted to cover mine, but Shavonne and her army were skinning me to the core.  “Is that what love feels like?” mocked Michael’s middle sister.  I wonder if the question is truly satirical.  We were in that space in-between; a space Shavonne and her troops believe is a war zone.  The twenty-six year old Michael has a job, a jeep, and lives with roommates.  What the handsome Michael doesn’t have is neighborhood notches on his belt, or children; and that’s not fair.  I could see Shavonne peering at me through the rear view mirror.  I didn’t think to question her decision not to enjoy the journey with her friend. 

Michael paid the first gas stop, then woke me up to pay the next although his sister was seated next too him.  My ATM card was rejected when I entered the wrong zip code twice, so I asked Michael to use his.  “You guys pay going down, Lela’s share secured the hotel, so I’ll pay for the ride home”.  I bet they wished to fully accommodate me, especially Shavonne since she’s always sound asleep at gas stations.  “Hello God, it’s me Amanda; thanks again”.  I should have confessed to Michael that I lost my job four weeks earlier.  

We arrived to a two bedroom suite with two baths and balconies, one in the living-room; both facing the beach.  Michael and I both were at each other’s throats after struggling to stay awake during the fourteen hour journey that started at bed-time; 10pm because Shavonne couldn’t wait until 5A.M to start the vacation.  I began to unwind on the master suite balcony with Michael when I heard Shavonne’s voice say; “We need this bathroom; is this the girl's room?”

Jake found my hotel through Rachel, the bff that I met at the beauty parlor, and my connection to Bedford Stuyvesant other than the salon, and now Michael.  She brought her boyfriend turned fiancĂ© to the rally again this year.  The girls asked Jake to ride his motorcycle and I hustled them out the hotel, conscious of how Michael may react to the army base engineer.  He had already joined a couple of gentleman; my age, from his job, booked a few floors up that solidify the old soul he’s known for.  Suddenly Jake and I were alone.  He seemed smitten by me, but I found Jake the cheap date quite boorish.  Yet I politely entertained as my boyfriend and his sister examined from the hotel balcony.

I am nobody’s damsel, and dark as I am; I can’t be the lost white girl they call me no matter how hard I work to keep slim thighs.  Save that for the white colored Aphrodite; I’m sure she worships her skin.  I don’t spend enough time complaining to ever join the brats, but I find it quite hilarious how well the work soldiers fit in.  And I don’t understand the nomad’s bewilderment; budget grounded me in the subsidized Weeksville apartment.  I saw distress on October 25th, 2013; one block from my apartment.  The President of the United States visited the first high school in the Nation to incorporate an Associate’s degree; our very own Paul Robeson High School.  The President once lived in Park Slope Brooklyn as he attended Columbia University.  He was noted (criticized) to also stop in Park Slope for Junior’s cheesecake that day.  If they caption the danger of a president’s stop, the reader may respond differently.  Secret servicemen encased the area, with helicopters and snipers on roofs.  After a presidential motorcade circled the area countless times, six tanks incapable of speeds beyond a few miles per hour due to weight simultaneously blocked streets on a six block radius.  The President’s hummer proceeded down Dean Street; eerr eerr! eerr eerrr! eerr eerr!.  The tanks wheels screeched in a melodious fashion sounding like the horns in a marching band that rang above the roaring crowd, singing hope louder than the twenty-six churches I pass most Sundays scattered up and down either Schenectady or Utica Avenues; between the eight short streets of Dean and Eastern Parkway.  Forget the secret service, out of the approaching hummer hung two bullet-proof vested soldiers with aimed riffles.  “Obama! Obama! Obama!” the crowd chanted.  Even if the President’s regime fails, this is a symbol of hope for Brooklyn.  Our borough president Marty Markowitz was present.  When he arrived, a school girl amongst scores of urban teens asserted; “There goes Marty Markowitz, he’s cool”, and roars of cheers began.  The happy faced Marty turned away to dry tears.  Mayor Bloomberg wasn’t as lucky; his casual entrance was met with boos and jeers.  I began to ponder upon his controversial policies, and realized there were no personal gains.  He brought a halt to smoking in public facilities, awareness and regulation to oils and sugars generated in public facilities, allowed livery cab drivers to pick up fares in the lucrative yellow cab city district, and raised the purchase age of cigarettes from eighteen to twenty-one.  Bloomberg doesn’t hang-out in joints that allow smoking, can easily hail a cab, and certainly enjoys fine dining.  A friend of mine ponders upon Obama’s coming to be actually the Anti-Christ, the epitome of politics, the last king in the Book of Revelation.  I don’t think so.  Neither is “Nanny” Bloomberg’s.  I attest that these politicians are innocent.  They murdered John F. Kennedy.  Can anyone really pinpoint why he was persecuted?  On the October 25th’s 2013 motorcade, that innocent president didn’t stand a chance to be wounded.  Perhaps a bystander, but none of us are innocent in the battle of life.  Bringing love to a world of hate can be suicide, but I think I’ll take my chances.  And through witnessing true hard times in Brooklyn; I’m sure I live on easy street.  Concrete jungle where?  It’s not a campaign but if Mayor Bloomberg had disapproved of “Stop and Frisk”, they’d applause anyplace in Brooklyn.  I applaud in any case.

There is a Chinese proverb which says; a girl can choose to be either a princess, a prisoner, or choose to be herself.  “Amanda, do you know what today is, it’s the day before Valentines day, you know; national mistresses day.  I’m just trying to make sure that you ain’t nobody’s mistress.”  “That’s funny miss married Cynthia, but have you taken into account the popularity of the Aphrodite, such as Kim Kardashian; side-chicks are in honey, you worried about the wrong person.  As the old saying goes, every dog has its day.  If only blue moons came along more often so that I would have fitting comebacks because all they did was worry about what I might be getting on the side.  I finally ran from the young love of Michael, with the help of my community; I bet you can guess like whom else.  Google the conclusion of Ms. Antoinette’s islandy honeymoon.  What happens to her could’ve happened to me if I hadn’t doubled back to my room in time.  On the ride home, Shavonne and I had more than a discussion; which Michael dodged, that sort of started by me screaming, “Get in the back seat Michael”, and kind of ended with Shavonne shouting; “I know one thing, you better not come back to my mother’s house, and what I say, goes!”  I went back.  What the young lady hadn’t learned is that around here, nothing she says could ever out-weigh the power of the money that I used to have.  I took the high rode and allowed things to cool off, but you can’t run in Brooklyn; or anyplace else.  And I can’t help wishing that he, would hurry and come along, and let me save him this time because the clock is chipping away at the newly formed relationship between the mirror and I.  I can’t see anything different about me.  And If I can believe in politics, I can believe in fairy tale love, and even Santa. 

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