Sunday, May 31, 2020

“I’m Not A Kid Anymore” by Melissa A. Matthews - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

I’m Not A Kid Anymore


Melissa A. Matthews

“Back in the day when I was young, I’m not a kid anymore
But some days, I sit and wish I was a kid again”--- Ahmad

Utica Avenue was concrete and Caribbean accents. As long as I’d known myself, it was a long stretch littered with roti shops and dollar vans, always abuzz. The ‘U’ never did make an “uh” sound. Always, and I do mean, always an “OO” sound ...”OOTICA, OOTICA,” the Jamaican, or sometimes, Haitian heavy-tongued dollar-van drivers would bellow. I often suspected that some of them—-those heavy-tongued men—- were neither Jamaican or Haitian or Caribbean at all. They were just Brooklyn boys who grew up knowing it, hearing it —-it just was—-”OOTICA.” It was never up for debate, it just was.

On this particular night—-early morning—- though, I saw none of them. At least not in their dollar vans. Utica avenue was desolate.  The night was still but clear. It was one of those interesting nights before fall folds itself neatly into winter where it was warm. Warm for November. I believe I was there for Thanksgiving break from college.

Spun out into the road in knee high boots, a low-cut top, and a miniskirt. If there was a chill in the air, the speed I was walking away from the site of the accident—-a climax point in an already horrible night—-dissipated it. I just needed to get away. It was probably about 2 a.m., all of the roti shops and car garages were long closed. It was a scene from an old western; walking uphill without a sign of life, a tumbleweed could’ve passed me by and I would not have been shocked.

I’d managed to unlock the passenger side door and untangle his old decrepit fingers from my thigh as he crashed head on into the car in the intersection.  I ran away. I ran in those five inch heels as if my life depended it on it. Though, I could still hear him quarreling with the other driver about whose fault it was. I couldn’t stop to assure the other driver that it was indeed this dirty old man’s fault because I didn’t want to risk getting stuck there. I ran until their accents faded into the wind.

How I’d ended up shoved into the front seat of an old iron cab with a decrepit and creepy old man that insisted that I sit in the front seat, whose roaming hand trembled its way to my thigh and lost control of the wheel into the luckiest accident of my life, was a blur.

My gut told me to stay home. My mother told me to stay home. My ancestors whispered into my ear several times to stay home—-each time I turned back for a forgotten item. First keys, then I.D., then cash to travel. The night was doomed from the beginning.

The quasi-friend/ acquaintance/ my sister’s friend  who was desperate to hang out with anyone who was in town, called me so many times in a row that I lost the will and resolve to say no. I should’ve lost the will to answer my phone, but that’s a conversation for another day. I felt compelled.

I was compelled to leave my comfort zone of Brooklyn and take the 2 train to another train all the way up to BBQ’s in Chelsea. I’ve always hated that place—-the restaurant. Just to find that this friend had forgotten her ID. We’d then be seen gathering ourselves in Taco Bell. of all places, where she’d accidentally squirt hot sauce in my eye.

A friend of hers, who was supposed to be meeting us at BBQ’s decided to stay inside despite her not having her I.D. We waited for him in the Taco Bell because that made all of the sense in the world to her.

An hour or so of washing my eye out with cold water, we were back on the 2 train to BK in silence. No good time was had. No laughs, no entertainment, no vibe.

 She insisted I get off at her stop with her and take a taxi from there. I thought we’d get to her house and she’d let me in to call and wait for a cab.

She had other ideas. 

She stopped a random gypsy cab with a shaky looking old man driving. It was one of those old iron cars. The ones anyone driving a new car stays clear of for fear that in an accident, it would be unharmed but their car would be totaled.

It was a gold-ish color, but rust had begun to settle into the paint. It was old and rusty-looking, like it’s driver.

Neither of them looked safe or inspired confidence.

I said “Umm,no!”

She ignored my protests and guided my shoulders toward the car. We walked to the back door.  The driver stuck his head out to insist I get in the front. I was still reaching for the back door’s handle when she ushered me to the passenger side and virtually shoved me in the car. My entire body tensed. I just wanted to call a cab from a service that  I knew. I just wanted to climb into my bed. I had no idea why she just wouldn’t let me wait in her apartment for a reliable taxi.

That was the last time I hung out with her.

I had my eyes trained on the steps of the brownstone building that housed her apartment. I’d always admired those old brownstones. They were regal and stately, they seemed to stand the test of time.

I studied the steps. I watched as she maneuvered her long, lean frame between the heavy-looking doors. My eyes darted to the large windows on the top floor.

There were striped bed sheets hanging in the window. The striped rainbow pattern danced across each of the big windows facing the street.

My eyes, still burning from the hot sauce, began to drift. A hand landing on my thigh, woke me all the way up. I moved the hand and yet, it kept finding its way through tremors onto my supple skin.

It was cracked and dry. The smell of Bengay and Vapor rub wafted through the car.

We were locked in a battle with me moving the hand and it returning for at least two minutes before the car shook violently. I looked up and we’d hit another vehicle.

He attempted to lock me in the car as he went to talk to the other driver. As soon as his back turned I unlocked the door and took off running. I didn’t know quite where I was but I knew this was Utica Avenue.

I remember thinking it could get no worse than this. There I was, walking along an abandoned Utica Avenue in my skimpiest outfit without a human being in sight and only empty storefronts. I tried to calm myself by the thought that a bus stop with at least one other person or a  taxi would be just up ahead. There were a lot of up aheads and no lit bus stops or taxis.

I lost myself in thought. I longed to be a kid again. I imagined a magical dollar van appearing out of nowhere.  A van full of people on their way to wherever people went at that hour. A heavy-tongued man yelling “OOTICA, OOTICA!” saving me from myself and the poor decision to leave my mother’s house against my gut feeling and commonsense.

When I became present to the moment, a car that had been barreling up the road past me, suddenly turned around.  It double backed and slowed to approach me. I didn’t break my stride.

This was no taxi and alas my mind and body became present to the fact that it could indeed be worse than the old man. This was a car full of young men. They were shouting at me to get in through a heavily tinted and slightly rolled down window.

I started a light jog. A door flung open. I sprinted up the next half block. There was a streetlight shining brightly there and a bus stop. As the light got closer, whoever was behind me slowed. The sight of a crowd of bus riders must’ve been a deterrent. Well at least the man and woman—-a couple—- yelling, “Leave her alone!”

I ran into their arms and it seemed all of the people waiting at that bus stop formed  a cocoon around me until the bus came. We all got on and not another word was spoken. The couple got off at the same stop as me and seemed to walk in my direction long enough to see me make it up the stairs to my mom’s house.

It’s been a long time since I’ve strolled down Utica Avenue or ridden in a dollar van or stopped to listen to the chorus of “OOTICA, OOTICA!”

Some days, I sit and wish I was a kid again.

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