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Saturday, July 8, 2023

"Dumb? Oh." by Alexis Nichole Haynie - 2021 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist


"Dumb? Oh."

By Alexis Nichole Haynie


I moved back home to the land of my mama (Jamaica, Queens) when I was 16. The thing about ancestral land is that the soul remembers the steps before the body knows where its going. I guess I was lost. And found. Simultaneously. A few strange mattresses and un/familiar bus rides later, I became convinced that I was no longer me. Some body but nobody worth being. Loved. I arrived as a little black girl and I ain’t get no taller. Did I grow?


I lived with my cousin. He had a name that sparked memories but not enough fear to keep me protected. He started calling me Brooklyn Style, like the pizza, because of my demeanor. I didn’t even know I was angry. My legs carried me between college classes and project stairwells so swiftly that I didn’t even see myself get grown. Everybody else did though.


“I ain’t never going to Brooklyn,’ I would always say.

“Meet me in Brooklyn, get off at Dumbo,” a voice in a bar said.


I forgot my own rules. I was reading a strange book a strange boy in my college English class suggested. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. By the time the train stopped and the book ended, I didn’t know if I was going or coming. Dizzy. I looked up at the stairwell I would need to climb next and couldn’t decide if it was worth it.

Then, a black boy angel flew like steps were too primitive for him right towards me. He hit the platform without stopping and ran like the devil was after him.

Then, the officers appeared on his trail. Maybe they said stop. Maybe they said freeze. Maybe they were talking to me. The angel was subdued. The citibike they intended to recapture was at the top of the stairs when I got there.


“This is why I don’t come to Brooklyn.”


My phone goes off with the turn by turn directions to meet the man with the voice from the bar. It was far. It was hot.


“This is why I don’t come to Brooklyn.”


The man made me follow him to various ATMs. They all denied him. So much for the date I had dreamed of all night. Women like me, men like him. We settled at the park. He talked. I listened. I kept a straight face as he told me the lowlights of his life.


“I have to meet my home girl at her job.”


Plus some other nonsense got me out of there. I never saw that man again. I would tell this story as my “worst date ever” experience. I never considered if that man was still alive. Or if that black boy slammed on the platform was free. Afropunk was beautiful, though. I counted the lack of trees in the neighborhood for my free ticket.

I thought I was too good for Brooklyn.

Brooklyn was too good for me.

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