Affection That Does Not Withold

Do not touch a black woman’s hair. That unspoken rule of law zips through my brain as I feel his palm glide over my kinks. But somehow, I do not care. I do not stop kissing him. In fact, I kiss him harder. I do not pause to reprimand him, as I’ve done to some men before. Something about him is different. Maybe something about me is different now, too. 

Later that night, love drunk and disheveled, he reaches for my hand. The lights are still on. CNN serves as white noise in the background. We have stayed up past our bedtime, fooling around like high schoolers in our parents’ basement. Except now we are two adults in my apartment, and there is nothing to hide. It is quiet as we both catch our breath. In that moment, I feel sure of something about him and his staying power. I look down at our two hands intertwined. Then I turn to him and say, “This is going to become a thing.” 

“This as in us?” he asks.


“Oh, absolutely.”

He reaches for my hand and kisses it twice.

He is ready in a way that I’ve never witnessed up close, unwavering in his conviction that there is something solid brewing between us and we should bet the house on it. He’s right. And yet I worry I will make a mess of things and prove myself to be unlovable once all of my layers are revealed. Somehow I completely trust him. I’m still learning, however, to trust myself. 

Perhaps that’s why I have spent the greater fraction of my twenties tethering myself to emotionally unavailable men. I have not had to show up this whole and naked before. My therapist tells me that I am used to emotional boundaries, always aware of the lines and just how much I can color within them. This was born, and later crystallized, from dating men with guarded hearts. Men with too much of a penchant for the bottle. Men who were madly in love with other women and could only see me as their sweet escape. All of these circumstances presented a different ilk of red tape, and I knew I could only get so close.

There was something so exquisitely safe and broken about that.  

But, with him, there aren’t boundaries. There are no lines. Our limitlessness comes to life during three-hour phone calls. Debates about the Oxford comma. Strolls through Old Town with our hands interlocked. Couch conversations where he tells me about the father he’s only met twice. Confessions about the fractures in my sexual history. Stories about his early days in the Navy. Kisses at the bar. Kisses on cobblestone sidewalks. Kisses in the elevator on the way up to my apartment. Kisses and more kisses, long and lingering, making temples out of one another’s lips. Kisses that serve as the preamble to nights where I stare into his eyes for so long that I see my own half-dressed reflection.

His affection is the kind that does not withhold. It makes me feel like this relationship could blossom and bloom and stretch and roar.

There is something so exquisitely frightening and beautiful about that.

Up until this point I have been drawn to uncertainty, to flashes of tenderness, to men whose affections would spark, only to be snuffed out on short notice. Up until this point I have hooked myself to men who were not ready for a Sunday kind of love. Maybe up until this point, I wasn’t ready either. 

But, something about him is different.

Maybe something about me is different now, too.


Black Girl, Interrupted

Something about him gives me pause and makes me drop my fork mid-bite. He’s standing at the soda machine, pouring cup after cup of water and gulping it down. I don’t want to feel uneasy or afraid – maybe he is just a thirsty guy in need of some hydration after a hard day of work. But, I’ve lived long enough to know that my gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

When he drops the cup into the trash and exits the restaurant, I breathe a silent sigh of relief. But once it’s my turn to leave, I catch a glimpse of him again, this time standing at the bus stop. My feet move more briskly; my strides become intentional. And then I hear “Hey!” Short pause. “Hey!” Again. This time louder. My heels start hitting the pavement faster. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclick. “Hey, Fantasia!” (I presume because that’s his closest reference to a woman with a haircut like mine). By the time he yells it again, I’m jetting down the stairs to the metro, peeking over my right shoulder to ensure he’s not there.

He’s not.

And, then I begin to tell myself that maybe I just made it all up. Maybe it was all in my head. Of course he wasn’t going to hurt me. Maybe he wasn’t even talking to me. But, then a more strident internal voice disturbs my misgivings. That voice tells me what I know to be true.

My gut is an accurate compass. It hasn’t ever led me astray.

I don’t feel relaxed again until I’m on the train, unwrapping my scarf and settling in for the trip to Eastern Market. But, by then, my evening has been both punctured and punctuated by that memory. All of my excitement to go on a solo date and attend Morgan Jerkins’ book signing has disintegrated into thin air.

Later that night, Morgan talks about being a black woman in the world. I lean over in my chair, nodding and smiling, trying to inhale all of her black girl magic for a moment in the future when I know I’ll need it. She tells us about a time when she interviewed Claudia Rankine and asked the poet how she deals with microaggressions and other weights of black womanhood. What is her armor made of? How does she wake up every day and get ready for the world?

“It’s not that I have to prepare for the world. It’s that the world interrupts me.”

This is what Claudia tells her. It’s the first time during the hourlong book talk that I whip out my phone and type the two sentences into my notes section.

Because isn’t that what so much, too much, of being a black woman is? Interruption. Intrusion. Folks sticking their feet out and tripping you while you are simply trying to hit your stride.

I’ve been deep in my thoughts and thick in my feelings lately, stuck in my own head and unsure of how to spill it out on paper. I’ve been thinking about my womanhood–how I strive to move through the world and how often that momentum is thwarted by people who never even think twice about it. People who don’t care to think twice about it. People who don’t have to think twice about it.

Perhaps my presence is radical. It upsets the balance.

Perhaps my presence is enigmatic. It defies understanding.

Perhaps my presence is infuriating. It incites enmity.

Perhaps my presence is majestic. It demands respect.

Perhaps my presence is worrisome. It unearths insecurity.

Perhaps my presence is overlooked. It paralyzes compassion.

Perhaps my presence is human. It reflects the world.

Yes, I yearn to glide through this life without any more of the breaches or bullshit. But, now I know that there is no armor or bulletproof vest that will save me. There is no formula or process to follow. There is not one way to prepare for the many interruptions to come. My momentum is predicated far less on preparation and far more on resilience. Perhaps that is both the power and plight of being a black woman.