Shattering glass echoes in my ears, snapping my head up from my phone. Right across the street, the front window of Diaz’s Deli— the neighborhood bodega—lays in glistening shambles on the hot sidewalk. The store alarm blares out catching the attention of bystanders who simply stop, stare, and ultimately keep on their way. I hold my growling stomach as myRead More »
“If y’all weren’t so difficult, maybe it’ll be easier to get a man.”
“Y‘all? Difficult?” I repeat the triggering words as if they can somehow mean something else. They sting differently when they come from a man who shares the same melanin as me.
My co-worker’s boyfriend, Aaron, proudly sporting his old grey Howard sweatshirt, loves to patronize me for my single status.
My fists clench, digging my nails into my palms. I want to punch his smug velvet face and knock his arrogantly twisted lips off, but, Erica, his girlfriend, comes over beaming with two teal mugs. The sweet smell of caffeine assuages the fire growing inside my chest. Boisterous chatter and whistles from the espresso machine surround us in the tiny café. She places one mug in front of Aaron then cradles the other between her hands and snuggles under him.
“Relationships?” she asks after taking a hard sip. Her amber eyes lock into mine. “You should really open up to more options.” She nods her complacent, racially ambiguous face as if she solved a problem.
Fury flames back in my chest. A Black man telling me I’m difficult is annoying already; I don’t need a woman who isn’t telling me about myself.
Biting my lip, I straighten up in the lopsided oak chair.
“First off, I’m not difficult,” I scowl at Aaron munching on a protein bar. “And secondly, what is wrong with wanting to date a Black man?”
Unless it was someone like Aaron. I know his type: intimidated by a woman who speaks her mind, makes more, and independent–– everything a Black woman is taught to be.
I cock my head, waiting for an answer I know neither of them has.
“I am a Black woman.” Emphasis on BLACK. Ancestry confirmed up to 80% to be exact! “I believe in Black love.”
They shrug their shoulders, purse their lips, and continue eating and drinking.
Pumpkin spiced steam floats out of Erica’s mug, framing the very image of the more than common interracial couple–– a Black man and woman who is not black.
“I’m just tired of always defending my preference,” I say. “My parents are both Black and they managed to find each other and maintain a 25-year marriage. My dad’s an amazing Black man that adores my Black mother, hair bonnets and all, with all his heart. That is all I want.”
“Isn’t your dad like half Hispanic?” Erica asks, cocking her head with a cynical smile.
“We aren’t doing this again.” I rub between her eyes. “Still Black.”
“If you weren’t so picky then why didn’t you let me buy you a coffee when I offered?” Aaron asks, raising his eyebrow.
“Because I know what I like, and no one ever gets it right. I rather get it myself.” I grab my purse, dig out my wallet, and get up to go order my own drink, not before catching Aaron’s sly words.
“That’s their problem––so damn aggressive.”
I stop and take a deep breath, pushing down my jabbing annoyance.
“Woosah, Laurie. Woo-friggin-sah.” I breathe and walk up to the counter.
A barista steps up, pushes back his messy dark hair, and greets me with a smile that accentuates his five o’clock shadow. I ponder through the curved glass encasing the flaky and fruity bite-size snacks although I already know what I want.
“Tall hot latte, decaf, almond milk, two pumps of caramel, and a coffee cake,” A voice says.
My mouth falls open as I look up at him unsure if I should be impressed or creeped out.
“Um, ye-yeah,” I say, tilting my head, entranced by his piercing grey eyes.
I open my wallet but before I can take out my card he hands me a tall pink mug. Steam streams out of the foamy surface. In his other hand is a matching plate with a perfect squared piece of cake, sweet crumbles and all.
“Enjoy. It’s on me.”
The corners of my mouth slowly turn up into a smile. Weirdly, his warmth voids out the creepiness trying to invade my mind. I take both items. The aroma wafting from the mug smells about right.
As I head back to the table of ridicule, I can’t help but look back at him still smiling at me as he takes another customer.
“Look, I think I have a friend for you,” Aaron says, bringing my attention back to them. “He’s a Senior Financial Analyst, like me, and he’s been single for a while. Good dude, good money, no kids, loves traveling. His name is Andre.”
“Oh my gosh, babe, that’s a great idea. Lauren and Dre would be such a great fit.” Erica squeals and shifts from under Aaron. She sits up with her head propped in her palm like a teenage girl. “You have to go out with him.”
I squinch my face. The thought of dating someone like Aaron makes my skin crawl. But, a sip of my piping hot coffee shoots euphoria straight through my veins.
“Dear God, this is amazing.” My eyes shut as the perfectly sweet liquid makes my taste buds dance. “Wow.”
I look back at the barista ardently taking and making orders for the long line that has formed. Despite how busy he is, his bright eyes find me, shooting me a wink before moving to the fancy espresso machine screaming for his attention.
I turn back to Erica staring inquisitively into me.
“Hmm, Dre…” I say, taking another delightful sip. “I don’t know. Have I met him before?”
“Nah, but he’s seen you in some of our pics and occasionally asks about the bad chick who’s always alone— wondering what was wrong with you,” Aaron laughs.
“What was wrong with me?” I echo.
“Yeah, like how are you so pretty but single? Like you must be crazy,” he hisses and drinks. “Don’t worry, I told him you’re cool, just high maintenance. He said he likes a challenge.”
“I AM NOT HI––” I catch myself before mutating into an angry stereotype. “Just set the damn date up.”
Anger churns the almond milk in my stomach and sears away my appetite. I pack away the coffee cake for later and leave before another microaggression is aimed at me.
Later in the evening, Andre, or Dre as he prefers, reaches out to me. Rather than starting with awkward text interviews, we decide to meet for dinner. We meet at the bar at Remy’s, the new southern restaurant, and right away our attraction clicks like magnets. His bronze skin shines like polished armor under the lights above the bar. His deep brown eyes spark as I approach him. I breathe in deep his leathery cologne as he wraps his arms around my black satin dress, taking in the softness of his forest green V-neck and toned physique.
Appetizers in, Dre appears to be everything I am looking for: intelligent, good-looking, and accomplished. He travels the world, listens to great music, and knows his way in the kitchen. Every word out his mouth constructs the ideal black man I dream of.
“I don’t normally date Black women, but you aren’t bad.”
And, just like that, the perfect image shatters into thousands of sharp pieces along with my hope. My smile quickly turns to a frown. He takes a forkful of Cajun mac and cheese and smiles, completely unfazed by his words that burn my brown skin.
Biting my bottom lip, I sit back in the velvet cushioned chair with my arms folded.
“What do you mean you ‘don’t normally date Black women?’ And how am I not bad?”
A small spot above my eye begins to twitch as I watch Dre’s chewing slow to a halt. Satisfaction melts from his face. His fork clinks on the plate. He clears his throat, ready to spew some garbage ass response.
“I mean, I don’t usually date Black-Black women… that often, really. But aren’t you like Cuban?”
My eyes expand. Speechless, I scoff.
“And I mean, you’re different than the rest of them, you know?” He shrugs and grins.
I sit up and smile tight-jawed eager to know how I was “different”.
“How is that?” I unfold my arms and take a bite of my fluffy sweet potato mash.
His almond-shaped eyes search the ivory tablecloth covered in warm chromatic plates and red-tinted glasses for the answer.
“You’re not loud or hostile for one. That’s a plus. Most of the Black women I dated, at some point, go nuclear,” he laughs.
“I have my days.”
Dre sighs the sigh men do when you challenge them. His face tightens and nostrils flare. He leans in and grabs hold of my hand.
“I am serious. This has been the best date I’ve had in a while. You are truly amazing. Can’t we just enjoy the night without any difficulties?”
I also lean in, taking in Dre’s warm eyes, and lick the sweet cinnamon butter of the potatoes from my lips. With a small curl of my lips, I yell, “CHECK.”
The cool night air whirls around me, soothing my flushed face as I turn the busy corner of the restaurant. My heels and heart knock in my ears heavy with frustration from another failed date. Erica’s voice squeaks away on the phone.
“Are you kidding me? I don’t think he was being mean.”
“Um, he was insulting and I’m not gonna continue to date a guy who thinks I’m ‘not bad,'” I say, annoyed.
There’s a tense silence before Erica sighs heavily on the other end.
“Do you think you’re being sensitive?”
Unable to find the words, I simply hang up and drop my phone in my coat pocket. For about half an hour, I wander under the streetlights through aimless people and floating New York trash until I am back at the cafe still brimming with night owls.
A soothing blast of heat hits me when I open the door. I shake off the residual cold and walk to the counter. My eyes quickly scan the few baristas working. A small part of me hoped the same guy from earlier would be working. I sigh and give my late-night order to the cashier with platinum white hair, glowing umber skin, and a bomb-ass manicure.
My order of a vanilla chai tea and dulce cake pop takes less than a minute. I grab the hot mug and paper bag and sit at my favorite table in the back perfect for one single girl. The rest of the night will just be me and James Baldwin and all of his wondrous thoughts.
Not even a few pages in and my mind can’t help but revert to my disastrous date. Tonight was the sixth failed connection in just a couple of months. Sure, I should chalk it up to trying to date one of Aaron’s friends, but the truth is that this wasn’t even as bad as the others. How can I stay optimistic about meeting the right one when they all seem wrong? Or am I the one with something wrong?
“Notes of a Native Son; good read.”
The familiar voice anchors me out of my adverse thoughts. My eyes expand at the cute barista standing there in a navy bomber jacket. A smile stretches my face wider than I can control. His presence, and intoxicating vanilla and sandalwood scent, brings bliss to my dreary night.
“Hey. Um, yeah, it is,” I say, looking between him and the book. “You’re still here?”
“Yeah, well my shift is over, I was about to head out.”
I slump my shoulders as I shift in the old creaky chair ready to jump back into my book.
I follow his extended hand up to his dazzling eyes and shake.
“Do you want some company?” He looks back. “Or are you waiting for someone?”
“Actually, I just left somebody,” I say, twisting my mouth up, and direct my hand out across the table.
He smiles, pulls a chair from an empty table, and sits opposite me.
“Bad date?” he asks.
“Bad couple of dates,” I scoff.
“Been there. A good book is usually a good way of forgetting. Or a drink,” he says with a nod.”
The thud of my book commences the start of our strangely intriguing conversation.
We talk and laugh about the most random things–– from good Netflix shows to the best-hidden food spots in the five boroughs. What feels like only a few minutes turns into two hours.
“How did you know my coffee order?” The question jumps out of me during a momentary lapse of silence.
Nathan rubs the back of his neck and laughs. His perfect white grill flashes through the redness of his face.
“I took your order about ten or so times before and heard you give it to others when I wasn’t behind the register, so after a while, I just memorized it,” he explains then shoots his hands out. “Not that I’m a stalker. I just wanted to impress you.”
I press my lips to keep from laughing but my eyes bulge with amazement.
“Oh, um, wow.”
His charming gaze warms my skin and my heart starts to race. I never imagined I’d feel this way about a… white guy. I glance down at my boots tapping away on the tiled floor. When I look back up, past Nathan, a surly barista at the register with jumbo box braids scowls at us. She puckers her vamp-red lips and rolls her eyes before turning away and wiping down the crumby countertop. Instantly, my unexpected euphoria transforms into uncertainty.
“Would you like to go out… one day, on a good date?” Nathan asks.
I stare blankly at him. If he’d ask this a minute ago, I actually might’ve said yes. Now, I don’t know what to say. Part of my resistance to dating outside my race is the side eyes and the accusations of being a “sell-out” or a “trader.” We genuinely connect in a way I haven’t with anyone else, Black or non-black in a minute. But what would my own people think? Damn, is this what Black men go through?
Nathan clears his throat, snapping me out of my tornado of thoughts. His face creases as his gaze shifts.
“Sorry, I, uh–”
“Never dated a barista? Yeah, I figured.” He nods and leans back in the chair.
In another turn of emotions, his frown makes me feel like crap. Pure crap.
But, after a second, a smile creeps onto his lips, exposing his joke, and alleviating the tightness in my chest.
“Yeah, I was going to say a stalker, actually,” I laugh and playfully hit his arm. “I would like to go out on a date.”
“Awesome!” He snaps up from his hunch. “How about right now? There’s a late-night pop-up museum a few blocks from here. Interested?”
“I. Love. Museums! Yes!”
I take my last swig of room-temperature tea and throw my book in my purse. Before I can grab my coat, Nathan jumps from his seat, grabs it from the back of my chair, and holds it out for me.
“Thanks,” I say, slipping my arms inside the soft sleeves.
Our fingers graze as we make our way to the door. His finger hooks onto mine and before I know it, our hands lock. I look at him and smile just as we near the counter where the bitter barista stands eyeing us. The dirty counter rag hangs from her tightly crossed arms.
Her piercing glare bounces off my delight. I throw my head back, shaking the hate out of my curls.
“I know, girl! I’m shook, too,” I say.
A soured expression jerks the barista’s head back. She hisses her teeth and walks to the other side of the register.
Nathan looks between me and his co-worker with a scrunched-up face.
I open my mouth to explain our “misunderstanding”, but his words stop me.
“Don’t mind her. We went out once to an anime convention–– her idea,” he pauses and shakes his head. “Let’s just say it didn’t work out. She’s been giving me the side-eye since.”
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Shattering glass echoes in my ears, snapping my head up from my phone. Right across the street, the front window of Diaz’s Deli— the neighborhood bodega—lays in glistening shambles on the hot sidewalk. The store alarm blares out catching the attention of bystanders who simply stop, stare, and ultimately keep on their way. I hold my growling stomach as my plan to grab a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich before graduation derails.
The June sun beats down on my crinkled forehead as I watch four guys, my age or younger, speed recklessly out of the corner store, arms filled with bags of chips, soda bottles, and candy– most of it spilling to the ground. Mr. Diaz, the shop owner, runs out after them in a bright yellow shirt and his signature beige fedora swinging his aluminum baseball bat all around. Spanish curse words fly out his mouth like heat-seeking missiles missing their marks. However, he’s too slow to catch up to the young bandits who disappear past the body shop.
Mr. Diaz stops in a huff, walks back, and shakes his head at his ruined business.
This is the third time this month, and sadly, probably not the last.
The incoming 6 train roars above my head, snapping me out of my frustrated thoughts. I turn and run toward the steps of the elevated station to catch my train, but my fitted suit restrains my speed. The steps rumble under my hard-bottom shoes as I zip up, two at a time. My MetroCard swipes smoothly through the turnstiles that lead me up another set of steps.
“Stand clear of the closing doors.”
I chase the faint robotic voice up, sprinting even faster, only to catch the train as it pulls out of the station, leaving an empty platform.
“Nooo!” I shout, slowing to a halt, and exhale deeply.
As I move to the middle of the deserted platform, I peer back for the next train. “This just ain’t my day.”
Both the Uptown and Downtown platforms are barren. Car horns and tire screeches echo from the traffic below the train tracks, filling the emptiness. Another train is set to come in 4 minutes according to the digital sign that’s right on occasion.
Music should help turn my morning around. Moving my bag off my back, I unzip it and dig through for my headphones, pushing around my acceptance and scholarship letters, and dropping wallet in. My cap and ironed gown sit neatly folded at the bottom.
I laugh to myself, replaying Mom’s threatening words in my head:
“If I see any wrinkles when you walk down the aisle, Imma whoop your ass as soon as you get your diploma.”
Only she can threaten me on an important day like today.
The cushion headphones squeeze over my ears. I drop my bag down on top of my freshly polished shoes and swipe through my graduation playlist for the right song to set me back on track. My lips curl up as I tap on the perfect song.
“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what…”
My head bops and foot taps to the melodic beat. As time passes and the song comes to an end, my foot goes from tapping on beat to shaking agitatedly when there is no train in sight.
“I should have taken a cab when Dad offered.”
A swift blur zips past me, sinking my heart into my stomach. I stumble back as my eyes move between the shadow disappearing at the end of the platform to a bag of nacho Doritos and a pack of Skittles that fall and bust open on the ground in front of me.
“What the hell?” I squat down and pick the broken bag of chips. The blur was one of the store bandits. “Seriously? For a bag of chips.”
I shake my head and toss it back to the ground. More orange crumbs spill out.
“Hold it right there!” My squatted body shudders at the harsh voice that booms in my ears. “Don’t move!”
A white male cop stands by the staircase with his eyes locked on me. His bald head and damp flushed face glisten in the hot sun as he slowly moves forward. His brown eyes widen with every step and nostrils flare like a bull in attack mode. My racing heart beats in my ears like a drum. Fear wobbles in my knees making it hard to keep my balance and stamps out the urge to run the opposite way.
“I was only looking at the stuff this guy–” I start, slowly raising back upright.
“Hey, hey. I said don’t move!” The cop stops, steadily bringing his right arm to his side. “Wanna tell me where you got that stuff from?”
“I was saying, this guy ran past me and dropped them, sir.”
“Oh really? So, you weren’t in the corner store that just got vandalized?” He moves closer to me, only leaving a few feet between us. There’s a look in his wide, unblinking glare that triggers something in me.
“Why? Cause I’m Black?” My jaw clenches so tight, a vein pulsates in my neck.
His snarling face scans me from head to toe. Not even a minute has passed, and this cop has put together his own narrative about me.
“Look, man, I don’t have time for this,” I say, dropping my hands. “The person you’re looking for went that way, sir.” I swing my arm to the end of the platform where the bandit vanished down the other staircase.
An indistinct voice calls over the cop’s walkie on his belt through the scratchy radio frequencies. Keeping his eyes on me, he clicks it off. A sinking feeling grows in my stomach.
“Let me see your ID,” he says, reaching his left hand out.
“For what, sir? I didn’t do anything!” The fiery words rush out my mouth without control and echo in the station walls, surprising myself as well as the cop.
He snatches his holstered piece quicker than my eyes can catch and aims it point-blank at me. “Gimme your fucking ID!”
My hands automatically lift above my head, and my body shudders. My chest tightens from the air trapped in my lungs. I do my best to remain as calm as possible like Dad taught me when I was only 10 years old.
“I will get my ID once you lower your weapon, sir,” I say in an easy tone. “I don’t feel comfortable moving,”
“Get your fucking ID, boy!”
The degrading word burns in my chest like acid, but I gulp down my fury.
“My wallet is in my backpack on the ground beside me, sir.”
The cop shifts his eyes to my bag down on the ground then back at me, never moving his gun.
“Get it– slowly.”
I bring my hands down with ease, taking in a small breath, and move back slowly. With every stride, my stomach grows weaker and the urge to throw up grows stronger. “Officer, one of the guys in that store ran past here moments ago with those items. He is who you are looking for.” I kneel beside my backpack.
“I didn’t ask for your account. I asked for your ID, boy! Get the fucking ID.” Tacky pieces of spit shoot out from his mouth and hang from his lips.
I slowly place both hands on my bag while keeping my eyes on the agitated cop. I grip the zipper with my right hand and pull it across slowly, stopping halfway.
“Officer, I am going to reach in and grab it.”
He nods. The hand holding the gun begins to shake sending a chill over my hot skin.
I reach in the bag and grab for the leathery square. When I pull, something snags onto it keeping it trapped down. I coolly tug, keeping aware of any quick movements that will make the cop uneasy, but it won’t loosen up.
“Come on, come on,” I mutter and shake a bit harder.
“Hurry the hell up,” he yells.
“I’m trying, sir. It’s stuck.”
With one hard tug, the wallet releases from the grips of the bag. My arm heaves out fast, tossing the wallet into the air.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Three piercing shots ring out and echo off the surrounding buildings.
My body falls and curls up on the ground. I shake uncontrollably, holding my left arm across my face. My jagged breaths fill my ears loud and quick. In and out. In and out.
I remain still until my brain decides if I’m alive or not. After a second, I move my trembling hand from across my face and onto the warm wetness running down my leg.
Am I bleeding?
Looking down, a dark wet stain covers the crotch of my navy pants. Urine burns my nostrils. My quivering lips part, letting out a sigh of relief.
I glare up to the officer still holding the gun out over me between his stiff hands. His bulging eyes stare down at me in a daze. Smoke trails off the muzzle of his gun.
The incoming train rumbles in the distance, growing nearer with each tense second.
Smooth air flows in my lungs, fanning the flames of my anger, and circulating blood back through me. He was ready to kill me off of one botched movement that startled him. Despite being unarmed, dressed in a suit, and telling him what I witnessed, all he sees is a threat in me. Pushing myself up on my forearms, my body jolts forward, and I shout.
“What the fuck is wron—”
I stand over my lifeless body, watching as if it’s a movie.
A pool of deep red blood swells under me, absorbing into my crisp white shirt, and spills over the yellow platform edge onto the tracks. My barren open eyes stare into the clear sky. The overwhelming sight dries my mouth.
I look to the cop who looks around, scanning his surroundings for witnesses then lets out a deep breath. He grabs the walkie from his belt, bringing it to his lips as the train rushes into the station like a rocket.
“SHOTS FIRED! SHOTS FIRED! Suspect is down.”
Hard footsteps advance behind him, snapping the cop around. He quickly raises his gun in his trigger-ready hand in the direction of the staircase where his partner emerges.
A horrified look covers the young officer’s dark skin as he peers down at my body beside the feet of his anxious partner.
“What the hell happened?” His partner asks in an uncertain tone.
The cop’s eyes move between his partner and my body appearing to float in a red pool. Securing the gun back in his holster, he approaches his apprehensive partner.
“I feared for my life,” he says in a flat tone and continues past him.
The young officer scowls and looks back at the cop.
“What did you just say?” His irate voice eerily mimics my own.
A sudden flash of blinding white light washes out the horror movie, causing my eyes to shut. The sound of my heartbeat returns to my ears. My eyes peer open and sunlight seeps in. The cop’s sinister face goes from a blur to a crystal clear focus.
Trapped air expels from my chest as I consider my living, breathing state.
“I said hurry the hell up!” The cop’s harsh voice confirms I am, in fact, still alive.
I look down to the floor where I kneel with my hand inside my bag, realizing that fearful and fatal occurrence was all in my head.
“I’m, uh, tr-trying, sir,” I say and begin to tug. “It’s stuck.”
After one hard yank, the wallet loosens. My arm hoists up fast, tossing the wallet into the air. I tumble to the ground, slamming onto my left hip just as I had foreseen. Immediately, I throw my trembling hands back up in the air for him to see and shut my eyes, fearing my fateful vision.
Quick footsteps in the distance click in my ears.
“Officer, Officer! Hold your fire,” a voice yells. I open my eyes and spot a young Black officer approaching us. He reaches out, pushing down the arm of the cop with his gun on me.
My shoulders slump, folding my body over, and hands drop flat to the gritty floor. My muscles quiver as relief washes through me.
The armed cop yanks away from his partner and steps within inches of his face, bumping into his chest.
“He is a suspect!”
“We have all the suspects downstairs,” the arriving officer says, calmly. He looks at his furious partner with an unflinching expression. “I called on the radio.”
The armed cop breathes deeply through his nose as he looks back at me on the ground. He places his gun in his holster, looks back to his partner, and heads down the station stairs.
My body ignores my brain telling me to get up. Instead, my head looks up to the young officer walking over to me. His eyes hang heavy and chest heaves with anguish.
“It’s all right. You’re okay,” he says, reaching out his hand.
My lips quiver as the sight of the passive officer blurs from the tears brimming in my eyes. Slowly, I reach my hand up and lock on to his. He pulls me up to my feet with a firm grip.
The platform vibrates under us as the overdue train rolls in the distance. The officer reaches down beside me and picks up my backpack. My lustrous blue graduation gown crumples out of the side.
“Are you graduating today?”
My mouth is too dry and throat too tight to speak. I nod and look away, sniffing back my despair. The train rushes into the station, blowing the tears out of my eyes and down my face.
The officer sighs and places his hand gently on my shoulder. A small smile struggles onto his lips that melts away just as quickly. He opens his mouth for a moment then closes it. He pushes down my gown, zips up the bag, and hands it back to me.
“Good luck out there, son.”
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