CNF: Levels of Acceptance

I hear you out there. You’re enjoying your night, clinking glasses, knocking forks against plates, and murmuring pleasantries around the table. I wish I could join you. My belly rumbles as the pungent smell of cayenne pepper, lemon and garlic crusted, oven roasted chicken floats up the stairs, down the hall and through the small key hole of the door. I can just taste the thick heap of coagulated sugar sitting at the bottom of the Kool-aid container. 

From my perch on the opposite side of the door, I kneel before the hollow wood and close my eyes. I imagine the red ring the sweet liquid leaves as you raise your glasses to your lips and slurp. Tongue stained, teeth bared as ice crunches between them. 

I take a deep breath in. Is that apple pie I smell? Or has my imagination, overwrought with the need for belonging, begun to invent things? I inhale deeply.

Definitely apple pie, then.

I sigh as I sit back on my haunches, my damp hands pressing against my thighs. My stomach growls again and I turn my head. “And what do you think we will eat?” I ask. 

My brother sits on the floor not too far from me. We don’t use the furniture because that would mean we existed, should we mess things up. He is unbothered, or at least pretending to be, and twiddles his thumbs on his lap. 

“Something,” he murmurs so low I wonder if I imagined it. I imagine a lot. I’m not sure why. I make up stories in my head. I tell myself untruths so real that life doesn’t seem so bad. I turn back to the door and I tell myself a story: They’ll come to the door any second. They will unlock the door. 

The First Level of Acceptance

They won’t be holding paper plates in their hands to force us to feed on the floor like animals. No, they’ll have open palms and open hearts. Generosity will shine from their eyes and they will beckon us forward. Inviting us into their lives. 

The Second Level of Acceptance.

We will rise, eyes wide with gratitude, bellies growling, also in gratitude. We’ll follow them downstairs where two extra place settings have been polished and two extra plush chairs have been drawn. Everyone at the table will stand to their feet.

Are we equals or royalty? I don’t know, but I feel respected. 

The Third Level of acceptance. 

I will reach back and grab my brother’s hand. He’s older but I’m mentally stronger, I know,  and more determined. When we sit, they sit. They’re watching us, waiting as we pick up our utensils, and we smile apologetically, knowing, in our haste to feed our starving bellies, we’ve forgotten our prayers. They don’t mind and we bow our heads, though we are unable to take our eyes off the glistening food. After prayers, they once again wait for us to begin eating. 

The Fourth Level of Acceptance. 

We don’t sit in silence. Oh no, the room grows louder with mirth and converse of past indiscretions and future aspirations. We, my brother and I, tell tall tales and ensnare them with our dreams. Dreams that peg us as more than two black kids whose mother didn’t love them, stuck in the foster care system, locked away in closets, while the ‘real kids’ ate at the dinner table. They’ll look back at us in agreement. “Yes, you’ll make it out,” they’ll say. Their eyes showing they truly believe in us. 

The Fifth Level of Acceptance. 

The story ends there because I’m not sure how the night would go on, not even in my head. I’m never there to see what happens to the family after their meal is over and the forks are crossed. 

Are they crossed? Or are they thrown haphazardly atop the chicken’s carcass or the half eaten bowl of overcooked mashed potatoes? Do they disperse to their respective corners? Do the children help clean up the dishes? Is the mother calling out bedtimes and homework reminders? 

I don’t know this part because they retreat to a section of the house I cannot hear with my little girl ears, no matter how hard I strain. I lean closer to the door. The clink, clink, clink of utensils bounce off the soft walls of my growling belly. I stay there until my toes go numb from the kneeling position.  I want to get up but I’m afraid to miss something, anything. 

A deep timber rings out, the father is saying something in a stern voice. Voices grow closer. The stairs creak under lazy feet. Finally, we have been remembered, I think as footsteps pitter patter across the hall to the door. 

I scramble back, gangly legs too long for my body propel me across the carpet to the place next to my brother. My place they’ve put me in. The key scrapes in the door and I hold my breath, remembering my story, hopeful. The door swings open on old hinges. 

“You better not have been touching nothing,” the woman growls between clenched, red-stained teeth. She sweeps the room with her gaze as if to find something, anything, we’ve stolen, or broken, or to find us as if we’d somehow escaped. We shake our heads. Then the paper plate appears. Just one, for the two of us. 

Level of Acceptance: Zero.

CNF: I’m Not Afraid of Water

Note: I just wanted to preface this and say that I’ve capitalized certain pronouns for a reason. However, I didn’t want to explain to remove the effect until after it’s been read. 

Creative Non-Fiction:

 

I’m Not Afraid of Water

 

“I’m not afraid of water,” I whisper to myself and bend my knees. There aren’t any bugs or leaves in the water, that I can see, and yet I search and search. Procrastinating, as usual. I’m afraid, even though I know that The Sky’s the Limit summer camp is one of the safest places for me to be. I know that no one will hurt me here. They would have no reason to come here. 

They, the caseworkers, always came too late anyway, I felt. They always showed up after I’d already been hit, or kicked, or burned. They always wanted a status update after someone had already pushed me, or pulled a knife, or held me in a grip so tight I couldn’t breathe. You might feel like my anger was misplaced. They could save me. They could use their pen as a weapon and fire it in my defense. I’d be able to leave the wandering hands, and the wandering eyes, and I would be safe. 

Yes, you might come to that conclusion, but I didn’t. It’d been so long since I was able to trust anyone, if I ever could, and I know I would rather they be as far away as possible than to have them near with their false promises. Even I, at twelve years old, knew what weight someone’s word carried. There, standing at the edge of the pool, I wondered why no one ever gave their word to me and kept it.

***

 As the boat pulled us through the water, I stare up at clouds shaped like animals and flowers. The sun winks at me from behind them and I smile in return. Even at six, I know the sun brought happiness, healing, and warmth to the soul. I close my eyes and let the serotonin roll over my skin.

  The wind is heavy, here in the back of the boat, and I think if only a bigger gust would take me away. I think maybe if I step up on the small boat seat, the plastic rocking beneath my tiny feet, the wind might hear my thoughts and whip me up into its arms, taking me away from Them. 

“Hey,” His voice exclaims behind me, as if He read my thoughts. She yanks me away from the edge and my eyes fly open. The hardness in Her eyes, devoid of love, makes me flinch and shrivel into the small life jacket strapped too tightly around my tiny waist.  

“Do you want to go back?” She spat the words out through tight lips. I stare up at her, imagining fangs emerging from behind them. Venom dripping from their tips as She would bare Her teeth at me. She gives me a hard shake, “Do you?” I move my chin slightly and She nods. “Good, now sit down and stay there until I tell you, you can get up.”

I scramble across the boat on unsteady legs and climb into my plastic place, it’s one of those seats that holds a storage area beneath it for valuables or things that need to stay dry, wallets and the like. It’s supposed to lock in place, but He’d messed it up somehow and it never closes quite right.  

I peek a glance at my brother and his face is turned from me, I could see from the set of his shoulders that he was angry at me. That I almost ruined our day. Either that or he was desperately trying not to look at me in case he gets roped into my disobedience and They make him ‘sit down and shut up’, too.

 I stay there, in the seat, using my peripherals to look at the lake around us. I know I can turn my head and look but I’m afraid. I’m a heathen, They say. An animal unable to resist my instincts, and I know it’s true. Sometimes I get so angry I slam my hands down on my thighs until they sting. Sometimes, I’m so mad, I scratch at them until they bleed.

So, I know if I turn my head to look, I won’t be able to help myself. I’ll get up, wishing the water of the lake would take me up and drown me – not really but my imagination is vast, and I could see it. The water filling my mouth and pulling me down, down, down into its dark arms. I know She’ll just stop me again, grabbing me tight until her nails dig deep, breaking the skin. Little beads of blood would appear at the puncture site. It wouldn’t be because She loves me. She would stop me because my death would be hard to explain away as “You know foster kids, they’re just so reckless.” 

***

I’m standing in front of the pool again, having moved closer to the shallow end, taking a deep breath in and expelling it out through my open mouth. ‘I’m not afraid of water,” I whisper again. Duh, I’ve gone camping. “But that doesn’t mean I can swim, stupid.” I know it’s dumb, pretending I can talk to myself, but it comforts me. I am, after all, the only one that cares what I have to say. 

 “Just get…in,” the last word is yelled as I’m picked up and I feel tight arms wrap around my waist, I see it drawing near- the deep end. Ten feet of deep blue water. I shake my head and thrash, elbows and knees bending and jerking spastically. I’m small, although I’m twelve, and my brother is so much bigger than I. Long lanky arms and long lanky legs to match. He’s pretty enough to be a model, everyone says so. I don’t care about that, I just want him to put me down, and he does. 

 My head whips so fast as he catapults me into the air. My legs pull in tight, not into a cannonball, into fear. I hit the surface of the water, but I don’t see the pool. I see the lake. 

***

We’ve released the anchor and the boat is rocking in place. I want to get up from my seat, to lean over the edge and feel the water on my fingertips, but She hasn’t said so yet.  

Him, Her, and my brother are getting the fishing poles ready. A small white bucket of squirming worms sits at my feet. Hooking the bait is my job, my punishment, but what they don’t know is that I love fishing. I like to see that worm fly in the air and bring me back a nice little fishy. I like to see the pulse of the gills as it sucks in air instead of water. I just don’t realize how morbid it all is. 

One after another I’m handed the poles until I receive mine. I don’t put a worm on the hook, just tap, tap, tap at the sharp edge with a fingertip. 

“You can get up. Just stand there for a bit, let us get going first,” He says, His voice quiet, as to not disturb the fish. 

I hide my excitement and turn to the water. Lifting my pole, I pretend to fish, whipping it back and forth with my hands. It was made specifically for a small child. It’s tiny pink reel and lever fit perfectly in my hand. The pole’s long rod is pink with extended silver eyelets that hold the line in place. I swing it back and forth with gusto and this time it snags. I yank it forward a split second later without thinking. 

 A howl fills the air and I turn around so fast the pole almost smacks against the lip of the boat. My brother is doubled over, grasping at the fleshy space between his neck and shoulder. My eyes fill with tears when I see the blood between his fingers. I look quickly to the line hanging from the end of my pole. There, just at the tip of the large hook is a small piece of bloody flesh. 

Everything seemed to move at once. She went to my brother, snatching up at towel on Her way. The man came to me, hatred in His eyes. He speaks but I do not hear what He says. I can only feel the fear building in my chest, freezing me in place. With one hand, He snatches the pole, with its fleshy prize, from my hands. With the other He grabs me under one shoulder. His meaty fingers dig into my underarm, His thumb pressing against my clavicle and I’m off my feet. He tosses me, like a rag doll, into the air and my jaw snaps shut. 

For a moment I wonder if the wind has finally granted my wish, if I’d float away on pillows of clouds. Then I’m falling down, down, down until the water breaks my descent. 

I go under, as you initially do, the life jacket unable to win the battle against gravity. My arms and legs flap, I’m helplessly trying to right myself. The emptiness beneath me threatens to pull me deeper into the darkness. I feel something, a fallen branch maybe, scratch against my leg and I panic, kicking at it, at anything. The life jacket finally does its job and my head is propelled above water. I sputter, expelling murky lake water, my eyes burning from the strain to stay open and alert underneath it.

***

I open my eyes under the pool water, the chlorine stinging at the corners. I try to stay calm. I’ve been here before, but I thrash a bit, unable to control my limbs. Remembering what I’d seen the other campers do, I make like a frog. Kicking my legs out and bending at the knee. With my arms, I push the water down, down, down, hoping the momentum will keep my head above water. It does.  

I take a deep breath and dive my head under. I move like I’d seen swimmers do in the movies, pushing my arms in front of me and then back to my hips, kicking my feet up and down. I felt the air on my heels as I kicked, though I was sure all of me was supposed to be under water. My chest burns as I tried to hold the air in. Finally, there it is, the side of the pool. I grasp it like a life line and pull myself up. 

My brother’s there, whooping and hollering, excited he taught me to swim, I’m sure. “You did it,” he yelled. I’m angry. How had he forgotten? How could he forget? I never forgot, I think. I will never, ever, ever forget the lake 

***

I sat, bent at the waist, with my chest touching my knees. Taking in small breaths so as not to bend further, I pray to the sun,‘Bring back the warmth’. My teeth chatter so hard I think I might grind them to dust. 

After reaching in and effortlessly yanking me from the water, the man had thrown open the plastic seat. He’d revealed the small storage space beneath it and gestured to me. “Sit. Now,” He growled, barely contained wrath seething just beneath the surface.

Small for my age, at six, I was able to fold myself down. My heels brushed the bottom of the boat, the seat of the plastic chair drug into the back of my head. The metal top of the storage box dug grooves into my lower back, causing bruises that will one day save me, us. He’d thrown something on top of the seat. I can’t see what it is but it’s heavy. With every rock of the boat, as we speed to the dock, the seat digs deeper and deeper into my back. 

Later, no one fetches me from the boat. The ride back to Their home is spent alone, in the wild of the wind, at the mercy of the highway. Even once we reached Their house, a small off-white building with red borders, They get out of the truck and escape without me.  

My brother comes to get me sometime later. I hear him clambering into the boat with his bony limbs. He lifts the seat from the clutches of my back, and I look up at him.  

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” I say, or whisper, and he nods. I can’t tell if there is pity there, or anger, or frustration. I take in a full breath, for the first time in what felt like days, and flinch. It hurts to breathe, hurts to move, hurts to think. The marks on my legs hurt, I can’t see them, but I feel them burn as I unfold myself.  

“I’m sorry,” I say as my eyes tear up due to the pain. We carefully climb down from the boat. He nods again but doesn’t turn back to look at me. He leads the way to the house, and I trail behind him on fawn’s legs. 

I wonder if I’ve received my full punishment or if the other side of the door holds more pain. I wonder if the bruises will ever heal or if I will have a permanent mark. I wonder if Rosa, our caseworker, will come to save us this time. 

I look at the back of my brother’s head. I wonder if this is when he starts hating me, because I know he will, just like everyone else. 

 

 

 

 

Good Readdance,
Jade

CNF: Unexpected Love

This is a school assignment. I love, love, LOVE, taking writing courses. Anyway, I’ve never written creative nonfiction before and so here is a piece that I wrote about the night Tony and I first met. It’s my first try at it so don’t ream me just yet!

Let me know what you guys think!

 

 

Creative Nonfiction: Unexpected Love

 

I walked in the door of my favorite writing cafe. It’s walls covered in abstract art, a fake tree stretching up to the dark ceiling, outlets and extension cords scattered around tiny tables.

I remember many hours spent sitting at those tables, laptop out, notebook open, pen ready and cup of coffee getting cold.

Tonight was different. I had another agenda. Ask out the barista I saw on a daily basis. The storybook-prince one with the dark mop of hair, smiling eyes and olive skin. I was so sure, if I actually worked up the courage to ask, that he would say yes.

I looked around at the dimly lit faces, turned toward the stage with wide eyes and listening ears. Music blaring, a sweet twill of an acoustic guitar. Sweet smells of seared chicken paninis, roasted cherry tomatoes and spilled IPA beer; I nearly changed my mind. I had completely forgotten that it was Talent Tuesday, or that it was tuesday at all. I couldn’t turn around, not then, I’d already been spotted by the many faces. Not that they mattered. In the least, I’d gotten dressed up for the occasion; picked my fro big and voluptuous, put on makeup for the first time in months and wore my prettiest dress.

Back then, I’d been an avid wearer of wedges and I had picked my highest pair just for this occasion.

I walked up to the counter, wallet in shaking hands, and gave him my sweetest smile. He looked hairied, apron askew and locks tousled. He took my order quick, jabbing at the buttons on the screen and tilting his head sideways.

“It’s so busy, I’m sorry. We’ll talk later,” he said. I beamed at this, nodded understandingly and turned to claim a seat at the bar.

I swiveled on my chair and made eye contact with a man stepping off stage. Dark brown skin, muscles pulling tight on his shirt, long strong arms. He removed his guitar and smiled at me. I blinked shyly but didn’t want to look around, hoping that smile was for me. And it was. Those eyes twinkled as he wove his way around tables and I couldn’t tell if it was from excitement of the night or the lighting.

“Wow, you are beautiful, and that hair…” he said as he came to stand right in front of me, his grin grew brighter, if that was possible. I blushed.

At first, I thought this was just a line to get me to talk to him but as the years have gone by, I’ve come to realize he just really loves black girls with natural curls. Always with his hands in it, admiring the way it curls when wet and bounces when pulled.

“Thank you,” I forced out, immediately reaching up to fluff the curls around my shoulders. I sat up a bit straighter, shoulders back, spine a little more stiff.

I snuck a look at the barista, hoping he didn’t see me talking to another guy, not wanting to ruin my chances at a date before I’d even asked. He was unbothered, flitting around behind the counter on dancers feet, as he usually did. Graceful, knees slightly bent, quickly bouncing from panini press to counter to press to coffee maker and back to counter again. He called out a name and the girl who stood just in front of him jumped and dashed out a hand as if surprised to hear her own name. I giggled.

“What’s your name?” the man in front of me asked. I turned back to him and was swept up in deep brown eyes, glistening under the bar top light. I attempted to push my shoulders back further, and boobs forward.

“Jade, yours?”

“Tony Frenzy.”

His stage name, I later found out, but I have called him Tony ever since.

We talk for a while over the hum of live music, chatting about life, the cafe and his music set. He tells me about the coincidence of how he was supposed to be at another cafe, playing with his crew and I tell him I was actually supposed to be working but figured the job was a scam, so I quit. We laughed.

We’d talk more about this later.

On my second beer, I fumble the first bottle and it falls off the counter, thankfully to clatter and not shatter. I laugh awkwardly, am I tipsy or just nervous? He smiles at me as I bend to pick up the bottle and he helps to clean up the mess my clumsy hands have made. It’s that icebreaker, tension breaker, we didn’t know we needed.

We stood close, two people, somehow ending up in the same place, at the same time, on accident. It baffles how the night had unfolded. Him, resolving to play a set by himself and me finally stepping out of my box to ask out a cute cafe barista.

“Do you want to go get cheesesteak?” He finally asks. “It’s a bit loud in here and I want to keep talking to you.” The last part he almost whispers and I lean forward either to hear or to get a little bit closer.

My self-preservation has taken a day off and I say yes. I’ve never had cheesesteak before and had no idea what it was. I still wanted to go, wanted to get to know this guy just a bit more. Barista forgotten, I gather my purse, and don’t look back as he leads me to the door.

Into the night with him I went. Into a new life with my soulmate.

 

 

 

Good Readdance,
Jade