by JANEA KELLY
"I’m not sad anymore.”
I say it entering the bathroom, my worn Brand New t-shirt pulling over my head and falling just outside the threshold. I’m mumbling to myself but it’s audible, loud even. There’s no one around, it’s late and still, and I’m the only one awake. I like to roll the four words around in my mouth and hope that my intonation is just right, wingardium leviosa, swish and flick of my tongue to lift my spirits.
Nope, not sad. I’m not sure if I ever was, or if it was technically the right word, really, and if I was, when did it start? Where and what were the causes? Nature vs. Nurture? The deaths of Tupac and Princess Diana? The decline of the printed word? Did it begin in the womb or manifest after? I imagine the origin of my discontent extends long past my conception and begins in a past life. Perhaps the one I had in Zanzibar as a red colobus chewing on almond leaves, enjoying the acidic taste and longing for Kaskazi winds to alleviate the heat. That sweet wind, a mother’s touch, as relieving as the cold water I splash on my face to remove the suds and my makeup.
There’s an aching I have felt for years in my arms, chest and mind. It makes sense and is not to be confused with growing pains — these were passed down, hand-me-down woes and forget-me-not blows. I’m a descendant of Sisyphus. I inherited the ache from the strain of pride, thousands of years of push without ever giving up. I often wonder if Sisyphus ever considered being crushed instead of continuing, or if like me he was all good intention and poor execution.
Long before my breasts began to swell I felt this ache and even yesterday with my palms at heart center I could feel it. It is wind, an inconsolable and hysterical wind, literally screaming while running naked through fields, beating on windows in the dead of January before finding home inside a cave. I am just an echo wrapped in brown gooseflesh. I’m a call in the dark in the shape of a girl. I am convinced of this.
Not too long ago a bat was discovered in my house and I swear it had come for me — it could hear me, feel me, disturbing the universe.
“I’m convinced it’s in my blood, you know, this great catastrophe.” I recall telling a friend over drinks at a bar. She’s just admitted that she thinks she’s a mermaid because of the way she can drink like a fish but has two legs.
“It’s genetic, you know, like, the Irish.” She laughs, or maybe it was the Germans, the Dutch, the Vikings.
I remember nodding and telling her about the series of unfortunate events that have haunted me ever since I lived in Numancia, around 165 BCE and how I would live and die with my family, so proudly, as our city burned to the ground in a final radical act of resistance against invaders. She says she can’t hear me over the music and asks where my family’s from again and I say, “Anacostia. It’s, like, southeast, DC or something. I’m not a compass.”
“Oooh, isn’t that like the ghetto?”
“It’s a place where people live.”
She can’t hear me. She’s already ordering us another drink.
I’m naked, it’s after midnight, and I shift foot to foot, sometimes perching like a flamingo before settling with one foot over the other as if I’m in the final throes of stigmata. My thighs rub together like the hands of the matchstick girl struggling to ignite the red phosphorus tip to keep warm, or in my case, the thick stick girl. Thick, an adjective shouted at me to describe my head and my rear, at home and on the streets.
Smoothing Freeman’s Avocado and Oatmeal Mask on my face I start at my cheekbones and work to my mother’s nose and my father’s chin concealing myself. I’m making eye contact with myself for the first time in months and my, my, my, when did my chubby cheeks stop looking so naive? They’ve become fully mature jowls and any innocence left is just bread crumbs.
I have tied my hair up using the remaining tatters of an old dress, the cherry blossom print of the cloth wrapping around my head to crown with a bow. You have to have limits and mine are fabric levies. I want the flood to absolve me of other’s cruelty, of my own frivolity, of my pride. This is my design.
My eyelashes are smudged together with remnants of mascara looking like mistakes on a charcoal drawing rather than an useful invention to protect my eye from debris. I’ve drawn myself a hot, salty, aromatic bubble bath. It’s got to be salty, I say to myself pouring in sea salt and epsom, like the Atlantic, like my mother’s womb. Salt water is apart of my origin, I think, just like sadness, and they both date back to Pandora’s tears falling over what hope remained after she opened the accursed box.
The water will heal, the water can destroy; it will cleanse me of today’s failures and soon I shall rise from foam, Venus reborn. I also believe that I broke my mother’s back at age seven when I carelessly stepped on cracked cement while jumping hopscotch, the boxes drawn shakily on the sidewalk. My foot, too big for my body, clumsy, somehow made the jump from six to five and as I bent to retrieve my Budweiser bottle cap from four I noticed the crack running under the arch of my foot like an ancient Roman tunnel.
Whether it was my mother’s back or a camel’s I swear to you I heard something break and I was devastated. I swear. True story. I was so sorry. It broke my heart. I am still sorry.
I’m not sad anymore. I’m over it. There are bridges that have been built and here I am, over it, trespassing on green pasture. But. Maybe. I want to be sad — oh, the sneaking, dirty thought. The media has ensnared me into coveting despair and oh, how, it escapes me. I’m haunted by this sexy, photoshopped sadness with its pouty lips and hollow cheek.
All too often is human tragedy is personified and objectified in Daily Mail headlines and here I am, a vulture, feasting on celebrity decay — who is in rehab, who shaved their head, who broke up — they always have ambiguous diagnoses that don’t do me any good or allow me to feel closer. I want irreconcilable differences. I want it to be fatigue and dehydration. Sadness is a pair of skinny jeans, always better on models, better seen on TV, on tumblr and on the legs of prettier friends with lean calf muscles. Comparison will kill me like rip tides in July.
I’m dry brushing my skin and hoping to exfoliate dead self-esteem. I don’t think it describes anything anymore and I just feel like a child with a dictionary when I write about ennui and misery because what do I know of suffering, except what I learned in Sunday school?
So many movies make it seem like sinking into a hot bathtub is something that comes naturally, like the skin doesn’t mind the thousands of bursting capillaries, of blood rushing to color the cooking flesh. I shriek like a child and pull my foot back — I’ve done this numbers of times and the shriek isn’t alarming, I do it so much, it’s comforting. I’m just going through the motions.
I go through the motions everyday to get to this moment, over and over.
My own Sisyphean loop: I am swimming the Atlantic and just as I near the shore, strength flagging but hope rekindled by the familiar sight of the Jolly Rogers Ferris Wheel that I sat atop on a bright, sunny day, feeling like Icarus. Water burns my nose on an inhale but I do not suffer drowning because I am swallowed by a whale preventing salvation and damning me to this life of being digested to be born to almost drown.
My hair’s gotten wet, despite being put up, and despite being in a shallow tub I’m sinking. My heart’s pounding. Shall I rise? Do I dare? The water’s in my ears. Sisyphus is a great role model for black women, for colored women with melancholy poisoned blood, I think. This tireless cycle of split ends and drowning. “I’m not sad anymore,” I speak aloud, alone at 2:45 a.m. in a bathroom somewhere in Maryland before closing my eyes and letting the water cover me.
The only difference between a baptism and a drowning is how you live after.
Janea Kelly is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Baltimore. You can find her twitter here and her instagram here. She last wrote in these pages about her trip to Chicago.
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