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The Miseducation or Doo-Wop (Not) That Thing
October 4, 2018
It's July 1998. You are sixteen and almost junior and maybe back in braces and red head and this is the first summer somebody says he will drink Koolaid from your bellybutton and the first summer you have ever considered the notion and you are alive with the thrill of all you have never considered and you wish you could peel off the shell of the girl who does not know things like a snake shedding skin. It is like you can feel your heart pulsing in your fingertips and the rush rushes you, makes you feel like you have to run through it all and win. Girlhood is a thing you think one must survive and so you want it to be over before it is what I'm trying to tell you girl is you hear "That Thing" and take it seriously because everything you are already afraid of just on the rumor is spread before you and it is like seeing a labyrinth from bird's eye view and you haven't even ever been high. You are just an overachiever like that and anything that sounds like rules is something you are going to use to win. There are almost twenty years between us and we remember the way the first lines make your ears ring like a dog at the edge of a sonic fence which is not to call you a bitch but which is to say you so young you think bitch is the worst thing to be and remember this is the summer of that candy bar poem you write about the first "adult" you've ever wanted to unwrap you how embarrassed you are when he laughs like girlhood makes you less than serious how you want to take it off this summer so that you can do that thing that mocks you from the other side of a tall fence. That thing you've only heard about and never seen and so you worry, just to get a head start on it, that somebody will hit it and never call you again and you know a little about writing and poetry and you know that first lines are pretty important and syntax makes meaning and the one you let hit it is different than the one who hit it because the former makes you responsible and you have heard somewhere that responsibility is something that women have and girls do not so you say, hell, let me pick up this warning and put it in my bag. Girl, I'm just trying to tell you how it got here. Okay? Because that scenario had never happened to none of your friends or nobody you know and even your mama didn't tell you that would be the worst thing that could happen she just said you don't want to do it to somebody then bump into them with your friends and know you've seen his thang and having never seen a thang at all you take her word for that, too. You decide you will study to stay two steps ahead of the game so you invent feelings for things you have never felt and code them with angst so you'll avoid them. This is how you practice for womanhood trying to run away from the summer that settles in your bones, ossifies until you do not know where you end and it begins. Girl, you know you better watch out. Every trigger brings back that summer you are so hot and so bothered you cry for no reason and bump your head on a classroom telephone trying to make an exit worthy of the drama you feel in your blood. Crystal and Kelly, your summer camp teachers, laugh behind their hands and you know you have to do something about this girlhood hanging out all obvious like a Sunday slip when you have just started wearing booty shorts and shirts with no bra. you've been waiting for breasts, see. You were sure the larger ones would get here the summer before but then you'd also been sure the summer before that but 1998 is a fuckit year and the first time you say you will walk away from girlhood with the breasts you have thank you very much. Girlhood. When you give it up so easy you ain't even foolin him. L-Boogie's tone is what you have come to imagine must be love and therefore must be something like right something to hold on to mix it all up like granny's potatoes beef and carrot hash you are so full, girl, of longing and fear all bundled up together until this miseducating map seems like the answer to both and I just stopped by to tell you I got us a new map. Or the makings of one. Or anyway something that will put your map to shame which is not at all to gloat but just to remind you to calm down. We got this. First of all, a gem is a hard rock. Second of all, girl, Jezebel got a nigga killed over a plot of land her husband wanted for a garden and she got a whole lot of other people killed in a my-god-is-bigger-than-your-god battle which is to say that the story ain't even about that thing except for the fact that so many of these stories are a little bit obsessed with that thing, so much so that they associate it with everything their god hates. Jezebel, imagined worshipper of a pagan sex-crazed god, so don't you see, girl, how you was always supposed to coat that thing in fear? Old testament stories are grafted into your blood with colorful Sunday School cards until you don't know where one story ends and the other story begins which is to say I think L Boogie confused Jezebel with Samson and Delilah which is a little bit more akin to her Muslim sleeping with the Gent dig though still off by a few miles which is to say, girl, you ain't even Jewish so what do you care if the Midrash say she made a man reveal the source of his strength by riding him so good he gave up his darkest secrets so of course you want to know that power but are also afraid of it that is how erotic horror works which is exactly what this is no doubt about it but girl I'm going to fill your head with so many stories you get to pick how you interpret the things you've seen. For example, in nineteen and seven twelfths years you will find yourself on the other side of a wild ride wondering who did it and what for when you will try on your Worst Critic costume and chide yourself for losing at love. Didn't he tell youthathe was bout the Benjamins, that his career, imaginary though it may be, was more important than your touch me see me, corporeal self? By this time it will have been more than three weeks since you've been looking for the one you called your friend in the wind wondering how the ride ended feeling like Iris kissed by breeze and waiting for the Flash's return it will burn and you think the reason there will never be another call is because you gave it up so easy not that thing but this one this thing this tender girlish heart the one who daydreams about love spells who wears rose glasses so as not to be blinded by the sun the one who plays you gave it up so easy you ain't even foolin him on repeat you will say it over and over and not hear the rhythm of the lie, girl. You know you better watch out is what the alarm will say, that gate, that barrier ringing in your ears.
Girl, you not old enough to tell this story. You not even old enough to know how corny gospel rap is, how some of its guideposts are just gates trying to make you afraid of contact. Girl, you don't know enough stories to feed me feelings across the years, which is not to say your feelings aren't valid, girl, because they are. They just yours. That's all. I'm just telling you what it is over here and how I know what I know you see it's not even the sex these Hebrew storytellers are afraid of it is the knowing of women's ways. The storyteller was convinced we knew dark magic because we kept bleeding but did not die. Thing was, it wasn't as much blood as they thought. Some of it was actually the lining of the uterine wall, the way we build up nutrients each moon for that maybe thing. Line the walls with rust red food like baby blankets embroidered with Bible verses years before conception, what I'm saying, oh bleeding heart, is what you're shedding isn't blood at all. Call it what it is. Call it a padded wall. Call it lining. Call it hope. Call it a dream deferred if you know that's what you wanted or call it relief if you don't. But don't call it blood. It's not that. You know what I mean? If it were, well, you'd be barely able to walk and look at you moving and shaking like a girl in a Tampax commercial. Don't call it blood. Somebody will say this is essentialist but I'm just talking metaphor here talking two to two million ways to see the same thing you telling me we lost a person and I'm saying consider the metaphor of menstruation I am saying you can not make a thing live all by yourself love does not sprout from one's head like Venus and Zeus I am saying I know the difference between cramps and labor and I'm saying these are bad cramps. The kind that happen when you've padded a uterus to grow a thing and the egg, that nucleus of hope, has not been touched by the thing that will make it turn into anything other than a nucleus of hope. I am saying, don't you want a relationship that is viable outside your body, outside your brain, outside the bubble you have padded with your own blood, your own dreams and desires, your own hope, all the things you've built with words and stories and the love of men and women dead and alive , this heart you've pounded to tender stretching to hold a thing that won't be born? I am saying be relieved. I am saying this is where you are bigger, more expansive than this metaphor based on the body and its cycles here is the truth hope never stops reproducing you cannot grow too old for hope there will be no personal summer that takes away your lining you be poet girl you be June's daughter you be Audre's daughter you know how much these women loved to love you know how it moved their pen you know how much hope they had how many times they stumbled and righted themselves how many times they got their wombs all ready for building only to find out the person on the other end of the infatuation was shooting blanks. Maybes thrusted like promises. Might be one days that felt like tomorrows. Girl it can happen once a month. You don't have to be tired until you. get tired. I am saying look at your panties. They are red with relief.
One day, we will ask "didn't I tell you?" about a good thing, about a bit of promised joy, about a pot on the other side of the rainbow we ride like a rollercoaster and when we say those words they will not be in Lauryn's voice but in our own.