To read all parts of this series, go HERE.
I could still feel the imprint of Damali’s kisses on my lips. I ran my fingers along them, closing my eyes momentarily, trying to bring back the moment. I sat in the park, with a journal and pen in hand.
I tried to scribe about the onlookers; I wanted to write bits of Brooklyn into my work. I needed to apologize to my city for leaving it behind, by writing its beauty into immortality. As adamant as I was, about this, I couldn’t help but write about Damali.
What makes you so fly
You crawl under my skin, like
And street lights
Got words that belong
In composition notebooks,
You hum my metropolis,
My world, so sweetly,
With your words
They should plaster the pages
On the brownstones,
So onlookers could remember we were here
The park was filled with those without a care in the world: nannies, children, those with night jobs, those with trust funds and possibility. I’d taken the C-train and walked over to Ft. Greene Park, just to get out of my neighborhood. Hopefully, the change of scenery would inspire my pen.
Two small boys, arms hanging from a jungle gym, in the distance laughed. Their sounds carried over into the area with benches and latched on to my memories.
I often wondered what my son’s laugh was like. I pondered if he was pushed on a swing while his voice filled a park just like this one. I couldn’t help but imagine the wrong palms, pushing him higher and higher, palms that had no correlation with his own, palms that could never mimic his lifelines. When did he learn to swing on his own? How did his independence show up on his face? Were his eyes, like mine? Did he tell his "mother" or "father"…let go…when his feet became accustomed to bike pedals? Did he have a backyard? Did the grass end up in his hair? Did he run barefoot, wild, and free?
I hoped that he was somewhere warm and loving. I prayed that he broke bread with a family that urged the smile from his lips, pushed his swing, held on to his tricycle and let go when he asked.
I couldn’t help but think of the ocean when I thought of Kal-El. Even with all this concrete, brick, and stone around me. I listened closely to the rush of a nearby, broken fire hydrant. It mimicked the rush of the ocean, outside, as I was told to push, to let go. I held him briefly, as I watched his eyes flicker. He wanted to look at me. I couldn't stop looking at him. Before he could wail, before he could cry out for his mother, they pulled him from my arms.
who belongs to me
who belongs home
I hope you know beaded curtain,
I hope you know where you're from
My anxiety started to build. It’d been a while since I had an attack. They started in college, after my parent’s death, and I’d learned to control them with therapy. A feeling of panic rose from my stomach to my chest and my heart thumped like it needed a door to open. I closed my eyes and silently prayed it wouldn’t show. I could bring myself back to reality, be reaffirming my surroundings. I grabbed the rails of the bench, ran my fingers along my jacket, and pulled my nails across the cover of my journal.
I was here in the park.
I was here, writing my truth.
I was in the middle of Fort Greene, watching remnants of my childhood and newcomers interact.
I was only steps away, from where shattered pieces of my upbringing lay.
The anxiety started to rise again. My tactics were not working. I lifted myself from the bench and began to walk towards the exit, hoping no one could see my breath escaping rapidly.
“Jai, is everything alright?”
The voice resounded, behind me. It was deep and filled with concern. It traced my earlobe, calming me at once.
Malaki walked towards me, on the pathway out of the park. I couldn’t tell if my anxiety subsided due to his presence or if my fear of him seeing me unraveled prevailed. He was a walking dream. The type of man I imagined my mother slipping into her prayers and palms. He was secure, genuine, intelligent, and courteous. He wanted to know how he could help, in what ways he could make me better. He probably assumed that I was better, that I was his equivalent. He was wrong. I was the opposite, a multitude of sad stories and muddled anxieties. What did he see, in me?
“Is everything okay?”
I furrowed my brow, hoping I could convince him of usual stress. He could see right through me.
“Talk to me. I’ve been worried about you.”
I imagined him watching me from afar, seeing my sudden departure from the park, following me while I tried to find air, “I’m okay. I’m just working through some things.”
“I usually come here to get work done. It’s a change of scenery. I noticed…”
“I was just leaving to go home and get some writing done.”
“Can I make you a cup of coffee? You can get some work done, in my office. I live right across the street, you can see the park from the window.”
Malaki was intuitive. He’d been checking in on me at work, bringing me coffee on my most tiring days, smiling when I needed reaffirming that I was doing okay. Could he see my sorrow, from where he stood?
I thought of the night before. I envisioned Damali’s arms around my neck and his thumb in the small of my back. His touch was a ghost, standing between my diminishing affection of Malaki. Malaki stepped forward and held my hand, I’d waited too long to respond, “It’s okay, we can talk when we get inside.”
I was standing in Malaki’s living room. It was standard bachelor pad décor: leather sofa, flat screen, and white walls. He had huge bay windows, installed in the front of his condo that I was sure used to be the site of a brownstone.
“When did you say this was built, again?”
“2012. I bought it and I rent a room downstairs to a friend of mine. It was a steal. It was first company bonus and I needed to make sure I invested in something other than New York City rent.”
It bothered me that I couldn’t remember what used to be here. My old neighborhood was becoming a figment of my imagination. I watched the same kids I’d been watching earlier, run around the playground. I could no longer hear their laughter; it was replaced by the sound of Malaki’s coffeemaker and the sound of spoons against porcelain.
I nodded my head. I refused milk and stated that I liked my coffee black. Malaki smirked and raised an eyebrow, as if to infer something.
We talked until the wee hours of the morning.
Malaki was easy to talk to. He was a true listener, interjecting only to prove that he was still listening. I told him about growing up here, my eroded relationship with my father, my parent’s sudden death, and the box that sat in the middle of my studio apartment. He stopped me, only to make more coffee and then he’d tell me to go on.
My notions were on display and he stopped to admire each and every one.
How did that make you feel?
Do you still think about it?
We talked about almost everything. The one thing I'd failed to mention was Kal-El: the bud that flowered in my womb and was plucked before it blossomed. Malaki excused himself to go to the bathroom. I stood up, from the sofa I was sitting on, and stared out of the window into the now dark grounds of the park. Pitch: like my apartment with Damali beside me, bereft of light after our bodies found their way to one another. Amongst the inky shadows and the occasional sound of a passing car, I told him of my long lost love: a child too new to understand his meaning. Damali, too, listened and kissed my forehead. He sunk into my confession and sighed heavily, "You're stronger than you give yourself credit for."
Malaki came back from the bathroom and mumbled something about covers and a guest room. I turned to him, trying to figure out why I could not give him the same words I gave to Damali.
"I think I should leave. It's been good talking to you. Thanks, for everything."
I left Malaki's home, refusing his offer to walk me to the train, waiting for the sable sky to swallow me whole, for my anxiety to rise.