October 13, 2015

But her beauty and stillness broke the balance in me.

Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

"And still and all I knew that we were  something, that we were a tribe--on one hand, invented, and on the other, no less real. The reality was out there on the Yard, on the first warm day of spring when it seemed that every sector, borough, affiliation, county, and corner of the broad diaspora had sent a delegate to the great world party. I remember those days like an OutKast song, painted in lust and joy. A baldhead in shades and a tank top stands across from Blackburn, the student center, with a long boa draping his muscular shoulders. A conscious woman, in stonewash with her dreads pulled back, is giving him the side-eye and laughing. I am standing outside the library debating the Republican takeover of Congress or the place of Wu-Tang Clan in the canon. A dude in a TribeVibe T-shirt walks up, gives a pound, and we talk about the black bacchanals--Freaknik, Daytona, Virginia Beach--and we wonder if this is the year we make the trip. It isn't. Because we have all we need out on the Yard. We are dazed here because we still remember the hot cities in which we were born, where the first days of spring were laced with fear. And now, here at The Mecca, we are without fear, we are the dark spectrum on the parade.
These were my first days of adulthood, of living alone, of cooking for myself, of going and coming as I pleased, of my own room, of the chance of returning there, perhaps, with one of those beautiful women who were now everywhere around me. In my second year at Howard, I fell hard for a lovely girl from California who was then in the habit of floating over the campus in a long skirt and head wrap. I remember her large brown eyes, her broad mouth and cool voice. I would see her out on the Yard on those spring days, yell her name and then throw up my hands as though signaling a touchdown--but wider--like the "W in "What up?" That was how we did it then. And what were the laws out there? I did not yet understand the import of my own questions. What I remember is my ignorance. I remember watching her eat with her hands and feeling wholly uncivilized with my fork. I remember wondering why she wore so many scarves. I remember her going to India for spring break and returning with a bindi on her head and photos of her smiling Indian cousins. I told her, "Nigga you black" because that's all I had back then. But her beauty and stillness broke the balance in me. In my small apartment, she kissed me, and the ground opened up, swallowed me, buried me right there in that moment. How many awful poems did I write thinking of her? I know now what she was to me--the first glimpse of a space-bridge, a wormhole, a galactic portal off this bound and blind planet. She had seen other worlds, and she held the lineage of other worlds, spectacularly, in the vessel of her black body."
(pp. 56-58)

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