Willa – Present
The modest glass sunroom sits near one of the estates many kitchens. Ali and I wake early and meet here. Curled into plush comfy chairs facing the water, breakfast and coffee out of the way, soaking in the morning sun with tea in hand, we’re deep into a discussion about last night’s dinner conversation.
“Are you trying to tell me how to lecture white people on racism?”
I think on it resigned that maybe I am, in fact, doing just that. “It’s just you’ve rarely not roasted a white person especially a white male on being white and racesplaining. So, yeah, I’ve no idea why you went easy on him. You’re not easy on others.”
I dunno why I’m pressing her to be harder on Gray. Yes, I do. I don’t wanna acknowledge it. In my need for Nik, I’m subconsciously reaching for Gray. I’m ashamed and punishing Ali and Gray for it.
“The man is grieving. He lost his son.”
I look at her, shock and outrage written on my face. “Lots of people of color lost their sons too. Why is he different?”
She gives me the you’ve got some fucking nerve telling me that look.
“Okay, yeah, I did it again, didn’t I?”
“You’re an idiot and I roast you on it,” she yells at me and I nod in agreement properly chastised. She takes a moment to calm from this one of any number of times that I’ve sent her spiraling into an understandable huff as we both have the power to push each other’s buttons and oftentimes do; sometimes on purpose. “You, however, do have a stubborn commitment to positive change and you learn—sometimes—eventually; regressions aside, you don’t let your ego and white identity and privilege keep you from learning—or attempting to—and fighting for others. And O-M-G your white woman feminism has gotten so much better. Kimberlé Crenshaw would tell you to keeeep working on it though,” she says lowering her voice rolling her eyes, taking a sip of tea, pushing that last bit home with an unmitigated pique of tired-of-being-tired look that I recognize all too well.
Ali’s patience is not limitless. One of these days she’s gonna dump me and I’ll die of a broken heart; even more so from the one I suffer from now, which is something I cannot begin to fathom. I smother that emotion—that horrific feeling of being on the edge of nothing—and carry on. “You’re always lecturing me on how I need to educate white people on systemic racism. I’m trying. I’m not a good teacher. Sometimes they just don’t learn. And sometimes they just don’t wanna.”
“What a shock,” she says eyeballing me knowingly and I’m again suitably chastised. “I wonder why?” A dry remark she delivers with precision and I can’t help but laugh. “The power of whiteness and privilege are socialized into y’all. Like your family, for example.”
I lose my grin and give her a dark look. “Let’s not go there. There’s the willfully obtuse then there’s the outright racist and toxic.”
“I think the word deplorable suits,” she chuckles.
“Preaching to the choir, so, why?”
She rolls her eyes: ‘duh’. “In wake of everything, I’m tired of schooling white people on racism. I’m not y’all’s token. I’m not folks’ racial confessor. I ain’t your transgender confessor. I’m not a Muslim confessor. I am not your negro. The level of shit I have to put up with, you white folks would buckle at a quarter of it. Hell, I haven’t even practiced Islam since I was a kid. Can I just be brilliant beautiful Ali with a big heart and brain and dark thoughts for once? Please?” She leans forward. “As a black boy, I had to be twice as good. As a black woman, fifty times as good. As a black transgender woman, a hundred times as good and it still doesn’t matter. No matter how good we are, it still doesn’t matter. That’s white supremacy.”
I frown. “This conversation feels all too familiar to me. Like an essay or interview I read. Did you just appropriate…” I count on my fingers. “…at least four authors in that soliloquy?”
“It should feel familiar—you white people do it all the time.” She leans forward. “Have you ever spoken to either Gray or Parker? I mean in the getting-to-know them-personally sense and not just in the they’re-Niky’s-daddys’ sense? I mean, we’ve been with them going on how many months now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you sit down and talk with them besides our little group talks. Lemme guess, it’s the white male thing, isn’t it?”
I frown ignoring the latter. “No. Niky compartmentalized like a master. I know very little about them other than what he told me, which wasn’t much. He never shared much about family. Did he share with you?”
“No. There was a reason Niky West had a steel spine against those rich white fuckers and they came at him the way they did. He got it from his mama, both his auntie’s Max and Doctor Miss Dandria, but his daddy’s? They’ve been through some serious shit overseas and even here at home. Just like Niky, they’re not your typical white boys. They’re not colonizers and if they once were, they’re not any longer.” Her wide-eyed emphasis makes me curious.
“How do you know this?”
She tilts her head giving me another look: don’t be stupid, Willa.
“Oh.” The fact that Ali holds them in high regards means a lot. She cuts me off before I ask her what they did to earn such respect from her.
“I’m not gonna give you details. You’d probably puke if you knew the shit they’ve been through. All classified. Let’s just say that being queer in the military and serving among others—people of color and differing religions and such and being deep inside so-called enemy lines—all that? And laying your life on the line for each other and those of the people that’re supposed to be their enemies?” She says air quoting enemies. “That connection bridges the empathy divide. They’re somewhat woke and learning, but they’re old white guys still and odd about it. Baby boomers,” she scoffs rolling her eyes in impatience. “At the heart of it all, they’re lost when it comes to family. Niky dying has destroyed—” Ali trails off. She’s looking over my shoulder clearing her throat. “Grayson, love, when did you become an eavesdropper?”
I glance behind me. Leaning casually on the door frame, hands in pockets, Gray—looking so much like Niky—stares with a small smile and faint sadness. “Long before I was a marine.” He pauses looking around and out towards the water. “Lost, huh?”
“Come sit with us,” she says motioning to the chair next to her, opposite me. “I was just schooling Willa on racism …and such…again.”
Gray plops down stretching his legs in front of him, crossing at the ankles, placing hands behind his head, looking between the both of us. “Really? It does seem to be on a lot of people’s minds lately.”
“Ya think? I wonder why?” Ali asks. Gray chuckles.
“When the act of calling people racists is more offensive than the actual racism, something has gone horribly wrong,” I say changing due course on a conversation I know is coming right at us either now or eventually. “Add it to the list of things gone horribly wrong,” I mumble.
“I concur,” he adds, his voice soft and low. “One of many.”
Ali looks at me smiling: “See, I told you.” She looks back at him. “Willa has a slight…bias against white men. She was hatin’ on white men before it became…” Ali makes a face. “…fashionable sounds crass and mainstream sounds too… white.”
“I seemed to have heard that somewhere.” He looks at me, pulling a short smile, both of us know exactly where he heard it.
“Most pain and abuse in my life came from white men. I’ve never feared anyone like I’ve feared white men. White male power is spine chillingly malevolent and I don’t see it abating. Do you?”
Gray starts to say something.
“Don’t you ‘not-all-white-men’ me,” I grumble.
“I was going to say I’m sorry that happened to you,” he says softly. He winks at Ali and she rolls her eyes then nods approvingly.
“White people,” Ali scoffs. “Always making it about themselves. You keep centering the narrative back onto you.” She glances between us. “Is this where you tell her that it’s okay to be white, Gray?”
He shakes his head. “No.”
“I’m sorry. You’re right,” I say. “I’ll do better.”
Ali’s eyebrows go high. “Hmmm,” she mumbles. “Gotta start somewhere.” She sends Gray a sympathetic look. “Are you alright, love?”
His deep long sigh sounds like a disconsolate death rattle: “No. I miss my son,” he says looking out towards the water with a misery that hits me in the chest and smacks me across the face.
© 2018 Pamela Gay Mullins