Guest Author: Arthur Haynes
Arthur Haynes is a Black fiction writer, feminist, backseat freestyler, and juris doctor. He is a student and enthusiast of all things creative. Much to his fiancée’s dismay, Arthur is fond of launching into hour long rants about obscure books and movies that no one else seems to care about.
I spend so much time, in life, living deaths I haven’t died.
One time I reached for my wallet which had slid out of my shallow sweatpants pocket and into the space between my car seat and door. The officer who’d pulled me over shot me in the chest because he thought I was reaching for a gun. I bled out quickly, dying only two minutes later.
After that, I started putting my wallet in my cup holder, in plain, unmistakable view. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t.
Once, while going for a run on a sunny summer day through my suburban neighborhood, I stopped to catch my breath. Once it’d been caught, I looked up at the willow tree that lumbered over the lawn to my right and stretched into the sidewalk. The leaves of the willow tree blew gently in the wind, like hair in a breeze. I ran my fingers through the follicles and smiled, remarking at the beauty that surrounded me. I turned to look at the house connected to the lawn that had thrust the willow tree up out of its soil and realized that I was being watched.
The owner of the house, a white woman, was on the phone–arms crossed, looking at me like a guard dog defending her porch. I waved at the woman, but she did not return the gesture. She stepped back into her screen door and continued speaking to someone, sternly, excitedly. I nodded and went on my way, once casting a glance over my shoulder at the woman in confusion.
A few moments later, a white man in a car pulled up beside me on the street, demanding to know what I was doing. When he wasn’t satisfied with my answer, or my indignation at his inquiry, he got out of his car and yelled at me in the street. One thing led to another until he shot me. After that, I didn’t stop to admire the trees, or catch my breath anymore. I just kept running.
Sometimes I don’t die. At least, not physically. Sometimes I get arrested. Then I die.
Sometimes I speak my mind and they kill me for it. Better to be silent, agreeable, seen but not heard. Sometimes I speak, and I’m killed for it. Sometimes I listen to my music, Black music, loudly, and I’m killed for it. Better to roll the windows up, turn the dial down, and survive. Sometimes I don’t cut my hair. Sometimes I choose, instead to let it grow, wild, and beautiful as intended, and I’m killed for it.
Sometimes murder isn’t done with the hands, but with the eyes. Eyes cast sideways, rolled. Sometimes murder is in the pressed lip. Murder is in the folded arm, the words said unspoken. Murder is in the job lost, the promotion denied, the dream deferred.
I spend so much time, in life, living deaths I haven’t died. But I have stopped running. I’ve chosen to die, if I must, because though I die, I will never stop rising. If I am to be killed for being myself, for being happily, consciously, uncompromisingly Black, then so be it, because it is the only way that I can truly live.
I am a writer. A Black writer. I write about Black people, Black issues, my Black thoughts, and things that put a smile on my Black face. Sometimes I write about the things that make it frown, the things that make me cry. Whenever I write, if I write openly, honestly, it is always at risk of reprisal.
The job lost, the promotion denied, the dream deferred. Murder.
As a writer, and a “Black professional,” I have two bodies. I am expected to live in them both, interchangeably, like suits. One suit comes with a tie, finely polished shoes, and a pressed white shirt with French cuffs. This is my professional suit, my professional body. This body types but does not write. This body moves slowly, deliberately, leaving no room for “misunderstandings.” Misunderstandings that might be met with an eye cast sideways or, perhaps, a loose bullet. This body speaks in soft, deferential, tones. When I’m wearing this body, I am expected to speak “correctly.” If asked, this body is always doing “well,” never “good.” Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes it isn’t
My other body comes with a gold chain, Chuck Taylors, and a t-shirt without cuffs or sleeves of any kind. Sometimes this body comes with no packaging at all. In the winter, this body might wear a hoodie instead of a pea coat. This is my “creative” body.
This is the body that writes.
This body moves quickly, effortlessly. Sometimes this body gestures furtively. This body is often met with a quickened pace, and untrusting, accusatory eyes. This body is watched. If I’m not careful when wearing this body, or even if I am careful, this body might be met with a loose bullet.
This body is loud. It speaks freely, brashly, honestly, unapologetically, lovingly. This body smiles more than the other, more “professional,” body. I think it’s happier, despite the danger. I was born in this body and I will die in it.
These two bodies cannot coexist forever. They are incongruous, asymmetrical. Wearing one suit wrinkles, stains, the other. I cannot take fabric, flesh, from one suit to create a new, blended one. To do so, I would have to cut the creative, happy, body into smaller pieces – compartmentalize it into swatches – and I won’t.
If I don’t I will die. I’ll be killed for it. But if I don’t die, I won’t ever live.