I grew up in the Bible Belt, the Deep South but by the age of 12 had surfaced into a somewhat liberal bubble in Atlanta, Georgia. It is 2005 and Global Warming has begun to make the concrete look more and more like a hot pan. My neighbors come outside and make a bee-line for our front yard where my grandparents are weeding the near-dead lawn. The neighbors are dressed in spaghetti strap shirts, complete with molting red skin. The sweat dripping from them is watering the flowers in this drought yet they instantly toss around how it is such a scam to speak of rising temperatures. “It has always been this hot in Atlanta.” They chuckle with my grandparents and pat the top of my head too forcefully like an unaware child pets a dog. The lady bounces sweat from her brow as she cackles at my retreat to the front porch. I sit on the concrete steps and open up my final summer reading book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. My grandparents gave me a hand-me-down copy from their bookshelf, each page a crumpled reminder that someone dropped it in the lake trying to read and float on their backs at the same time. The words have faded because of that so I am squinting hard trying to make out what exactly is happening but I know the story is picking up cause Phoeby’s abusive husband dies and now she is liberated and free and wearing her hair down like those ladies I see downtown do, same way I want my hair to hang down to my waist one day ‘Hmmm.’ I think ‘How many times in history has that been the story? Big bad wolf dies, whoever or whatever that is and then everyone is better off.’ A sly smile uncurls itself from my lips as I think of all the wolves in my life who could use a timer of their own. In the background I can hear my grandparents comment on how shy I am, reluctantly I break my eyes from the pages of my now favorite book long enough to catch the couple’s shifty glance over their shoulders as they walk back to their house. We take a second to look each other over, my distaste for their presence is recuperated in blank blue eyes and for the first time in my life I do not wonder if they can see my blackness, I know. My grandparents effortlessly turn back to their weeding, but I am still doe eyed, staring at the spot where 5 minutes before I had been just any other girl. There is a Match lit in my body, telling me I am better off over here, in the shade of my new found existence. Later that night during dinner, after I mention the glance to my mother she tells me, between bites of tofu and stir fry that I can’t make assumptions and that most likely I was just seeing things cause I don’t like the couple in the first place, she continues eating at the same pace without making eye contact. The statement hangs in the air above over our food and causes me to put my fork down and feign being full as I feel The Heat rise into my chest, wonder what a white women would know about the stare you get when you’re the black sheep in the white flock. I don’t speak up though, part cause I don’t really know how yet and part cause the TV is on in the living room and we are all craning our necks as the news anchors stand in New Orleans trying to show us how strong the rain is that Hurricane Katrina is bringing. That night I don’t sleep, I stare up at the ceiling and take in the darkness of it all, let my eyes adjust to my surroundings; look in the mirror and try and find the parts of me that don’t belong in this family. Take extra time to search for where all this Heat is coming from, wonder if the rising water will be enough to drown it out.
Not So Early/Last Month or Something:
“The world is gonna burn!” the traveling college evangelical preacher is screaming at me from the middle of the quad as he waves a large banner reading:
His voice follows me in serpentine fashion as I curl around him to get to my classroom “America is gonna pay for all it has done on this earth!” Nothing is more terrifying than when someone you think is batshit crazy says something that you believe to be true, forcing you to see the depth of a person you had written off. I saw myself in his words and now I am racking my brain for the moment I lost my shit and became a traveling preacher. I wonder if I should start wearing dad jeans, a ‘Jesus Saves’ T-shirt and a worn baseball cap because that is who I am now, an out of date bible thumping white guy. I decide I should call my atheist grandmother and tell her how surprised I was that the guy seemed right, seemed sane in a way. “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” My grandmother has a no frills attitude and I can hear her smoothing out her skirt in the background, she casually tosses out the southern idiom with an accent she only has when she says idioms or is trying to explain the south Georgia hole she grew up in. Let’s me know the conversation is over and that her assistance has been doled out for the day. The receiver click seems a lot more final than usual and I wonder if I am allowed to call back, wonder if speaking on my experience has overstepped some invisible line. So, I spend the day holding my tongue, biting back my perspective in my African American Studies class taught by a white guy, in the cafeteria line when the students don’t say ‘thank you’ to the Latino women who serve them food, as a group of Sorority girls yell about how ‘dangerous’ Durham is and by the end of the day I almost forget I have a mouth at all. So I was surprised when I heard the whisper of my voice as I broke my lips to tell a friend about how ‘America has made a lot of enemies’ as we sit in a back room of a bar. They are playing 90’s rap music and I see several people give me shifty glances as they pause over the word ‘nigga’. My friend, a 6’4” guy wearing faded boat shoes, navy shorts that grip his thick thighs and a size too small light green polo, nods at my statement and reaches his hand out to grasp another drink, “Yeah” he drawls his word out of his mouth as if in deep thought about how to explain the world to me “But no one is gonna mess with us. We’re too strong, our army ya know, it is like massive and really if anyone tries we’ll just nuke them.” I let the words stick to the bottom of his glass before I ask about the enemies the country has made here at home “What about the black people? The natives? Mexicans? What about all the people who are upset here?” the words roll out of my mouth and on to the floor “Even black people wanna live here June.” He is chuckling at me “Where would they go? No one is gonna take them in, and they sure as hell won’t find a better deal than they have here. Sure I mean things are rough now, but the good thing about America is we have democracy. We will work things out, anyone who can’t trust in that shouldn’t be in this country.” His voice trails off into a train wreck of first-year political science rhetoric and I am violently wishing I was 21 so that I could drink the stupid from off of my ears. The bartender and I both dart our eyes up to the TV as a CNN headline tells of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after a young man was shot by police. My friend spreads his large fingers through his auburn hair and makes it flip casually over his head as his eyes follow a lazy path to the source of my awe struck expression. “Yeah, I don’t know what people expect. Ha. Can’t run from police and then want to be treated just like everyone else. I bet though” His mouth is a vat of liquor that he will later use as his shield “ I bet though, Al Sharpton will be all over this, he’ll say that the guy shot ‘em cause he is black. Then all these black people will be all up in arms. It doesn’t matter though, the law is the law.” He sinks his hand back to his drink and sips it in my face, happy to have agreed with me on something I am sure. He flinches in unison with my voice booming from my chest as if it is thunder from a calm W. Dubbya. Double U. sky. I don’t remember the words, could have been anything at that point, could have been no words at all. I could have barked like a rabid dog into his face and probably got the same response, the same fumbling and mumbling stupor of somewhat hit with a brick, but the words don’t stop, my voice does not know how to quiet it’s roar and at least for that minute I am the hurricane and he is the reporter. Everyone turns to me as I become trope, become angry black woman and he is civil, rational while I unpile the words from my worn down existence into this space, until I am just as drained as his drink and the bartender is motioning for me to get out, shooing me from this space like a dog. ‘I have gone crazy,’ I think ‘Why else would they not understand why I was so angry?’ and the thought evaporates from my body as I walk home accompanied by my rage filled tears. That night I don’t sleep, I stare into the night sky and wonder which parts of me fit into this place until I can no longer make myself small and I allow my anger to be just as large, just as encompassing as this Heat in my body and I know the summer will bring another storm.
My dorm room is dimly lit by an illegal lamp in the corner. My friends and I are sitting on the cold linoleum floor staring up at my 27” TV. Our necks are growing heavy as we wait for the announcement of an indictment. It has been months since Mike Brown was shot. ‘Enough time for the protests to die out’ is what they thought. A man walks up to the podium and recants the reasons why no indictment was filed. His words become static in our ears as we all stare at each other, something about this room is Hot, stuffy. It is November but the sweater I have on is cascading to the floor and I stand up but I don’t know why. My feet a parade of stutter steps that lead me down the paths of our campus and I know anger, and I hear boiling, and it has never been this Hot before, and I don’t know where I am going until I am there, my friends must have followed me as I escaped the restraints of my existence in a daze. We all end up standing in a stone square outside of the post office, ironically called ‘Peace & Justice Plaza’. No one speaks, I don’t open my mouth when eyes shift in my direction, begging for a sound, for inspiration. I do not have a voice anymore. I wonder how anyone could have a voice right now. I think of screaming but no sound escapes into the thick silence, just blinking black faces, in awe, in silent protest, in solidarity of this fear we have been holding on to, and as we stand I keep thinking it is summer, all this Heat keep coming off our bodies. The silence is cut by a shrill woman’s voice like a dull blade “STOP KILLING US” I am a girl again without the strength to lift my voice in outrage, without a trumpet to sound the impending hurricane. I have never felt as if my flesh would leave my body but here I am hoping it will, hoping that tomorrow there will be snow and no sun, and I never want to see the sun again, never want that blinding white light on my body. Don’t think I could handle it. I’d combust like an ant under a lens and I wish I was on my bed again staring into the darkness around me and being content with the thought of my feigned safety. “STOP KILLING US” I see the man at the bar shooing me out as if the tar I had swallowed was not payment enough for my existence as if there is a mystery behind my distaste. As if I had not worn the feeling upon my flesh: that I have often been subjected to a ‘second class citizen’ position in this country. “STOP KILLING US” The earth is Hot. and my people are Hot and someone left the kettle on, and I wonder if they will notice before we boil over. A man breaks the chant to start another as we begin to move down the street “ HANDS UP!” and I can feel my sight become scoped before me, I am just another black body and I’m begging someone out there “DON’T SHOOT!” and that night I didn’t sleep, the blackness in me raising my body into a Fever pitch and I felt like the hurricane would never leave me again.
June Beshea is 21, a Scorpio, born and raised in Atlanta,GA and currently a senior at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill majoring in Biology and Chemistry. A lover of all things hip-hop and southern, most days she can be found editing my work in the local Waffle House