Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self
Author:Danielle Evans

Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self by Danielle Evans

 

 

 

 

I’m sick of mediating with your worst self

 

On behalf of your better selves

 

I am sick

 

Of having to remind you

 

To breathe

 

Before you suffocate

 

Your own fool self

 

—DONNA KATE RUSHIN, “The Bridge Poem”

 

 

 

 

 

I do not believe our wants

 

have made all our lies holy.

 

—AUDRE LORDE, “Between Ourselves”

 

 

 

 

 

Virgins

 

Me and Jasmine and Michael were hanging out at Mr. Thompson’s pool. We were fifteen and it was the first weekend after school started, and me and Jasmine were sitting side by side on one of Mr. Thompson’s ripped-up green-and-white lawn chairs, doing each other’s nails while the radio played “Me Against the World.” It was the day after Tupac got shot, and even Hot 97, which hadn’t played any West Coast for months, wasn’t playing anything else. Jasmine kept complaining that Michael smelled like bananas.

 

“Sunscreen,” Jasmine said, “is some white-people shit. That’s them white girls you’ve been hanging out with, got you wearing sunscreen. Black people don’t burn.”

 

Never mind that Michael was lighter than Jasmine and I was lighter than Michael, and really all three of us burned. Earlier, when Jasmine had gone to the bathroom, I’d let Michael rub sunscreen gently into my back. I guess I smelled like bananas, too, but I couldn’t smell anything but the polish, and I didn’t think she could, either. Jasmine was on about some other stuff.

 

“You smell like food,” Jasmine said. “I don’t know why you wanna smell like food. Ain’t nobody here gonna lick you because you smell like bananas. Maybe that shit works in Bronxville, but not with us.”

 

“I don’t want you to lick me,” Michael said. “I don’t know where your mouth has been. I know you don’t never shut it.”

 

“Shut up,” I said. They were my only two real friends and if they fought I’d’ve had to fix it. I turned up the dial on Mr. Thompson’s radio, which was big and old. The metal had deep scratches on it, and rust spots left by people like us, who didn’t watch to see whether or not we’d flicked drops of water on it. It had a good sound, though. When the song was over they cut to some politician from the city saying again that it was a shame talented young black people kept dying like this, and it was time to do something about it. They’d been saying that all day. Mr. Thompson got up and cut off the radio.

 

“You live like a thug, you die like a thug,” he said, looking at us. “It’s nothing to cry over when people wake up in the beds they made.”

 

He was looking for an argument, but I didn’t say nothing, and Jasmine didn’t, either. Part of swimming in Mr. Thompson’s pool was that he was always saying stuff like that. It still beat swimming at the city pool, which had closed for the season last weekend, and before that had been closed for a week after someone got beat up there. When it was open it was crowded and dirty from little kids who peed in it, and was usually full of people who were always trying to start something. People like Michael, who had nothing better to do.

 

“I’m not crying for nobody,” Michael told Mr. Thompson. “Tupac been dead to me since he dissed B.I.G.” He looked up and made some bootleg version of the sign of the cross, like he was talking about God or something. He must’ve seen it in a movie.

 

Mr. Thompson shook his head at us and walked back to the lawn chair where he’d been reading the paper. He let it crinkle loudly when he opened it again, like even the sound of someone else reading would make us less ignorant.

 

Jasmine snorted. She lifted Michael’s sweatshirt with the tips of her thumb and index finger so she didn’t scratch her still-drying polish and pulled out the pictures he had been showing us before Mr. Thompson came over—photos of his latest girlfriend, a brunette with big eyes and enormous breasts, lying on a bed with a lot of ruffles on it.

 

“You live like a white girl, you act like a white girl,” said Jasmine, frowning at the picture and making her voice deep like she was Mr. Thompson.

 

“She’s not white,” said Michael. “She’s Italian.”

 

Jasmine squinted at the girl’s penny-sized pink nipples. “She look white to me.”

 

“She’s Italian,” said Michael.

 

“Italian people ain’t white?”

 

“No.”

 

“What the fuck are they, then?”

 

“Italian.”

 

“Mr. Thompson,” Jasmine called across the yard, “are Italian people white?”