This is my favorite memory of you.
We went to this park once in high school to have a picnic with our friends. We were the first ones there—we set up the blanket and the store-bought sandwiches. Your mother had driven us to and from the local Albertson’s to get the food because neither of us could drive yet, and then she had dropped us off, leaving us in a shady spot not too far from the playground and the swimming pool where they give lessons in the summer. You’d get a ride home from your boyfriend, and he’d take me home too since I was close by. This time it’s just the two of us sitting in your parked car drinking Starbucks, late July. The summer swimming class is just starting and there’s a man shouting obscenities at another man, and we wonder if they’re going to fight. They don’t. I tell you about my growing inferiority complex, about how I feel passed over, and you tell me not to because I’m beautiful and it’s too bad if he can’t see it. It’s not just about him, but I don’t say that. I tell you that I think he can—it’s just that it’s not enough.
“I know there’s nothing wrong with me,” I say, but I think the opposite. “But this isn’t new. Most men don’t like brown girls—it’s just…even if everything else is good, it’s not enough, because I don’t look like… I don't think I look like...what they want.”
You stay quiet and I don’t blame you. It just isn’t your experience. But I ask if you’ve ever felt this way, and you tell me you’ve never thought about it—about them—about white people. You don’t feel alienated when you’re around them—you don’t feel othered—you don’t even notice. You tell me your boyfriend feels similar, though—you tell me he also feels uncomfortable around them, especially when he’s in a crowd. You don’t think about it, but he does, so you can understand what I’m feeling. I don’t say anything, because your boyfriend once told me I wasn’t pretty, told me black girls weren’t attractive (does it matter that he added ‘to me’?). And you know this. You’ve heard the story. But you don’t know that that was the first moment I realized I was brown. Not brown, but brown. That brown was a bad thing. And what could I do? I don’t say any of this to you—it’s not your fault. And it could hurt you. But I feel a wall between us, because when you met me I didn’t think so much about being brown, and now that I do there’s a piece about me you don’t understand. You are not white, but you are pale like ivory, and everyone says you’re beautiful, and you are. You know what it’s like to be chosen, wanted. I say it’s probably good you don’t think about it or notice, because it takes a lot of energy, and breeds a lot of hurt and bitterness, and it leaves you feeling awful inside. You don’t say anything. We watch a family sit down in the grass—two children in bathing suits. Swim class is over. It’s almost five o'clock. I ask you if you’re hungry, and you are, so you drive us over to the pizza place on Citrus, and we talk about other things.