Better Living Through Destiny
by Miss Rosen
illustrator Carolina Melis
Mr. Brown has this magical habit of leaving me undone, of unweaving my tapestry and leading me back to the beginning of it all.
We start then in April 2009, Brooklyn, inside a gallery with two-story walls made of glass that recalls nothing so much as a fishtank. The aquarium looks out on the Manhattan Bridge as trains traverse its length, on the East River, on the cobblestone-lined streets that lead to the waterfront. Inside, Mr. Brown and I sit on a turquoise tweed sofa. We haven’t seen each other in over a year. Mr. Brown has just returned from his escape, a six-month jaunt down to Puerto Rico where he was planning to retire at the tender age of thirty until all the money faded away. Now he’s back in New York and, to my eyes, he is dark and lovely, like a Christmas goose. He has come to see me so that he can lay claim to a couple copies of the magazine where he has four pages and a pullout poster of Malcolm (because he’s that white boy on his Black Nationalist). And me, the editor-in-chief, I choose not to read the pages he has written because I don’t want reality to spoil my illusion of him.
The story in the magazine is an excerpt from his second novel, which I have put on display in my apartment though I never so much as cracked the spine cause when he handed it off he looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’ll hate me.” And I thought, That’s possible. So it sits unread beside my bed, a white paperback with a simple font, under the title it says By Any Means Necessary instead of the author’s name. His name appears on the spine, only it is not his name at all.
Mr. Brown ain’t the name on his IRS form. I don’t know what is. And I love this not-knowingness. I only know what I feel. And in his presence I feel myself flushing all kinds of pinks and reds. Is it warm in here? He talks and I listen and it gives me a reason to look, to gaze at how his eyes shine and how his skin glistens like bronze, like gold, and I’m thinking, Bad girl! You got a man.
I keep it in check cause my man is just ten feet away. We work at the same job but I don’t mention this to Mr. Brown because illusions are more real than truth right about now. It is in these castles made of clouds that I float along until Mr. Brown comes out his mouth, all casual like it ain’t no thang, saying, “I was thinking, and I think you should have my baby.”
Record scratch. I don’t blink. I freeze then I thaw then I do nothing except scream The Fuck?! in my head. He does this at times. Drops inappropriate comments so I can squirm on his rod, only, umm, we’ve never so much as kissed. Nevertheless, I believe he is my Destiny. Shhh. Don’t tell nobody. What. Oh damn. He’s looking at me, like I’m gonna answer him.
“Have you seen the magazine,” I say, passing a couple of copies to him with all the nonchalance I can swing. He sees my blank face and he gets the hint.
We go about our business. I fall off a cliff. Quit my job, X my man, sell my apartment, all that good stuff. And being free of everything that ever held me down, the first thing I do is I get up on it like Keith Sweat, emailing Mr. Brown and we’re going places like roof parties and drinking bottles of rosé in French bistros on Seventh Avenue. I am curating an exhibition and invite him to take part cause there is nothing I love so much as collaborating with the man who stole my heart. It’s his first gig in the art world, such as it is. Being his first, I lavish everything on him, even going so far as titling the exhibition after our relationship: Delayed Gratification.
It’s now September 2010 and Mr. Brown invites me to his studio in Brooklyn cause we got a bite from the biggest whale in the sea. The New York Times is interested in the wall he painted for me, I mean for the exhibition, a one-hundred-foot-long wall that says, Joan of Arc. It’s on the Gowanus Canal but the only place you can see it is from the train when it comes barreling down the track as it pulls into Smith & Ninth.
And so we meet, such as our meeting consists of a trip to Sheepshead Bay where he paints a wall, followed by a visit to his sister’s house, a strained conversation in a local dive bar, and now, this, a detour on the platform at Fourth Avenue. We are standing in the back, right where the train comes out of the ground and I am drunk and he is drunk and we are tipsy and giggly and there is this energy that I cannot deny, but he resists so hard. Which makes me more wanton, more determined. Never have I met a man who was so No—and so damn Yes at the same time.
The night is warm, calm, and dark til the train pulls in and the ground beneath me vibrates. Sparks from the third rail light up the sky like the Fourth of July and I can see all these tags in that flash of light. It’s like we’re surrounded by spirits and ghosts and I can’t feel a thing except my heart that beats deep. I know this moment has come and I must tell him because I can’t not.
I say, “You remember how you were at my house and I told you I felt like my life was changing but I didn’t know what was next?”
and he says, “Yes,”
and I say, “I lied, I know what I want,”
and he asks, “What?”
and I say, “I want a baby,”
and he looks like he is going to faint, and he asks, “What?”
and I say, “I want a baby,”
and I am all smiles, and I am saying, “You put this idea in my head.” And it is everything in the world for me not to blurt it all out and say, The only baby I want is yours.
You see, I never wanted one until I wanted his because up until that moment I had it in my head that sex equals death.
I come from an abusive home. A place where doctors used psychology to destroy their children. A place where I had been convinced by the age of seven years old that I was non compos mentis. That I would be locked up in a hospital. That I would be on meds. I watched my parents destroy my sister from the inside out. It was their way of warning me: You are next.
By the time I was eight I wrote my first commandment: Just because you are related to me don’t make you shit. Family became the dirtiest word in the English language. I was desperate for love, and terrified of what it would cost. I remember standing at the front door to their house, thinking, I can run away. Then a picture of a teenage prostitute runaway ran through my mind and I took my never-been-kissed self to bed. I knew I was already a whore. I had already been turned out. There is more than one way to get fucked. Better believe that.
When I was sixteen, still a virgin, never having had a boyfriend or been on a date, my mother decided it was time to set me and my whorish ways straight. “If you get pregnant, you’re on your own. I am through raising children. I won’t do a thing to help you.”
I stared at her with violence and disgust. What kind of woman casually abandons her unborn grandchildren? The kind who marries a sadist and uses him to play cat’s paw on her children? The kind who shovels meds down her daughter’s throat to shut her up? Or simply the kind who abides her time waiting for them to off themselves?
Right then and there, my second commandment was written: I cannot get pregnant. Even though I had a crazy desire to abort a fetus to prove my loyalty to this woman. “Look ma, no kids,” I could say, throwing my uterine scrapings at her feet. But I didn’t. Instead my virgin ass shut down. Ain’t no babies, no abortions, no accidents, no mistakes. I never got pregnant. But I don’t do birth control. Russian roulette. FTW.
No condoms, unless the guy insisted. And that was only for one guy, the one who lived in my house and ate off my plate. Everyone else, no nothing. Sex equals death and unconsciously I scripted my end. Yet, as passive aggressive as I was, I didn’t want to go out like that. I’d be celibate for years on end, then throw caution to the wind, pick up a stranger and take him home for the evening. I’d have pregnancy and disease scares, mostly for the drama it caused. I popped a couple of Plan B, but that was more paranoia than necessity cause, umm, I never let anyone cum anywhere near me.
This is the way I was until Mr. Brown came along. He, who I had kissed but once before this night on the train platform. It was at the end of our second date. I was drunk, he was not, and I pushed up on him, all the way up on him. And it was…it was…he was…I was…and so it began And me? I was in… in love, infatuated, enthralled, enamored, in the deep end thinking I could swim. Because why not, he had always been here or at least he was then, right then, oo oww yea, I was up on him feeling long and lean and extra feline and I was in too deep to understand this kiss but I knew, I knew as it went on minute by minute, twenty minutes long, from the way he kissed me and I felt him holding back, the way his arms were down at his side and his hands were clenched in fists and his hands were not on me the way mine were on him but then he pressed his hips deep into me and I am sure I began to purr. Dizzy as he kissed me and I him and I am living like it’s my birthday and someone’s playinn Fiddy but they ain’t. It was just me and Mr. Brown in another train station.
I knew then he would never kiss me again so I didn’t stop and neither did he and that was just two months ago, but now, on this train platform, I tell him I want a baby because I get it, I see something I never understood before. Mr. Brown showed me sex could be life, and that life could be family, and that family could be love, and that love could be sex. I wanted love so badly I didn’t stop to think, to consider for a moment that in that book I had finally read, in that book that sat beside my bed, in that book that Mr. Brown had written, that book that he dedicated to all of the children of his that had been killed by abortion after abortion after abortion, well this is what it said:
Mr. Brown was maybe twenty years old and he decided that some woman, any woman, was going to have his baby. He would approach any girl he was fucking, and those he had not so much as kissed, and he would proposition them and they would squirm on his rod and he would leave. On to the next one like Jay-Z said. And in that same chapter, he talks about how he carried around a small piece of a towel stained with dry cum and on crowded buses he rubbed that piece of towel against the exposed flesh of attractive young women with the deluded dream he could impregnate them. And they would turn and look at him revolted, not know what it is that he actually did. And he writes in the book By Any Means Necessary that he is sorry, though he never says for what.