Doreen St. Félix is a freelance writer and editor at large of Lenny Letter. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The FADER, Pitchfork, and elsewhere.
I can sense elements around me are on the edge. The premonition pushes me out of sleep. Or that is the narrative I give myself almost instantaneously, because it always feels good to admit my clairvoyance. I sit up with a corny horror-movie-start and catch three things right before they fall: 1) A., whose leg is hanging off the left side of his bed 2) my phone, which I’d placed under my pillow on the off-chance I would sleep through the alarm 3) and the sun, whose rise is the fall of the moon.
As a third grade student at Our Lady of Miracles in Canarsie, Brooklyn, I was fairly awful at the game of catch. This alarmed the gym teacher, who was already an excitable person. The sternness of her blond ponytail, when it wagged at how bad I was, scared the shit out of me. Ms. E (gym teachers go by initialed names, an efficiency, some nominal athleticism) told me that she’d be my partner for our final catch session, right before Christmas break. Every day for a week, I asked my parents to send me to school early, so I could press my face on the gymnasium walls, memorizing the names on the posters on the gymnasium walls. I figured she had figured me out. I still remember one name: Kelby. The last day of catch came, and I was reliably bad. Ms. E pointed to a poster and asked me to read out what was written. I said Kelby; the Social Studies teacher had switched out the posters that morning. Mrs. E took me to the nurse and within ten minutes, I was informally diagnosed as severely near-sighted, myopic.
Fifteen years later, I’m staring, discerning the fixtures in A.’s room from memory, not from sight, and relishing the halos poor eyesight gives to objects. No lines, just colors radiating like hospital lights. I think briefly, how “aesthetic” it must have been to not see harsh lines before I got my glasses. Then I concede to myself that is ridiculous, that I’m only thinking that romantically because I know I’ll be writing about my day later, that up until I got my diagnosis I must have been terrified.
I don’t sleep through alarms, because I don’t sleep long, and I’m annoyed that I didn’t put the phone to charge overnight.
I scroll through Twitter anyway, let the battery drain. Hannah sent me a DM that made me snort. The tweet was: “Every nigga nonchalant until they meet a woman that makes ‘em fuck through a nut.” I laugh again and it stirs A. half-way up. A few minutes later, he’s more up and burrowing in my naked shoulder, mumbling shit that makes my legs outstretch.
I’m in a cab on my way home, rubbing lotion on my ankles and my neck. It’s the first cold day we’ve had in a so far absurdly warm fall—global warming isn’t absurd, fuck that, it’s perfectly reasonable—but still, the guys on Ralph Avenue are grilling jerk chicken as if it were summer.
My sister, my brother, and my nephew Xavier are coming into town for my mother’s sixty fifth birthday party. The house is pretty clean, but Xavier almost walking and A. is coming over to meet my family and I’d rather not notice something dirty before either of them did. Alex asked to meet my family early on, unexpectedly early, and I’d been putting it off. I vacuumed the bedrooms on the second floor, I washed the sheets. I watched soccer with my dad while I briefed him on Alex’s job; my mom reminded me to move the printer from the living room to the basement.
The nervous energy that drove me to clean the house on four hours of sleep dissipated quickly. I climb into bed for one of those fake naps, the kind where your eyes burn too much to let you go. My neighbor’s mother is in a screaming match with her daughter. The daughter is three or four and already possessive of “too much will,” what my mom says in Creole. I know I need to move out of suburban Brooklyn before my next birthday.
I pick up this book I’m supposed to be reviewing, just to put it back down again. It’s a debut novel by a young writer. The sentences are too beautiful. Engaging in criticism can feel like engaging in essentially pointless elective surgery. I dog-ear it again. It’s not due until the end of next month.
I stare at this picture of my three cousins. The three, sisters, had died in a house fire two years ago this week. I hate myself and my parents for not checking up on their mother as much as we should. But then, what would we even say? I go downstairs and warm up a bowl of rice and okra stew.
My sister arrives, green-faced. I knew something was wrong, because she usually gets to New York from her home in Philadelphia by nine am. She’s an even earlier riser than me. Charlene had a migraine. She threw up in the car, retched in the very clean bathroom of a Chik-fil-A but still remembered to bring me chicken strips and Polynesian sauce. My mom is upset. “Why did you come? I don’t need to do a big dinner.” They’re both admirably stubborn. Xavier starts climbing up my mom’s leg. She speaks to him in Motherese. My sister mouths to me that that is why she had to come.
My face is almost done—Nars Tinted Moisturizer in Martinique, Becca Illuminator in Topaz, sloppy eyeliner in the brand-was-rubbed-off, and rubbed into my cheeks, MAC Raizin blush. I apply the same to my mom, who looks gorgeous in cranberry red.
A is late. He texts “This is like the longest cab ride ever. I can’t believe you do this all the time.” I know taking the drive to mythical, forgotten, bumblefuck Brooklyn will make him less pissy at me when I’m late to meet. I feel vindicated he understands.
4: 45 pm
The knot in my stomach unspins. Meeting went well. We’re in my sister’s Toyota Highlander, debating the merits what Jimmy, my brother-in-law calls new nigga rap. A. gaffes music videos. Jimmy smiles broadly at A in the rearview mirror, the two conceding Fetty’s perpetual legato is sort of refreshing. I’m so happy these two are vibing. And my parents. My dad talked to A., even smiled, and my mom greeted him with a kiss. This thing, when you are a first generation daughter, a deep schism of experiencing your parents in English-speaking space. Durga always says her primary identity is as a daughter, and it’s so applicable to me that I’ve stolen the declaration. I’d warned him A. parents might seem standoffish because they’re less comfortable speaking in English, though my mother’s hold of the language is basically royal. A.’s parents are young and American, more like Friends than Parents. Just the night before, I’d smoked with his family and gone bowling at Melody Lanes. The shame I felt at being nervous about my parents’ ostensible behavior came like a relief. I keep forgetting how much smarter they are than me.
My parents were in a separate car to the restaurant on Lafayette. I called my mom for the third time, trying to walk her through typing in an address on Google Maps. I fail at that. They’re all the way by the Holland Tunnel. A. is overhearing. I activate again that brief shame. He and Jimmy compare rhum-based drinks.
My mother ordered a virgin Pina Colada and she fucking loves it. She passes it to my Uncle Arly. He affirms. She passes the glass, which is like a goblet, to my father, then to my cousin Marlyn, then to me, and then to Alex, and we all let her know its delicious. When the glass is passed back to her, she beams, like positively beams. There was nothing left in the glass.
There are eight boys on the C train, and by their shined dress shoes, I guess they’re off to some prom or Christmas party. The tallest kid has a fresh line-up, that hybrid fade with the dewy looking twist-out fashioned after the Odell Beckham Jr. Black men are obsessed with speculating on Beckham’s sexuality online. He’s handsome, more square-shaped than inverted triangle, but still ideal. They make zoomed-in-to-the-point-of-obscured gifs of him smacking his teammates’ asses. They are obsessed with his public displays of affection, of the spectacular cut-aways during which a black man touches black men. It must feel mandatory to them. Beckham’s displays lay these men bare, and will hopefully, eventually, free them.
We smoke. It’s been helping me with my anxiety. Erykah Badu recently listed her favorite albums for Complex. A., put a song on, and it left me wide-mouthed. I can’t write which one, since he’s planning on using it for a project. Not everything you have to say, or write. I can demure that the music sounded like Carly Simon, if she’d been dropped in a biblical well and was forced to sing her way out.
Malik Yoba, Cedric the Entertainer, and Melissa de Sousa starred in this movie Ride, a brainless romp that predicted Making the Band. We’re watching it on his desktop monitor. The movie is about a group of aspiring rappers who have to travel to Miami for a video shoot. We laughed, because we were high, and fucked for hours after, because we were high.
I’m home, and as much as I usually hate the long ride back to Mill Basin, this time I took the time to write up some notes on my review. I think it’ll be an addition to the book, more like a limb than an accessory. I’m really confident about my work until I write it. The chicken is so cold. I love it. I love the sting of my grape-fruit scented make-up wipes against my closed lids. I love the air that comes after I’ve pinched my contacts out of my cornea. I love my family and they are sleeping. I love A., and he’s become family. I love especially Xavier, and am looking forward to riding with him in the backseat of the Highlander at sunrise, so we can prepare for his Christmas party at his home in Philadelphia.