Hannah Giorgis is a writer of the diaspora. She can be found regularly embarrassing her entire lineage on Twitter @ethiopienne.
6:45, my bed, Crown Heights – Sunlight streams into my room. No.
7:00, the same exact side of my bed – I wake again; that auxiliary black girl sense, the one that tells me I failed to wrap my hair in a scarf before sleeping, jolts me out of bed this time. I spray my hair with the mix of water, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, aloe vera juice, and peppermint oil that I keep next to my other femme accoutrements. Reaching for the satin scarf I usually wear on my head at night, I pause a moment to appreciate the way the peppermint makes my scalp tingle. My knowledge of black haircare comes mostly from YouTube and hair forums, and I find myself wondering what on earth would be happening on top of my head if I hadn’t found them in college. Black women save each other in so many ways.
7:10 – Back in bed. I tell myself it’s because I need to take a quick nap in order for the satin scarf to lay my twists flat the way it does when I wear it overnight. That bit is not inaccurate, but mainly I’m lying to myself.
9:15 – I hear my phone go off. Texts from Imani, Shaynah, and Kebé usher me into the day for real like nudges to my spine. Last night we’d agreed to go to the gym this morning. I am not a good Ethiopian. Running gives me no joy, and I am objectively bad at it. I have to be either tricked, peer pressured, or actively bullied into exercising so here goes nothing [insert grainy #NewYearNewMe meme here].
9:45, Eastern Parkway – Imani gets to the gym before the rest of us and texts to alert (warn?) us that some fine nigga is present. (She was right.) I immediately notice the tall man doing pull-ups. He looks like a PostBadBeards archetype. I quickly move right along to an elliptical far from him. Not today, Satan. I see a man who looks exactly like someone I follow on Twitter and say absolutely nothing because I am a deeply awkward human who fears being wrong and creeping out some poor rando in the process. I DM him later in the day to ask if it had been him, and ’twas indeed (note to self: maybe stop being so awkward?). While on the treadmill, I play my favorite mashup of DeJ Loaf’s “Me, U & Hennessy”, heeding the advice of a friend who suggests thinking about sex while working out. Fine Nigga makes eye contact just as DeJ Loaf sings “fuckin so crazy / you twirlin’ and spinnin’ me.” I text my friend to say her suggestion may have been a bad idea.
11:30, my room – Trader Joe’s coconut body butter is the best thing to happen to my black ass post-shower skin since the O.G., Palmer’s cocoa butter. Naturally, the person who put me on was Diamond. Sometimes when I put it on I remember the time I sent a picture of the jar to a particularly well-moisturized man and he called it a thirst trap. Black people are nothing if not infinitely creative. I snort, and recall having had to teach my white ex to use conditioner. Bless his heart.
1:45pm, Eastern Parkway: I FaceTime with N on the walk over to Imani’s apartment. A man on the street walks by me and exclaims “Excellent!” in my general direction right before I pick up the call. As far as catcalls go, “excellent” is not the worst. I’m laughing as N’s face comes into focus. The man overhears me laughing and says “not bad, right?” I laugh again, despite myself. It’s bright outside, and I feel safe in this moment, like our interaction is taking place in a world less fearsome than this one. It’s the kind of thing that makes me recall my favorite Sylvia Plath quote (I know, I know): “Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” I don’t want to talk to everybody. Still, the quote comes to mind every time I find myself prioritizing safety over connection. I snap out of my thoughts and keep walking, grateful for how close Imani lives. Having friends within walking distance is a gift that keeps on giving. Imani’s apartment smells like bacon when the door opens, and we dance to soca and dancehall while sitting at her table. I feel warm, remembering again that Imani, Heben, Kebé, and I will be in Trinidad a month from now for Carnival.
4:20pm, my living room couch: Melissa and I pick up pastelitos de queso on the way home from Imani’s and make Yohan watch Love and Hip Hop with us, before eventually switching to Jane The Virgin. I check my inbox briefly while watching, but I’m too depressed to answer emails on Saturday of all days. Today I am actively trying to let myself feel joy. Jane The Virgin is by far the best show on television, like a mug of hot lemon tea. Heben was the first person to (aggressively, lovingly) suggest this show to me, and I’ve now taken on her (appropriately) evangelist spirit. Yohan laughs at all the right moments, and Melissa’s skeptical little sister does, too. I smile and think there’s no feeling better than knowing someone genuinely enjoys a show or album or book you recommended to them and being able to share it with them. I bask in the combination of genuine joy and smug satisfaction, then reread one of my favorite essays about love and books.
6:00pm – A comes over with Guyanese pine tarts just as Yohan’s on his way out. He’s in our living room now watching Jane the Virgin, yet another convert. Sharing space with him feels like a synchronized dance without rigid choreography. We have known each other for 6 years now, and every time we are in the same room I feel our bodies silently calibrating. It is quiet, gentle work; it is the art I am most grateful to practice (even when I forget). I know that when A sits down he’s not going to take his backpack, coat, shoes, or beanie off even though he’ll be here for at least an hour. It baffles me, but reminds me I love how prepared he always is. Just after 7, he leaves, not having removed a single item. Melissa and I laugh knowingly. Later I find myself thinking it’s both terrifying and exciting to know there will always be things I won’t know about him, about everyone. Last year I tried to let myself be more vulnerable, more open with the people I love, but I know I still erect walls around my the parts of myself where shame dwells. This year I wonder if I will evict it or defang it by letting others visit.
9:05 pm, the backseat of an Uber – I call my mom. We’d talked yesterday, and I know she won’t be expecting me to call now. But last night Alexis had said she sees bits and pieces of my mother’s deep interest in/compassion for other people in me. I’ve always thought myself far less warm than my incredibly extroverted mother, but I know it will make my mom happy to hear her daughter may not be a misanthrope after all. She tells me she’s delighted but not surprised, and I laugh. Of course. Twenty four years later you’d think I’d stop underestimating her understanding of my internal world, and yet the ignorant stubbornness of youth persists. I recall the title of Warsan Shire’s gorgeous, harrowing book of poetry, one of my favorites: Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth. My mom updates me on my sister and brothers; it’s been just over 2 weeks since I saw them at my family’s place in California, but I miss those gremlins so much. I tell her more about the Trinidad trip and how much the heavily West Indian pockets of Crown Heights remind me of “back home” (even more than Harlem’s African pockets, which skew West African), and she reminds me how badly I need this vacation. “Hanniye, you deserve it.” I am never more obviously enveloped in love than when my mother calls me my family name. We slip in and out of Amharic, and I can hear the gears turning in my West African Uber driver’s head when he makes eye contact with me after one particularly long Amharic phrase. I feel recognized, like he and I don’t need to ask each other the requisite “Where are you from?” All that matters is “not here.”
9:30pm, Chilo’s, Bed Stuy – I walk in to meet Doreen and her boyfriend Alex. At the bar stands yet another man whom I recognize from Twitter (this is not a daily occurrence, I swear). This city is so small. I decide not to say anything because I get the sense that he will read an invitation into my “hello.” Bummer, I would’ve loved to ask how long he’s had his sprawling freeform dreadlocks. Doreen and Alex are both radiant; we talk and laugh and laugh some more, trading gentle roasts and stories about the scandals and white collar crime that rocked our predominantly white schools. It is both comforting and disconcerting that our experiences share so many similarities across states, discipline, class. Such is black life; every violence, every burden is felt personally and yet somehow also collective. I am reminded that we really do need to go on a double date with A soon (maybe Ethiopian food?). The men working behind the counter here, making tacos de nopales and chorizo and pork belly, are Latino and East Asian. For a brief moment, I miss LA and feel an almost physical pain. I don’t try a taco partly because I am still full from all the pizza I’ve eaten today, but more importantly I don’t want to sate my nostalgia. LA, like so many things, is most satisfying when I am craving it desperately from a distance, not when my thirst for it might conceivably be quenched. Desire itself, that curiously pleasurable anxiety, is enough.
10:30pm, Tip Top, Bed Stuy – We walk about 5 minutes to Raillan’s birthday party, and immediately I spot Jazmine’s lustrous twistout (braidout?) peeking out from under her beanie. Michelle’s thick halo of hair is pulled into a bun that must have taken Herculean arm strength to wrangle. Coconut oil blessings are abundant in this space. Raillan is lovely, and it’s wonderful to be here celebrating him. I am not drinking this month (I know, I know), but I feel buoyant. So many people I adore are here, and I hug them all. White people obsessively, compulsively compliment my 2Pac earrings, and I instinctively think about Morgan Parker’s essay. A white woman is casually waltzing through the bar in a black animal costume; we are unsure if she is dressed as a squid or a spider. A man kisses her with the costume head still on. Allegedly this is for a music video. Several of us keep making eye contact and asking ourselves if this is actually happening. I tweet photos because I don’t want to forget it happened; I am sober, but the mind is still a sieve.
12:00 am, Moe’s, Fort Greene : Aaron, Nick, and I leave Raillan’s and head to Moe’s for Imani’s birthday shenanigans. I spot Melissa’s always-perfect eyebrows when I walk upstairs, and find the rest of our crew from there. The space is hot and crowded. Aaron and I rap along to Nicki Minaj. Imani, Arissa, and I dance, trying to ignore the older men leering at us. Arissa notes that the three of us have similar dance styles, and I think about how much bodies commune with each other and with rhythm. I adjust my cropped sweater and realize my lower back is sweating. Reapplying my black cherry lipstick in the middle of the dance floor, I’m quite literally feelin myself. It makes me want to text someone I’ve been thinking about dancing on. My thighs are sore from the squats I did this morning, but the burn is almost erotic. It reminds me what my body is capable of. I am stubborn, so I know that pushing past the soreness to wine on him will make me feel triumphant, smug, sexy. I lose myself in a Vybz Kartel song, thankful for all my body has survived and all the ways it can celebrate.