Jasmine Sanders is a writer from the South Side of Chicago, where she is completing her first work of nonfiction.
I bled through my sheets last night. I awaken to my thighs slicked with my discarded uterine lining, and I am at once impressed and repulsed by the grotesqueness of my own leaking body. I sigh heavy and loud, though there is no one in my room to hear. I worked until midnight waiting tables, then biked home under a fat and pretty moon. My apron, work pants and cash are crumpled about my room as I lay contemplating the virtues of rising to shower vs. falling back asleep in a pool of blood.
I make a bigger mess of myself with toilet tissue. My period has always been sporadic, coming and going as it chooses; I can have one every 12 days, or not see it for months. It operates totally independent of me. When I started antidepressants, they totally obliterated my PMS, so I don’t have any of the physical or emotional warnings that my period is coming. When I lived with my mother, she thought my inability to handle my menses as invisibly and masterfully as she did was proof of some sort of mental incapacity; she was sure that there was something wrong with me. A drop of blood on the toilet seat; a peek of plastic applicator in the garbage was enough to send her into fits, picking an argument with me about being a lady. I’ve always found period stigma ridiculous and also telling about the way that we view women; a woman can be bleeding, but what’s most important is that she keeps it hidden, so as not to offend the rest of us.
I don’t have my glasses or contacts, so I shower as quickly as possible, watching the red water swirl at my feet and down the drain. Blind and shower-wet, I stumble back to my bed. The three small circles of blood have muddled into one. I sleep carefully so as not to touch it.
A text from Alexis wakes me. She’s in the very beginning stages of a heartbreak, and I am trying my best to be there for her, to soothe the sting from losing a boy who never deserved her to begin with. “Can you just tell me it’s gonna be okay?” she asked the day after it happened. Of course it won’t, I thought; “It will, it will!” I said. I feel like helping her through her heartache is my due as her closest friend; I feel the need to prove my usefulness to her. She’s still sad though, still weeping and reeling despite all my hugs and affirmations and texts. My failure to comfort her, to heal her, is a reminder of my own uselessness, and for just a second, I resent her for this, then myself for even thinking such a thing. I text her and make oatmeal in the microwave I should have cleaned two weeks ago.
I text Jose while stripping my sheets. He’s working on a manuscript of poems to send me. I’m working as his editor, though I feel supremely unqualified for the job. I return to the familiar feeling of needing to prove my usefulness to my friends, to remind them that I am hardy and sensible, like a pair of good shoes. He tells me he’s going to email me the poems then mail the manuscript for my opinion. I chew the nail polish off my left middle finger and frown at the bitter, chemical taste of glitter on my tongue.
My agent likes two of my tweets. I consider blocking or muting her, if for no other reason than my own nerves. I remember that I’m supposed to be working on my book proposal.
I take an Uber to work. I let my window down, despite the air conditioning; I need fresh air before going to work in a darkened restaurant which perpetually smells of tomatoes and garlic. “I have the air on,” he says. “Yeah—I get carsick,” I say.
I am the only black waitress at the restaurant where I work. It’s not uncommon; the racial politics of fine dining establishments is enough to make my head spin. Of course, it’s about beauty politics, and the ways in which black people are perceived when it comes to niceness and hospitality. The back of house staff is almost entirely Mexican—mostly young boys. The waitresses and hosts are mostly white, and all women. All of the managers are white men.
I clock in.
A couple of the white waitresses are working doubles, meaning 10 A.M. –midnight. They talk about cocaine and Red Bull, the combo keeping them peppy and friendly throughout a 14-hour shift. I tell them that black people don’t do cocaine cus it’s crack-adjacent. Nobody laughs.
There are no black people in this restaurant, a pair of older black men say to me. They are my table: section two, table 65. We are the only black people in the entire restaurant right now. “I know,” I say to them. “Let’s get out of here.” Their laughter is so sweet and so genuine that I want to go home with them, these two older black men, drinking scotch (the lighter one) and red wine (the one in a red T-shirt). I can tell they laugh a lot together—that there are many shared secrets and jokes between them. I walk away from them and watch from the server’s station. The lighter one laughs again and touches the hand of his comrade, and I am assured that they are lovers, then hate myself for my imagination. Why is tenderness between black men so odd to me that I immediately assume it romantic?
My third table from Brooklyn. They are graphic designers. “Where can we go to see, like, good graffiti in the city?”
“I just love your hair.”
Parents attempt to enjoy their dinner and converse over the screams of their baby girl. They leave her fretting in her stroller and I ask to pick her up. The father says sure. I hold her and she continues to cry, her tiny, hot body quaking in my arms. I stare at her. She pauses, catches her breath and resumes.
“Jasmine, do you mind staying for a while? Maybe 30 minutes? Okay. Thanks.”
I have counted my tips and changed my clothes and am heading out the door. The hostess, a young girl with teeth aged beyond her years, tells me that a few of my tables stopped by to compliment me. I thank her and laugh. I have shitty customer service, but I honestly do think that white people are completely inept at reading my emotions. I bare my teeth like a shark, and they think it’s a smile. I smile, and they think I’m being patronizing.
A homeless woman tells me she will tell me a joke for 50 cents. I tell her I don’t have change, but I will get her something from 7/11. She asks for Red Bull. I get her a Red Bull and myself a Naked. I hand her the drink and make it halfway down the block before I jog back. “You didn’t tell me the joke,” I say to her. She looks up from petting her dog, which looks like a shepherd mix, with eyes as warm and dark as syrup. “How is a man just like a carpet?” she asks. “You lay em right, you can walk all over them for years.” I can’t be sure, but I swear her dog laughed along with us, as I walk to the 29 State Street bus heading south.