I was at Angel's perusing the fruit. The strawberries looked white in places. I still had two days until your actual birthday. Chocolate on chocolate you said, and I wanted to add strawberries because that had been my nickname for you since the beginning. That's what I put in my phone because your real name – Mark? Wasn't exotic, sexy or hood. At the time I had just met a Dominican guy named Choco who I listed as 'Chocolate.' Strawberry and Chocolate on speed dial sandwiched between an alphabetical list of rad feminists ladies.
Illustration by Rochelle Fox
I recalled the week of the hurricane when I ran into you on Starr St. and asked you if you knew my name. We had been sleeping together casually for 5 months at that point and I had even spent twenty minutes one afternoon very carefully smoothing olive oil in between the crevices of your zigzagging cornrows. You couldn't recall it. I said it was fine, at the time, you hadn't told me your other 'real' names either. Mark was actually something you made up the night I met you and had since forgotten about. Sometimes we'd pass each other in the park and you'd say something like 'Call me Johnson and Johnson," without so much as removing your headphones. One day you told me the truth, 'You can call me Slim, it's how they know me out here.' You were a celebrity on 'the block,' as you called it, this place I had lived for 4 years but knew so little about.
Slim wasn't your real name either. Your birth name was tattooed in black letters across your biceps, 'SHIN' on the right and 'COSTA' on the left. But you didn't reveal that until month 7 or 8 when I asked about the tatt one day tracing over your torso with my eyes.
It had been a busy morning. I was caffeinated, rushing around deliriously on Knickerbocker Ave restocking the Epsom salt and buying a box of cake mix and a bunt pan at the 99cent store. I even found some Michael Jordan wrapping paper to wrap your new pair of Footlocker shorts in.
By Friday, your official Birthday, you had jumped ship. You came in the middle of the night, left me the money you owed and the keys. You took your jar of cocoa butter, laundry detergent, backpack and 2 boxes of shoes. It took all of 5 minutes. You said you were coming back but you didn't and I cried all night. I never even had the chance to borrow your brand name detergent like you always insisted. 'Do you,' you said.
It hadn't always been this way. I used to ride my bike through Bushwick, gangsta rap blasting through my headphones, eyes darting back and forth assessing the buffet of thugs perched on street corners, hollering out of bodegas and blasting by on BMX bikes and low riders with base that made my junk tingle. Men with wavy braids, bulging muscles and white diamonds glinting from their milk chocolate earlobes. I listened, I watched, I went home to my lily white boyfriend and let dem thugs control my every waking fantasy.
Until the night of the rapture that is. I was walking home with Jazlyn, my homegirl with smokey bedroom eyes and pouty lips. As usual, our verbiage was veering toward sex and men. It was Friday night. It was the end of the world. I was sobering up to the fact that I was never going to meet my Baby Daddy if I couldn't stay up past 9pm and my social life revolved around Feminism and Art.
'Strawberry Tush,' your voice floated up from behind us. We were on Starr St. and we had just passed an unruly group of black teenagers. I was wearing a pink onesy with a skort that rode up in the back. Jazlyn and I giggled and kept walking as you objectified our backsides like sweet, plump summer fruit. Something in me snapped by the time we had walked the three blocks back to our place. It was the last time a sexy black guy hollered at me on the street and I let him get away with it.
You didn't say 'tush' you said 'kush,' it's a type of designer weed. There was a drought then so you didn't have the regs you normally pushed. It was Friday and you were wearing your studs.
'I like your earrings.'
Illustration by Rochelle Fox
You came over and we smoked an L on my roof. You didn't have to say much. You told me your friend had just died. He was selling stolen guns out of his apartment nearby and got shot and killed by an undercover cop. I asked if you cried about it and you said never. You never cried. You made bread and you balled. You were nice. Nice means you played well. Bread was money, also called cake because you could stack bills in sheets like cake. Communicating always took us several tries, one slang term bleeding into the next, you proudly 'Burfing' (that's birthing, teaching me for the first time) me to slango and I always eager for more. 'Everything is always double,' you said, like when you told me 'I never had a Moms.' You didn't have anyone to spoil so you spoiled yourself.
'I want to get in you,' you said.
I liked black voices. You later told me ever since white girls had started moving in to the neighborhood you had been working on getting one. You were shocked that none of them had hollered before me. I wasn't. I didn't know anybody that would meet a drug dealer on the street and invite him over and sleep with him all within the span of 2 hours. There were programs for that. Afterward I saged the place. It was a fantasy, the sex was abrupt and like usual the mental frenzy outweighed the physical pleasure. Little did I know, it would only get better. Honestly, when you've built a sexual relationship over time with a semi-Pro basketball player that doesn't drink or jerk off you've cashed in on the best sex of your life and you might live to regret it. In the months following I'd come to learn Strawberry was a rare breed next to Godliness.
Drowning myself in Drake during my daily commute had new meaning. Strawberry 'Gave me the business,' as y'all said, and I was Screaming out every time you deep in!! I tweeted, emailed, texted to anyone that would listen: STRAWBERRY GANGSTA RIPPED A NEW HOLE IN ME DURING THE RAPTURE!!! Politically incorrect slander, yes, but I had been fucked backways and sideways into a neo-fruitopia. And I wanted to tell this story without my usual intellectual armor. You taught me the poetry of rap – usually high, singing along to every word, lying next to me in bed – and I taught you about the Prison Industrial Complex. The term that is, whatever good it was worth to someone who was locked up on Rikers island before he graduated high school and walked the streets in fear of the police every day.
One day you asked me if I knew what ebonyx was to which I replied very promptly and proudly, 'Black vernacular slang.' You laughed and replied, 'Naw…it's just SLANGO. Get right.'
Little did I know six months post-rapture I'd be buttering you up oversize slabs of my organic gluten free cornbread and walking on your back in the middle of the night when you came home injured from a game and caught me in a submissive half-dream state. You'd be going through a box of Yogi tea a week and burning through bags of the lavender Epsom salt I liked to use in my bath. You'd be having brunch with my two best friends and I on my Birthday.
We went to Pies n' Thighs in Williamsburg. I wore pearls and you wore diamonds as you always did on Fridays. You ate Mac n' Cheese because you said you 'Didn't trust white people chicken.' You knew the buser who you had attended high school with and I imagined how proud you felt, taking three beautiful, petite girls out to breakfast while he scraped up our leftovers. We hadn't all spent the night together but in June you had a ménage with Jazlyn and I and in July with me and Sass.
Each was different. It was a first for all of us and all my idea. That was the first time we really talked. After the rapture we continued to see each other but our affairs were limited to sex. You'd show up, tell me I looked gorgeous, we'd blast some hip hop and do the bizness. Do it like whoa. Like nothing I had ever experienced before. You were built. You were brilliant. And you brave.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT TO THE MALE ARTIST POPULATION:
More Exercise, less drugs boo!!! I want to come 3x (on the Dick!!!) while you finger my two best friends, choke me, kiss me sweetly and whisper words of encouragement in my ear. FRONT YARD BROAD DAY, ya heard?
You'd high five me before and afterward you'd often jump up and sing along to the radio while admiring yourself in front of the mirror. When you moved in, this would become longer productions in the bathroom that involved lots of cocoa butter and soap bubbles. Black homeless men in their twenties with loads of brand sneaks shower a lot, a heckuvvalot more than privileged white feminists in swagspicious drag. On one occasion, you approached my collection of My Little Ponies and asked if they were lucky. 'Why yes' I replied, as you picked one up kissed the bridge of its nose and tapped your chest 4 times in the shape of the cross. One time I was having a bad day and you said 'Theys got you runnin around,' to which I replied 'Who?' and you listed off a number of animate and inanimate objects, people, places and things that somehow related to my life. I liked that you always had faith. That no matter what I was going through you reminded me 'You blessed.'
While most of my artsy friends ran around with 2 or 3 degrees, always on the brink of financial peril and governed by a wildly fluctuating God/inferiority complex, without a home or a high school diploma you were one of the most well adjusted, confident, peaceful and kind human beings I had ever met.
Sometimes you came home with a fresh tattoo or a new design in your hair. Once you came with it all loose. It was the hottest day of summer and you were glistening with sweat and sporting an Afro that could have scraped the heavens. In the beginning you didn't ever lay beside me after. For the first time in my life I didn't need you to. At the ripe age of 27 I was a hardened Mack. When we had the threesome with Jazlyn we talked a bit first. She asked you things like your middle name. Making myself small was the role I chose with you in the beginning.
Sass wanted more. Sass likes to take her sweet ass time. She made you smoke another joint with us on the roof at the neighbor's party. I realized after our second threesome what fantastic therapy sex was. You burfed me to the joy of sexin'. Sexual Healing. It still hurt so bad I'd scream my head off like a tantruming child. You let me climb up you as you couched lovingly 'Climb da tree.' You could fuck two girls at once. By August, the goal was three girls at once and film it. We got our hair done, did our make up, danced around the bedroom in giddy anticipation (We were making a lesbian gangsta erotica!!) and you never came because you got arrested. So we made a movie about waiting for Strawberry.
You came in the aftermath of Credwin and weathered the storm of various other more suitable, educated hip black fellows that made art or music and fancied me for a while until I got bored. Credwin broke my heart in five places the minute I lay eyes on him. Credwin was beta, the kind of G that crawled up out of the ghetto into art school and had the tatts and the white homies to prove it. This made Credwin a safe first. When I smelled the cocoa butter on Credwin I assumed it was pheromonal and that black people just smelled like candy to me. By the time you starting living at my place I knew it was the Palmer's. And by the time you left and I payed a visit to Credwin he confirmed – he doesn't even wear coco butter! As Josephine Baker, the Missouri born 'Créole Goddess' that made millions of dollars shaking her behind for white audiences of the mid-twentieth century said, 'the white Imagination sure is something when it comes to Blacks.'
Illustration by Rochelle Fox
Drake, you, Strawberry II, Credwin, Dabtdrae…everyone was bleeding together like some bastard exquisite corpse of a melancholy hymn drenched in squirt (that's female ejaculation.)
Credwin came in the wake of Dabtdrae, who was born in the Caribbean third world but learned the American way how to barf up friend Chicken and test saliva for Candida traces.
Before I knew it Dabtdrae would become your 'custee' and start calling himself 'Strawberry II,' a weaker fruitier art-school you that fancied he could one day play you basketball one-on-one in the park. Dabtdrae that fancied he could one day have a Black girlfriend. Dabtdrae always said things like how he felt like everyone thought he only dated white girls because of some internalized hatred of his own kind when really, he just didn't know very many Black girls. Especially Black girls that were into cross-dressing and painting with butter Dabtdraes.
'You know people don't think that,' I answered back.
'I know, but it's something I'm really sensitive about.'
The next day it hit me that I do think that. Not just about Dabtdrae but about most of the Black male artists I know that date white female artists. Strawberry was capital 'B' Black, in the pure imaginary sense. Black in the sense that your strong arms led me in and out of my illusions with fluid precision.
When you didn't answer my calls I could
usually hunt you down where you were ballin' in the park.
'You want some pussy wid dat?'
I escaped all day long at work into fantastical text messaging with my Strawberry. In October you went to California to try out for the NBA d-league and the topic du jour at work between my boss's daughter and I became Basketball Wives. After the tryout you got phone calls from teams across the country and ever since I've been making you Blackberry-sized hoop mix tapes as a labor of lust.
'I want to sleep next to you.'
You texted me suddenly one night. We didn't fuck, you came over and you held me. I thought you didn't know how. For the next several nights we smoked together and you told me where you came from. You were an orphan, and you had been homeless since your adopted father was instrumental in having you arrested your last year of high school. Your adopted father worked in finance and played inappropriately with his adopted children. He had 6. You learned to snatch purses and sell drugs to survive. You spent a year on Rikers Island. You'd been homeless this whole time and I had had no idea.
In high school, you worked at McDonald's for a week until one day you were at the fryer and you looked outside across the street into the adjacent park and said aloud, 'Fuck this, I'm a baller.' And as much as you craved, relished, savored, elevated and celebrated the act of coitus, the best sex noises you've ever made occurred while you were watching basketball highlights on my laptop.
Eventually, you were coming every night bringing me blackberry seltzers and asking me to sing you to sleep like a Mermaid. You started calling my place 'The Crib,' or 'Home,' and it made me happy. You slipped so quickly into the boyfriend zone, and just as quickly you slipped out. You bought me fitted caps in all different colors and taught me how to 'Cook Up,' Lil B's rare dance move about making crack cocaine I began to incorporate into my yoga routine.
You'd always have a bedtime story that could rip my privileged white paradigm to shreds. Like the night you said you went to play ball at a Latino club and a bunch of them ganged up on you saying you were too good to play at their club. You retaliated by hiring a hit man to go to the club owner's house and had your killer wait a block back as you patiently asked for an apology.
That's when I learned what 'beef' meant. You said you didn't have any. You said the only way to end beef was to end beef. A week later you came back from a hood tournament saying your team had lost by six points and then shot your opponents. You said the whole team was drunk and stoned. Another time you punched a guy during a game and ran through half the backyards of Queens as the other team stalked you with guns.
I taught you about kale. You taught me all the various pseudonyms for pseudonyms and all the ways you could say you sliced through someone's face – like 'eatin' someone's food' (the whole face) or 'Buck fifty' (half the face). Every slang expression revolved around money, sex or food and had two or three meanings. You examined my asshole for herpes. You taught me about selling urine in drug treatment centers and selling drugs in drug treatment centers.
I barely knew the names of any of my neighbors and you knew the whole block. They knew you. They worked for you, they called your name and shook your hand in the park. Even the 'Community Service Stars,' what you called the women who cleaned the bathrooms in Maria Hernandez park. I remember when you first called me a 'Star,' and I had thought it suited me so well – Me the artist! Me in the singular. Me the pretty white girl that breezed through the park with my headphones blocking out the world looking for you.
Until the day Gigi – who claimed to be your long term live in Girlfriend with a capital G! – began stalking me online and calling at all hours of the night to threaten me. And it wasn't just Gigi. Pretty soon angry Black Mamas were hanging out of windows howling my name to avenge their jealous chickenhead daughters. All this peppered by sudden vague pronouncements by you such as 'Don't tell anyone you know me I don't want you to get a hot curling iron shoved up your ass because someone's trying to get at me.' And in defense of your multiple boos 'I am the best. Nobody's getting all of me because nobody's takin' it in all three holes.'
Sucking your dick that one time made me gag and I cried afterward. I guess you were homeless in the sense that you were a nomad with Moms, Boos and Bs scattered across Brooklyn. You were, as a good friend of mine once said, 'A key holder.' You were welcome everywhere you went.
I was golden, Gigi or not. And as you faded back into NSA sex I found that I had a remarkable ability to attract young, beautiful Black men of all camps. They were coming out of my ears. I could love them as long as they cut me off first. At the end of the day, the harder I ran into the arms of the next Black man the more they reminded me of my father-brother-sister-mother…Me! Early sexual experimentation. Shame. Alienation was our mother tongue. The generation that stopped pooping. Stopped menstruating. Stopped Loving.
Then all of a sudden one day Gigi blitzed me. Called me 100 times a day for a week and made death threats. I was having paranoiac fantasies about Gigi climbing through my apartment window with an oozie and my yoga teacher said their was radioactive cell phone matter in my aura. She didn't stop, and no matter where I went I heard Gigi vibrating in my handbag. Until finally I was biking somewhere and realized her phone calls were vibrating my handlebars. I stopped the flow of traffic, answered and let her yell at me. I apologized. She won. Officially, I came to the 212 six years after I moved to New York when a jealous (genius?) hood chick called me private so many times I had to get a new phone number.
I did whatever I could to get your approval even if it was granted in some demented form like a one word text message. At the end of the day what lay beneath the way I worshipped you, and I did, was self-loathing. Familial loathing. I'd go to the ends of the earth searching for anyone that didn't remind me of myself. I developed a high-speed radar for any man that had never washed down six rice crispy treats with a trip to Disneyland. My explosive love for you, Strawberry, masked a violent and utter disgust at the way my having been born with a golden spoon in my mouth only caused me to dive head first into a bucket of ice cream and swim out through rehab. When I should have been saving the world, not climbing to the shrillest pitches of pleasure with a dick singing in my ass?
In the African folk tradition the spiritual self revolves around a number of rotating centers one among them sexuality and food. In the African Diasporic tradition of boasting and bragging we see today embodied in Rap, there is no space for guilt, fear and shame around food and the body. 'Katie vanilla fudge Kakey's got the fatty,' you said, and I've liked my body ten times more ever since.
Eventually, you came back. You gave me knicknames. I was 'My Yoga,' or should I say Your Yoga, and also 'Katie Kakey,' named after Kakey Long Tongue, our favorites. You texted 'What's good?' several days after I had decided you were never coming back. You texted 'What's good?' several months and several days after I had decided you were never coming back the second time. Your birthday cake was still waiting for you in the fridge with candles. It was crusty hard and you only ate one bite to be polite. You opened your present and have been wearing your lucky shorts ever since.
And then one day you actually did clear out. Again. And then came back, again. Without talking about it, just like when you moved in. You left the cocoa butter and I slather myself in it every time I know you're coming around for a visit or I miss you which is a lot of the time. I call you and text you and often you answer and say 'What's good?' like nothing's changed. Saying 'I want to see you. I'm going to come through' and then half the time I just fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night to check my phone, take out my video ho earrings and rub the cheapy Wet n' Wild off my lips.
1 Brenda Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: from Coon to Cool, 2003