July 3, 2011
She returns with our drinks, slides half her left hand into her pocket while holding her beer. My new friend introduces us, “Emily, Hi.” I return the greet… not half as dignified as Emily, but at this point I’m thrown off my horse. The lot of us begin to converse. This is tough- tough in the sense that this used to be hard as nails for me, whereas now it’s my day-to-day. In high school, walking into any classroom was an anxiety attack-and-a-half. The fear of certain embarrassment struck me out before I could ever open my mouth. Athletics literally saved me from a lifetime of asocial behavior and seeking out the underside of a staircase every lunch period to breakout the pb&j sandwich. Thanks to 4 years of swim team enrollment, carousing pool sides in a speedo as the only non-white guy in the building, my social skills have bloomed to what they are today. Stealing glances while we chat, I make the effort not to keep my eyes in the same spot for too long. That was until I spotted something on Emily’s arm. Several jagged scars race across the underside of her forearm with half her hand still dipped into her pocket.
Sweet Christ, what happened? I try and answer for myself, which is of no use and a damn good way to start creating inappropriate jokes. Scars come with various connotations, the biggest part of them is the holder of the scar is the only one who can tell you its meaning- its history- its connotation(s). Marginalizing that can be dangerous, not only to the sensitivity of the person holding the physical scars, but also to your ability to empathize with others who may have gone through the same trauma as you. Marginalize anyone’s pain, and you put yourself at an inherent risk to repress your own.
Hmm, maybe their self-inflicted? I saw a girl at the old Purple Onion café with scars enough to look like burn wounds. In that case, they engulfed her entire arm, Emily held much less damage. Whatever it is… it’s not my business. You don’t go up to everyone you see on the street with a tattoo and ask them what the background is on it, do you? (If you said yes to that, then clearly you’ve never heard anyone say “act like you know”… it’s blue collar etiquette, please use) We merrily stroll along with our conversation, as the undeniable element reveals itself: Not only is Emily strikingly beautiful, but her tone of voice is profound. Something about the way she speaks to me reminds me of every steadfast, non-bullshit, authoritative woman I’ve come across. When you meet anyone in the Midwest that resembles anything but the Midwest… relish it, because you have it again until- well, until you visit somewhere outside of the Midwest.
Emily and I run into the inevitable discussion of blackness, what it means to be of-color in the most segregated city in the country (Milwaukee, WI), and past experiences. Of course we carry out multiple disagreements, shared moments of condescension and pride-blunder… but at the same time take the opportunity to tell each other stories. Emily, her friend, and I all retreat back to the apartment they’re staying at in town. We talk for the duration of the night… and morning.
She schools me. Tells me I have this great way of not answering a single question and maneuvering it back to her. She calls me out on every side step and smile-for-the-sake-of-smiling. She’s more than eluding to the fact she may have me “figured out”… however, eluding to the obvious means you only have something “figured”. Figuring someone (or something) out almost always necessitates a private resolution. Far from private, Emily sweetly announces her victories along our path of conversing… I enable it. It’s endearing to meet your match- or something close to it.
It’s inescapable as it is almost 7am that our conversation has reached its end. Our brain’s resistance to deactivation, scurrying from one another’s verbal parries, reading too far into subtle gestures… we’ve run the game dry. I pass out in a knock-off of a Lay-Z-Boy, and gather an hour’s worth of sleep. Woken by Emily’s friend who was leaving for somewhere in some part of Northern Wisconsin, I went into insta-etiquette- thanked her for letting me crash and drudged it to my car.
After gathering 3 more hours of sleep at Sherman’s (the #1 go to whenever we’re in Milwaukee), my eyes crept open to incessant ringing from my cell. Must’ve went off 3, 4 times before I noticed it. It’s Tesch- he’s outside Sherman’s place… we’re going to the Brewer’s game. This is where I’d usually say “and then we did it all over again”… however, I think half of my attention attended the game, the other half fell dead to being up for the past 48hours. Goodnight Milwaukee.