Drink the Kool-Aid

Therapist Hannah says writing a letter can help me get closure.

Dear Mr. Raymond,

There have been many stops and starts writing to you. I feel like this conversation shoulda began when I asked for a different school counselor. You had a gift, an ability to turn me into a Stereotypical Black through those written progress reports, focusing on how I was the only one in my friend group who qualified for free lunch. Reading in detention instead of whatever the hell I was actually supposed to be doing. Doodling based off a repressed memory of finding milk colored rocks in my father’s dresser when I was 4 only led to in-school suspension. Even after I explained I never told anyone before because I didn’t know what it was I found, but knew I didn’t want to get in trouble for being nosy and going through his personal stuff.

Crumpling paper and cursing under my breath- as if anyone would give a good goddamn, I live alone. It felt too obvious. Too right out of the movie Precious (but really the novel- it’s way better). I don’t know who I’m supposed to write to. Mother. Father. The patriarchy? Maybe I closed my heart to my birth parents already, a vow to not invest more energy into relationships that would never grow. Stained my journal pages, my heart became a little more numb with each passing year, as callouses grew and the emotions faded. I tried, coupling Therapist Hannah’s advice to write a timeline with a letter, to feel something. Anything. But I don’t know what I want to say to them. I blamed Reagan for introducing crack into Black neighborhoods, not my father. I blamed the patriarchy for whatever turned to mush inside my mother, making her believe love equaled repairing broken men. I couldn’t write a letter to those systems that tore apart my family before I was even born.

I decide to write to me. The main person I haven’t forgiven is myself for the things I did in survival mode.

Hey little Nique,

So. Adult you here to say: it wasn’t your fault. You were a child and had already taken on the burden of food security. You should have been gifted frolic and play and light and love, not counting how many eggs and how long they would last. I know you’re ashamed of yourself. I wish it was as easy as don’t be. But maybe let’s start with understanding adultification (and sexualization) of Black children was something that happened outside of you. It was never your load to carry… you can lay it down whenever you’re ready.

Hey little Nique,

Me again. So I gave you a tall order in that last letter. Typical us. Let’s actually start with just naming what happened. I know you tried to hide this memory for over a decade, so I’m going to tell you a story:

Bri and I had a weekly ritual. Steal. Eat. A 20 minute walk away, the QFC had no alarms on the doors, and 13 year old Nique looked innocuous and nerdy with a purple floral backpack and glasses. Perfect for snatching bread, Gatorade, rice, butter. Essentials only. I’d bring them home and quickly put them in the cabinets. No one asked any questions. This still wasn’t enough to ward off the hunger pains for our family household of 6, and many nights I had air for dinner and sleep for dessert.

Kool-Aid was even easier to steal, stuffing it into the pockets of my overalls. During the summer- days, nights, weekends- Bri and I would mix huge pitchers of lemon Kool-Aid, me ignoring her demands to measure out the sugar, filing that somewhere under Things Only White People Do. I made and decorated signs and we walked to the busiest intersection in our neighborhood, setting up shop next to the bus station.

I had hit puberty a few years before, flesh spilling over too-tight bras and hips and legs making jeans that fit hard to find. Changing at Bri’s house into shirts and shorts that were too small but my mother kept and repeatedly reminded me I would fit into again if I got more serious about losing weight. Adult men already thought I was older than 13, following me down the block and shouting AYO MA as if I didn’t hear them the first time.

I was the one desperate enough to run into the street, waving our lemonade sign and swinging my hips and dipping my knees, tugging my shirt a little lower depending on who drove by. Lots of cars stopped. Tipping 5 dollars on a 50 cent cup and winking. The first couple of days I paid attention to each person in the car, saying I’d save them a cup and throw in a free cookie if they came back tomorrow. Reminding myself to sneak cookies from Bri’s house when she was in the bathroom. Ignoring the grazing of my breast when I leaned into a car window. Smiling at whoever licked their lips the most. This was when LL Cool J was still a mainstream rapper, and boys at the middle school and men with graying beards in rusted cars that clashed with the shiny, spinning rims all put a little extra sumn sumn in the way they wet their lips. I would try and remember how the girls walked in Lil Jon videos when I turned around and went back to our stand.

After a day or two, I stopped paying attention. I pretended I was an actress, a director yelling ACTION as buses stopped or the light turned green at the intersection. It was a game, I told myself. Like how we played Monopoly for gummy bears, or made bets on who could double dutch the longest for grape otter pops. It was just a game. An acting game. I would repeat it to myself while Bri made jokes about me standing on the street corner every day. Just a game. Just lemonade.

Hey little Nique,

Still thinking about that summer. We divided the money 50/50 at the end of each day, immediately walking back to the same QFC we stole from. I felt pretty? Responsible? We were gonna be rich? Bri once asked if we should sell a different drink, and with a snort, almost a chuckle I reminded her they’ll always drink my Kool-Aid.

Dear little me,

We took on so much that was never ours to carry. We can set it down now whenever you’re ready.

Love, me.

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