In The World Where I Do Not Exist
About the Writer
Kathryn H. Ross is a creative and freelance writer from Southern California. A lover of good books, blackberry lemonade, and mermaids, she enjoys running around Pasadena and LA on free days. Keep up with her at speakthewritelanguage.com.
"In another world, you could be white.”
He stares at me and I stare back and we say nothing.
“But then, it wouldn’t be you,” he finishes, his voice softer. His eyes are no longer on me, but looking out ahead of him, as if he’s seeing her, the me that isn’t me. And I wonder what I, she, looks like.
Maybe her skin is pale and her hair is long and perhaps golden like the girls all men love even if they say they don’t. Her eyes are probably blue and her hair straight, saved from the violent curl God gave me as some cruel, sick joke.
Except, I don’t think it was a joke, or cruel. And I don’t think there is another me anywhere out there, in this or any other world. I am here, only. My soul cannot occupy two spaces in time, but he wants it to. Because, he may not choose me, but he would choose her, because she is safe, and she is pale, and her eyes are not black holes, which makes her beautiful.
I look at him and shrug. “Maybe.”
Does this sound familiar? Do you remember it?
He looks at me again, but his eyes are different, and I’m so sure he’s wishing I was in that other world, and the other me was here in this world, sitting with him at the table. Her skin wouldn’t absorb the light, but reflect it, and she would be beautiful in a way I am not.
If he asks if this is about him, I’ll lie.
I should get up and leave, but something holds me here. Part of it is shame, the other part something less definable. Because I would be lying if I said that, at some point in time, I hadn’t stood in front of the mirror hating what I saw. It would be the deepest deception to myself to say I never hoped I would wake up different, freed from this ugly brown cage the world told me was ugly. I would be lying if I said I never protested the darkness of my skin, said it’s not that dark, in an effort to make myself feel better, validated, whole. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt every time I had to remind someone that I was a person, because, so often, they seemed to forget.
If he asks if I cried while I wrote this, I’ll lie.
. . .
I told my mother once that I was ugly. Told her I was sure that I was ugly because the boys at school didn’t like me. They made fun of my hair and my lips, of the food I ate, and the deep, darkness of my skin. The children asked questions that made me feel as if I weren’t human, and I answered them like a fool, trying to prove that I was.
But real people don’t have to prove that they are real. They just are, and the universe acknowledges the space they occupy.
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…”
They changed the lyrics before I left the school. Someone, somewhere realized that, maybe, those lyrics were a little racist, or, at the very least, a little dangerous if anyone ever questioned them. We never did. The principal himself stood ahead of the school during chapel, hands stretched as he taught us the new words to sing,
“Every color, dark to light, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world…”
But even then, I knew that across the spectrum, love varied depending upon if you were dark or light.
. . .
I stare at him as he stares ahead of himself and I can’t shake the feeling that I am not right. That he has, perhaps accidentally, revealed that because of what I am not, we will never be.
If he asks if I love him, I’ll lie.
I think of the other me in the other universe and I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she feels beautiful because her skin is light and her hair is thin and her eyes are reflecting pools that men want to get lost in, not black holes that will suck them in and never let them go.
. . .
My great-grandmother told my grandfather to lighten up the race. She was not the only brown mother who told her brown son that a woman was only worth loving if her skin looked like milk and her hair grew down and long, not up and out. She was not the only brown grandmother who wanted to exchange her brown grandchildren, who wanted to bring the grandchildren from the other world, the light ones with light eyes and loose hair, and make them wholly, truly her own.
I wonder if my grandfather wondered. Did he ask himself, Then who loved you? Did he ask himself, Then who will love me? (And I ask myself, Who will love me?) Great-grandmother was brown and he was brown, and yet she had been loved, hadn’t she? But he listened, and produced three children dark to light.
Am I dark? Are you light? Would I be better if I stayed out of the sun?
It wouldn’t matter if I did. This darkness is in my DNA. Maybe God laughed as he wound those strands together, coiled them tight like my thick black hair.
But I don’t hear God laughing, and neither do you. I don’t think you hear God at all. But maybe, as you’re looking out ahead, while I sit beside you, you’re asking Him why He didn’t just make us right. Why did He give us the sun and this skin that drinks it in, burns and browns beneath it?
In that other world, are you there, too? Are you pale with colored eyes and goldenrod hair? Or are you something else completely? And in that world, are you wishing that the me who is beside you, looked more like the me that is here beside you now? Are you wishing she had umber skin and full lips? Are you wishing her eyes were black holes pulling you deeper? And are you wishing that when you ran your hands through her hair, you’d feel the twists, turns, and spirals of those God-woven curls?
Or is there only one you, sitting beside the only one me, eyes forward, wishing, deep inside, that brown things did not exist?
If I ask him for the truth, he’ll lie.
“Maybe,” he says.