On Saturday night I opened the door to my apartment and looked up. A leak formed underneath the paint, creating a bubble of water where the ceiling meets the wall. I immediately started crying. After a few hours cutting down the power to every room and then, eventually, cutting off the electricity to that wall, I called Alistair in a panic.
There is still the crown to be put on my tooth (and paid for), the fresh drywall on the bathroom wall that was left unpainted because the building didn't have the right paint, the boxes of other peoples things to ship, the clothes to purge, the bills left unpaid from medical-this-or-medical-that, the mortgage broker to email again, the 401k account to roll over, the thank-you cards to post, the gathering cereal boxes on top of the fridge (along with a mold-gathering bottle of milk on the fridge door), the wrinkled rug pad making a mess of its rug, the hay fever, the unpredictable trains, the bookmarked books that aren't finished, that last episode of "Counterpart," that thing I wanted to write (but after that other thing I wanted to write), that memoir I trashed, the artwork without frames, the dry cleaning, the gym membership to cancel, and then some.
I decided to do what I do when everything is bad: I napped.
When I woke up, everyone on social media was posting Childish Gambino's music video "This is America." [Ed note: I'll skip describing it because I'll assume you've already seen it, and if you hadn't, get thee to a Google search query]. In short: the video depicts distraction from the issues, six kids dance in the foreground while people die in the background from racially motivated gun violence. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been pointed out, but so many memories came to me at first watch. It reminds me of the conversations I overheard growing up.
“Every time I turn on TV all I see is a bunch of black folks dancin,'" my grandmother used to say angrily after she flipped past BET. I always assumed she misunderstood pop culture, but in adulthood I realized her anger was about the lack of information and misplaced priorities. This was before the internet was in every home, TV was the main source of information. Our only TV station was being used to show us soap operas and music videos, not documentaries or political discourse— “or the issues!” my dad would say. Sure, there's a space for both but the presence of one and not the other tells us where our attention should be.
"Yeah, the white people love to see us dancing around but that's it," my father would say as white poeple cheered on black musicians on TV. "They don't want us in their boardrooms or their offices or their government."
Lastly, I remembered the expectations placed on us as middle class black kids. My relatives used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and before I could answer they would say, "be a doctor." That was the only choice for us — everything else was risky. Being in medicine seemed like a sure shot to what every black family hopes for: an end to the poverty cycle. But we wanted to be artists, like the only real life black people we saw on TV, we never saw them doing anything else. Try telling a high school kid what to do and they'll push back. I ended up studying English. I pushed back hard.
I only express the above drivel because it consumed my thoughts through the week. As I rushed through the day’s work and spent evenings writing and watching TV, I was always thinking of it.
But the week continued: Wednesday Alistair and I met a friend for dinner in East Village (Chinese noodles). Then we went to Angel’s Share for cocktails, sitting in the windowed back room on velvet stools. I love that place.
Friday evening Alistair and I walked from Soho to Union Square relishing the spring weather. We joined new friends for dinner near Union Square, then just down the street, Alistair and I had a negroni in a bar with the windows and doors wide open.
The next morning the super arrived to my apartment—the apartment he spent the past 10 weeks in making repairs—to begin work on the leak. He looked up woefully. I wanted to tell him I felt the same way.