11 April 2009

Toi Derricotte

[from Toi Derricotte's The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey, Norton, 1997]


This morning in our marriage counseling session, I bring up the estrangement I feel toward Bruce, for example, last night after making love. I had lain there with a terrible burden that I felt the need to share -- that I often don't feel love for him or anyone! I had wanted so much to be in the warmth of our showering, soaping and oiling each other, kissing each other's bodies -- but I felt outside, as if I had been in another woman's body. Then I remembered how just yesterday I had written about feeling superior to other blacks, feeling I am more intelligent, that I look better. I brought this up, saying that in some ways I think I am superior even to those I love, that I am better because I look white. Often black people I had intimate relationships with seemed to believe I was "better," too, from the time I was six and girls would fight over who would comb my "good" hair. In some way they took pride in it, as if it belonged to them, too!

I asked Bruce if he had married me because of my light skin, and he admitted that, partly, it was true. He was aware that my color, especially in business, would allow him to be seen in a different way.

Many times we have talked about how he grew up in an all-white town (there were two black families in the town and they lived side by side!), and was attracted to white girls. Fifty miles away, in Indiana, black boys were being lynched for just looking at a white woman, so his parents had made it very clear that he and his brothers were to put their energy into school and sports. "You have to be better than them," they always said. He remembers how, when he was nine, a neighbor commented to his father that he noticed Bruce had stopped smiling.

I have always thought Bruce was the one person in the world who loved me for myself. We have been married for twenty years and never talked about color. Now I see I am partly a shield he is holding up for protection. He, too, has a secret in the corner of his heart that stands between us like a mirror we don't want to look into.

I tell him how, when we pull up in front of a hotel, I want to rush out of the car door, to go in before him just in case he will be given an inferior room. Often I don't because I don't want him to be "emasculated," not to have the normal power of a male to get a hotel room, but I distrust what women are supposed to trust in their men -- this power of acquisition -- I often feel I could do better alone. Then I saw the terrible thing I have never been able to say, that sometimes when I look at his color and the shape of his nose, I feel revulsion.

I feel so sad, so frightened! That I should feel these feelings! What is love? And he says something even more terrifying and sad -- that he doesn't blame me, often when he looks int he mirror, he can't stand his own ugly face. I remember how his mother wouldn't let him go out without white powder, how he slept in a stocking cap for years after we married. There is a long silence in which we just sit there in the hell of Bruce's agony. There is nothing to say.

After therapy we stand outside together beside our cars. We don't touch, yet we don't seem to want to go our separate ways. We don't say anything for a long time, then I joke -- because I can't speak seriously about the terrible things we've told each other -- "So you wanted to marry a white women?" "Yes," he answers, as if he has no energy left to play.

We stand like this for a long time. I still don't feel "love," but I do feel a kind of tenderness, a desire to go with him and put my hand on his sad, beautiful face.

The Black Notebooks: An Interior Journey

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