11/9/16

Nonfiction / Steffan Triplett

I retreat to a room because I can’t bear other people; I know what’s coming. I lay curled in a bed that’s not mine, turn on the fan function of the AC to hear myself think, or not. Try not to wonder if they discuss me, me tired with black and queer in the room. The two compound on each other and make me heavy. I close my eyes.

A few hours earlier my workshop class discussed a piece I’d written, about the time a group of men called me nigger, repeatedly. The professor asked if this was atypical where I was from. I didn’t know how to answer. I said yes, and wondered if it matters whether it’s the first time or the last time a life is threatened. Nothing feels atypical anymore. I can’t seem to remember how the day started.

My white boyfriend comes to check on me in his bed. Says, I love you, unprompted for the first time. I didn’t expect it to sound with an air of fearful protection. In the other room, the map on television is turning all red. We kiss, me under him under the covers. I love you too. He leaves. I see a space between the wall and the bookshelf I never noticed before.

I lose sense of time, though when he returns he says, Don’t die okay. This means it’s over, the map has bled enough. I’ve never seen tears in his eyes before now, though I’ve wanted to. Here our difference is named, then skirted around, which, perhaps, is the same thing. The attempt to articulate difference is never finished. I’m tired of writing things others have questions about.

There is a distance between our griefs. A diameter in units I can’t quite name. First noticed after Orlando, our mutual pain something we’d have to orbit around, though on different tracks. In the summer I didn’t know how to tell him, though I think he knew: I couldn’t cry in front of him, because of my pride and the color of his skin. I had to wait until I was with people who were brown.

I’m not sure why tonight someone wanted a party. I wonder if when the world ends, I’d rather be alone.


I wake in the morning after something like sleep. Yes it was real, and I’m alive, though I’m afraid to be. The hole in my stomach reminds me—Orlando, Mike Brown, Trayvon. How strange I can almost forget the things I’ve mourned from my bed. They have a way of returning some mornings. I put on my jeans, drive home in the rain.

On the crowded bus three students talk in a triangle around me. Discussing the banks and the economy, laughing at how ridiculous it all is. I can’t tell if they voted for him or not, which is enough to tell me that they cannot be trusted. The rest of the bus is quiet, and they are talking so loud. Their emotions are a white heat around them. I loosen when they step off by the private university.

I’m supposed to teach a room full of students in an hour. Don’t have the heart to do it, send them an email saying class will be optional. Without saying it, I say I’m the only black one in the room, can’t be the one, today. I don’t tell the department, don’t want them to ask questions I’m not equipped to answer.

I arrive, knowing some stragglers will not have opened the email. I let the room know, really, they can leave now, I don’t want to be here. They think I just mean the room. A few kids stay the whole time. They talk about registering for the upcoming semester.

I don’t want to see people, but I drop a cable off in my office. Avoid the group of sad white people talking about what they did today in class. Get caught in a question, what did you say to your students? I stretch the truth, say we watched a video and discussed it. I back toward the exit. I need to go home and sleep.

I drop my dress clothes on my floor and roll onto bed. Everything hurts a little more. The boyfriend calls to make sure I’m still alive. Yes, I say, though, I’m ambivalent.

Steffan Triplett is a writer, instructor, and MFA candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a Nonfiction Editor for Hot Metal Bridge and a recent VONA alum. Steffan is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis where he was a John B. Ervin Scholar. Some of his work appears in BOAAT, Blavity, and pnk prl. Steffan was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri.