Summer in the city

2000: I was on scholarship at Princeton. Something I’d earned. When I got the news in an email at the Center for English as a Second Language on the U of A campus, where I worked, I responded immediately. I got a call from the head of the program. I’d been the first to respond, yes, but also the first they extended the invitation to. I was the one they wanted to lock down, based on an application I built around a paper I’d written on the U.S. intervention in Chile that led to the military coup of September 11, 1973. A summer at Princeton doing graduate work that, executed properly, would have put me in the pipeline for a Ph.D. at an Ivy League School.

I knew nothing about Princeton or New Jersey. Something would happen on my first trip into the city…a mugging…PTSD…and bullying back at Princeton from people in the program who didn’t like the Mexicans speaking Spanish. And they’d pick apart my food. My clothes. My religious beliefs. I was the only non-black woman in the program. And I wasn’t very with it at the time. It was the first time I was really, really on my own.

The only person I could rely on was Hector, an hour away in Brooklyn, near Prospect Park. Hector graduated from Nogales the year before me. He couldn’t stand me in high school, but D had smoothed things over between us and we’d become tight friends by the time I was 21. We’d been through shit.

He was in his senior year at Columbia, living in a closet with no air conditioning. I’d never climbed five flights of stairs to someone’s home. I’d never seen parquet flooring before in my life. I’d never seen plastered walls and ceilings with crown molding. The building was old and filled with Caribbean folk whose neighborhood, Crown Heights, was shared with Hassidic Jews and only nine years out from riots that left the community tense.

I loved Brookyn that summer. I’d get on the NJTransit from Princeton to Princeton Junction, into Penn Station, then take the train out to BK every chance I could. Hector showed me Prospect Park. It blew my mind that we could get Chinese takeout and eat it under giant trees while watching squirrels. He took me to get my first falafel. And he took me to my first summer solstice party, 20 years ago today.

It was a train ride away, in the city on the LES. A firetrap of a building, which was funny to 21-year old me because the theme of the party was Summer Solstice/Foods on Fire. The lights were kept off and every food or drink was covered in Bacardi 151 or Everclear and lit up. I felt like a rube with my blue hair and giant blue Sketchers. Hector said I dressed like Euro trash. I did. I really looked like a raver, but that was because I was trying to ride the line between what D would let me wear (a whole issue in itself) and my increasing weight that made the previously hyper feminized clothing I wore before unflattering.

To me, everyone around me was incredibly sophisticated. They were mostly NYU and Columbia kids my age. I felt like everyone could see how unsophisticated I was. I felt out of place, not that the feeling was new. But to this scene, oh how I wanted to belong.

That night goes down in history as the night I decided NYC was where I wanted to be.

And here I am, a neighborhood away. As fireworks go off here and everywhere black and brown people live in this country. It’s a different fire than the one I saw two decades ago. One not endemic to the communities. At least not from everything I’ve seen. Fireworks and Brooklyn summers go together like marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate. But this is something different. Something meant to provoke or mask or desensitize. When the thought first came, I didn’t want to share it with anyone because it came from the same woo woo part of me that other things have come from. So I memorialized it. And I told a few people. “Hold onto this and watch,” I said. “This is a thing. It might not seem like a thing yet, but wait and see. It’s going to play out.”

I know too much and yet know nothing. It’s not a coincidence that I know about psy ops and military tactics and flash bangs and see patterns way before others see them.

I am again splayed half in the present and tapping my other foot between past and future watching things play out in my head. When you see everything as detailed as I do, the details rotate around and around until arranged in a perfect Rubik’s cube to form hunches. It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to know what’s going on. But there’s very little I can do to prevent it, except get it in front of the right eyes who do have the bully pulpit to stop whatever the plan is.

In 2018, when I started seeing things, the only prayer I kept repeating was, “Let my end be swift and painless.” A shot to the back of the head in a stadium. An “accident” for an accident prone girl. But don’t let it be anything else. Keep me in the dark about the real things so no one comes looking for answers from me. I’ve already been through enough suffering.

I can only pray now for rain. Every night. Let this summer be soaked. Why I craved fire in Arizona this Spring, I don’t know. But fire reigns over the skies here in Brooklyn as it ravages through the Catalinas in Tucson. People are tense. Cool them off.

Don’t get me wrong dear
In general I’m doing quite fine

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