The darkness was thick in the room. Our worn beige leather suitcases sat near the bedroom door, and I was restless. I let out an audible sigh. He didn’t react. I sighed again. Louder. Intentionally. He still didn’t say a word. I rolled over and switched on the light.
“I can’t believe that you introduced me as your friend,” I said with a huff. I sat up in bed and stared at him. He lay with his eyes closed, but I knew that he wasn’t sleeping. I nudged his shoulder. “Are you listening?”
“I’m trying to sleep. I’m not going through this again. It was for the best.” He rolled over so that his back faced me. Annoyed, I reached over and pulled him back in my direction so that he was positioned on his back again.
“I finally got a chance to meet your family and I’m the friend? I have been with you for six years. I have lived with you for three years. I’m not important enough to—“
“We’ve had this conversation. Now turn off the light.”
“No,” I replied. We stared at each other for a moment before he threw the covers off of himself. He hopped out of bed, walked to my side, and switched off the lamp by violently pulling the chain.
“There,” he said as he walked back to his side of the bed. The room was dark once again. He nestled under the blankets to resume his sleep.
“No. We’re talking about this,” I said as I switched the lamp on again.
“What would you have had me do?” He sat up in bed and glared at me.
“I would’ve liked for you to have told the truth. I’m tired of hiding. Do you know how that makes me feel? If we can be open here, why can’t you tell your family?”
“This is San Francisco. Things are different here. People don’t care about what we do. I can’t drag you to Mississippi and expect the same reaction. Besides, you act as if your father was supportive of us when we told him.”
“At least I’ve told my father!” I yelled. I jumped out of bed and started to pace. “At least I had the guts!”
“Who in all hell are you yelling at?”
“I’m yelling at you!” I pointed at him as he stood to his feet. “You have all of this pride about everything else. You are a strong black man with strong convictions about this and that. You practically have a blood stained banner around your waist. But that old dented trumpet for justice you’re blowing is out of tune! You can’t even stand up for yourself!”
“I understand your frustration but—“
“Do you understand? I watched your brother show off photos of your nephews and your sister dragged me along with her to the printers to prepare her engagement announcements. However, you sat there in a God forsaken pool of lies and introduced me as your ‘friend.’ As someone you met in graduate school.”
“You are my friend,” he replied. “That wasn’t a lie.”
“I’m your friend, but we fuck! We have blissful sex drenched with ‘I love you’. We fill the room with aromas of a common law union. We are lovers!”
“It’s Mississippi! I know that you like to run around pretending like the entire world is a utopia where we can don flowery headbands and sing songs about free love, but real life is not your hippie fantasy. If I paraded you around my little hometown, there are people that would wish to harm us. Do you want that?”
“Of course I don’t want that! I know that there are risks, but there have been great strides in equality every day. The courts are on our side. History is being made!” I shouted. I felt my face becoming warm as my mind was filling to the brim with frustration. “I want to get married. I want your family to be there.”
“Marriage? Even if she accepted us, do you think that my mother would come to watch me stand before God and marry—“
“You describe it as if it’s disgusting, even to you.”
“I do not—“
“You act as if our union is strange and ugly. If you can’t be proud of us, why are we even doing this?”
“I have a lot to take into consideration. Don’t question my love for you.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I stormed into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me. I stared at the canary yellow walls. My reflection greeted me in the dirty mirror. I grabbed a pill bottle from the medicine cabinet for which the mirror served as a door. I put a couple of aspirin in my mouth and filled a small Dixie cup with water to wash them down. I slumped down onto the shaggy blue bathroom rug.
“Open this door!” He banged on the door and shook the knob.
“Not until you come to your senses!”
“Why would you think that I’m ashamed of you?”
“That’s obvious! You won’t come clean!”
“Have you ever lost a parent?” he asked.
“What?” I was taken aback by the question. “Of course I have. My mother died years ago. You know this. Why would you—“
“She died, but she still supported you until the end. Your father still takes your calls. Even though he hates me, he has been to this apartment since you shared the true nature of our relationship.”
“What’s your point?”
“You don’t know my mother the way that I do. You don’t know my family, and you damned sure don’t know Potts Camp, Mississippi. You don’t know what it’s like to be from the south and live life differently than people expect you to. There’s a great chance that I would never hear from my mother again if I told her about us. I’d lose her. So, forgive me if I’m not shouting it from the rooftops and ordering three-tiered cakes and wedding favors!”
I didn’t respond. I sat on the floor deep in thought. I’d heard stories about people being attacked after walking around hand in hand the way that we do, but I was determined to break those barriers and show my love for the world to see. He started to bang on the door again.
“Open this damned door!” He yelled and twisted the knob. “I’ll break it down.”
“You’ll pay to fix it, because I’m not!” I stood up and looked at the door. I stifled tears and I thought about the world and all of its unfairness. We’d come so far, but we had so far to go. I opened the door. He was sitting on the edge of the bed looking at me. His eyes were puffy and his arms were crossed. His A-shirt hugged his pronounced brown chest.
“Is your tirade over?” he asked.
“I just don’t fucking understand it!” I screamed. I slipped back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. “It’s 1976!” I yelled. “Why is it such a fucking big deal for you to be with a white woman?”
THE BARRIER by George Arnett ©2014