14 Jan Belonging: The Grace of Affinity
In light of recent events in the political sphere, here’s a page from the book I’m writing, 52 Words for Hope.
She was black and I was white and we were lesbians in racially-torn Boston. We were walking down bustling Tremont Street, holding hands, when a car pulled to the curb and honked. Four young, white men in a late-model sedan with white wall tires eyed us. “Looka’ what we got here, fellas,” the driver said, his elbow resting casually out the window like he owned the place, an overseer patrolling his plantation. “A little chick on chick action.”
Our hands flew apart. It was 1982, before being queer was cool.
Another voice, maybe from the backseat. “Yeah, and they’re fuckin’ salt and pepper, and salt ’n pepper don’t belong here—not in my neighborhood.”
The car shadowed us as we picked up our pace. I lowered my head and watched the cracks in the sidewalk, wondering if anyone on the street would intercede. They didn’t.
“Salt ’n pepper? I’d say a shit sundae. Go back where you belong, college girls.”
I wish I could say we’d had the presence of mind to shoot back some piercing retort—claim our right to be with whom and what we wanted—but we didn’t. For half a block they continued their taunting. Once they sped off, tires screeching, we stopped and stood slack-jawed. Crowds parting around us as we strained to understand which was our bigger offense—being gay, mixed-race, educated? Which part of us didn’t belong? With no clear answer, we headed home to the South End, a neighborhood in the full fury of gentrification. On the subway, we didn’t hold hands but we sat close, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, never in doubt that we belonged to one another.
We humans are, by nature, a communing bunch. We need one another to raise our children, tend our fields, bury us when we die. We pick and choose, accept and shun, draw close and push away who, what and where we believe we belong. But past kinship and the flags we fly, we also belong—all of us—to one another.
We are like a mobile, individuals strung together by invisible thread, tenuous and fragile, but strong enough to endure the shifting winds.
If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.