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  • Writer's pictureBarrington Edwards

City State of Vexation / I tried America

I woke up in a state of vexation. This vexation is perpetual. My dreams my waking moments my daily thoughts ping-pong back and forth from the present moment to dark and contentious images. Every day there are new and challenging depths from which to climb and scramble up out of. To be honest, sometimes I climb and sometimes I am miraculously lifted on the wings of loved ones whose light penetrates my borderlands and floods my corners and alleyways with buoyant relief. But here now comes again the bullshit. The predictable boulder rolling down from where I just goddam put it.

This morning as Dream left me hanging and the ambient sounds of the city waking up before me poked me in my cerebellum, I thought ( if it can be called thought- it’s more like bouncing) about how I found my old Boy Scout shirt from childhood in my closet. I hold on to things, like most of us do, out of nostalgia. Memories are largely works of personal fiction they say, not lies but passable constructions that’ll do in a pinch. Our memories are one sided at best. That’s why we share them with people who were there with us; so they can help us straighten out the crooked parts we can’t see from where we were or where we are.

The old shirt holds the story of my relationship with my old country, the U.S. . It remembers me as a big eyed boy with gangly arms and knobby knees who always wanted to do the right thing. The tan or Khaki shirt makes its first statement with the obviousness of a red hat. I tells me I can not get back into it. Not the shirt or the timeline locus or the cozy cognitive space. I am too full of other memories and other energies. Stretched out by the unkind pounding of adulthood. Widened by panoramic experiences. Deepened by repeating mistakes. I would rip the shirt to shreds like Lou Ferrigno or Hulk Hogan used to.

The shirt still told me the story of me though. The part it knew. How the Old Man signed me up for the scouts. He told me that other shirt came before him. First the Cub Scout shirt then the WEBELOS badged then the Boy Scouts of America! Troop Number 20 out of Roxbury MA met in the basement of the historic Charles Street A. M.E. Church. Mister Thomas was our troop master. He was a Vietnam veteran and wore that distinction like a finely pressed double breasted suit. He was the kind of older man younger men secretly wanted to be like. Strong looking and seemingly always under control. Knowing he had fought in war meant that he knew things we always wondered about and thought to be extremely valuable.

Our troop consisted of what you might imagine the 1980’s would produce of young black boys in the inner cities after scrambling and clawing itself up out of the 1960’s and 1970’s. We were brilliant and strong. Headstrong and cocky. Good with our hands and inventive and resourceful. We dark as the south and the Caribbean and as varied in tone as any colony could crank out. We were from warring tribes only blocks apart. Intervale. Castlegate. Corbet. Fayston. Some of had to reconcile the fact that someone we were now in a troop with were sworn enemies. Here the peace was contextualized. We had big fun, the shirt reminded me. The church elders had established this troop for just this reason. They chose Brother Thomas for just this reason; to help us envision our role and our fit in the possibilities of America.

I wore that shirt with pride in my relative innocence. One day I’ll tell the other story the shirt started to remind me of how it all ended. I recall it really well enough already. It is the reason for my secession from The United States, my declaration of sovereignty in my own state of life and mind. You see, the shirt no longer fits me as an ideology because the fabric of the Dream that wove itself into the ideal was never hypoallergenic. It never considered my stiffness of neck or my need to move. That shirt was my earnest attempt at grounding myself in America. Thought I’d go military like Mr.Thomas or go join the FBI and fight crime.

Then I realized as the fabric started to chafe with my stretching shoulders that I was, in the eyes of the country the source of the crime. No matter how I tried to acclimate and acculturate myself. No matter the oath or pledge or hand sign I would always be, to some, the thing they needed the uniforms to ward against.

I tried America. To be a good scout. A good citizen. A red-blooded sports fan appreciating the Red Sox and Patriots. I tried to contextualize everything and remember Crispus Attucks and the Great Emancipator. I tried to think of Harriet and Sojourner Truth and Phyllis Wheatley. All the great Americans that have schools and organizations named for them in Boston. I tried to honor Dr. King and Malcolm and Marcus Garvey. I worked to be equal to the sacrifice that my mother and father and older siblings made for me, for every second chance a school teacher gave me. Here I still am, in a separate America, not equal by a long shot. Assailed by statistics and data and news clips and postings about how my life does or does not matter. I'm stealing time from my career and my goals where I should be wrapping up a story about the first Black Lieutenant governor in the U.S. to process where I fit in this country by listening to tales from an old musty button down shirt with badly sewn on patches.

I've retreated to the liminal space between madness and reality- art. This is a separate and isolated state with borders built out of contemplation and frustration. Mortar made by sticky situations and rough gravely resolve hold my border wall together. It is unassailable. I am sovereign here. If I adopt an isolationist policy and refuse your invitation to your version of the United Nations don't take it personally, or do. If you see me in the U.S. I'm just passing through exploiting my dual citizenship for that cheddah. If I do choose to rip up my passport and burn my Social Security card and all i.d. don't label me as a traitor or even as an ex-pat. I'm simply retreating to my natural state, growing my own economy, voting for myself. If you feel abandoned or that somehow I'm letting down a struggle think about this; why should anyone given rights and privileges of citizen be constantly asked to validate themselves everyday and wear a hyphen like an armband?

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