There are places where I don’t like to walk alone in Oakland. Growing up in Brooklyn I only avoided desolate industrial areas like in Williamsburg. I walked up and down streets all hours of the night. I learned to be hard. I learned to be guarded. Even when I sensed danger I felt safe. It was home.
I don’t like not having a car in Oakland. It means that sometimes I am trapped on top of this hill not wanting to go out late at night. The buses never come and I may encounter the mean bus driver. I take public transportation and I count the days till I am back in Brooklyn. I don’t like to take the 57 at night. Don’t like the MacArthur station. I told my friend this and she asked, why that’s where I live? I used to live by there, too and I didn’t like it then. I can deal with a lot of things but the dicombabulation of people when they are on drugs and alcohol is one I can’t deal with. I feel their souls waiting to be free.
Meadow was with me. We chanced waiting for the bus together. And we waited, then looked at the bus schedule. 15 more minutes. Not bad. And we waited. Then a man came and sat next to me and told me my hair was thick and curly. I told him I wasn’t interested in talking with him. And maybe I could have said things differently. I prefer to be honest even if it’s brutal. But maybe I could have said it differently because for the next 45 minutes he sat next to me and harassed me.
Supposedly, I am not from Brooklyn, I am not a woman, I am a misfit in California, I don’t know how to talk to Black men, I am a mother because of my body language and I am not true to myself.
I tried to be clear with him. Tried to tell him, look at the time, it doesn’t feel comfortable when a strange man sits next to me and starts talking to me. I should have told him that it doesn’t feel safe because he smells like alcohol. I tried to look into his eyes and wonder where this pain was coming from to see why he wouldn’t stop talking to me. I asked him plenty of times to leave me alone and then finally I ignored him. I told him before I would do it so he would be prepared. I looked straight ahead. My foot rocked back and forth. I was mad and calm and mad and calm. I was cold and I hated that I didn’t have a car. I missed Brooklyn. I wondered if this was like having asthmatic bronchitis before I left Brooklyn. Was this a way to kick me out.
There were other people there. A woman that got up and walked away. A man that got up and walked away. A man that just stood looking for the bus to come. it came late. 30 minutes late. Late enough for me to wonder the lesson in this. He told me if I would have told him, get the fuck away from me, he would have respected that. And I remembered teaching seventh graders Spanish. I remember how I tried to do things differently. I tried to be open. I tried not to be like the teachers I had in Catholic school. I tried and they never listened. I tried and they would interrupt everything. I tried and then I got frustrated and then I got firm, and yelled and they all sat up quietly and listened. And I couldn’t believe that he would rather me yell at him then tell him the truth directly in conversation.
There was peace within me for the most part. He was in pain he needed to talk. He probably saw my openness and love and I shot him down. Everyone has the right to happiness. He was making sure I wasn’t gonna have mine maybe because I didn’t give him his. And as he sat there and harassed me I was thankful that I had lived in California for three years because if this would have happened in NY while I was still living there I would have hit him. I’m being honest.
I thought it could go either way when I went through my bag and opened my book. I am reading a biography on the Prophet Muhammad and at that moment I needed him so bad. One, two, three more sentences. He asked me what I was reading. I read. Then after telling me how bad I was he said something that made me laugh. I had to laugh. I had to. And that is all he wanted. Me to smile. 45 minutes later I realized he just wanted me to smile at him. He wanted someone to be nice to him. The way he went about it was wrong. The way I didn’t understand it all was wrong, too.
I try really hard to be a good person. To be true to myself and honest with everyone around me. I pray, I meditate, I am giving, I love. And with all of that I still don’t listen to it all. I don’t completely understand. When I was growing up my mami always kept change in her pocket. She taught me to do the same. She taught me to help others. Our home was for everyone who needed it, we went places to take care. She taught me to open and giving. And as I got older I knew I couldn’t give money to everyone. And I told myself if I can’t give money I would give a smile. This man sat next to me and didn’t ask me for money. He just told me he liked me because my hair was thick and curly. I could have just smiled. Maybe that would have opened up another can of worms but I am still trying to figure out the lesson in all of this.
After he finally left me alone. After he told me his message to me that I should just be pretty and laugh, that I should comb my hair because its nappy, everyone who walked away came back and commented on the situation. No one stood up for me. No one told him to leave me alone. They all commented on how annoying he was and they didn’t get the brunt of it. I wanted to scold all of them because if it was me in their situation I would have said something. And I am not just saying it. I always open my big mouth and sometimes it gets me into near death situations. I don’t want to be a martyr but I can’t let things slide either.
I am fortunate. I am trying to see every moment as a blessing. Every moment as a lesson. I will always be learning how to operate in this world.