There’s no way to pretty it up. I profile people. At every waking moment.
Last year I was downtown. It was like 10am. I was strolling, taking a break, talking to my wife on the phone. And I saw him. Heading toward me.
I didn’t even get a dead-on look. But it didn’t matter. I saw enough. As I bent the corner of that busy walk, with people in suits and blazers and other day to day downtown Detroit apparel, I knew he had turned behind me.
I tried to push it out of my head. To talk myself down. “We’re downtown. It’s the middle of the morning. Bright and sunny. With all these people around. He’s just another person. Going about his business. Not even thinking about you.”
But it was already happening. Again. That feeling. Not an emotional feeling, though it was that too. This was a feeling, feeling. I could literally feel and know the physiological changes taking places in my body. It felt like someone had poured something that didn’t quite belong into some part of my body, and it was now making its way into every nook and cranny.
Slowly. Surely. My body tingled.
My heart. It pounded.
Bang. Bang. Bang. It pounded.
It was a short block. I turned again, then ducked into the 7/11. I walked in a few feet, then just stood next to the chips, the phone still to my ear.
Bang. Bang. Bang. It pounded.
Bang. Bang. Bang. My body was warm, in that air-conditioned store, standing next to those rows of thinly sliced crispy potatoes.
He was gone. So far gone. Not that it mattered. He was never going to do anything anyway.
Somewhere I knew that.
I was embarrassed. Not because I was on the phone and my wife knew what was going on. And not because of any of the customers that had come in that convenience store for the purpose of being normal, real-life customers. They didn’t know what I was doing anyway.
I was embarrassed because… no. That’s the wrong word. I was ashamed.
Ashamed because I saw a normal every day black man downtown in the middle of a normal as hell sunny damn day and here I am standing next to a bunch of salted chips sealed in airtight bags trying not to have a panic attack.
Ashamed because I knew better. Thought better. Viewed the world better.
But I couldn’t stop it. My heart. That feeling. That tingling all over feeling that touched every part of me, like an unwanted, uninvited molester of my soul. It fondled me, flagrantly, from the inside. And I all I could do is wait until it stopped.
And when it stopped… well, when it slowed enough. I walked back. Back to my building. Up the elevator with random people going to do their random things. And the elevator dinged. And I walked. And I sat down at my desk. And I hit keys on my keyboard. And I talked on the phone. And asked people about their weekend. About their normal weekend.
I remember normal.
Pre getting stomped by a random group of guys on another random sunny day.
Pre getting robbed and shot by yet a different random guy, waiting on the ambulance to arrive while one of my lungs filled with fluid and breathing became harder and harder not because I only had one viable lung but because every time I tried to take in oxygen my liquid-filled lung told my brain that it had two holes in it and it hurt too bad to pull air in so please don’t do it for a minute. Okay?
And they were all black. My assailants.
And I tell myself. Self, I say, if you would have been somewhere else, like downriver, or in just a rough part, but a rough primarily white part, the same thing could have happened. By white people. But self is like drunk or high or catatonic or whatever. It doesn’t listen. It’s gone. Like oblivious or something.
But deep down I know it hears me. I know it’s still in there. That’s what I tell myself.
I haven’t given up.
I take steps. I do things I don’t like. Things that make me uncomfortable. That make me feel unsafe. Threatened.
Sometimes I think I’m dumb for that. That my pushing back, my decision to put myself in situations where I feel afraid… will, at some point, blow up in my face. And prove that the self-preservation side of me was right. But I keep pushing anyway. Little by little. Trying to make up ground.
Some days are better than others.
I don’t know if normal will ever feel normal again.
But every day I put one foot in front of the other, reminding myself that all of us, every single human on this planet, is just that.
And we all have our good, bad and in-between moments.
So I press forward, trying to get back to the place where I really and truly believe that again.