Before they knock down the door, I run. I’m wearing flip-flops, men’s pajama bottoms and a tank top with no bra. My sunglasses are on the top of my head. I grab my baby and tuck her under my arm like a purse. She is one of the few things I own, and unlike everything else in my possession, I’ve never lost or broken her.
I hear them enter the apartment—the front door cracks, their voices boom—but I’m gone before they catch me. Out the back window and down the alley before I know where I’m running to. Doctors always say I’m too skinny but you’ll never catch me with my hips stuck in no window—not even those small ones they put in basements—and I can still outrun almost any man, even in sandals and with a baby in my arms and a dope habit that keeps me shooting almost ten bags a day.
When I was seven I told my father that I wanted to grow up to be invisible. He told me to read Invisible Man. For him, the answers were always in books.
I did read Ellison’s novel, but I seem to have the opposite problem. People see me everywhere I go, remember me places where I haven’t even been. They follow me with their eyes, their questions. They ask me things I haven’t even asked myself.
“What are you, anyway?”
A bullfrog, a butterfly.
“I mean, where are you from?”
Boston. 151 Tremont Street. My mother’s womb.
“Your parents? Grandparents?”
New York. Minnesota. A Brooklyn brownstone. The Blue Ridge Mountains. A sod house in Iowa. A dairy farm.
“But what’s your nationality?”
“…Is that it?”
And German, Irish, and English. Cherokee, Chippewa. African. (Sorry, I don’t know from where.)
“You are all those things?”
“You don’t look black.”
Do I look white?
“You look different, like no one I’ve ever seen.”
I look exactly like myself.