I let a shudder pass through my body and inhaled the bathroom steam. It was Sunday. I was home. And the foam from my bath dragged the last of my weekend down the drain. I wrapped my damp towel around my waist and reveled in the silence. With each deep breath, I became myself again. As much as I love New York, I always feel compelled to wash away the city after spending time Up Top.
“You will never know Roco is dating anyone until like a year later!” Yetti said that Saturday. We were sprawled across her bed, Yetti, Tyece, and I, in the center of the city that manufactures most of my heartache. Yetti had been outraged to learn about my not-relationship with a not-boyfriend, months after we unceremoniously ended. “Why are you so secretive?” she pressed.
“We’re going to find out RoCocoa’s been engaged–”
“–When I tell you I’m getting divorced!” I interjected. I couldn’t pass up a chance to dish a witty quip, even if I was the brunt of it. We laughed.
She was right, at least in this instance. I was secretive. But, In my defense, I hadn’t established a protocol for this type of thing. And his was a rather isolated case. He was the first guy I took sort of seriously since I dated my sole boyfriend fresh out of high school. These things happen so rarely for me that I don’t know when it’s safe to say I’m “talking” to someone without jinxing it. I like to hold my cards close until I can assess my hand. If it’s trash, I toss it. He never happened. We never happened. But if it bears any significance in my mind and heart, then I have to wait. Maybe a year. Maybe more. Because that’s how long it takes to regain my composure after I’ve had my nose wide open.
I blame my father for my infatuation with salt and and grime, for my fervent need to find stories beneath soiled surfaces. He didn’t want his children to be afraid of rough exteriors or unfavorable reputations. He exposed us to weekends in Brooklyn before we could even spell “danger.” He drove us up and down Atlantic Avenue, showing us what was, telling us what used to be. He pointed out projects where he used to live and places where he used to play. He wanted us to be aware, to act and judge upon knowledge, and not blind fear. Because of Daddy, I collect experiences, letting neither dirt nor danger scare me for long.
This dude was the whole dirty package. He FaceTimed me after work from a mattress on the floor, the top three buttons of his uniform undone. He wore black nasties* and was deadass as they come. Beneath his Bronx vernacular was a vocabulary nearly on par with mine. He was a borough, unexplored: all rough exterior protecting a big stupid heart. Gio. It’s been over a year since we happened and this is the first time I’ve written out even this half of his name.
I release him in tidbits. Nodding with empathy when someone complains about her man, dripping his name into a diluted anecdote, typing just the tip of our tale in an instagram post. This is my method of washing him away. I’ve spent months soaked in him and so many pieces still stick to me. Like the time syrup hid just under his lip. And his incredible ability to make even a blink look beautiful. And that diffident smile that appeared like a rainbow when he introduced me to his padded stomach, his bullet scar, his unshaped hairline, his deaf twin brother, his dreams. Even now, after all this time, I need a bath. I need to wash him away.
I walked into Gio like a Sutter Ave. bodega: fearlessly, quietly, aware of probable peril. I turned down all his avenues and explored him like the city, knowing that afterward, I’d need a long, restorative soak in myself, but still loving the thrill and going in anyway. Nose wide open.