Theo lived with six roommates.
Half of them thought you were black;
half of them thought you were white.
In the month you found refuge on his sofa,
not one of them ever asked, but you could
read their interpretation based on
how they discussed the pricklier points of race.
None of them had been to Virginia, save for one.
He once shot past Washington, D.C. and
spent a couple of hours in Arlington
before he realized his mistake.
He said the Potomac looked ferocious,
but you were a Rappahannock River girl.
You still didn’t know the bodies of water
that threatened to swallow New York.
In Bushwick, the only drops you saw
lined the gutter and pooled on the sidewalk.
Sometimes the cry of seagulls pricked your ears.
A little lost, the birds had not steered too far off course.
But you never mentioned nature to your unwilling neighbors.
“Lavinia,” said Theo one morning, while lighting a joint,
“It’s been nice, but you have to find an apartment.
Craigslist that shit, girl. It’s not that sketch.”
You stopped chewing your grits (a remnant of home)
and nodded slower than a late-night G train.
“It’s all run together,” you say. “I forgot how long I was here.”
“This city sweeps you up, but you learn to fight it.”
He exhales and you both appreciate the clouds he fashions.
“Where do you want to live?” he finally asks.
“Somewhere where I can see the sky,” you say, surprising yourself.
“Welcome to Brooklyn. No tunnels of building shadows here.”
“As long as it’s cheap,” you say, thinking of closets and slums.
You don’t add that you have nearly run out of savings
because Theo will try to convince you to work at his office,
the call center that lets him reschedule his shifts for auditions.
You didn’t flee to New York to ooze in and out of a 9-to-5.
You didn’t move here to dread every day of your existence.
You came here to revel in textiles, to dress Broadway’s stars,
to tell stories through costumes like you dreamt in school.
“We’ll look at listings and book appointments for tomorrow,”
says Theo in a daze now that the pot has hit him.
“Sure, load me up,” you mutter and grab his joint.
It’s your moment to escape, to surrender
as a speckled seagull shrieks outside.
Find Christine Stoddard online.
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