an excerpt from my manuscript

I finished editing my manuscript this summer! I also finally switched over to my name-based domain name! Hooray for being productive!!

narcissure.com will be around for a while, and it will soon redirect you to this website, which will now be my blog & my personal site. Not sure what else will be on here, but stay posted! I haven’t given up on this little vlogging idea, although it’ll likely be small little interviews and not real vlogs.

In honor of finishing the first successful edit of my manuscript project,  Asunder, I’d like to share a section of it for you guys. Not that I haven’t gone through it with a fine-tooth comb yet, so there’ll likely be some little omissions or mistakes here and there. I will make sure to clear those out soon.

I would love to get some feedback on this project. This is far, far into the text, and I won’t give you any more information other than what’s available. If your interest is peaked and you’d like to be a test reader, feel free to drop a comment or hit me up on social media!

In January, after break, Mr. Johnson and I drove down to Ellington High School in his brown Porsche. I learned that day that Porsche owners do not like when you mispronounce the name of their cars, for I had never known the e in Porsche to be pronounced. Nor had I ever met a Porche-owner until I had met Mr. Johnson.

In Ellington, people were walking about, bundled up in bubble jackets, their figures cut out by the dull whiteness of the now-melting snow. Women were walking around with box braids which hung from under their beanies, some of them with Michelin-man babies in their arms. Men stood idle on streets, chatting, smoking cigarettes. When they saw me in the car with Mr. Johnson, most of them smiled. I recognized among a crowd of smoking men my barber, who gave me a stern nod. They watched the Porsche pull away from the light, and I wondered what it was they were saying, if they were concerned about the white man driving the car.

Ellington High School at one time was built almost identically to Marksville High. Both had state-of-the-art sports facilities and a swimming-pool, although Ellington’s has since been closed down, and its sports facilities have fallen into disrepair from years of mismanagement and poor funding.  It was built at about the same time, too, for a group of people which had long since evacuated the premises for more opulent suburbs. Some of those inhabitants, Jewish refugees, Poles, swarthy Italians, still remained, octa- and nonagenarians now, tended to by Haitian nurses who were now abundant in Ellington after the immigration booms of the 60s and 70s. It was nonetheless larger than our school in terms of population, and invariably spread thin. Their library’s collection was dated, and there were barely enough funds for the one librarian to stay abreast of new books, despite adamant interest from the student body. There was no drama program, either, and the student dance company was mostly funded by the donations of a particularly successful dancer who made her start at Ellington High and was now a director a the Ailey School. Yet still, what little money the school had seemed to be invested in a fleet of security guards clad in blue uniforms, walking about and chattering on walky-talkies, shooing idlers away, harassing them for hall-passes. The first thing I saw upon entering the building was a police officer reading a book at the front desk, and a security guard who promptly asked us to step through a metal detector. There was only one security guard at Marksville High; Randy, a Black man who lived in Ellington, went to my church, and said hello to me whenever we crossed paths.

People were looking at me as we walked through the school. They were not looking at Mr. Johnson, who was probably just as uncomfortable as I was. They seemed to ask “Who is that?” with their eyes. We got there right at passing-time, and students were meandering about in a slow crawl, laughing and screaming and guffawing as all high school kids do. Some kids were playing music loudly from a Bluetooth speaker hidden in a backpack, and the kids around them began Milly Rocking to the music, which caused me to smile, although Mr. Johnson only frowned. “Why must they be so disruptive? They really should get to class and stop fooling around like that.”

We entered the classroom to find Mr. Hudson, a ninth-grade European History teacher, sitting at his desk in the front of the room, his hands folded and waiting for the class to settle down and take their seats. People were on their phones in open view of the teacher, who did not seem to be bothered by it. A girl, perhaps the most beautiful woman I had ever seen up until that point, with a bob of faux locks framing a expertly done-up face, despite her young age, took a picture of herself with her less-impressive friend, sucking in her cheeks and puckering her lips while everyone else watched. Boys looked at videos, shared them with one another, passing around their phones, the sounds of the fight comps played out loud so that everyone in the room could hear. The teacher had to make a loud grunting sound to break their attention away from the video of a girl fighting her middle-aged aunt and losing.  I recognized the sounds of the videographer’s voice, for I had watched that very video before leaving for school that day…

“You must be Mr. Johnson, and you must be Dijon. I’m Mr. Hudson.”

It was the first time a white person had said my name right on the first try. They often try to say it like the mustard, which is not the case. I wondered if he had had a Dijon in the past.

Mr. Hudson reached out to shake my hand while the rest of the students watched us suspiciously. There were perhaps twenty-two students – fourteen girls, eight boys – sitting in neat rows of six with a  narrow corridor through which  Mr. Hudson  could walk and survey his students. “Class, these two men have come here from Marksville High School to talk to you about history. Dijon is a tenth-grade student who has taken an interest in history, I hear. He also took the AP test, too. What grade did you get on that, Dijon?”

I hesitated when he asked me the question, for I was still struck by my own surveillance. They all seemed to watch me very closely, and I felt suspended in the collective black of their eyes It is ver different, the judgment of one’s peers. One can never prepare oneself for it, can never know what to expect. In that moment, before I had words with which to describe my discomfort, I felt suddenly small, and I felt as if I had made a mistake to help Mr. Johnson with his little humanitarian project. I felt very odd, in that room, full of brown and brownish faces, and I felt a stinging in my skin, all over, that did not go away until I finally willed myself to speak. “I got a five on the exam.”

“A five! A perfect score!” A five is not a perfect score, though. It simply means “better than everyone else. “I don’t think we’ve had a five on any AP test in the past few years and here we have Dijon, a young prodigy a town over. Let’s give Dijon a round of applause.”.

A small conciliatory clapping. Most did not clap at all, but tightened the lassos of their eyes around me. I felt myself constrict even further, get pulled even tighter into myself. “Well, without further ado – that means ‘I’m going to stop talking’— here’s Mr. Dijon Harris.”

Mr. Hunter sat down and so did Mr. Johnson, right in front of me in the vacant first row of the class, a smile meant to encourage me spread across his pink face. I stood there in the front of the classroom, isolated,  a  large geographical map of Europe behind me.  The students watched me and I watched them for what seemed a long time before I finally mustered the strength to say the following curt words.

“I think European History is important because…”

I sensed the schools were hiding something, drugging us with false morality so that we would

not see, so that we did not ask: Why—for us and only us – is the other side of free will and free

spirits an assault upon our bodies? This is not a hyperbolic concern. When our elders presented

school to us, they did not present it as a place of high learning but as a means of escape from

death and penal warehousing. Fully 60 percent of all young black men who drop out of high

school will go to jail. This should disgrace the country. But it does not, and while I couldn’t

crunch the numbers or plumb the history back then, I sensed that the fear that marked West

Baltimore could not be explained by the schools. Schools did not reveal truths, they concealed

them. Perhaps they must be burned away so that the heart of this thing might be known.

(Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, p. 27

 

I had prepared a presentation on the values of enlightened thought, of the necessary horrors of the French revolution, of the scourge which communism served to the great progressive leaps of  Western culture, even a brief statement about the White Man’s burden that I had snuck in after Mr. Johnson’s final revisions, and it all seemed to disappear from my mind as I vacillated from disinterested eye to disinterested eye. I wondered where these students were, or whether they remembered where they were. I wondered how many times they’d stared at the embossed ridges of that map, wondering why they were learning about Europe of all places, a land to them as abstract and mythical as Atlantis. There was not but ten feet between me and these students, but I felt as if there were a giant chasm between us which grew larger and more impossible to traverse with each second that I stared and waited. The script surfaced in my mind, the words written in a foreign language I did not understand. A sigh of boredom, the squeaking of a chair leaning back on its shoddy wooden legs. The sound of an alert on someone’s phone, and the hurried swishing of athletic pants as the person silenced their phone, only after checking it for several seconds. Time slowed, seemed to stop. I looked down at Mr. Johnson, who still bore that sobering smile. Finally, I began my speech, having regained myself, and it all came out like vomit, completely uninhibited by what opinions or desires my mind had conjured in the process, automatically, without thought at all. I became deathly aware of myself in that moment of astral fissure, for I knew that I had a desire to please Mr. Johnson, yet I also had a duty to tell these kids the truth, a truth I had begun to doubt. I watched myself for the first time, seated in the back of the room, looking with limited curiosity and perhaps even smothered disdain at the brown kid spouting on about empire and the New World. I felt in the growing tension in my chest, which I at the time mistook for indigestion, the first moments of my undoing. Caught between a world I sought to save and a world I sought to reform, unsure of which one it was anymore, unsure of it mattered. And I suppose it was in this moment that I felt it slide over, that I felt myself first be pulled out of myself, the body in the back of the room, looking on in disdain, suddenly appearing as my image.

The next time I came to give a talk at Ellington, then to Mrs. Wilson’s class, I wasn’t Dijon, anymore. It was at about that time that I began introducing myself as John. Whenever I spoke to those sullen masses, their expression never changing, their contempt always mitigated, distant, John stood there, charismatic and proud of his Gaulish ancestors, shimmering in his unbreakable and unmanageable wish to change a world which could not find a space for him, foolish in his optimism that he could bring two worlds together in one body.

John, my veil, my gimmick, my masque. A fourteen-year burden, my salvation.

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