When You Try

When You Try to Make Sense of a Breakup Through Racism

by Michelle Renee Hoppe

When You Try

My paintings and art therapy hang loosely on his walls. The felt coloring I did in the hospital washes out to white. It sticks to the fridge still facing the sun. He holds my hands, looking at me with more love when I am sick than when I am well. He holds me and tells me it will be all right. It will be all right.

My lover is an Indian man, and his skin is not like mine. I am nearly titanium white with a hint of peach spots. He has never had skin cancer. I have had it many times. For a long time, I wonder about having his children. It is like this.

She might ask of me, as one of my Indian preschool students asked one day, “Am I brown because I ate chocolate ice cream? Why am I brown?” Am I prepared for these questions? I prepare myself. It is like this.

I will say, “One day you will fall in love with someone who loves brown like I do, who grows alongside you, like branches and puppies.”

I will say, “Do you know how hard it is to photograph beautiful darkness? The negatives defy reflection. The lines from the sun don’t show up easily on brown skin. The pale moon is a moody mistress, and she doesn’t give enough of herself every night. Do you know everyone daydreams of napping, closing their eyes and forgetting the light?”

Will I write her a children’s tale to make racism go away? After all, there are only so many genetically diverse dolls I can buy for my classrooms. Can I just speak the bigots away? Maybe! I will read to her aloud: “You are the creator of shadow, and you are the absorption of light. You are the tree that gives shade, and you are the steady night. You are the owl and the spider. You are the bark, the howl, and the bite.”

***

My lover tells me I cannot write and have him. He says I’m too dark inside this black and white lettering. He forgets the sun must kiss the darkness at least twice each day, and that this forever kiss makes colors like neon powder across a white temple in the sky. How do I show him that this darkness, too, is love?

How do I teach him to love all of the colors mixed together? How do I make him see that when I’m sad I’m also joyful, that when I'm joyful there is still so much sadness in me, that we human beings cannot bleach out flat like light? I revel in complexity. He wilts before it. He wonders what his mother will think of his wife’s words. I wonder, too, her being a formidable woman.

I must write him a technicolor negative. I must write myself a rainbow. Impossible!

This is a pitiable apology after a long and hard cry. I write. And now all I have without his kisses is black on all this white.

***

It is like this. One day my lover came home and told me that two Indian engineers were gunned down in Kansas: Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani.

And I cannot pronounce their names. I even call Sachin “Sach,” which is wrong I think. Now I think that it is wrong how much I want to fight ignorance instead of listen to it, and I think I spoke more than I listened during that relationship. And that was our undoing.

All my talking and how easy it was for me to just exist. How didn’t I see how hard it was for him? How a man facing systemic oppression would need positivity almost always, how indulgent it was for me to want him to embrace the excess color. He knew the colors. He just knew too much of a good thing, was, as they say, a dangerous thing.

I am wrong to try like this, to write like this, to think like this, and even to be like this. He is right this time. It's not about all of this. It is not like this. All these words. It is not like this. It’s nothing to him.

It is like this: I miss him more than words. His complexity. His exploding color. His measuredness. The way he mixes. The way he blends. All his brown. And I regret all the letters. This is a letter of regret. It is just like this.

About the Author

Michelle Renee Hoppe

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Michelle Renee Hoppe holds a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University, where she was published in and later edited Leading Edge. She was the advertising director of Inscape. She is a special education teacher in the NYC public schools and an M.Ed. candidate in special education.