Blood and Sugar
In 2016 we didn’t think it would happen. Donald Trump was a reality TV star, professional rich person, and a joke. An inflated, bizarre joke.
I was living in South London in a narrow room with a single bed. I worked seven days a week. Six days at a restaurant and Sunday morning in a bakery. Sunday afternoon all I could do was eat Vietnamese on a cramped leather couch watching whatever and letting my friend’s boyfriend from Birmingham entertain us.
Sometimes this friend, who made cakes at the bakery I worked in on Sundays, would cook for me. This was always the best day of the week. She made good food out of so little. She would never take less than 2.5 hours to cook anything, so you had to snack, or just sort of hold out if you were hungry (me, always), but when it was put in front of you it was worth it.
So I guess the night before the most physically repulsive man alive became President, was likely a night where I was exhausted from working and from trying to feel like myself in a city where I was paid to smile, the weird lull of that space. Where doing nothing that actually contributed to the world was peaceful and also suffocating. Like the gentlest choke. I was unnecessary and because of that I was free.
I had fantasies of taking up an offer from one of the 35-year-old white men that hit on me at the restaurant. Of maybe going out with him, then maybe going home with him, possibly waking up late the next day and having average sex, finding we had the same sense of humour, and then just slowly morphing into his life, his interests, forgetting everyone I knew before him and just existing. As his property.
It would be a relief to sink.
Instead, I verbally and sometimes physically rebuked them, and I carried on trying to make money.
when the Americans voted for Trump
they reminded the rest of the world
there is so much power in hatred
We had all been talking about the election of course. Clinton didn’t seem like she was going to win in any real way, because we know how much men hate women, but the other option (how much men AND women hate people of colour) was too awful to properly acknowledge so no one I knew did. And the years afterwards have felt like someone was pissed we didn’t have enough respect or time for white supremacy.
I woke up the day after the election, checked Google, and the little Wikipedia page with the result came up. There was a circle with a red ring around it and the picture in the circle was Donald Trump’s face.
And ohhh, they really do hate us, was all I thought.
And the hate is obviously in the United States, and it is directed with the most rage at Black people. And Mexican people. And other immigrant people of colour. And indigenous Americans. And trans people. And gay people. And women men don’t want to fuck. But when the Americans voted for Trump they reminded the rest of the world there is so much power in hatred.
So we called our families and we cried and the four, maybe eight, years ahead felt like an eternity then and feel somehow even longer now.
This was a time in my life when everything felt very big but also sort of silent, like it was wrapped in cotton wool. I would ride home from work on the trains and buses, crossing from North London all the way to South, usually drinking so I could sleep when I got home.
The comforting anonymity of moving gently intoxicated through a city where no one is waiting for me is something I still miss.
Living in the world
and being in love is good big
I always feel halfway between those two worlds. It feels like there could be two paths to my life, and one is where I live fully in it and the other is where I’m a footnote.
I could work a job where no one needed my opinions, I could pretend to be straight, and I could just slip softly out of it. No fighting, no arguing, no pushing the needle of my love slowly into someone else’s heart, drawing their blood out and fueling myself with it. No saying I disagree with a world that doesn’t like me. Just passing through. Because the current way of living is so sore all the time.
Big, little, little, big. Living in the world and being in love is good big. Living in the world and being out of love is good little. Living in the world and being sad your love is gone is bad big. Living in the world and watching who you love exist without you is bad little.
This is the size of the world in my twenties.
When I moved to Hamburg I took a brown suitcase. It was shaped like a box but it was soft, so the shape didn’t benefit the contents inside. It had wheels but not the cool 360 rotating ones. The zips would break if you didn’t ease them around while apologising. It was such a waste of time.
I showed up in Hamburg with the suitcase and met the family I would be au pairing for with about 10 words of German. The Mum was white and she had two white babies and a Black, older boy from a previous relationship. He was lovely and all the kids were very shy. They took me to their warm house in the middle of a forest where there were horses. We were about two hours from the city. This was something I didn’t know.
Saying sorry sorry sorry
very softly to myself and hoping
I would make it out again
Okay I’ll die here, I figured.
The suitcase broke at maybe the worst time possible. I was let go from the nannying job in an unnatural winter with a week to find another job and another country. So I got on a train to Berlin to spend a few days with friends, then decided I would go to London.
And that was when my bag broke.
I felt it giving up as I ran to get my train. The wheels started making this scraping noise like they were dying. The handle on top was black plastic, one side of it pulled up and drew out the wires that held it to the bag. This happened right as I was trying to heave it up the two sharp steps of the train carriage and they struck blunt and rude into the palm of my hand. The wheels twisted the wrong way and three of the four came off in the same moment, dropping down the shocking gap between the platform and the train into dusty oblivion. The momentum of my own failure launched me into a weird hover over some Germans who were just trying to eat croissants in peace.
I’ve always felt tourists take up too much space.
It took two phone calls and one Skype to find a nannying job in London. Being little and light-skinned and well-spoken really serves me well with rich Mums. This family was white and Colombian and all of them, even the five year old, spoke three languages. I never found out what the Dad did for a job and I never saw the Mum eat solid food. She would just mix up these shakes and stare at me with buggy green eyes while I ate all the Pan de Queso their housekeeper had made.
My second day on the job I took all three boys to mini golf. The middle one prepared too hard and swung straight into the oldest’s face, breaking his nose. The five-year-old dropped to the ground laughing while the oldest tried to actually kill his brother. I stood in the middle to keep them apart. One had blood literally flying out of his nose and the other was screaming cause he knew his brother meant it.
White people seem emotionally
affected for the first time
All of us ended up in the back room of a cafe waiting for the ambulance. None of the boys were talking to one another and the Mum was avoiding my phone calls. I sat on a box of toilet rolls, with the middle one on my lap for protection. I kept one hand on the shelves next to me so that the oldest didn’t knock them over while he flailed around and screamed profanities at me in Spanish. The youngest one opened all the single-serve sugar packets and tipped them on the floor and when we finally got out I just had to apologise over and over again for all the blood and sugar we left in our wake.
Caring for other people’s children is so strange.
This family had a three-story house with a huge kitchen and a backyard in Kensington. When I ran around the park each morning I pretended I had a right to it.
I lived downstairs, with that floor all to myself, apart from the laundry. There was a cook, two cleaners, and a separate tutor for each child.
One evening, my second week into the job, the oldest stood up from his bath, looked me dead in the eyes, and pissed on me. I yelled at him to stop but he just kept going and going. He didn’t even smile. The Mum wrinkled her nose at me when she walked in. I folded my top up to my chest to contain/disperse the piss and ran downstairs to my own ensuite to change. As she shut the door behind me I heard her asking if he’d told the cook what he wanted for dinner.
I had one friend from Aotearoa living in almost the same part of the city as me. She had left the country, her relationship, and lost her father all in the same month-long period. I escaped the house and the kids and met her at a bar with heavy velvet curtains. We drank gin and tonic while she told me how her entire friend group knew her boyfriend was cheating on her. By the time we got to the part about how she used tickets he had paid for to get away from him and the country, we were sitting on a brick wall outside the club, laughing and spilling everything.
I got “home” at around 11am the next morning after spending the night with a basketball player. I didn’t know before this that gin could make me bold enough to walk up to professional sportspeople in clubs. He was staying in a friend’s house for the night and lived at home, well outside of London. He was Cuban British and spoke a little bit of Spanish to one of his brothers on the phone in the morning. He told me how he went back to Cuba a couple years ago to travel with his brothers through the country. There was one part of the trip where the three of them got separated and he had to meet them in a different city. He ended up waiting for them for two days because the cops stopped them and they spent a couple nights in the cells. He explained how this was illegal, but also that his brothers were darker than him and always suffered this while travelling. I always think about this, what it was like to listen to a story where the most upsetting part of it was also the most familiar, for him. How the tragedy inside of it wasn’t even the point of the story.
And when the dust settled they
all still asked us where we’re from
I was looking after the kids that afternoon but when the Mum heard me throw up in the toilet she let me sleep it off. The next day I told them my Grandmother was sick and I urgently needed to go back home. I bought a ticket with the last of my Hamburg money and flew to where my tiny Gran was waiting for me.
Coming back to the country and to Tāmaki felt like zipping up my suitcase. Saying sorry sorry sorry very softly to myself and hoping I would make it out again. Driving over the harbour bridge to see friends, taking the same corners to the same houses.
The world around me had sealed itself up.
Four years of a proud white supremacist presiding over a country that thinks it is first-world and we are watching genocide play out on our phone screens. Almost in real time. Brands, TV shows, companies and institutions that have always been racist are changing phrases and terms and logos. Theatre companies are posting messages of solidarity while they hire six white directors.
At some point I realise I have travelled more than other friends my age. The same things that endear me to rich women also mean I get cast in TV commercials that give me chunks of cash to throw on my “Overseas Experience”.
We all go to marches and white people seem emotionally affected for the first time.
I can’t shake the fear that what’s happening right now will get told wrong. That white people will rewrite history to help them forget that there was a time when they wouldn’t allow Black Lives Matter to end the conversation, but actively debated the truth of it.
It’s been over a year since March 15th. Since we saw all the white people around us throw their toys. Somehow needing to be the loudest and saddest and angriest in the room. I didn’t know how to react when I saw them finally digest what we’d been trying to shove down their throat for years. Because when they did they seemed also to forget to thank or acknowledge anyone.
And when the dust settled they all still asked us where we’re from.
Theatre companies are posting
messages of solidarity while
they hire six white directors
I audition for the lead in a movie. The character I am auditioning for is written as Rwandan. I suggest a friend instead. I say the storyline makes me uncomfortable. My agent tells me that they have opened the casting up and are seeing all women of colour, and that the film is based on the director’s actual life. I go, and get a recall. The director gives the part to a white girl.
The industry I’m in feels too small.
I wonder if I should go overseas again. Pull the anonymity of new countries and hospo jobs over me like a blanket.
It’s just that I’m never really sure what I’m looking for when I do. When I start googling Denmark and Nepal and Italy and stare at the screen trying to picture myself in it, trying to imagine what another life would feel like, sound like, smell like. And not to discover anything new, or for any kind of self-improvement. It’s more like I’m breaking out.
And yes it’s true that you find yourself wherever you go but sometimes it helps if the weather’s different.
One night I was in Berlin at a club with my boyfriend at the time and three friends. There was a white guy with long hair who my boyfriend loved. His girlfriend, who I loved. And one of my best friends. We went out to a few different bars and at some point we bought a couple grams and the night runs together in my memory after this. I was wearing a necklace I bought with the same boyfriend in Morocco. The man who sold it to me said they call it the 'desert star'. It was made of four strands of jade green beads, all strung to a silver four-point star. I wore it every day since first finding it because somehow it went with every outfit.
We were dancing to another song that had no words and this blonde man who had become a part of our group was really trying to hit on my best friend. My man and his buddy were talking in that way that cocaine makes you talk, needlessly elongating their vowels, casually flicking their hands at the ends of their sentences like nothing was more important. I don’t know, maybe this is just how white men always speak when they’re together. At one point my boyfriend clapped his mate on the back, turned to me and said, ‘What would you do if we weren’t so woke?’.
Then he leant in to kiss me and the button of his shirt caught on my necklace. He pulled away and all the jade beads scattered to the floor. I scrambled around and saved only the star. It looked so lonely and cheap sitting in the middle of my palm.