I’m sitting on the toilet, pants completely on, toilet seat down. Pen in my right hand, I scribble, “are you living your dream?” on the stall in the middle of a bar bathroom in New Orleans. I’m hoping to offer enlightenment. Maybe, just maybe, a young woman will read my note in this bathroom stall and move to Rome, Italy, and fall helplessly in love with herself, listening to Italian opera, and peeling back layers of herself in the mirror, layers previously unknown. Perhaps, a young woman in New Orleans will go home and open her blinds, letting in light, choosing to forgo the darkness, and choose friendship and self-love as revolutionary acts of kindness. This is my wish, how I am quick to forgive myself for the tomfoolery.
11:56pm. I trace my fingers across the wall and remove chipped paint from my pen. I hesitate, eyeballing my most recent collection of “I-only-had-one-beer- bathroom stall “decoration” and pause, reading the work next to mine.
“I’m going to miss you little sister! Best always,” it reads, sketched by Jen back in February 2016.
I flush the toilet and count to five.
Exiting the stall, I approach the sink. The cold water feels heavy in my hands, like aggressive water against levees, like the year 2006 against FEMA. A quick splash to the face fills me with a sudden jolt of energy.
I open my eyes, peering in the mirror intensely. My black eyes stare back, at my Black skin, my short hair way above the shoulders, the small dot birthmark on the right side of my face, the silver nose ring in my left nostril, a replica of my mother’s smile, my father’s never-ending-always-dangling- arms and legs. I beam.
Water dripping down my face, I reach up for a paper towel.
I glance to my left. A tall, Black man stands, admiring me. I like his energy immediately. Something about him just standing there, watching me in the mirror with water all over my face in a goofy manner. I wonder if he saw me at the Galaxia Arcade Machine earlier, I have the urge to tell him that I made it to Level 18 for the first time ever, but I choose not to.
“Hello.” I respond.
“Where are you from?” He asks, his smile now alluding confidence and strength.
“He looked like he could protect, provide, and profess,” I’ll later tell my friend and laugh when she responds, telling me to “cut the Steve Harvey bullshit.”
“North Carolina.” My voice does not crack, and he does not make me nervous. I feel at ease, comfortable, and cool. “Are you from here?”
“Yes, born and raised.” He says. No southern drawl accent, no elongated sentence brimming with rhythmic southern charm, flowing upward and downward like the Mississippi, ending with a grand finale.
“But you don’t have an accent!” I yell over the live band in the background. “How!”
His eyebrows and mouth squish together in surprise. “I don’t have any tact.” I almost blurt out but then I decide against it, being one of my most favorite qualities about myself.
“You’re funny,” he chuckles, “but I’m from here. I just don’t have the accent… And you don’t either.”
His non-southern accent tongue asks me where I went to school and what I studied.
I tell him Business and Spanish.
“Si,” I whisper.
“Yo hablo un poquito de español.” His accent thick, Caribbean sounding, in an accent I’d love to hear amongst the rest of the chatter in the world.
“How did you learn?” I pry, but in Spanish. He pauses and I interpret it back to him in English. He pauses again, eyeing my lips, clearing admiring the way I conjugated the verb aprender correctly, so quickly, calling him the informal tu as a method of flirtation.
He takes a deep breath, blushing, his face now covered in small red splotches, smaller than this bathroom, smaller than the brief amount of time I’ve had to gather who I think he is versus who he shows me he is.
And he just stands there, another deep breath, now eyeing my blue and yellow earrings, one of the sun and the other of the moon. My favorites. He doesn’t stop to mention how they are mismatched earrings. I don’t tell him that I bought both earrings together in the same little box at a flea market in Spain. He is enamored. Enamorado.
“My mother is a Spanish professor here.” He carefully says in Spanish, accent still in full effect.
He stares at me, me so at ease that I do not rush to end the conversation. I just stand there, not looking down at my feet like I did most of the summer with other boys, tracing my summer tan lines in-between my brown Birkenstock sandals.
I ask him what it was like to grow up in New Orleans and we discuss Lil Wayne rap records. I surprise myself, humming a song at a medium level, rapping the lyrics along, him joining in.
He claps both hands together, a large smile appearing across his face.
I imagine New Orleans summers, the forbidden heat, jazz blasting, young girls and boys throwing bikes that are swallowed by the unforgiving ground, always yelling of laughter, singing accents, feet stretched outward, determined to discover the earth. A summer of young Black and Brown girls and boys always home by the time that streetlight shines down on the cracked, black asphalt, almost blacker than his complexion.
He stands there smiling and stares at me and for the first time in my life, I feel seen by this young Black man in a co-ed bathroom in New Orleans.
“What’s your name?”
“Tianna.” I love the way my name tastes in my mouth.
“Tianna, eh?” He asks, possibly repeating a name twice as repetition for his memory, something my father taught me. “Steven,” followed by a strong handshake.
I’m not sure if his name is spelled with a v or a p. I don’t ask. He takes down my phone number, still considerably intrigued by me, a strange girl from North Carolina, who speaks Spanish and doesn’t sound like she’s from North Carolina.
“When do you leave?” He asks, his left eyebrow rising ever so slightly.
“Tomorrow,” I respond.
“Tomorrow?” He pouts.
“Mañana.” I whisper, bent over, laughing.
“Mañana.” He laughs, arms outstretched, hugging me, his face in my wild, curly hair.
Maybe one day he will describe me as the girl with the sun and moon earrings.