I remember the white bag covering my head while my eyes were open wide, closing my vision and shrouding me in blackness.
Jonathan, a young Asian-American post-college student, is tossing and turning on the left-side of the bed, while his young white girlfriend Clara lies on the right-side of the bed. Jonathan wakes up. He sits bolt-upright, startled, and in a cold sweat after just having a nightmare about being dunked into a river by a Pastor. He breathes in and he breathes out. He touches his chest as the sun leaks in through the window. His heart beats rapidly, pounding at a high rate. Clara starts to shiver. Turning to face his girlfriend, Jonathan takes his black blanket and covers her body with it. As the blanket spreads over her arms and legs, Clara softens and gently she lolls head into her pillow.
Jonathan asks silently, “Is there warmth in her? Or was he always right?”
He looks up at the ceiling. There's a set of faded glow-in-the-dark stars on top. The stars seem to brighten with light and magnify in intensity of color and warmth.
The brackish, heavy water from the James River rushed and flowed over stones and broken branches as my friends hummed gospel hymns to unite us across this journey of baptism.
The stars shine brightly over the back-porch as Jonathan looks away from the sky and listens to his Pop tell a joke. Jonathan shakes his head and laughs. Pop, a middle-aged Asian man wearing a gray jacket and corduroy pants, chuckles and slaps his knee. As the wind grows stronger, Jonathan drinks a beer and Pop smokes a black and mild. Jonathan’s phone vibrates and he checks the text message. It's his girlfriend Clara.
“Hey Pop, I get to get going. I'm going to a baseball game with Clara,” he says.
Jonathan starts to stand up and Pop slams the lid down on the cooler. The beers rattle and shake inside of the cooler and Jonathan hesitates to speak as Pop continues to smoke on the black and mild. Pop points his black and mild at Jonathan and nods.
“You ever use white-out before Jonathan?”
Jonathan says, “Not really.”
“You see, people, especially ones who work in fancy offices, use white-out to correct the mistakes in their papers. They take the white-out pen and mark out all of the black characters away, making long, white streaks over the text, so that the mistake wasn't in there in the first place. Out with the black and replaced with the white.”
“Pop, what are you saying?” Jonathan asks.
“I'm saying you think having a white-girl is going to solve all of your problems. Going to make things better for you and your Asian-ness. I feared this day would come. When my son, my own goddamn son, has chosen to humiliate our family, by dating a white woman. You have any idea what kind of trouble you causing? I won't accept her. She will never set foot in this house. I will not have our heritage robbed and murdered. That's for damn sure. She probably looks better than Cindy Crawford, maybe even Jackie Kennedy. But they white. She white. Eventually, a white girl will white out you,” Pop says, his hand trembling. He inhales smoke.
“…until, there is nothing left in your Asianness and this is why I can't not accept her Jonathan. Do yourself a favor, and break up with her now, before your heart gets broken in the long game of things. Hear me son? Listen. Don't shrug, or roll your eyes. Listen. Because if you don't, consequences are bound to hit you in the head.”
Jonathan says, “I don't know what your problem is.”
He gets up from his chair and pushes it back against the lawn table.
“Don't you dare walk away from this conversation,” Pop says as he runs up to his son. He grabs him by the shirt collar, and lifts him up into the air and says, “She will never be apart of this family. You want to be in a river of this whitewater? Swim on Jonathan, swim on. Because you can't tread water against this strong current. And I can't be there to save you.”
Pop blows smoke into Jonathan’s eyes. Jonathan coughs from the smoke, but the smoke gets bigger and bigger and starts to envelop the entire scene.
We walked barefoot along the muddy ground filled with tiny rocks and snapped twigs and followed one another, our chests convulsing from the anxiousness of the unknown, arms drooped into a V with one hand over the other to keep our fingers from shaking.
Jonathan is grilling scrambled eggs and bacon on the cooking range as smoke rises from the frying pan. Forks, spoons, and knives are laid out next to plates on the table. Milk is being poured into a glass, as Clara smiles up at Jonathan.
He is busy flipping over the bacon with a spatula and he doesn't notice Clara smiling at him. He thinks about his Pop. He thinks about his nightmare. He closes his eyes and takes in a deep breath. Jonathan turns on the air-vent above the stove, and all of the smoke slowly disappears. He takes a wooden ladle and scoops up the eggs and the bacon and walking over to the table, he places them neatly on each plate.
Jonathan says, “I would drown in the river for this girl.”
When brotherman put his palm on my chest, I could feel my heart exploding with excitement, as he dipped my body gently backwards.
Jonathan and Clara are sitting on a sofa and watching the nature channel on the television. On screen, there's a black bear catching fish from a river. Jonathan glances at Clara. Then he looks back at the TV. Clara glances at Jonathan and sighs. She continues to look at him, but he is focused on the TV. Clara reaches out to hold Jonathan’s hand and Jonathan leans forward to the coffee table and pours himself a glass of wine. Clara sits back and crosses her arms.
Jonathan drinks the wine and stares at the TV screen and says. “I couldn't breathe under the weight of all that whiteness. Is what we share worth the struggle? Do I matter at all?”
The wine spills on the carpet and creates this huge, red stain.
Immediately, freezing water flooded the bag and my head became soaking with a coldness that was like a flat of the hand striking my tender cheek.
Jonathan is at the bottom of the basement, looking at a huge, red stain. He's next to the ascending staircase, looking up at Clara who is at the top. He's waving to her and showing her all of those journals that he's written in. All of them love letters for her.
Jonathan says, “You can have it all baby! I made these poems for you. These handwritten love notes. Every day I wrote one. Just for you. Fuck what my dad thinks. I care about you so much; you don't even know.”
Clara is hanging out of the doorway and she has her hand around the knob. She appears to be closing the door, or at least considering it.
Clara says, “You L-”
Jonathan asks, “What?”
“Do y-,” Clara says.
“What?” Jonathan asks again.
Clara says, “Yo-”
“You need to speak up Clara,” Jonathan says.
Clara closes her eyes and closes the door.
When I emerged from the shallows of the dark river, still dripping with water, my lungs expanded as I gasped for air, for relief, and for an opportunity to restore my tarnished soul, a soul that is inside of a body, the same body that sits on this couch with lumpy cushions, staring at a TV screen.
Jonathan is in the bathtub looking at the door across from him. He dips his head underwater and holds his breath. There's no sound, super quiet. He lifts his head out of the tub, water spraying out, as he gasps for air. He gets out of the tub, dries his body off with a white-bath towel, and drains the water. He stands in front of the mirror, holds his chin in his hand, and rubs his stubble. Jonathan wipes the condensation away a bit more, looks at the scars on his arms, and sighs out loud. He cracks his knuckles, drums his fingers on the bath vanity. He smiles at his reflection.
“You tried to keep me away from her. Why do you hate the person I want to have my kids with? The woman I would actually spend my hard-earned money on? A woman who adores me as much as I swoon for her. She is gorgeous. Ain't nobody can beat her in a contest of personality. Personally, she has me bested. That's what happens when God mixes wine into your heart. The bloodline will just get better as it grows with time. And if time is money. She is timeless,” Jonathan says.
He puts his shirt and pants on. He doesn't put on his shoes and walks out of the bathroom barefoot. The door closes and the room fades to black.
I remember the coldness of the river as I stood knee-deep in rolling water, which seeped into my red shirt and my shorts, my feet caked in mud.
Jonathan is standing on asphalt that is darker than the sky at night. He looks anxious like he's about to run. He turns around and looks at the house. This is the townhouse his father has built with his bare hands. The door is sturdy, but worn-down. The windows are busted. The gutter is strewn with leaves. The lawn needs trimming. Even the siding has dents in it. Jonathan looks away from his house and looks down at the sidewalk, to the road, and beyond. He runs, runs, runs, and runs until his arms swing side to side, and his feet pick up dust and dirt from the ground, as he heads towards oblivion.