If there are 100 ways to reach you, then the first is a closed door, maybe the one that was broken into, on West Hilda Circle, a peaceful–but for writhing black bodies–neighborhood street (where I met you)–in Decatur, Georgia. The door makes the sound of a quiet shout when it shuts, and the smell of Dad’s fried pork chops lingers like hot laughter.
They sold that house, you know.
And like the maple that stood in our front yard with orange-yellow leaves that fell in fall like a shower of sunset, I’ve branched off (if you will). I’ve spent eight years in the peeled over DC swamp, and now three (plus) years in the city of multiple personalities so even it cannot always recognize itself, New York.
Brown people with kinky hair and a twinkle in their eye never fail to ask me: “Where are you from?”
When I say, Atlanta and then correct myself, no, Decatur–they squint their eyes, as if looking to see the city inside of me, and sometimes I think of you, but more often, I don’t.
“You don’t sound like you’re from Atlanta,” they say.
Who are you? The voice police?
“Was just saying.”
Just saying what?
“That you know…”
That I know what?
“You’re not really from Atlanta. Not Atlanta, Atlanta.”
I mix hot sauce and ranch together, swirl them around with the pointy end of a chicken finger, and a voice over my shoulder, a friend from New Rochelle, says, “You really are from Atlanta.” I laugh with pride, chest puffed out more like a thrush than a hawk.
I tell this new friend that if I go by way of memory, I can find you–eating crinkly fries with me after one of my softball games at Redan Park. Rapping Dre lyrics in Dad’s old white Monte Carlo that glides like a falsetto to the Yasin’s off of Memorial Drive. Listening to Mom’s soft lecture on doing your best, rolling our eyes behind her back. She has so much love and faith for us, and we are only secretly happy about this.
If I go by way of Donald Glover, I can lose myself inside of you again, a different version of you because the West Side is so different than the East Side, and you were never as compact as a character.
If I go by way of airplane, I am sure to find that the streets and highways have the same names, and of course the same numbers–20 and 285 and 85 and 75–have not changed, but the roadmap has.
When I root for the Falcons, I feel like I’m rooting for you. I think of football games where Dad cheered on the Cleveland Browns like a malapropos lunatic. For a long time I cheered for the Browns, too, because I was a Daddy’s girl, and he was where my allegiance lay, but now that I’ve formed a whole self, moreover now that I’m missing you, when I’m not boycotting the NFL for bodies that remind me of yours, I fly in hopes of making a V with those old dirty birds.
I quantify your Atlanta accent, nothing more than a southern slur, that I know is still there ten, eleven, fifteen years later–it is 17,346 wet lemon pepper chicken wings, 5,722 bankhead bounces, 5,760 quiet storms on V103, 2,280 runs to the Walmart on Panola, 302 trips to Lenox Mall, 250 circles around Golden Glide.
When they question my authenticity, my nativity, I could call you, have you vouch for me, but I’ve lost your number, and when I ask Mom if she’s talked to you lately, she says that she hasn’t. The last time she saw you your braids, straight backs that barely reached your neck, had weeks’ old fuzz and the weight of years had made your previously lean and lithe body round. Your smile was almost the same but for the honesty behind it, gone.
“Couldn’t be. Not the Tony I used to know,” I say, not understanding the differences nor the similarities, that in the same way I lost Atlanta, Atlanta might’ve lost you, and it would be indulgent for me to think that I would ever really see you again.