That Day

That Day
by Lorenzo Simpson

The keys were out of the ignition, but my heart still raced.

I did everything right. I signaled at the right time, I’m sure of it. I made a full stop at every sign, I know I did. I mean, I went 47 when the speed limit was 45, but it couldn’t be that. Everyone does that.

I pry my trembling fingers from the steering wheel and place them on my lap, staring into the dark nothingness of the winding road. Daylight savings time just started, it’s usually not this dark out.

The flashing blue lights spill over my hunched shoulders, tagging my skin with the enemy’s colors.

I remember the stories on the news of black men being wrenched from their cars and stomped out of existence.

I remember the rap lyrics condemning cops with an anger that only comes from first hand experience.

I remember that the media has a fetish for black mugshots.

I remember I am 16, colored and powerless under these blue lights. They’re like reverse bug zappers, following us around until we’re exterminated.

“It’s ok, “ mom says.  “Just keep quiet, be polite, look him right in the eye.”  She sat next to me, eyes closed, head tilted back resting in her right hand. She fought through an hour of traffic to pick me up from school so I could practice driving, and this shit happens.

I was just supposed to take us home. I did everything right, I know I did. Looking back on it, I know how it looked.

Black bodies in a old, busted, black Altima driving through a neighborhood with houses so big there’s no way any of them belonged to us.

I hear his shoes tap the pavement, right up to my window. he looks down at us, looks down on us, and says

“License and registration.” I feel like that phrase should have “trigger warning” in front of it.

I almost drop my wallet handing over my learners. My mom has to cut her rest short to fumble through her bag and hand over her license. And there we were, sitting in the dark on the side of the road, our identities at the mercy of the man in uniform.

He walks away, I wait in silence, my mom keeps saying, “it’s ok. It’s gonna be ok.”

5 minutes go by. I’m just…new to the system, that’s all. Takes a while to register.

10 minutes go by. I just got my learner’s, what’s taking so long? I feel taunted by the drivers passing us, glad it wasn’t them this time.

20 minutes go by, you know the longer it takes, the more trouble I’m probably in, I just want to go home.

My mind is backtracking, looking for crimes I must have committed to justify how long it’s taking and finally. I hear his shoes tap the pavement again. Frustrated that he couldn’t find anything on me, he made sure to make the words, “You need to get that tail light fixed” sound as stern and vindicated as possible. He returns my identity, but keeps my dignity as a souvenir.

He disappears in a flash of blue oppression.

I am confusion and frustration. My mother is truth, as it spills from her mouth as soon as he leaves. 16 year old black kid going to private school is a perceived threat. Eloquence is my only weapon against their arrogance.

I must learn to maneuver this world with a colored consciousness, keep the target on my back as invisible as possible. But first, I need to get us home. At least my hands have stopped trembling. And my heart’s stopped racing. for now.

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