Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit

When we get to the Dallas airport, the televisions are showing a headline about a hunter who paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill an endangered rhinoceros. It makes me feel a screech inside, a smearing. “Don’t look,” Hannah warns me, but I keep erupting in puffs of indignity on the escalator. At the gate, I cry at the end of the Das Racist song, “Rainbow in the Dark,” when Victor Vazquez says “We tried to go to Amsterdam they threw us in Guantanamo.” Then I play it over again so I can trip back into my cry.

As if on cue, CNN reports that a bunch of Bin Laden’s documents have been discovered. He reminds me, in one clip, of a boy I went to college with, whose eyes were huge and kind and beautiful like a superpower. There is room for empathy in the reporting, which I find a little terrifying. These news anchors have been given this kind of permission, or the order, to humanize what once was our monster. The “why” behind these gusts of change in media seems just as disconcerting to me, sometimes, as the news itself.

The anchors highlight Bin Laden’s concern that his followers should not try to create a caliphate. That he loved his children. The word “achingly” is used. They speak of love letters to his wives. His fear of drones. It reminds me of that weird swoon of time when I couldn’t stop watching Homeland because of the feeling of vertigo I got when the kind-eyed terrorist lost his son to a drone. Tonight, I will dream that I live in a city like the recently captured Ramadi. We have to make deals with the soldiers, who hold items on a pillow as we haggle for our lives.

The last time I flew into Detroit, I saw a famous man whom I thought was Delory Lindo. Airport employees came up to him, held his shoulder, joked with him. On screens, CNN was reporting the non-indictment ruling in Missouri and I felt a special honor to watch with this famous black man those first reports from Ferguson, when Ferguson became Ferguson, as Michael Brown’s step-father shouted “Burn this bitch down!” into a crowd.

On the plane, I sat across the aisle from, as Percival Everett might call him, Not Delroy Lindo, who was, nonetheless, somebody, as an engineer was called onto the plane to fix a piece of ceiling that was popping off in the corner. After what felt like an unnecessary eternity of duct taping, we began to move, and when the plane picked up speed the ceiling actually fell down. The ceiling of a portion of the plane fell down onto people’s shoulders, and we screamed “STOP STOP!” But the pilot sitting next to me, because a lot of airline staff happened to be riding that day, laughed and said, “it’s much more dangerous to stop than whatever threat that ceiling poses. That’s cosmetic.” So we lifted into the air and people, unbuckled, stood up to hold the ceiling together, and Not Delroy Lindo chuckled with the girl to his left, and I felt more comfortable with the calamity because he was there. Not Delroy Lindo’s scarf fell and I handed it to him, managing not to say, “Mr. Lindo.” It was so soft.

On this trip home, I have been texting with my cousin, who tells me that I will not be able to shadow her at work while I’m visiting. It would have been my second time on a ride-along with her on her rounds as a lieutenant for Detroit’s 9th precinct. So much has changed since the first time. Namely, I have developed an instinctive sense of terror upon seeing police cars, triggered by the footage of black men being killed by white officers that lurk in every seam of screen, videos stirred to life the same way that advertisements in the margins come alive when you scroll down or accidentally hover your mouse. But instead of saying “FIND A DENTIST IN TUCSON,” it’s a death showing. A death is showing. Like a pregnancy or a film or some underwear.

Rather than being shot at, my new fear would be of seeing the officers unleash violence upon a helpless body, having to watch within the confines of my approximated uniform, padded with a bullet proof vest, which would incontrovertibly claim me, identify my orientation toward the police and not the helpless body, drown me out even though I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t be screaming, I am the kind of person who screams. And aren’t I? Affiliated? My cousin is my cousin. She’s my blood. But so am I black. My father is black. She’s white. But her children are black. Our affiliations are bleeding all over the place.

The last time I was home, which was the first time that Detroit functioned as my home-home since my parents moved from Los Angeles last year, my father and I rode to Target together for some groceries. I was writing about Spaulding Gray on my laptop as we crossed a stretch of road that only my father would think to take at this time of night, his instincts for navigating his hometown so seamless, and we coasted across the black bridge, the black night, through the black city. On the way back, we noticed the farmer’s market blockade separating Grosse Pointe from Detroit along Alter Road, and we were pontificating about segregation as we approached an intersection. The light went green and we started to move and I heard gun shots and saw a house full of people leak into the street — the girl in pink sweat pants hiding behind an SUV — and I said “DAD, GO. THERE WERE GUNSHOTS. KEEP DRIVING. DRIVE FASTER.” But he heard SOMETHING ELSE and so, for the love of god, we stopped in front of the SUV that was hiding a young woman from a bullet. GO GO GO! I shouted and my father said “I thought you said to stop” and as we drove farther and farther away we were reenacting the conversation and laughing harder each time. “I was like, GO FASTER” “And I was all, you want me to stop?” Meanwhile, the scene kept spilling out in time.

At the house, the radio is playing in my attic bedroom to scare away the squirrels that enter by way of a hole in the bathroom. A piece of insulation is reaching through a hole in the ceiling from a rain leak and it looks like a squirrel’s reaching arm. Rihanna welcomes me to my bedroom by saying, “Bitch better have my money,” and I prepare to take a shower.

The night before Thanksgiving, I went downstairs and my cousin the lieutenant was cooking even though she had to wake up at 6 a.m. to go to work, where she would be encountering Ferguson-inspired protesters “who don’t even live here.” Upstairs, I paced and paced because I was supposed to write something for the Black Life Matters conference when I got back to Arizona. Facebook was ablaze with anger. Every status update sounded to me like a call for my cousin to die. I thought about surveillance and wondered if we were being lured into action by an unseen man in a suit somewhere. I was convinced that everyone’s anger would end up benefitting the GOP. I began to write a series of posts that I never posted, “Let’s boycott social media!” “Let’s read Noam Chomsky!” and “What if this is the Pentagon’s experiment to track the time it takes for a Facebook post to turn into a violent act!” I scream in the face of most things, I guess. But then I watched the video of Eric Garner being strangled and I cried and I couldn’t stop for hours.

On one episode of The Ali G show, Sacha Baron Cohen asks Andy Rooney a bunch of stupid questions, one of which is does the newspaper ever report something that hasn’t happened yet like an election or a plane crash. Andy Rooney is apoplectic, he is DONE, and he spits, “How do you know what the news is? If it hasn’t happened yet?” which I’ve always taken to be a kind of fatal oversight, the moment when the satirical clouds shift and truth is revealed, like when the rap ends and the song is no longer a sexy joke and the rapper who went to Wesleyan is imagining over top no beat that he could be thrown into Guantanamo when he was just trying to be a stoned hipster.

For my family, Detroit has always been inevitable. It is the place we have been heading back to my entire life. My parents recall White Castle hamburgers and Coney Island hot dogs as if they were the secret to immortality. The city has the beckoning power of a black hole or the Italian countryside or a castle. There is no way to explain our wiring to someone whose fairytale has always ended somewhere like Florida. Recently, a new friend kept scrunching up her nose when I said my family moved from California to Detroit. This happens all the time. But in this moment it hit me that one of the things that makes no sense when people ask “WHY DETROIT?” with all of their death showing is this presumption that we can choose our homes.

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