I Am in the Air Right Now

By an Offing editor, for Staff Saturday.


  1. I imagine how it must have gone. I am five. I have been in America for two years. A boy or girl in my kindergarten asks why my nose is so small, or why I don’t know what letter is on the block in my hand. The block has a pleasant weight, the hardness and softness of wood. It is a cube (as a friend in middle school would later draw my head). When I squeeze it, the outline of the letter remains on my palm. And then I am slamming it against the arch of my nose with all my strength. The girl runs away, scared, satisfied. I cough and blood runs back into my throat, as if I am taking it in. I still have a scar in the shape of a sideways seven.
  1. But this imagined memory of breaking my nose — who I imagined myself to be at the time was a white version of me, with white pain. I broke my nose because as soon as someone made fun of it, it was no longer white. If I destroyed it, the pain would be whiteness. Whiteness would be earned. I wanted to make myself white so that I could have the chance to make myself.
  1. “That’s not a racist thing,” the boy or girl says every time he or she makes fun of me. It’s not about the world, he is saying; it’s about you.
  1. My parents didn’t think my nose needed stitches. That’s why I have a scar. I imagine my mother at night, waking my father to talk. “Why would he try to break his nose? What is he trying to communicate?” She would have thought I was acting out. Later, when I was in high school, a friend invited me to Block Island (RI) and we raced around on two old bikes. I hit a rock and flipped completely over. His grandparents said I was fine, refused to take me to a hospital. I stayed on the island for three more days. When I got home, I insisted on an x-ray. A knuckle split in two. I gave up on my friend then, but it wasn’t a racist thing. It was about the role of loved ones and consequences.
  1. I don’t see anyone now from the town I grew up in. Many old friends became townies. I barely retain acquaintances. I, the adoptee, am always someone who leaves. How can you relate to me without understanding that? Recently I found a friend on Facebook who stayed in our town for college — we had always talked of moving to San Diego as adults, and there he is now. For a moment I wish to poke him or something. But it is too late for us. It was too late from the moment he met someone who wanted to be white.
  1. For much of my boyhood, I didn’t like girls. I didn’t date until high school, didn’t even hold hands. Other boys talked about female puberty, male puberty. I pretended I had no desire for sex. I admitted attraction to no one. It was about shame. I was afraid of being told no one was attracted to me.
  1. Whiteness is the air. Being an adoptee meant seeing that whiteness is a thing we breathe in all the time. Feeling its shape in our lungs. The boundary between the outside getting in.
  1. A frenemy once told me he’d saved my life after first pushing me off a bridge and then pulling me back before I fell. I did the same thing, after that, to other friends. “Just remember I saved you.” We buy in best when we feel snatched from the jaws we are held between.
  1. If we buy in, how do we get out?
  1. You were the nose I couldn’t see. You were the antagonist on the edges, you hugged me in the middle. You were the air. You couldn’t see the air. The air isn’t me. You are not me. I am me.

Post-Magical Thinking America

My friend said people are afraid of saying the wrong thing around me. “Good,” I said. “I don’t want them to say the wrong thing around me.”


“Suffering, and a longing. Reading Barthes as a longing to be addressed by him. A longing to be his you.”

Face: Me

On Glenn Ligon’s Palindrome #1