Woke: An Essay by Caitlyn Hunter

By September 16, 2020 No Comments

By Caitlyn Hunter
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

You never forget your first time. 

“Why didn’t your boy come in,” Don asks, swiping his dreads out of his face and looking at his watch. We knew it was getting late. 

“I dunno,” John replies. “His girl said she had a headache so they stayed in the car. I guess we better go. It’s been about 30 minutes.” 

We leave the apartment. Outside, Don’s cousin Cubby hunches over a grill pit and the aroma of the chicken hits me in the stomach. Children scream and run, playing games of tag in the streets. Go-go drums clap and vibrate through the stereo and John and Don take turns b-boying. Flipping over one another, crip walking, and dabbing — I am impressed that my white boy got moves. We hug goodbye and Don tells me “Take it easy.” We walk back to the car where Jamie and his girl Eve are napping in the front. 

“Y’all have fun?” Jamie asks, now readjusting his seat. 

“Yeah,” John replies. “They are good people.” 

Eve sleepily leans onto the side of the passenger window and Jamie puts the key into the ignition. The car rumbles and we drive down the street. We make it a block until we see flashing red and blue lights. 

Three cop cars pull up to the front, back, and side of us. Six cops run toward us, guns drawn, flashes of black metal tapping on windows. They scream “GET OUT OF THE CAR! GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR NOW!”

Is there some kind of mistake? I am with white people. I’m in DC. This must be a mistake. 

The cops open our doors and grab my arm — a hand squeezes tight and I can feel my own pulse under the weight of a thumb. 

STAND HERE. I am on the wall pressed against concrete. I feel hands between my legs. Between my thighs. WHERE ARE THE DRUGS BITCH? WE KNOW YOU HAVE THEM.  

Is there some kind of mistake? I am with white people. I’m in DC. This must be a mistake.  

I stand, helpless, and look for John. He is standing with Jamie and Eve on the other side of the car and the cops ask them questions. Our eyes meet. My eyes plead for him to help me. He looks down. 

WHERE ARE THE DRUGS? A white cop turns me around. As he sticks his hands down my dress and gropes my breasts, all I can do is fixate on his silvery white hair. I count the follicles. I stare at each strand and think about how the peppering of silver is so much like my mother’s. 

“Please,” I say. “Please, I don’t have anything.” I KNOW YOU’RE LYING, BITCH, he tells me. He takes a deep breath WHERE IS THE DOPE? He takes the black beret off of my head. 

When my grandfather gave me the beret, he told me to always let my light shine. A flashlight shines in my face as the cop sticks his hands in my hair. He shakes my curls and bends me over to make something falls out. 

He sits me on the curb of the sidewalk, my hands behind my back. I am facing my friends. They are facing away. They ask Eve and Jamie if they can search the car. They agree. A Black cop goes directly to my side of the car and grabs my purse. He goes through my wallet and pulls out a card. He looks at the card, looks at me, and then walks over to the white cop to show him. On the back I see it is my college ID and the weathered black band of my meal swipe card seems to be my only ticket out.

The Black cop walks over to me and stands me up. He loosens my restraints and hands me my purse. “You know it’s lucky we got to you when we did,” he tells me. “The house you came out of is a trap house. A lot of bad drug deals come out of there.” 

He smiles, as if this is to reassure me. Perhaps out of shock, I thank him, even though I don’t know why. 

We’re free to go. John and Jamie thank the cops and we get back into the car. The white cop salutes the boys and tells them to “get home safe.” We drive out of Southeast and head back to Virginia. In the car Jamie, John, and Eve joke and laugh about how crazy the experience was. They relish the adrenaline rush. John puts his hand on my thigh as if to remind me that he loves me. All I can do is stare at the glow of the Washington Monument. All I can do is try to fixate on the light. 

This is how we are born. We are woke through trauma.

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