The following Animated Experience is presented online as part of The Play Writers Festival. The Play Writers Festival was made possible by the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Malcolm Diaz – Early 20’s.
Benjamin Thompson – Early 20’s.
Thomas Johnson – Mechanic. Malcolm’s Father. Late 40’s.
Billie Johnson – Librarian. Malcolm’s Aunt. Black. Mid 70’s.
Alexander Morrison – Malcolm’s Photography Teacher. Mid 40’s.
Scene: Malcolm sitting in a black chair. A small black rocking chair sits in the middle of the stage facing the audience. Behind the chair is a white wall with grey blinds. There is a small black round table on the right side of his chair. On the table is ‘The Fire Next Time By James Baldwin’, A sleeve of Oreos, and a Webster’s dictionary. On the left is a black camera on the floor, two white sheets of paper with one printed image of Apollonius Seated Boxer, Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace Frida.
(Malcolm enters the scene wearing blue jeans and a grey hoodie)
Malcolm: One of my first memories was my fight on the school playground. I threw a punch at this asian kid named Alex who called my boy Ben a queer.
Malcolm: I was just at the right place at the right time. I remember, seeing Ben walk up to Alex I overheard Ben say that he had a crush on him. I was a little surprised ‘cause I had never seen anything like that before. Imagine, for a second! You are seeing this chubby, short, black boy confess his feelings to this tall, basketball player, towering over him! Then imagine, really close your eyes! And think about it, how fucked up it was to get called a slur for only flirting. Alex set me off! So, I walk up to that motherfucker. Tell him to stop. He doesn’t! Instead the kid calls me a fag for standing up for Ben!
So I clenched my fist, Thumb covering the knuckle just like my mom taught me and hit him right on the chin.
The kid staggers back, my knuckle starts to sting, and I feel my feet lifting off the ground! I got to the principal’s office and received one week of no recess for ‘inciting violence on school grounds.’ Then the principal makes the mistake of calling my father. Man, my old man ripped into that pasty son of a bitch! Then when we got in the car he thought it was ok to give me a lecture on violence.
Malcolm: “It is not your fault for standing up for what is right but their fault for watching by the sidelines.”
The day after the fight, Ben walked over to my lunch table and stood next to me. He unzipped his lunch bag and took out this freshly packed roll of double stuffed Oreos. I looked up at him and asked, “Is this because of me punching that guy?”
Benjamin: Yeah. It is. I also like your lunch bag.
Malcolm: You like Codename K.I.D.S Next Door?
Benjamin: Yeah! I watch it a lot with my mom when she gets home from work. My favorite is number two because he’s smart and has glasses like me.
Malcolm: I like number five because she does what she wants. She reminds me a lot of my Aunt Billie and my mom before she got hurt.
Benjamin: Is she ok?
Malcolm: Yeah, she just has these moments where she loses focus and has to go out.
Benjamin: Is it cool if I sit here with you? My legs are starting to hurt.
Malcolm: Yeah, go ahead!
Benjamin: Sorry, about your mom by the way.
Malcolm: She is just sick for now but she will get better. Do you want to split these oreos?
Benjamin: Yeah! You hold them I will go get some milk.
Malcolm: Nah, I’ll go get the milk you sit down. Oreos taste like chalk when you eat them dry.
Malcolm: Once I got out from serving time for Benjamin we started to hang out more. We played Uno during recess on the red bench outside, when we had reading time in English class, we would sit across from each other. I would read Superman comics while he read ‘Maus.’ When we graduated middle school, we found ourselves applying for different high schools. He had all A’s graduated top of our class and I had C’s.But, hey, I got an award for community service!
It wasn’t like I hated school, I just-the words never lined up for me. I only read comic books because my dad had this big collection under his bed! And when I read those books the words never moved. They stayed put so I was able to understand what was going on. Aunt B asked if I wanted to learn how to read literature. Dad went with it, and instead of going to the office with him everyday, I went to see Auntie Billie.
Aunt Billie: I’m gonna give you two choices to start your reading journey. Baldwin and Coehlo
Malcolm: Is it really a choice if you picked them all out?
Aunt Billie: Will you really still have an attitude if I tell your father you aren’t learning?
Malcolm: What were my choices again?
Aunt Billie: Look at the covers. Skim through the pages. Read the description. Pick one!
Malcolm: I guess, Baldwin. I don’t really want to read Coelho right now.
(Moves other book next to the left side of the table)
Aunt Billie: Funny, I was sure you were going to pick “The Alchemist”
Malcolm: I like this title more, the “The Fire Next Time.” Sounds interesting.
Aunt Billie: Do you know why I picked these books?
Malcolm: Because Coehlo was mom’s favorite?
Aunt Billie: Yes! And Baldwin was mine growing up. I’m starting you on Black and Latino authors because I think it’s important that you are cultured.
Aunt Billie: (Grabs The Alchemist) Don’t tell your father this but I was afraid that going to Catholic school would make you look at the world one way. That’s why I jumped at the chance to tutor you! I think, personally, it is important for you to understand multiple perspectives. You know what I mean?
Malcolm: No. Hey! What does he mean when he says, The Fire Next Time?
Aunt Billie: That’s for you to find out. My lunch break is over but I will be back in an hour to check in on you.
Malcolm: But I thought you were tutoring me?!
Aunt Billie: You brought a notebook. Take a pen, a paper and write the words you don’t know then look them up in a dictionary. There should be at least three here. After that write the definition and then read over the line.
Malcolm: How is this tutoring?
Aunt Billie: Malcolm?
Aunt Billie: Take your time and sound it out. You’ll be alright.
Malcolm: (Pauses) The book talked about how hard it was to be black and alive, the power and destruction religion has on us, all of us. It was a lot for a twelve-year-old. A lot for anyone really, but you know she trusted me to go through it and understand it.
(Bell rings from his pocket)
(Malcolm reaches into his pocket grabbing his phone.)
Let’s stop here. I gotta get back to Dad’s. He’ll need me in an hour. Mind if we reschedule for Friday?
Act 1, Scene 2
(Jazz music plays in the theatre. Through the blinds light shines across the stage.)
(Malcolm enters now wearing a white t- shirt and sunglasses)
Malcolm: Man, it is hot out there plus it’s raining. My aunt told me that my great-grandparents used to say that that meant the Devil was beating his wife. Right! Where did we leave off? Aunt Billie, Benny, and high school, right? Great! Let’s start at sophomore year of high school, yeah? Dad let me transfer to Ben’s high school at the beginning of my sophomore year. It was a technical school called the Garret Morgan Academy. Dad had gone there in the eighties. He said that’s what influenced him to work on cars. Plus I was better at math than I was at anything else so I had no problem.
(Malcolm’s father enters the stage. Sitting in the one chair on the stage)
I was planning on skipping school my first day and wanted to go visit Ma but Dad was already up. He was playing this song. I think it was called, “This Woman’s Work” by Maxwell. He had it blasting from the basement. When I went to checked on him, he jumped up, shook his head, and grabbed his keys out of his pocket. The car ride there was just quiet. Only sounds I heard that morning was air. All my classes were a waste of time. I don’t know what the fuck Dad had back in his day but here we only learned personal finance Junior and Senior year. Sure, there was a garage downstairs for Engineering but man.
Thankfully I got assigned into Mr. Morrison’s class the next year. He was my Art teacher who taught photography on Tuesdays and Thursdays from one to two-fifty. So I told Dad.
Malcolm: Yo! You’re home early.
Thomas: Yeah, I decided to take a half a day at work. Was curious to see how school was for you.
Malcolm: It was school.
Thomas: I took a half day so we could hang out.
Malcolm: I’m just a little tired from today. Was going to go to bed for a bit.
Thomas: Humor, your old man! Back in the day, you would dash home and tell us all about your clubs. I remember how you used to ramble about your addition and multiplication skills!
Malcolm: Yeah, because you know I used to be bad at it. Even, I was surprised when Ms. Jefferson handed me a check plus on my math test.
Thomas: Shit, Me too.
Thomas: But your mother knew you were gifted. She even taught you how to throw a nice cross. If I cannot be honest with you, son. Who can I be honest with?
Malcolm: Well, today, I liked Algebra. My Twentieth century American History class was terrible but at least Ben is in there with me. What Else? Well, the school lunch isn’t as bad as Aunt Billie’s cooking.
Thomas: Jesus. Well, at least they’re feeding you something.
Malcolm: Right? Oh, and I think I found a club for after school.
Thomas: Excellent! What’s it about?
Malcolm: It’s a photography club! We talk about the importance of art and the power of representation throughout different civilizations. I like history because it’s different from math, you know? There’s more to it than just what’s there.We’re on the Greek and Roman shit right now but Mr. Morrison said we’ll be doing the Renaissance pretty soon.
Thomas: Uh-huh. Which Renaissance?
Malcolm: Plus Dad! They give us a free bus pass so you won’t have to worry about transportation.
Thomas: They don’t have any sports teams? Maybe even a music club?
Malcolm: What’s wrong with photography?
Thomas: Nothing! Nothing is really wrong with it. It’s just not marketable in the current economy.
Malcolm: Useless? Dad, I could learn more about black history! Hell, I sure as hell would love to know more about mom’s family over in Puerto Rico.
Thomas: Son! You know, the arts never transfer over into real world skills. Did Ben want you to do this is that why you are-?
Malcolm: No. Ben doesn’t like photography. I just thought it would be a cool side-hustle to do.
Thomas: Well, keep looking. I don’t want you to end up broke on Fitzgerald boulevard because of some passion project.
Malcolm: It’s just a club, not a career! With this I could eventually learn about different economies and states rights!
Thomas: Your mother entrusted me as her partner and as the father of our child to take care of you! She used to sing to you in Spanish these beautiful little songs. I thought to contribute that I learn the lyrics to “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” I just don’t understand why such a persistent and strong young man would waste his time taking pictures. Son, listen, all I want is the best for you and I don’t see this art thing working out.
Malcolm: I’m going for a walk.
Thomas: Hey, wait! I took the day off so we could hang out.
Malcolm: I already made plans with Aunt Billie today. I just came here to take a nap and then walk over. Helping her clean out her garage.
Thomas: Cool. I wish you had told that to me before otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the day off.
Malcolm: Yeah, my bad. Talk to you.
Malcolm: (Malcolm’s father exits the stage) By the time I grabbed the keys in my bag I was only a block away from her house. I messaged her that I needed to use her office to get some work done. When I unlocked the door and made it inside, I saw that she was just sitting in the living room on the brown wooden floor staring out in the distance. “Miss Otis Regrets” by Fitzgerald played in the background.
(Aunt Billie enters the stage- )
(Sitting by the edge of the chair)
Malcolm: Auntie, Auntie? Are you alright?
Auntie Billie: Oh, baby! I’m alright. Just a little disoriented.
Malcolm: Sorry, I came over at the last minute. I can go, if you need space?
Aunt Billie: Don’t apologize! You have a key for a reason, right?
Malcolm: Right. Why are you on the ground?
Aunt Billie: I just needed to relax. Grabbed a bottle and sat down. What’s going on with you?
Malcolm: What do you mean?
Aunt Billie: Oh, alright fine. We don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.
Malcolm: Are you sure you are alright?
Malcolm: (to Billie) I just came here to take a nap. We don’t have to talk.
Auntie Billie: I guess, it is good to talk.
Malcolm: Yeah, sometimes.
Aunt Billie: Maybe your dad did raise you right.
(She reaches for the champagne bottle and cup. Pours herself a glass)
Auntie Billie: When I was a little girl, I remember the excitement of summer! I enjoyed the sun and the freedom to move around my neighborhood. At thirteen, I was able to move around outside the neighborhood with a few friends. Mainly black boys. They were the only ones that wanted to hang out with me. Anyway, it was a day after school when I was walking home with my group of friends. There was Sam, John, Mark, and Me. Allegedly there had been a report of a stolen vehicle and my father had this beautiful red Cadillac. We weren’t searched but every time we passed into a different town my father would tell us to stay still. His license and registration never left the front seat. Life only got worse from there.
Malcolm: What did you do?
Auntie Billie: Often got told to mind mine or leave it alone.
Malcolm: So no action
Auntie Billie: We couldn’t do anything, Malcolm! There was no “We Shall Overcome” it is how it is. Some at church volunteered to fight down south and protest because that was easier than fighting it up here!
Malcolm: You are not making any sense! The north, we’re the good guys down there. There’s no Klan here! Maybe that was just a bad incident?
Auntie Billie: So the reason why my brother does not let you go to Wallingford, Greenwich, hell anywhere at night is because of a few bad apples?
Malcolm: The system has it’s issues but-But at least we managed to make the cities what they are now. We have small businesses here and people in office.
Auntie Billie: Sure we got beaches and cities but for what? Nowadays they try to take them back and say they’re helping us.
Malcolm: You have to see the silver lining somewhere, Auntie.
Aunt Billie: Silver lining? Listen, I cannot talk circles with you all afternoon. I love you but your world view is not the whole picture. Soon you’ll understand why we all have our vices. Now, I need you to take me to my AA meeting.
Malcolm: I can order you a car. I don’t have my permit yet.
Aunt Billie: That will work.
Malcolm: Can you do me a favor?
Aunt Billie: Sure.
Malcolm: I didn’t even tell you what it is.
Aunt Billie: Go ahead Malcolm,
Malcolm: I need to come over here on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work on my photography work.
Aunt Billie: Sure, now let’s go.
Aunt Billie: I didn’t stutter, my baby boy. Now let’s go! I can’t be late again.
Malcolm: Alright. Yeah, I’m ordering it now.
Aunt Billie: Great, I’ll go clean up.
Malcolm: Sounds good.
(Aunt Billie exits stage left)
(Malcolm sits in chair)
Malcolm: Looking back, I am impressed that I kept the lie up for two years. Dad thought I was either at the library studying or helping Billie clean her house. I had managed to hide the articles I collected from the class at my aunt’s house and place it in the guest room. When I was at home I would watch assigned videos from Mr. Morrison on certain pieces.
By my senior year I was a teacher assistant for his AP Art History course. We were somewhere in the United States of America during the twentieth century. I think the sixties but I don’t know. It was the spring and I was about to submit to the statewide My Life project.The guidelines were to take two pictures that represent your life.
(Mr. Morrison enters holding a notebook and planner)
I asked the master of ceremony himself what I should do because I sure as shit did not know.
Mr.Morrison: So what exactly do you want to focus on for this series?
Malcolm: I want to focus on Black people and how they can tell different stories.
Mr.Morrison: Different how?
Malcolm: Elegant? Like, like that guy you showed us last week. What was his name?
Mr. Morrison: Gordon Parks?
Malcolm: Yeah! I like the way he focused on Muhammad Ali and the Nation of Islam. He made each subject classy.
Mr.Morrison: And so you want to emulate that?
Mr. Morrison: You know his goal was to tell a story. Make black Americans, respectable for their own community. Not only classy. He also had his mishaps with Life magazine.
Malcolm: What’s the difference? Isn’t making someone look good, enough for them to be relatable?
Mr. Morrison: Let me show you something. You see?
(Projects photos from Gordon Parks Muhmmad Ali portraits)
When Parks was picturing Ali he wasn’t necessarily always focused on his audience. Sometimes he wanted to tell a story that spoke about Ali through background, body language, and the overall human experience. Yes this is “The Greatest” but it is also a black man dealing with his demons through the only acceptable medium he could do so at the time. Boxing.
Malcolm: So what do I do? I want a story but I don’t think I could ever tell it with such power.
Mr. Morrison: It’s not about what you want to do, it’s about what you want to reveal.
Malcolm: My aunt told me about how life was when she grew up here in Connecticut. How, being perceived solely on your skin and hair was everything. I want to relate it to how before my mother left, she would complain to me that she was never enough for her people. Like, too ‘Spanish’ to be Black and too “darkie” to be Puerto Rican. I had only experienced racism with glances and jokes. How come my aunt and mom could not? Had to have been, what five when mom tried to explain, colorism. My dad a year later during February told me about racism during sit downs or when he randomly listened to his records. To be honest, I don’t get it fully but I still want to show it.
Mr. Morrison: My suggestion is this, the best way to approach this topic is to go back in time. In the first class you had with me way back in “The Foundations of Art History.” We talked about the foundations of various cultures. To this day, your reaction to Ancient Mediterranean Art was hilarious.
Malcolm: To be fair, white people and Europeans act very differently when it comes to their history.
Mr. Morrison: So whispering under your breath, “White people really do have culture!” Isn’t a little bit funny?
Malcolm: I was young, foolish, and ignorant. I swear, they act like the only white people can be complex. And this is coming from the guy that loves the Odyssey and Twelfth Night!
Mr. Morrison: Well, Malcolm. The education system has definitely evolved from what it was when I was younger. You at least have two black people rather than none.
Malcolm: I need more than Langston Hughes made the Renaissance cool every year. Benny is gay for Christ sake I never put on makeup and blasted Erykah Badu maybe not Badu-ok I have blasted R & B with him. You know what I am saying? Where are his stories?!
Mr. Morrison: Maybe one day, when you are my age they’ll teach Giovanni’s Room. An Underground Life.
Malcolm: Shit! I was not supposed to tell you about Ben. Just forget I said anything. Thank God the door is closed otherwise
Morrison: Next time you start talking, Mr. Morrison. Think, wait, and respond. Now, let’s redirect that energy towards the project, Mr. Diaz. I remember the various pieces of art that you liked or felt connected to. Narrow it down to two and then, I suggest you make them your own.
Malcolm: Wait, for real. You think I could pull this off?
Mr. Morrison: I think once you’ve studied the two pieces you’ll find you have a lot of work on your plate.
Malcolm: So yes?
Mr. Morrison: Yes, Mr.Diaz . I think it is possible.
Malcolm: Thank you, Mr. Morrison! I’ll get on researching it tonight.
(Mr. Morrison exits the stage)
Malcolm: The two I landed on were Apollonius Seated Boxer, and Winged Victory (Nike) of Samothrace. I borrowed a school camera for a week and went to work. First, I got my aunt to pose like the Seated Boxer on the steps of her old church on Main Street. I decided to save the picture of her looking away from me. After that, I asked Benny to drive us to our old stomping grounds.
He was going to be the subject for my Winged Victory shot.
Malcolm: Thanks for doing this!
Ben: I should be thanking you. I finally have a legitimate excuse to get out of the house.
Malcolm: How have you been? Man, what’s it been two months since we last linked up?
Ben: Being a stage director will mess up your social life. I think I can go the rest of my life before hearing Pippen again.
Malcolm: Hey, the show came out great! Especially the war song. Anyway, how’s your family? Did you tell them about your boyfriend yet?
Ben: Please, they are still as ignorant as ever. At best they’ll say it’s a phase at worst conversion therapy.
Malcolm: They should ease up, man. It’s been legal nationally for like what three years?
Ben: One year. For our state it’s almost been eight years.
Malcolm: How’s your partner feeling about it?
Ben: He does not seem to care. Besides, we’ll both be home free in a year if all goes well.
Malcolm: Worst case scenario, you can crash at my place.
Ben: Thanks. Anyway what’s been up with you?
Malcolm: Besides this project? I guess, I’ve been looking at some local schools. Dad’s been too busy at work to really worry about what I do. Which it’s fine. He’s got to pay for where we live.
Ben: You could invite him to your showcase. You could say you’re supporting me and then, you flip it and tell him it’s actually you. You get the praise and I get a free meal. Everyone’s happy!
Malcolm: I’ll think about it. What about you where are you applying to?
Ben: I’m shooting for Stanford, UCLA, maybe Morehouse. You know what you’re going to do?
Malcolm: No clue! Maybe take a year off.
Ben: Hey, you still have time. No need to worry about it!
Malcolm: I asked him to stand on the red bench at the park. Then I asked him to pose something similar to the statue. It didn’t take him long, I handed him my phone so he could get comfortable with Nike’s stance and he moved his feet like hers. One foot towards the end of the bench the other planted on it. He looked up and smiled. He looked like how I always saw him, a hero.
Next thing, I know he’s grabbing my camera and asking me to do a whole photo shoot. I tried to do the Jay -Z Black Album pose and I took pictures of him like Miles Davis ‘Round About Midnight album cover.
Finally, for our picture together, I put a timer on my Canon – PowerShot Camera from the school and put it on the red bench. We stood hands down, chins up and tried to act hard. We ended up busting out laughing when we saw the pictures.
(shows the photograph to the audience)
Malcolm: When I look back at the photo, I always noticed how big we were both grinning.
(looks at photograph)
(places back in his wallet)
Malcolm: Sometimes, at night, right before bed, I blame myself for focusing on my photography and not on hanging out with him more. We still talked in class and had lunch here and there but we just slowly stopped doing that. I’m not saying we had to talk everyday but I don’t know.
(looks to the audience)
Malcolm: My father and I drove to pick him up for the showcase Thursday evening in May when suddenly he started to text me.
Ben: They know! Someone told and now they know
Malcolm: What do you mean?
Ben: My parents, someone told them. I’m in my room now with the door locked.
Malcolm: I promise, I didn’t tell them!
Ben: I don’t know what to do, Malcolm.
Malcolm: We’re on our way now. Pack a bag and you can stay with us.
Ben: They won’t let me leave. I know they won’t.
Malcolm: We’ll figure it out! Please just stay safe.
(Malcolm puts his phone on the table)
Malcolm: By the time me and my dad got there all I heard was a gunshot ring out. I remember trying to break down the front door as my dad called 9-1-1. In ten minutes, there was an ambulance and two fire trucks surrounding the house. I watched as Benny came out on a stretcher with blood leaking down and out his white shirt. Benny’s mother was talking to an EMT. Her eyes wide and her cheeks red, she actually looked upset.
When I saw Benny’s dad, I ran over to him and cussed him out. He walked past me ignoring me, heading in the direction of his wife. I felt my fist bawl up as I started to follow after him. It was my dad that stopped me, he tightly grasped my shoulder and ushered me back towards our car as I continued to curse out Benny’s father. Even talking about it makes me wonder what the fuck was wrong with them! They were talking about conversion therapy for Ben. That’s like sending someone to prison!
He wasn’t even a screw up like me. He was just a good kid. Fuck them! The car ride to my Aunt Bessie’s was silent until he spoke up.
Thomas: I know you are upset but
Malcolm: So I’m supposed to let the people that almost murdered my best friend get away with it?
Thomas: I know you care about Benjamin. I do, too and I get that this is a lot but you cannot let others control your emotions like that, son.
Malcolm: You don’t get it! Today was supposed to be a good day! We were supposed to go to the showcase and Ben was supposed to be there! Fuck, he killed himself just like mom and here you are calm as can be!
Thomas: Malcolm, there’s napkins in the compartment. I know that you are in a lot of pain right now son and I want you to just try and breathe.
Malcolm: (to audience) I remember yelling at my father. Tears were just streaming down my face in our black Jeep. He pulled over into a parking lot. Looked at me and got out of the car. He opened my door and then held me in his arms. I tried to push back but I could not stop crying. He just kept repeating, “It’s ok. Malcolm. It’s alright, son.”
Malcolm: Can we just stop here? I need to get some air. Thank you.
I resented Ben for his attempted suicide. Suicide was for the weak.I wish I recognized that struggle and I didn’t and now I’m here talking to you instead of hanging with him.
Malcolm: The last time I saw him he was on a stretcher going into an ambulance. It was the week after Spring Break that I saw him. His boyfriend was helping him put his textbooks into his locker.I saw he had bandages on his chest stretching out from under his shirt. I felt anger in the pit of my stomach seeing him that way. His eyes were sunken and he almost looked sick. I remember feeling my hands tighten as I judged every damaged part of him. I froze when he made eye contact with me.
Malcolm: Ben, I tried to visit but you were gone when I got there.
(Ben reaches for a textbook.)
Malcolm: Let me help you with that.
Ben: (Let’s Malcolm walk up to him)
(He grabs the textbook and hands it to him)
Malcolm: Why didn’t you tell me things were getting bad at home?
Ben: I didn’t want to put that on you.
Malcolm: So you thought it would be better if you just died?
Ben: You don’t understand.
Malcolm: Then help me understand. Please, Ben.
Ben: Can you just hand me the book?
Malcolm: We can skip class. And just hang out and talk about this
Ben: I have to go to class, Malcolm
Malcolm: Let’s go to the library for ten minutes. Come on? I know you can’t go to Ms. Grace class without this book.
Ben: Ten minutes in exchange for my book?
Ben: Fine, ten minutes.
Malcolm: I don’t get why you did it.
(Sitting in the back away from the doors)
Ben: It was the only way out.
Malcolm: You know that’s a lie, My dad and I were on our way to pick you up for my showcase.
Ben: The showcase wasn’t that day.
Malcolm: You forgot?! How could you forget?
Ben: The showcase wasn’t more important than my mental health, Malcolm! But that night, I was a little tipsy when I had the gun in my hand. All I remember was being in my room and the pain I felt.
It doesn’t really matter. I can’t deal with this conversation right now.
Malcolm: We could have figured out something. You could have got out of that house or gotten a scholarship.
Ben: They weren’t trying to send me to college. They were trying to fix me.
Malcolm: You shouldn’t have tried to kill yourself! I would have found a way to take care of you.
Ben: Take care of me? How? You didn’t even know I was sick till I pulled the trigger. Who the fuck are you to judge?
I already made my peace with it. Why can’t you?
Malcolm: So what suicide is the answer?! I care about you! You are my brother.
Ben: What do you want me to say? You want me to apologize for being weak? Ok, yes I was weak in that moment but I was tired.
Malcolm: So what’s changed now? Are you going to get help? Was that your first and last attempt?
Ben: Why do you even care? You’ve been busy with your photography. It’s not like we’ve been close in high school.
Malcolm: I love you, man. That’s why I care!
Ben: You love me?
Malcolm: I’ve always looked up to you. You were my hero. And I didn’t get to save you.
Ben: I know what it took for you to say that, Malcolm. It’s good to know that you are still here.
Malcolm: The last thing I remember after that was Ben’s footsteps leaving the library. That photography showcase wasn’t mine anymore, even after I won second place. It was tainted with his attempt. I saw him the other day on my feed. He hasn’t blocked me yet. He looks older, hairs growing around his chin. Leaner build. He smiled, looked happy. I’m glad he got to move in with his cousin in Newport. After graduation, I took a year off until it eventually became two, and then four. The worst part isn’t the years that have gone by or the fact that Ben and I aren’t close, it’s the noise. I keep imagining him dying. Every night he’s over my bed or in a corner just staring at me while blood leaks out of his arm. That’s how I ended up here in therapy. With you.
My dad’s business can cover your therapy practice otherwise I probably would not be here. Well, the lack of sleep was driving me insane but you have been helpful. After my second session, so what a month ago, my aunt picked me up and drove me out for ice cream. Somehow we managed to get to the beach and watched the sunset. I didn’t get why she cared so much. ‘Course she loves me but I don’t know if it felt weird. So I asked her about it.
Malcolm: I appreciate this but why are you doing all of this for me?
Aunt Billie: Can’t I celebrate with my only nephew?
Malcolm: Come on, Auntie.
Aunt Billie: Life is such a precious thing. Sometimes it’s fast, other times it’s slow and my life has been nothing but irritating.
Malcolm: What do you mean?
Aunt Billie: I’ve been alive for sixty five years and have suffered more than anyone should have to. From being treated like a nigger to being seen as a whore. The guidelines of being “black” was something I could never fulfill. My differences made me question the boxes I was ticking every ten years. To keep myself alive, well you know, I had to turn to some things, some good, some bad.
Malcolm: I’m glad you stuck around.
Aunt Billie: Thank you, baby.
Malcolm: I’m proud of you, I hardly see you drink anymore.
Aunt Billie: Glad I got it down to socials only. To be frank with you, you shouldn’t have seen it in the first place. Especially so young.
Malcolm: It is what it is.
Aunt Billie: I’m proud of you for not avoiding your pain. It takes a lot for someone to seek out therapy.
Malcolm: I had to.
Aunt Billie: Way I see it, you got a story to tell. I saw those pictures you took in the photography project
Malcolm: Wait, how? When? Why didn’t you say anything?
Aunt Billie: Mr. Morrison and I both tutor at the same place on State street. We started talking about one of his favorite students and in his phone were pictures of the showcase. We shared numbers and talk every now and again.
Malcolm: Oh, are you two together?
Aunt Billie: Baby that man is gayer than a summer night in Paris. Plus, I’m almost twenty years his senior. That’s not cute.
Malcolm: Really, Mr. Morrison is gay?
Aunt Billie: No, he’s bisexual.
Malcolm: Oh. I guess that makes sense.
Aunt Billie: What do you mean?
Malcolm: I just remember some short Italian lady kept screaming at graduation that she did not like that her son was taught by one of them. Security had to take her outside.
Aunt Billie: And you thought because of his complexion not his sexuality. Either way she was wrong.
Aunt Billie: I honestly never understood the hate against it. Your father wasn’t upset when I came out to him.
Malcolm: I think it’s more accepted for a woman to be a lesbian than a big black dude to be bisexual.
Aunt Billie: Yeah, well, maybe now but your grandparents were just ahead of their time. I told them when I was already living alone in Stamford and they didn’t seem to give a fuck.
Malcolm: I mean, I just assumed you were still looking for love.
Aunt Billie: You’re grown now you should know ain’t no fine people in Connecticut that’s why no one stays here!
Malcolm: You said it not me
Aunt Billie: Ha, that’s why you are my baby, Got jokes just like me. Anyway, love, when I saw you all those years ago reading Baldwin and Coehlo I just knew you were special.
Malcolm: Why’s that?
Aunt Billie: When you were younger you weren’t afraid to be you. As we get older life seems to take more and more from us. You learned to live in ways people don’t understand until they’re knocking on death’s chest.
Malcolm: Sorry to disappoint you but I haven’t picked up a camera since high school.
Aunt Billie: Maybe not now but one day that story that’s deep in your chest is going to make it to your mind and then you’ll be in trouble.
Malcolm: How are you so sure?
Aunt Billie: I can just tell.
Malcolm: I think you have too much faith in me
Aunt Billie: Funny, I don’t think you have enough.
Malcolm: (To audience) I found myself lingering in my closet looking at the box that held my camera. My dad must have heard me rumbling around in my room because he knocked on the door and handed me this picture. It’s my mom, with me in her stomach wearing this long white dress. Her hand is on her stomach and she’s looking intently at this picture. So I grabbed my phone and typed in Frida’s name and saw the painting online. The painting is titled, hold on.
(Grabs phone from pocket)
(Shares Screenshot of the painting)
It’s called My Grandparents, My Parents, and I (Family Tree). The piece is old as shit so I guess that means mom was a history buff. I don’t know how I remember this since I barely sleep but I remembered this painting. I remember being cramped up in her stomach and hearing her describe the piece to me. Talking to you, you know, makes me randomly remember hidden shit from the back of my head. Like, I remember how much she loved A Tribe called Quest and I know that she would have sobbed if she heard their last album. I know, I know, how when I couldn’t sleep she would knock on my door and sleep next to me. Rubbing my back in circles while the birds chirped outside our window.
I remember her so clearly now that you gave me those assignments. Dad and I even talked about it during half time during the Western Conference finals.
Thomas: I got tired of listening to records downstairs, you know. At a certain point we all get tired so I started writing her letters about you. All the things that she would have loved to hear. I know you are going to therapy already so maybe this might not work for you but hey you could try it yourself.
Malcolm: I might as well remember the lessons she telling me to do for home
Thomas: Like homework?
Malcolm: Yeah, like homework.
Thomas: Cool, cool.
Malcolm: But, I like the idea. I’ll try to talk to my therapist about it.
Thomas: I’m sure they’ll think it’s a good idea
Malcolm: Yeah, for sure.
Thomas: Now, since we got that out of the way it looks like my team is going to win
Malcolm: Since when did you ever like Phoenix?! I could have sworn that you loved the Knicks.
Thomas: And for a Boston fan I swore your team wasn’t so ass
Malcolm: Wow! Alright just because you said that I bet you a dollar the Bucks win it all
Thomas: How you betting on the bucks with only a buck?
Malcolm: I thought you were an entrepreneur what happened to chasing the bag
Thomas: Alright, if Phoenix wins in six you got to write those letters.
Malcolm: If the bucks win you have to go to an art museum with me
Thomas: Damn, when you say it like that-
Malcolm: No backing out now old man. (Puts his hand out) Shake on it
Thomas: Nah, we’ll do a throwback. Pinky promise
Malcolm: You really are a capitalist. Man, you don’t know when to quit
Thomas: You talking a lot of junk but ain’t backing it up. Pinky promise, my brother.
Malcolm: Fine. Pinky promise
Thomas: Hey, Malcolm.
Thomas: I do love you, son. Really, I do.
Malcolm: I love you too.
End of Play
Ashaliegh Carrington is a recent graduate from the University of Connecticut with a double major in English and History.