May 1, 2016

BANKS | To Harrison: On the Folly of Time

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Little brother: I have a condition called Lymphedema, which causes my right leg to swell and forces me to wear a compression sock at all times. I’m constantly getting inquisitive looks.

This would be enough uniqueness, but then I also take the stickers off of fruit and place them on my hand. Did you know that?  I like to wear earmuffs on a hot summer day, looking like an idiot because people don’t know that they’re also bluetooth headphones. And when Ithaca inevitably shifts to rain and cool, you’ll find me under a bright pink umbrella. Kid, have you noticed that I wear flip flops and socks regardless of the weather or fashion scene? I’m a cumbersome character on the dance floor too, fumbling and bungling my way through a song with off-beat, unseemly gestures.

Harrison, there’s more: I have a laptop case that I wear on one shoulder — like a purse, some might say. Or, even worse, I like to wear the strap of that same case across my chest, the contents slapping the back of my behind as I walk. When I’m alone at elevators, I pretend I’m earthbending (or metalbending) the elevator up and down, miming the motions as I ply the doors open with my psychokinetic abilities. And guess what, kid? When I’m alone in my room, I sometimes speak out into the air, conjuring up imaginary conversations with no one in particular. I am, quite simply, not the conventional cool. In other words, I’m a geek. I remember how you once told me that geeks “are just people who like a buncha stuff.” Oh how I loved you for that.

When I’m home with you, I have all the time in the world, although I’ve often mismanaged that time. If I could, I would go back and reevaluate my time allocation this past Spring Break. Maybe then I wouldn’t be in my current predicament of scrambling just to stay afloat, caught in the frenetic insanity of trying to do too much. Still, no matter what, I would never, ever change the time I spent playing with you. Of that, more than anything else, I don’t get nearly enough.

Kid, I had a point in telling you all of those details about me earlier: Nothing has to change with time. I may make fun of you — as is my brotherly obligation — for all of your artistic, flamboyant idiosyncrasies. But I want you to know that, in truth, nothing has to change. This is why I admire you, because I am so confident that you will remain yourself no matter how old you get. Even moreso than me.

I can see your resilience in how, despite everything, you refuse to relinquish those absurd costumes, made of cardboard shields and belts for tails. I can see your tremendous capacity to forgive in the quickness with which you rebound from an ass-whooping. I’ll never understand how you can emerge from your room within the hour, bright-eyed and bubbly as if nothing happened. You have a relentless creative energy and an unbridled, obsessive passion for the arts. I’m fascinated by your remarkably eidetic memory, how you can see a television show once and then act out an entire scene with all the nuance of a professional actor. And even when other kids try to put you down with cruel insults, you are almost always some combination of affably oblivious or triumphantly happy.

Your empathy and warmth is a dangerous power to wield. Because while I contemplate the fast-approaching day that calling you cute will no longer be appropriate, I know that there are many in this world who have never fully seen you as truly a child. Your brown skin means that you can be shot dead for being a child and many people will not bat an eyelash. In fact, they will justify your death with law and logic. And that’s not all.

We are fundamentally different in that I have retained a strong emotional connection to my colloquial slang, while you have yet to pick any of it up. This is totally fine. But your brown skin means that many people, even those who look like you, will not expect or appreciate your vocal cadence and style. That’s why the kids at school make fun of how you talk and say you sound white.

Your brown skin means that you can be as gregarious and forgiving as you want, and you might still be met with alienation from your peers. Your brown skin means that all the weird, geeky, “lame” stuff you like will often run counterpoint to the images of people like you that are conjured by the world. In Atlanta, this is not as evident right now, but it will be soon. Trust me, I can see the future.

So while I don’t want you to ever stop being the adorable, kind, sweet, brilliant child that you are, I look forward to having more mature conversations with you. There’s much for you to know.

I want you to know that the older you get, the more the world will try to elevate you above women, both in your own head and in the classroom. I want you to know that when mom and I tell you that you’re too old to cry, it should never be because “you’re a boy.” Brother, I want you to know that it’s okay to prefer staying inside and playing video games to riding your bike and playing basketball. You’ve only ever known the athletic wrestler version of Amiri who learned how to work the system and feign cool when necessary. But I once fashioned myself a “Tomgirl.” I look forward to telling you all about this and more. Listen, there is no one way to be a human being. And no one — not me, mom, your peers or the world — has the right to tell you who you are, inside and out, or what your destiny is.

Here’s something you probably do already know though: Harrison, in eight days, you will turn 11.

Eleven? The number sounds garbled and mucky in the context of your age. To me, you are still the plump, red, soon-to-be-braided infant whom my mother received as a one-day-late Mother’s day present back in 2005. And while I don’t know who you will become,  I know you will be beautiful. I love you for that.

Amiri Banks is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at abanks@cornellsun.com. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.

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