My grandfather and I aren’t very close. I think that we could be, but we don’t know how to talk to each other.
“What kind of books do you write?” He asks me often. I don’t write books, but at least he remembers that I write.
“Just stuff about my life,” I always say. It’s vague, but it’s the truth and I know that he wouldn’t be able to handle much more. He says he wants to know what I write about, but he doesn’t really. He doesn’t actually want to know about my life, so I spare him the details. “You ever write about God?” He goes on to say.
“No, not really.”
It’s always the same; it’s scripted and I’m scared to talk.
My grandfather is very religious, a devout Christian. He goes to church every Sunday, attends weekly bible study, and always finds a way to make God the center of every conversation. He carries his bible, wears a cross around his neck, and never misses an opportunity to express his very conservative opinions about women, abortion, homosexuality, sex, drugs—anything that doesn’t align with God’s will. So I keep my mouth shut about being queer and living with my girlfriend and smoking a lot of weed and advocating for human rights. I don’t tell him what I write about or what I think about.
“He tries,” my father tells me. He tries to talk to me. It’s hard to believe from the backseat of my grandfather’s car. It smells like shea butter and Black Ice air freshener. Gospel music hums in the background as he lectures me on how to live a life that is “pleasing to God.”
“You go to church up there?”
“Well, you still believe in God don’t you?”
I don’t say anything and he glances back at me through the rearview mirror. I look like him, but I’m not him. I’m not who he wants me to be.
He doesn’t know anything about me so he fills the silence with God.
My grandfather told me that my thoughts were scattered. He said I should organize them like train cars. Each thought is its own car, all a part of one, continuous train. Each train car is filled with cargo representing the details of our thoughts, the memories and feelings associated with those thoughts. I told him that I didn’t think that way, that I didn’t want to think that way, and that it would be hard for me to change the way that my brain works.
Why can’t I organize my thoughts like train cars?
I’m an artist. My grandfather is an artist too. He is a painter and a writer and a sculptor and a photographer.
Whenever I visit his house, my grandfather and I go down into the cluttered basement where he’s set up a studio among the boxes of old photo albums and unopened mail, a dirty brown living room set, and exercise equipment that’s better suited as a coat rack. The light flickers on and he walks over to his desk where there’s a piece he’s been working on—a massive canvas leaning up against the wall. I stop and stare, secretly drowning out the sound of him explaining the biblical meaning behind the painting. I just smile and nod. I wish that he could see my art, but if he knew me, he’d hate me.
He always asks me about my writing and my life. I never really tell him though, not fully. ___
I write because I can’t talk. I’m anxious; the words always get stuck. Or they’re chaotic and cannot be reasoned with. My thoughts fill lines of white pages—the thoughts that aren’t so holy, the thoughts I cannot pack neatly into train cars.
Jay Roundtree (they/she) is a black queer writer and creative from Baltimore, MD. They’re currently a junior in college pursuing a degree in Communications with a minor in Writing. They enjoy writing as a form of creative self-expression and as a medium to share their voice and to connect with others through art.