A Brief History of an Obsession

by DW McKinney


“White babies just look like rats,” Meg says. “I mean, I’m happy I’m married to Chris. It’s just, you’re lucky. Whoever you marry, you’ll have good-looking kids. Black people are gorgeous. Your kids will be beautiful. Mine will be rats.”

I don’t know what to say.


The second time Meg mentions the ugly babies she doesn’t want to have, her gaze trails the length of my body. Assessing. Quantifying. Measuring. I stitch my lips in silence and stare at the edges of the sun until I weep. Chris, standing next to Meg, chuckles and wraps his arm around her shoulders. I recognize his small hiccups of noise for what they are: nerves. Insecurity. A whimper of fear.


The mention of babies hollows out Chris’ eyes. He is a ghost searching my face for an answer I do not have. And because I cannot give it, none of us can be released from this haunting.


“What don’t you like about white babies?”

I’m asking Meg this as if we’re browsing through a catalogue or we happened to see a baby crawling along the side of the road. It’s not about hypothetical babies. But I’m too afraid to close the distance between Meg and the truth. What I really want to ask is, Why do you hate the idea of your babies? Why do you hate yourself? When she doesn’t answer, I recognize her disquiet for what it is. So I don’t ask, Why do you hate your husband?

When I’m alone, I wonder, Are you in love with me? Or do you just want to wear my skin?


I awake from a dream. Staring at the low ceiling of my basement apartment, I think about every time I step onto the campus shuttle, how the students refuse to acknowledge me because of my Blackness. Their religion, integrated into every fiber of this town, says Black people are cursed. And the one person who was a safe haven now also regards my Blackness with hostility. Only this time, the curse is between my legs, and I imagine my friend standing on an antebellum porch, holding out her newborn baby for me to suckle.


After her divorce, after she yells at me for entering into a relationship without her permission, Meg asks, “What’s it like when you have sex with him? I mean, what does it feel like? For you? When he’s inside you?”

I don’t say anything because I only have questions instead of answers. I stay silent instead of asking, How did you cut your husband from your life? How did you remove an entire history from your being? And how can I do that with you?

DW McKinney is a writer and gardener who lives in Nevada. She currently serves as an editor for Shenandoah Literary and Writers Resist. Say hello at dwmckinney.com.


Photography by: insung yoon