Nights With Briana

by Jubilee Johnson

-winner of The Anthem‘s Valentine’s Day contest-


Because there aren’t enough black girls named Briana, that’s exactly the name her mother chose. Briana, who has faint eyebrows that she has to draw on every morning. That’s the only makeup she’ll consider, otherwise the rest of her face is just plain. She’s got hyper pigmented lips and eyes that catch me off guard.

It’s really a miracle that she can tolerate looking at me for a long time. I could stare at her all day—looking directly in her brown eyes or admiring her features in profile. Either way, my heart stands at attention. Then it folds and collapses the minute she lets go of my hand and turns over in bed.

I remember nights with Briana. We would fall asleep with the TV on, the blue glow of the screen passing over us like blessings from the cast of Love & Hip Hop. This was in the summertime when the air was sticky, almost viscous. I couldn’t stand the covers, but Briana said she needed the comfort of something over her. I said I could be something over her, and she still picked the blanket which always ended up on the floor when morning came.

She slept anxiously. She was the kind of person who crowded me, but found her way to the other side of the bed. So far, like I could barely claim her within reach. Meanwhile, I’d stay up late thinking about the body next to me.

Forehead to the ceiling, my thoughts would hurt, penetrating my skull like a rock. She wore me out. But Briana had me. And she knew she did because I told her on a similar night like this.

I had my fan propped up on the night table, circulating a lukewarm breeze. She was moving with me, not speaking. Her sweat laved my body, and her long hair kept tickling my face. Not her real hair, no. Her real hair that I could see was suffocating under her wig.

Another thing about Briana—a wig was her best friend. I could make love to a different woman every night if I wanted to. But I wanted to be with Briana. I touched the back of her neck pressing my thumb into the nape where I could feel the texture of her real hair—soft and peasey. I was trying to remove it, but Briana resisted. She told me, “Leave it alone.” Her gold chain was glistening between her breasts, but I focused on seeing the real her. She must have been hot. I tried again, until she acquiesced and did herself.

I saw her cornrows braided back, neatly like agricultural plows. She was so pretty then. I could tell Briana hated it, but I told her not to. She ignored my compliments even though I meant every single one. And sometimes that hurts, to hear her deflect my kindness like it was something she could die from.

Even so, everything we do has an exigency embedded into its action. We hold each other like our separation will lead to perdition. We kiss like her tongue fiends for mine. We make love like our lives depend on the remedy that is my spirit mingling with hers.

That’s how I feel, and my sensibility said to make it known to Briana. So I did. With the texture of her skin against my cheek, I told her. She was facing forward, stroking my hair, her nails against my ears. I was waiting.

She didn’t say anything for a while, and I thought about what I’d done, and how her silence struck me like tiny blows to my jaw bone. Or worse—lacerations across my heart. But she did speak up. “I love you too” was her response. So calm and alluring, it came out like a prayer.

Somewhere in scripture there must be a verse that mentions us—Briana and I. That was the night I told Briana, a night similar to this one.

Right now the air in the room is warm, but mild. We can both breathe comfortably, but Briana is away from me after recently turning over in bed to face the window. I come close, though, her real hair wrapped in a blue scarf. I align my body with hers, rest, and fall asleep with my hand in hers.

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