Nineteen eighty-four. That was the year my mother discovered she'd given birth to a two-headed monster. Me and my sister. That was the year we turned fourteen and fifteen. We were only one year apart, Irish twins. Like real twins, we moved through the world as one entity. We spoke in code. We dressed in each other's clothes. My mother referred to us as "the girls." We didn't look very much alike, but our voices were remarkably similar. When my father called the house, he couldn't tell which of us was on the other line. He confused our names so regularly that it became a kind of new, conjoined name. D'anlucien. Or Lu'anzy.
We hadn't always been that monster. For my mother, an experimental poet, an unreconstructed socialist who had raised us on the poetry of Bernadette Mayer and the music of Patti Smith, what we became in 1984 was a particularly pointed bad joke. As a white woman raising black children, she'd been righteous and conscious, trying to raise two strong black women. She'd surrounded her daughters with powerful black women, godmothers and aunts, womanist trailblazers. She gave me a copy of The Bluest Eye to read when I was ten.
We weren't coming out the way she'd planned. At those readings she dragged us to at St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York all the way from our home base in Boston, we spent our time not listening and instead twisting our Barbie dolls into increasingly pornographic positions, using our little brother's GI Joe as their soul mate. We found the poetry readings weird as fuck — what kind of gibberish were they spewing up there? All her poet friends seemed drunk to us. We sat side by side in at a dark table at the Ear Inn, sipping our Shirley Temples, giving my mother's bohemian friends the stank-eye.
My mother looked at us across a table and said, "I don't think I've ever encountered two meaner girls."
Nineteen eighty-four was the year we discovered we could use Jolen facial hair bleach to put gold highlights in our hair. My sister had worn her hair in an Afro when she was young and beaded cornrows for a few years in the early 1980s, but now she used a Revlon five-minute relaxer. In our mind, Afros were for transracially adopted black kids and tragic mulattos (the ones whose white mothers didn't know how to do their hair).
We fancied ourselves amateur psychics and started our own two-member club called the Prediction Club. We liked to predict the future. We predicted we would be rich someday and leave all this behind.
The things we rejected: whiteness and poverty. We associated whiteness with stringy hair, "tore up" fingernails, high-water, no-name jeans, ripped sweaters, weird poetry, lack of style. We associated blackness with wealth, rap music, gold chains, high-priced sneakers, Polo by Ralph Lauren. Blackness was capitalism. We wore our gold hoops in our ears, nameplates on chains around our necks, sweaters with the price tags still hanging off.
Nineteen eighty-four was the first year we watched a lot of BET: Soul Train and Video Soul, where we were mesmerized by the host, Donnie Simpson with the light eyes. Fuck the hippie shit. We wanted to be like the girls in the rap videos, the ones hanging off the rich rapper's arm. We wanted to languish in a Jacuzzi, drink Moët, wear bikinis, and writhe around, our bodies on full display.
My sister's best friend that year lived in the city — a big-boned white girl who became the source of our wildest escapades. We'd known that white girl all our lives. Her parents were friends of my mother's who had been part of the early gentrification of Boston's South End, andin the liberal spirit of the times, they had enrolled their daughter in the local all-black public school.