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Naming It: An Essay In Six Parts
Part Six: The Postponed Continuation of a Panic Attack
Naima Karczmar

A not-quite relative is my aunt Janet, who lived on the South side of Chicago, which automatically made her a black woman in the same way that if you live on the North side, you are automatically a little bit white even if your skin doesn’t match up. 

Janet was my mother’s preferred method of trying to teach me AAVE because her words were rounded at the edges, and also because she was inclined toward teaching.

I call Janet my aunt even though she wasn’t really, and I say she lived even though it was really for a very short time. 

Unrelated to Janet is the fact that my grandfather is a neuroscientist.

Related to Janet is the fact that my grandfather thinks that because his brain is so large, he is more than justified in passing judgment.

It is an embarrassing and risky game to be seen with him in public: nobody is ever quite sure what to do in the event that a ninety-eight year old Polish man comments on the quality of your breasts while his wife wonders aloud whether they will have scarves at Macy’s and his grandchildren exchange the kill-me-now look that is particular to siblings. 

An “INCIDENT” exists around Janet, one that I have no recollection of, the details of which are taboo but involve Janet and my grandfather and, likely, Janet’s breasts or race or both.

My white family alludes to her death sometimes, likes to imply that lung cancer is what you get for smoking like a chimney.

They allude also to the incident, like to imply that because she is black, her violent tendencies are unsurprising.

I do not know what the incident was because I have always been afraid to ask.

Another building was Janet’s home. It smelled like hair oil and the walls of her kitchen had been painted the kind of purple that looks but does not feel like eggplant. When she met my Polish grandfather (“INCIDENT”) I am told, my father was no longer welcome in that kitchen. (Wrong) 

CONCLUSION: my Polish-ness and I were also not welcome in that kitchen. 


Janet died of lung cancer, her ex-husband and my mother both claimed her belongings and her money, and so while they fought, the carpet was never clean.
Unrelated to anything is the fact that my grandfather was in Switzerland in 1939.
(Un)related to Switzerland in 1939 is the fact that my paintings are composed of microcrystalline wax and various shades of red.

RELATED: Janet was not.
DEAD: Janet is.
DEAD: My white family is not.
RELATED: My white family is.

Relatives tried to erase one another until I was not entirely sure that any of them existed The bathroom sink incident was recent and its freshness has carved fear into my future The buildings where I have felt safest are composed primarily of brick Conclusions are rarely useful except as summaries or bolded text Unrelated: the blanket whiteness of Ulster County bleached my brain Related: 

my mother has eight people left for whom she needs to code switch and I listen for it because I have always preferred her voice when it is open.

My name was fought over before I had time to learn what it was and fell uncomfortably from the lips of elementary school teachers Unrelated:

My Polish-Jewish-not-Buddhist grandfather was in Switzerland in 1939.

Switzerland was the only safe place to be in 1939, is also a colloquialism meaning neutral ground, which I don’t occupy but wish sometimes that I could carve in the form of a space on my grandmother’s carpet.

The building is named after its exteriors. 
I said the wrong thing to a room full of white people.

The bathroom where the sink is coming away from the wall was not a safe place to hyperventilate.

My mother signs her emails with Delia and believes firmly in the aesthetic value of purple comic sans.
When she read black Cinderellas into all my fairytales, I believed she was lying to me.

My mother has lied to me.

My Polish-Jewish Grandfather is married to my Russian-Jewish Grandmother. 

My grandfather believes that because he is Jewish, he cannot possibly be racist.

In order to renovate a historical monument, my white grandparents obtained permission from the city. In order to marry a black man in 1958, my other white grandmother moved, temporarily, to New Mexico.

My Black Grandfather died before I was born.
My Irish Grandmother died twelve years after.

My grandfather threatened to write my mother out of the will if she insisted on hyphenating the last names of her children.

She did it anyway.

Paintings are expensive to make.

One five-pound block of microcrystalline wax comes in yellow or in white, costs thirty dollars or forty.

The blanket whiteness of Ulster County bleached my brain.


I am afraid, always, that my mother looks at me and thinks her genes have failed her. 
I am afraid, often, that because I am diluted I am not of value.

Naima Karczmar | I am a biracial, semi-youthful, fairly gay student living and writing in Portland Oregon with the help of two cats and a fabulous mentor. I write a lot about being biracial, semi-youthful, and fairly gay, thought not always at the same time. I also write the kind of fiction I want to read.