The Bordertown Blues
This is dedicated to the Puffs, who all have a bit of Blue in them…. My name is Charmaine and my stomach feels like fire ants are attacking me from the inside. My anxiety had me feeling like a hurricane was roiling all through body, my panic was threatening to spill out but on the outside I was a picture of calm. I knew that it wouldn't last. I was almost done with my knitting, and then my focus would be broken and I would probably start saying weird things again. I was just trying to make it without embarrassing myself too much. But there was another kid aboard who kept giving me weird looks. I touched my braids subconsciously to make sure none were falling out.
I was currently on a two car train heading to Borderland, aka the NeverNever, me of all people, the one who had thought Borderland was fake and who had teased her best friend for years for believing in it. A little backstory. Borderland was supposed to be the in between place, a land between our Human world, and Faerie, or the "Realm" as the online guide called it. Borderland had not always been there, it had appeared when the Faerie realm decided to "return" to this dimension and overlapped with ours, and as it did it took over a few cities and towns to create what we know today as B-town. It had become a place for runaways , or people who just didn't fit in our society. A place where Humans and Elves coexisted. Or where nut jobs who decided to chase fairytales ended up. My mother had always said that the Borderlands was probably some random field that white kids went to do molly and other ridiculous drugs, like Coachella. She surmised that kids who ran away to Bordertown ended up in sex trafficking rings. She had said that even if it had been real, it wasn't meant for people like us. My mother wasn't big on dreaming. So naturally that was the first place I decided go. Stories of Borderland had become increasingly popular within the last year. Supposedly it had been closed for 13 years on our side, but it had only been 13 days on the other side. No one knew one hundred percent how to get there, just that there was no one right way. The Border was heavy on the gatekeeping, so I wasn't one hundred percent sure if I could get in or what I was getting myself into but anything was better than home. I had stuffed my giant suitcase with clothes and hair supplies, and put what I could carry in my bookbag, mostly knitting and more hair supplies, and hitched a ride to go North. Well not actually hitched, I was still very much Black in America. I was following tips from The Tough Guide to Bordertown. Most of the instructions seemed bizarre and made up, but I did what I could, I tied a red ribbon, actually a red scarf, to my suitcase, I didn't have any feathers lying around to stick behind my ear so I just burned some sage around myself and my suitcase and lastly stuffed some salt in my pocket (I only had sea salt). I then hopped on the first Port Authority bus that could take me north, rode to the last stop, took an Uber as far as I could afford, and then using Google maps walked on foot heading further North, all the while praying for a miracle. I had gotten pretty far in 5 hours before I started feeling exhausted so I found a grassy area to take a nap. But when I woke up, there was the train in front of me, and a steward hanging from the doorframe staring at me. "Are you getting on board or not kid?". I didn't hesitate, just went with my gut instinct, got up and hauled my stuff on board. In exchange for my passage I gave the steward a new pack of gum. Now here I was knitting like I normally rode magical trains everyday, while said magical train was taking me to the Border at an alarmingly fast speed. This was what Harry Potter must have felt like riding the Knight bus. I looked down and realized that the mini skirt I was knitting was on its last row, I took deep breaths to try and calm my nerves. I was connecting the last loop when the train gave a violent jerk and the cheery voice of the driver rang out shouting "Hey kids, this is your stop, good luck in the NeverNever. Don't drink the red river!" I shoved my skirt into my bookbag and grabbed my suitcase. To my surprise, two other kids were getting off with me. They both seemed to be about my age, one was a Hispanic looking kid who had a bit of an androgynous look. The other was a short Asian kid who still had on their uniform from whatever stuffy private school he attended, I realized he was the one who had been staring at me.. We all got off and kind of just looked at each other as the train took off. It was gone in the blink of an eye, likely on its way to find more runaways. We had been dropped off on the edge of the city, where it seemed less people stated. It looked like a ghost town so far. I hoped that wasn't an omen for this trip. We were at the top of a hill looking down, I could see that there was more life at the past these abandoned homes. Was this really B-town?
The Hispanic kid interrupted my train of thought with an outreached hand and forced enthusiasm and said " I'm Jess, but I don't think that's going to be my Border name, so ya know.. keep that quiet" The Asian kid ignoring the hand, gave a head nod and said "I'm Ken". Turning their hand to me Jess looked at me expectantly. I was attempting to shake their hand when I sort of just exploded. My shoulders scrunched up, and all I could say was "Blue!". More like shouted to be honest. Jess had a dumbfounded look on their face, and Ken just looked mildly surprised. I was embarrassed. I couldn't even say my name without losing control. A few days ago I had been triggered by something, well a few somethings and since then I had lost full control over my vocals. I would say random things repeatedly, it had been a great source of embarrassment at school, so I stopped going. Google hadn't been helpful in making the tics stop. And my family had been.. even less supportive. It took me several moments to calm down long enough to say, "I'm Charmaine.." damn I sounded pathetic.
"Tourette's?" Ken asked bluntly. "No its not! I don't know what it is but I don't have Tourette's! This is not a permanent thing!" I wasn't shouting but I wasn't exactly using my indoor voice. "Whoaa whoa whoa, okay hun let's slow down the crazy train, we haven't even made it into wonderland girl.." Jess was waving beautifully manicure hands at me to calm down. This of course pissed me off. "I'm not crazy! BLUE! BLUE.. BLUE.. BLUE!" I was damn near foaming at the mouth. "Okay, okay. Wrong choice of words my bad. Okay let's start over… let's take a deep breath." Jess mimed breathing in and out. I was annoyed but I followed suit and chose to stare at a singular point on my sneaker. I could feel Ken's eyes on me. Once I felt calmer and more in control I turned to them. "I've been stressed, and the stress is causing some .. malfunctions. But I'm not crazy. So if you don't mind. I'm going to head into Wonderland." With that I grabbed my suitcase and followed the trail. I could not only hear the buzz of civilization, but I felt a ripple run through my body as I walked, maybe it was the magic of the Border. Or maybe I was just crazy. I heard their footsteps on the gravel as they caught up to me. We walked in silence together as we started getting closer to the magic. Before we officially threw ourselves into the frying pan, Jess grabbed the both of us and in a rush of air said "Okay look, I don't know about you guys, but I am highkey freaking out! I've dreamed of escaping here since the first time I heard of B-Town. I mean a whole town where actual faeries exist! Don't ever say I called them that! I will deny it! And there's magic supposedly! Despite all of this I am worried that I won't fit in or I'll end up making enemies of some hottie Elf who I just want to simp for! And then I'll be even more of an outcast than I already was back home! I'll have to join a human gang… Ok getting side tracked… I say all this to say, all three of us are new here and will most likely, hopefully, inevitably find our own clique and go our separate ways. Buuut I was thinking that maybe until we settle in, we could like, look out for each other and stick together. so.. y'all down?" Jess had a suburban accent, if you know you know, and was talking at sonic speeds. He/she (I still wasn't sure) looked really hopeful and in their eyes I saw all the anxiety that was spilling out of me. I suddenly felt guilty for my outburst. I think I actually liked Jess. I looked at Ken. "Hey I thought that was always the plan." he said with a shrug. "You know like an unspoken rule or something. I mean, just try and get rid of my ass." I laughed. "Your so stupid" I said giving him a playful tap. "Wait I'm not stupid, that's rude!" "I don't mean stupid as in dumb. I'm Black, I mean stupid as in funny." I smiled to let him know all was well. "Of course we should stick together. I read that there are like different gangs and shit. What if I start to tic, and say something obscene? Whose going to keep me from getting jumped?" We all laughed and I felt the tension leave us. We didn't know each other at all, but all three of us were noobs. So we at least had that in common. The walk through town was an experience. We watched as Elves, who were referred to as the Blood, rode around on bikes that had spell boxes attached to keep them hovering above ground. We traded info, as we followed instructions that Ken had been smart enough to print out from the online guide, although for some reason not all of the guide could be printed. During the walk I found out that Jess was seventeen, was born male, and had traveled from PA. Jess didn't have any preferred pronouns, because they didn't understand the need to label themselves. So she accepted all pronouns, Ken and I agreed we would use whatever pronoun we felt in the moment. That got a big smile out of her. Jess told us that she had left home because her family wasn't so excepting of her existence and had the bruises to show for it… Ken was a sixteen year old from NJ, who had left home because he felt like there was too much pressure on him to be a doctor. His mom had died a few month prior and since then his dad had been hyper focused on his upbringing. He had felt suffocated, and by chance had discovered the Bordertown Guide as he was hacking grades for friends. He was still confused as to why it popped up. But had left home on a whim. I decided that I liked him as well. I felt uncomfortable telling my story so I told them my age, where I was from and just said I had left because my best friend was a bitch and my mom didn't care one way or another what I did. I could tell they wanted to pry but thankfully they left me alone. Since it was now evening, the first thing we did was head to The Ferret, which was a music club on Carnival street. There we had our first Bordertown drink, it was on the house because we were new. We sat there for awhile freaking out as we saw the Elves up close. They were really some kind of beautiful. There were a lot of half breeds, the result of decades of mingling between the races. Jess started going on and on about how he planned to marry an Elf and with the help of magic have four kids all named after a season. We spent a good time laughing, neither of us admitting that we were too scared to go forward in our journey. But after awhile the owner Farrel Din told us to get going unless we planned to pay for more drinks. None of us had much funds to spare so we decided to explore. We found a retro looking book store called Elsewhere, where there was an actual Wolfman at the register! I wanted to be cool enough to go inside and have a conversation with him about books, but I felt my anxiety building up and decided before I said something crazy it was better to keep going and find a place for us to stay. After some time walking and gawking at strangers, we found a very messy bulletin board that had a bunch of fliers advertising various things, like performances that were coming up, wanted posters for missing items, one poster was some guy willing to buy lost shoes. But most importantly there were housing fliers. Most of the housing came from some group called the Diggers, the Guide had mentioned them, they offered short term shelter for newbies. Ken pointed out that there was one close by so we decided to go take a look. There was enough space for all of us so we decided to stay, we were given blankets and shared a mattress in the corner of a room. I was so exhausted I forgot to be nervous. Well let's fast forward to five days later, Ken had found a job working at Bingo. It was some rigged up company who came up with what passes as internet here in B-town. Magic and electricity worked very weird here, sometimes not at all. So some guy had found a ridiculous way to make internet happen. Ken had tried explaining to us several times how everything worked, there was some system of carrier pigeons and passing notes, but to be honest neither of us really cared, as long as we could get information from the outside world occasionally. Jess was now calling himself Venus, because apparently your B-town nickname would stick with your forever, so it had to have just the right flare, so why not name herself after her favorite goddess. Venus had gotten a job at Café Cubana doing dishes and waiting tables. And me? I was sitting in my own pool of misery and anxiety. I was literally so over myself I could scream. I had barely left the building we were staying in, and I literally didn't talk to anyone. I spent all my time in my room people watching from the window. Ken and Venus would bring me food, and took care of my portion of the chores, occasionally trying to convince me to go out with them. But I couldn't. All my bravado from a few days before was gone. My anxiety and the reality of my decisions had taken control of my psyche. Part of why I didn't go out was the tics had started to take over. I had begun to repeat everything people said, I sounded like a broken record. What's worst is Ken and Venus were so supportive and didn't make me feel terrible about it, which would often leave me in tears. I was an absolute mess. On the fifth night though, Venus had finally had enough. "Alright girl. enough is enough. We are going out. Yes we are, and I want no arguments. I've tried to let you sort through your shit but its not working and you need fresh air and a strong drink. You look like a defeated child actress. I don't know what you've been doing all day but its time to put on one of those pretty crochet outfits your always making, and have some fun." I had tried to protest, but I was all cried out and even I had to admit Venus was right. I was losing my mind in this room. I washed up and put on a blue knitted bikini top with some jeans. Venus lent me a vibrant red jacket and some yellow flipflops. Apparently I looked very B-town chic. She took me to Danceland, which was one of the more popular places to be. Danceland was a neutral territory. No weapons or fighting from either Humans or Elves. You had one shot or you were kicked out. Ken was already there with some of his Bingo friends. There were introductions and small talk as I tried to hold myself together. Sensing my unease Venus grabbed my arm and took me to the dance floor. The Band were all Elves, and they were playing music unlike anything I had ever heard. They had odd instruments, and the song they were singing sounded like a weird blend of rock and something other. I kinda loved it. Venus held me close and swayed with me to the music. Eventually the music picked up and Ken and his friends joined us on the dance floor. It was strange to admit but I was having fun. I felt lighter than I had in years. All of the oppression and depression from the outside world didn't have to follow me here. I could leave it all behind and be the carefree girl I didn't have the privilege of being back home. At some point one of Ken's friends started dancing with me. She was a halfie, taller than me and wore her hair in Viking braids. Her caramel complexion let me know that one of her parents was Black. I don't know if it was the music or the drinks. But I found myself over heating. I blushed and tried to move away, closer to the rest of group but she put a finger under my chin and pulled me closer to her. It wasn't forceful, it was a suggestion, an invitation and a promise all at once. I felt hypnotized. We danced together like that for awhile. I have no idea how much time passed, I just knew that when our friends finally broke us up, half the club was emptying out. Venus gave me a knowing look that I didn't appreciate.
We all left the club together, every one was debating on where to go next. I was busy just trying to center myself, all the while being very aware of the proximity to Ken's friend. I noticed she chose to walk close to me. In the end everyone decided to go back to their own dwellings. The Diggers place was the closest so we all walked as a group every one chatting having side conversations. I felt her eyes on me before she spoke. "I'm Brynn. What do you call yourself?" she peered at me curiously. I knew what was going to happen before I opened my mouth. "Blue!" I said louder than was warranted. Her eyebrows went up at my outburst but with a smile she said, "Hello Blue. I'm happy to have met you this night." I didn't know what to say, and it was taking every thing in me not to shout again. Venus my very own goddess leaned over and asked Brynn where she stayed. "I live in one of the mansions at the end of Ho street. You would like it there. It's a safe space for feminine energy. We welcome all Humans and Elves. Maybe I could give you ladies a tour soon. I know the Diggers usually have short term housing." "Yeah I was actually worrying about that today." Venus said with a furtive glance at me. "It's cool and all but there's a lot of guys, not to mention I know Ken wants to live with the Bingo guys. He's only staying with us to protect us." At that I gave Venus a credulous look. Ken? Protect us? How? Venus laughed which set me to giggling. "Remember we made a pact to stick together! I know he didn't want to leave us damsels in distress." Venus was far from a damsel in distress. I knew the real reason was me. They were worried about my crazy ass. I felt a clenching in my chest. We pulled up to the Diggers house and everyone parted ways. Brynn gave us general directions of how and where to find her. I tried not to notice that she mainly looked at me while she spoke. Ken was still talking to one of his guy friends as we went upstairs, I knew he was giving us a chance at privacy. As soon as we entered our room Venus exploded. "Girl what was that! I get you out of the house for a few hours and your making eyes with the first foxy Elf you can find! Lord I was starting to think you liked Ken." She tossed herself dramatically on the mattress. "I do. I mean. I don't know he's cool." At her eyeroll I said "I mean he is cute and funny. But I'm not looking for any type of relationship. We are just friends." I felt hot and flustered, almost like a ticking time bomb. "To think in just a short time you would have two suitors ready to sweep you off your feet. Don't give me that look, you think Ken hasn't gone to live with those weebs because he thinks I can't take care of myself? He's sweet on you girl. But so is that Brynn, honey her eyes couldn't stay off your coco goodness. I thought she was going to throw you over her shoulders and take you back to her sex den…" He was still talking as I plopped down beside him. My emotions sort of tipped over and I couldn't stop the flood gates once they started. I knew I looked and sounded ridiculous. But I simply could not stop crying. Tonight was the happiest u had felt in a very long time, and that was just sad as hell. I felt arms around me rocking me back and forth. "Are you ready to tell us why you came to Bordertown?" Venus asked softly. I looked up, I hadn't realized Ken had come up. He looked as awkward as a teenage boy could while watching a girl cry for no reason. There was no judgement in their eyes, only concern. So after I let out the last bit of sobs I told them everything. I explained how my bestfriend of two years, slept with the guy she thought I liked, because she was secretly jealous of me. I didn't know what worst, the fact that I had secretly been crushing on her, or the fact that she pretended to be my friend for so long. Then I broke down my home life. I had always been the throw away child. My dad was not in the picture, and my mom preferred my older brother to me. He could literally do no wrong in her eyes. I had immaculate grades, was a shoe in for a scholarship, had never been in a fight. Not to mention I was a fucking virgin. Meanwhile my brother was a slacker who literally spent all of his waking time smoking and playing video games. I didn't know if the issue was that I reminded her of my deadbeat dad, or if she just didn't like having a daughter. My mother was a hair dresser who spent most of her time trying to find ways to scam the system. She was always out, either hanging out with friends she didn't really like or finding some guy to lay with long enough to get money out of them. My relationship with my mother was broken. She only talked to me when she wanted something, or when she wanted to hear herself talk. I was mainly there to cook and clean. She didn't really care how good I did in school. Although let her tell it, and she was the reason I did so well in school. Everything about her was so fake. It kind of made sense how I was attracted to someone who had no good intentions with me. Finally I told them about the straw that had broke the camel's back. I had saved up about one thousand dollars the past year. I had been doing hair in my building, the only skill my mother had ever taught me. I was also selling my knitting to girls at school. I had been trying to save up as much as I could for college. Lord knows my mother didn't have anything saved for me. I had come home after another miserable day at school, to find less than one hundred dollars in my stash. Turns out my mother had found my stash and decided that my brother needed a new video game, and she needed money for various things. She said she would pay me back but we both knew that was a lie. She had probably spent the money on the drugs she thought I didn't know she dabbled in. I remembered feeling so broken and angry, I started screaming. I just wanted someone to hear me finally! This could not be life. Next thing I knew my mother was hurtling her slushy cup at me and cursing at me to shut up. I was standing with blue slushy all over me. And that's when my tics started. I kept saying blue repeatedly among other things. I just angered my mother more so she left me there on my own. When I went to school the next day, the tics were still there and as you can expect, my classmates were assholes. I was mocked the entire day. My ex best friend leading the parade. I was excused from class and immediately went home. I had packed my stuff and taken what little money I had left, and followed the instructions of the Guide that I had been looking at on and off for the past month. When I was done spilling my guts, I looked up to find Venus softly crying, and Ken staring at his shoes looking like he wanted to punch something with his soft little fists.
We sat in silence for awhile before Ken abruptly said "Fuck them. Fuck all of them Charmaine. Every last one of them. You deserve better!" he had his fists balled up beside him. "I know that, but unfortunately, Black girls usually don't get what they deserve…" I said with a tired huff. "Well hell, that's the magic of Bordertown. You can leave that shit behind and stop being the poor little Black girl whose stuck in a sad vicious cycle because first of all they don't care if your Black, they just care if your human. So there's that.. whoever you were in New York, does not have to define you here. You can be Charmaine or whoever you want to be. I will say you should definitely change that name while no one really knows you yet, I'm just saying.. You could make money selling your knitting, and doing hair if you want. You can literally be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do. And I can assure you, you don't have any fake ass friends here.. So let's just start over and give ourselves a break babes…"Venus had let all of her words rush out as usual. "Who would you like to be in the NeverNever?" That was Ken. They both looked at me expectantly. "Blue…I want to be Blue…" I said thinking back to that soft finger under my chin…