Benin Lemus (she|her) is a poet and an educator based in South Los Angeles. She earned her B.A. in English from Bennett College in North Carolina and an MFA in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California. Her debut poetry collection, Dreaming in Mourning, will be published by World Stage Press in November 2022. Benin is a 2022 Inaugural Workshop Fellow with Obsidian Magazine’s O|Sessions: Black Listening–A Performance Master Class and Honorable Mention in the Furious Flower Poetry Center’s annual poetry competition with Tim Seibles as the Finalist Judge. Her work is published online and in print, most recently in A Gathering of Tribes Magazine, edited by Quincy Troupe, and Love Letters in Light, a poetry-based public art project curated by Leila Hamidi. She has performed at Pasadena LitFest, Center Theatre Group, and World Stage Performance Gallery. Visit her online at beninlemus.com and on Instagram.
Driving east on I-40, Aida is in the backseat staring out the window while the three of us sing along to Mary J. Blige’s “You Remind Me,” not thinking about the lyrics.
We love Mary, and our girl, who has a 9:30 am appointment at the abortion clinic. We ride along for moral support and will wait for her at the nearby pancake house. Nikki wonders aloud if she would have the courage to have an abortion if she got pregnant. No one says what they would do. Kelly notes for the second time she is no longer eating meat. I want to ask my friends what it feels like to truly have the experience of being in love, but I don’t say anything.
Aida’s in the clinic waiting room, three hundred dollars cash in her wallet, the money we extracted from her then-boyfriend, who wouldn’t take her calls when she told him she was pregnant. Now she is in the waiting room like all the other college girls who want to get on with their lives. Halfway through the too-sweet orange juice, Kelly tells us that Mary J. is dating K-CI from Jodeci and thinks they make a great couple. Nikki says she hears the pain of experience in her voice. What does it mean to be experienced? Sometimes it’s touch that lasts for what feels like forever. Sometimes it’s an imprint that doesn’t go away quickly enough. I think Mary has been in love and it hurt.
We are 20-year-old girls playing poorly at being women in our friend’s borrowed car, miles away from our campus in a town that might as well be on another planet. White girls with flaxen hair. Our brown faces in a sea of whiteness. Kelly confesses she had an abortion the summer before she came to college. Her boyfriend was on his way to Rutgers, pre-med. We nod our heads because we know men’s dreams are the dreams of a nation. Women must not get in the way. Nikki asks Kelly about her dreams.
We wait outside the clinic at the park across the street. This college town is more beautiful than our hometowns. We know Aida can’t bring a Black baby into this world if she can’t have this world. The girls send me inside to help Aida to the car because they say I know how to talk to white people. I understand what they mean. I speak to the doctor to make sure everything went well. He tells me Aida will need a prescription and rest over the weekend. I look at my friend standing at the nurses’ station. She is not sad. She is not happy. She is quiet with an expression that even I, a burgeoning poet, cannot read. We leave the clinic. Nikki reminds Aida if her ex-boyfriend calls the payphone on our floor, to not answer it. We will show him the receipt if he wants proof that she went through with it.
I offer to drive us back. Prince’s “Diamonds and Pearls” plays. Aida’s in the backseat again, staring out the window. Nikki holds her hand. Kelly turns up the volume and I pull out of the parking lot toward I-40 west driving us back to campus, in time for dinner.
Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Toi Derricotte, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.