A True Story by Eric Valentine
When they made Mandah, they broke the mold.
At first blush, she and I couldn’t be more different. The fact that we’re white may be our only visual similarity. I’m not exactly the corporate-looking type, but Mandah’s appearance looks as if a caucasian Rastafarian and a Goth survivalist had a baby. She pulls it off well, and it draws you in.
“Your sign is so popular, you could win prom queen tonight,” I tease her regarding the Black Lives Matter sign she finished just minutes before leaving the pirate-ship-themed tiny house that she built and where she dwells. Mandah breaks into her signature laugh.
Mandah’s laugh is one of those laughs that’s half chuckle, half giggle, but never quite a snort. The greatest laughs are the ones people don’t even know they have.
Her sign really was popular that night—June 2—when Boise held a vigil for George Floyd that was attended by 6,000 people, give or take. After the event, a number of people stopped us to photograph her sign, especially the one side that read: “All Lives CAN’T Matter until Black Lives Matter.”
The epistemology is correct, I keep telling her as a young white man with two black children; passers-by on 8th Street; a photojournalist; two young black men in a car; and a young black woman who hugged Mandah out of the blue all stopped to thank her for the sign.
I tease Mandah a lot, and she lets me get away with it. Probably because she knows I adore her and a lot of our time spent together involves me encouraging her. With some people, the teasing and the compliments would probably be too much or taken the wrong way. With Mandah, I think she appreciates hearing a perspective of herself by someone different from herself. That’s because Mandah spends a lot of time in her head, and in that way, she and I couldn’t be more one in the same.
When we left her place, her landlord reminded us to be safe.
Mandah’s response? “I got my stabby thing” and pulls out some sharp tool that could do a lot of damage if it had to.
My response? “I have my Smith & Wesson” and pull out my pocket knife of that name brand. “We both have stabby things.”
“It was your idea to go, so if shit goes down, you’ll protect me, right?” I tease … I remind … Mandah.
“I told you I got your back,” Mandah reassures, and I show her my pepper spray gun I’m now toting in my mini backpack we affectionately call my “murse.”
There’s a lot of guys Mandah really could woop ass on if she ever wanted to. Probably has, here and there.
“If those confederate fuckers mess with us, they got 6 ounces of pepper spray and two stabby things they’ll need to contend with,” I tell her. “Let’s see how those AR-15s hold up against that onslaught.”
There’s that great laugh again.
When you roll with Mandah you roll 15 minutes late. So, we got to the vigil a little after it had started. And I’m glad we did. Because by the time we arrived, the Capitol was packed with 6,000 Boiseans—a crowd size you don’t see unless you’re at a Broncos game—mostly white, dressed in black, and pretty much oblivious to the delicate trickle of confederate-flag-wearing, AR-15-carrying dolts driving around the block in their trucks.
“It was like a church service, except for that one bitch who yelled something from her truck,” Mandah would observe over a whiskey sour later that night. “But inside my head I was like, ‘Who gives a shit about her?’ This is about George Floyd.”
I was astonished at the crowd size. Not because Boise is some racist hicksville much of the country still doesn’t understand. Politically, Boise is purple if not blue. But it’s also, at worst, apathetic and, at best, chill. It’s partly what makes it easy to live here. As BLM-supportive as I am, when it came to the vigil, if it weren’t for Mandah, I would never have even gone.
But as I saw a sea of black-clothed white fists rise in solidarity, I realized Mandah was wrong. This was bigger than George Floyd and all the other victims named on the back side of her sign that night.
This was the collective unconscious of our nation screaming, “We don’t like it here anymore!” This was people who knew deep down that when they had heard all week long, “Hey, we’re better than this!” they thought to themselves, “No, this is exactly who we’ve become.” This was white people in America experiencing an awakening, a reckoning, a beckoning to take a deep fucking breath and recalibrate the whole damn thing. The way COVID tried to make us do.
“Mama, they’re killing me. I can’t breathe,” George Floyd said.
Crucifixion 2020, that’s what it took for us to finally see.
There is a shared, visual experience we call a gargoyle that reappears in religion and art. They are scary and are supposed to keep us out. Ironically, these icons do the opposite, they draw us in. Look at these paintings on the left and right by the artist Edvard Munch.
In “Puberty” a young girl protects her entry into womanhood. In “The Scream” a grown man shouts to be unheard. George Floyd’s public execution was a gargoyle for the human condition. It was a shared, visual experience the human organism needs, to get drawn in. To explore the unthinkable. Like laughter, the greatest sins are the ones people don’t even know they have.
As she and I left the beautiful clusterfuck that Boise’s 8th Street had become, Mandah did a Facebook Live and tore into all the trolls she’d been yelling at online the past few days. You know the ones.
And it made me see Mandah as a bit of a gargoyle, herself. She provokes, especially men, especially any man on a power trip. She doesn’t do the “passive, pretty thing,” she tells me later as we discuss the difference between triggering and inspiring.
“All of you who’ve been talking shit online, this is a peaceful protest. We have the power. Get it? So stand the fuck up and do the right thing. Stop being racist,” Mandah growled toward her phone, more or less.
“Nightcap?” I asked after she put her phone away and before she realized she left her wallet in my car.
“Now I feel like a dick. I can run up to the car,” Mandah bargained. “Where the hell did we park?”
“Chick move,” I teased. “Not the wallet, the over-apologizing for everything. We’ll square up later. Stop saying you feel bad. It makes me feel bad.”
She really does do the “I’m sorry” thing a lot. Usually, it’s because she’s 15 minutes late. After our drinks, I dropped her off at her pirate ship and she
offered up yet another gem: “You know, I’ve always thought about how we’re just one person, what difference can we really make, our vote doesn’t even count yada yada yada. But I went there as one person thinking there’d be like 20 other people holding candles and crying or some shit. But it was thousands of us all doing things in unison, humbled, empowered. We were thousands of people acting as one. One person can make a difference, because all of us, we are just one. Thank you for being there with me.”
“Thank you for being the best person to wear my murse around for the first time. I figured if I got crap for it looking too Euro or fem, you’d use your stabby thing,” I teased. “But seriously, this thing is pretty frickin’ cool and who wants to bring a computer bag everywhere? That’s just too much baggage to carry, especially with the summer coming up.”
Mandah’s laugh …
When I got home I went straight to bed and tried to mentally unpack all the things from the night still running through my head. Then I get a text from Mandah:
“Sorry! I realized after I was half way home,” I explain.
“I think I might have just done a couple of chick moves right there,” I tease myself in the back of my head.
Mandah was right. We are one.