My Heart is Invisible Vol. 2: Remembrance

In the wake of the fatal police shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, writers in the Grub community asked for a space to address the effects of police brutality on communities of color. To create that space, this series of "Writers React" is dedicated to personal essays that respond to prejudicial violence. The title, "My Heart is Invisible," comes from the first essay in the series, "Driving While Me," by Kerry Beckford. In this second installment, writer and editor Katrina Otuonye reacts to getting stopped by the police. 

I wonder, what’s the new horrible thing that will keep me up at night? What is the next thing I will attempt to forget?

I have a great memory. I told a skeptical group of friends at college about my ability for recall and then I rattled off my friend Kathryn’s credit card number, including the expiration date.

“I should really be a spy,” I’d said.

When I taught English Composition to college kids, it was my party trick on the first day of class. The students went around the room, introducing themselves as I took roll. Then I put the paper away and repeated all their names back to them. This little game usually ended in applause.

The last time I was stopped by the police—the 15th or 16th time, on suspicion of a stolen MetroCard—I stared at their nametags, trying to absorb the letters. I can’t tell you if they had long names, if they shared a name with anyone I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t dare buy a vowel. In the moment, I was barely functioning—handing over my license, answering questions, asking very few for myself.

My mind only screamed, “PANIC.” Because I know what happens when people who look like me say the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think of what Jesse Williams said at the BET Awards about Sandra Bland: “She would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so…free.”

My one odd glitch, my ridiculous ability for recall, is snatched from me each time. It is as if my body is protecting me from a wound, erasing the present so I won’t remember it later. I remember other people, other names, instead. I can see people I’ve only met on the news and through a hashtag, never in person, never in the flesh.

“I’ll try to remember next time,” I tell myself. It helps me sleep at night.


Katrina Otuonye is a writer and editor from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She holds an Honors BA from the University of Tennessee and an MFA from Chatham University. Katrina currently works at Meharry Medical College for the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. Her creative writing focuses mainly on intersections of race and culture, but she is also known to write about Batman, health disparities, and her spotty karaoke skills. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Crab Orchard ReviewLitro MagazineThe Feminist WireAtticus Review, and The Toast, among others. She is currently hard at work procrastinating on a novel and a collection of creative nonfiction. You can find her collecting quotes on Tumblr and Twitter, or tinkering on her website.

About the Author

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