Excuses in an Old Box

To Janine’s Bedroom Walls, 1995,

Please excuse Janine for the reluctant acts you witnessed her perform on numerous nights, resulting in chronic shame. Her plastic rabbit-shaped night light glowed with loyalty each time, casting the same two shadows of contrasting sizes in the contaminated room. Still, the white sock draped over the bulb dimmed the tangled scene—a secret, confusing performance called “sock night” underneath Janine’s Rainbow Brite comforter. 

Someone told her to crawl up the nightgown and move her mouth, so she did. 

But a five-year-old doesn’t know how to read warning labels.


To Janine’s Elementary School Gym Teacher, 04/30/1999, 

Dismiss Janine from class today. Her former best friend, Ronda, and her female triad of terror bullied her after yesterday’s gym class. Janine was ambushed in the girls’ bathroom by a whirlwind of colorful hair beads, subsequently pushed into the wide Rubbermaid trash can located between the rusty paper towel dispenser and the wooden door too heavy for a scared, scraggly girl to open alone. Though packed with soft used tissues and soggy lukewarm paper towels, her arms suffered in the rubber contraption. They clamped and contorted behind her back as cackling echoed in the tiled bathroom; the stench of toilet and trash spoiled the lingering taste of brownie Janine ate during lunch. 

For these reasons, it is recommended she pretends to have a headache and hides in the nurse’s office. Albeit an acute occurrence, the potential for another episode is too much emotional excursion for the fourth-grader, who barely has any remaining friends in her gym class who have brown skin and wear hair beads just like her.


To the Families of Janine’s Classmates, Fifth Grade, 2000,

Janine apologizes for her sporadic and terrorizing behavior– taunting with name-rhyming insults, pushing unsuspecting kids off the monkey bars, lying to teachers about classmates cheating, and vandalizing coats with glitter glue. It is all intentional. Janine’s terror and anguish are easier seen than felt. She chose your children because they also do not have someone who will run for help. The misery is not meant to last. Only for the extent of recess. The trip from the classroom to the cafeteria. Possibly an instant in a bathroom. Just long enough for her to feel less afraid than someone else.

It is prescribed, for now, she punishes/protects herself by being a villain. 


Dear Uncle Ely and Auntie June, August 13th, 2001,

Pardon Janine for not appreciating your Fourth of July visit. A week encased in Motown sounds licked from the strings of Uncle Elys’s black bass guitar. A full seven days stuffed with banana bread pudding and too-sweet iced tea birthed from Auntie June’s practiced hands. Had Janine known it was your last vacation to Missouri as a couple, she would have smiled and joined in on the rasp of laughter. Said yes to sitting in Uncle Ely’s huge lap while the adults played Mau-Mau around the dining room table cluttered with worn playing cards, half-empty red plastic cups, and hollow cigarette packs. Or agreed to learn tricks to crocheting with green and purple yarn from Auntie June, Janine’s paternal family, who always broke away before the smoking began to snuggle in the brown leather living room recliner. 

Unfortunately, during your stay, Janine’s reality was an unsolvable math problem: menstrual cycle + house shrinking – friends. Cheap bras, soaked pads, new curves, and bumpy skin became her unrecognizable shell, as did Janine’s home. She never received an explanation as to why her family moved from their four-bedroom house with a plush backyard to the lower half of a shabby, concrete duplex also housing a string band upstairs. Nonetheless, what ultimately pulled Janine’s attention away from the final moments of seeing Uncle Ely alive with his wife of forty-five years was the knowledge she would stumble into middle school alone. She had not chosen if she was Black or white before graduating from elementary school like she was supposed to, spawning side effects such as loneliness and self-consciousness. So, your presence did not cause the dread in her eyes. Janine was without a tribe during her last wave goodbye to the entity known as “Uncle Ely and Auntie June.”


08/25/2002, To Whom It May Concern,

Permit Janine freedom from lunch period today and possibly every day for the duration of middle school. It is not due to the greasy French bread pizza, the faint blaring of instruments from the nearby band hall, the warden-style chaperoning of teachers around the crowds of factions, or the uncomfortably cold plastic blue table benches. Instead, it is becoming increasingly difficult for her to choose between sitting with old friends who share her life and the new friends who share the academic track proud white teachers dispensed to her. Janine must recover from being told by a Black friend she is too smart to hang out with while also sustaining injuries from learning she is too Black to sleep over at a white friend’s house.  

Quotes from Janine’s classmates to consider when deciding:

  • “I bet if it started raining, all your Black skin would wash off.”
  • “You’re not one of the scary ones.”
  • “You talk and act white now?” 


Dear Marie, Janine’s Best Friend, 8th Grade, 2003,

Janine sends her apologies for silently agreeing to dismantle the friendship. Life between you two is deliciously tangled by permed and naturally straight hair. Moments on the rickety school bus or in the postered eyesores of each other’s bedrooms are spent talking while holding hands. Adolescent overlapping limbs of dark brown and freckly white skin create dangerously euphoric sensations and curious fingers during weekend sleepovers. 

It is ill-advised to gradually execute the following tasks: spend less time together to a level that feels appropriate for two female friends. Eliminate all physical contact. Fabricate lies about each other to mutual friends. Fall apart over the fear of how badly the friendship needs to blossom.


Dear Janine’s Parents, 2004,

Accept this acknowledgment assuring Janine will shower and wash her knotted hair more often. This irregular behavior stems from an open, unlocated injury. The depleted energy and numbing disregard progressively clamped to her chest, ingesting her current will to live above basic breathing level. Personal hygiene mocks more than it mends Janine. The aloneness, nakedness, and effort necessary to survive the shower’s ceramic coffin are currently beyond her capability. Though she is lethargic, Janine is sound-minded enough to recognize her sharp odor. Feel the film of sweat, dirt, and bodily fluid on her skin, which adds additional mockery. 

There is an added prescription of effective deodorant, cocoa butter moisturizer, floral body spray, and thick jackets to cover her armpits or lap. These should aid Janine and/or trick her family long enough for her symptoms to morph into activities less visible yet more rancid to her body. 


Dear Janine’s Body, 2/19/2005,

Distribute this notice pleading for forgiveness amongst your parts. Janine is self-medicating invisible pain with hazardous results. Treatment previously prescribed to aid and/or trick has since counteracted, exposing her failing mental health to resistant and strained feelings of panic, depression, and anger. Additionally, Janine has added substances to accompany objects for her rituals of harm. 

A separate note for each exercise is attached:

  1. Vomiting at school due to alcohol consumption, e.g., Captain Morgan throughout Trig.
  2. Raw and infected forearms caused by unconfident fingers.
  3. Stomach cramps generated by not intaking breakfast or lunch at school.


Dear Uncle Sonny, 10/16/2006, 

Janine will not attend your funeral in the chilly rain of Gary, Indiana. On her mother’s side, you were her favorite. She saw herself the most in you—even more so than she saw herself in her mother. You called Janine “Diggle worm” with every hug she had to hop into your wiry arms to receive. You asked for her help whenever cooking your meaty and slightly sweet spaghetti. “Uncle Sonny” was her first thought on every family trip to Indiana. Know this always. 

A list of reasons for Janine’s absence: 

  • This favorite uncle of Janine’s shot himself in the mouth.
  • His body was discovered two weeks later in his closed garage sitting upright in his Jeep.
  • Janine’s mother often told her he felt lonely.


To a Particular Moment in Eastside Park, 9 PM, Fall 2007,

Excuse Janine for the obscenity which took place not far from the skin-burning aluminum slide. She had no intention for the friendly group celebration on the rock gravel playground to become a heated duet with him across the park. A public space without much shade or grass wedged between the city’s military cemetery and a neglected animal shelter unable to stay ahead of the number of dogs and cats abandoned on the park’s edge. 

This was the backdrop for Janine’s unexpected role on the crumbly, damp basketball blacktop. Close to the BBQ pit with three-legged grills, inducing an aroma of wet charcoal, which clogged her nose throughout the unwanted performance. Although its reason differs by several distinct factors, Janine is aware this specific exoneration is not a first-time request. 

She was told to knock it off and kiss back, so she did. 

But a seventeen-year-old doesn’t know how to read warning labels.


December 12th, 2008, for Janine’s Creative Writing 101 Class, 

Janine expresses remorse for her whitewashed creativity. She is adapting to the idea of white characters and heterosexuality not being the default in storytelling. She is not of sound mind to notice she hides the world she experiences for the sake of workshop controversy and public opinion. This is Janine’s first chance as a freshman to prove herself as a writer. She believes appeasing her 11/13 white classmates and white male professor is her means of survival without inciting fury or bruised egos. 


To Janine’s Third Retail Employer, August 2nd, 2010, 

Janine is exempt from explaining why she lost her temper in the baby section. The blonde woman wearing flip flops and carrying a Kors handbag grumbled about her daughter’s diaper size while passively insulting Janine’s literacy. The soggy, weighted blanket of depression compounded with sharp sunrays of anxiety is Janine’s entire existence. Still, there was no reason for the side-effects to flare up at work. The racist pathogens should not have triggered such reactions:

  • Yanking the package of wrongly sized diapers out of the woman’s hands then bellowing that she should try a different store.

Therefore, justified action was taken:

  • “We have a zero-tolerance policy for this behavior, but I’ll just suspend you. You must be going through something.”


To Janine’s Undergraduate Education, May 18th, 2012,

Pardon Janine for merely being physically present. College nurtured her writing yet starved her mental state. Her childhood home separation also included freedom from daily routines and familiar camouflages, which maintained her emotions in isolated storage lockers. There is a specific ask for pardons from Sleep and Grades. Janine’s concoction of unapproved recreational aids intensified her untraceable anxiety and sadness, forcing her alertness at night and pushing drowsiness on her during the day. This reversed sleep cycle resulted in irate roommates, a concerned resident assistant, and an economics midterm failure due to oversleeping.

It is recommended Janine remember the joy experienced upon obtaining her English degree and the pride felt for being the first in her family to graduate from college. The massive family celebration at Olive Garden—including her two parents, three sisters, two brothers-in-law, three nieces, and one nephew—replenished her spirit. 


Summer of 2014, To Janine’s Apartment Landlady,  

Please tolerate Janine despite the noise complaints filed against her by her neighbors. Your tenant crossed four states from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest in the unconscious expectation of alleviating her misery. However, it took her far too long to realize trauma follows much like shadows in a dark bedroom or on a moonlit court. The change in scenery has not lessened the agony. What is more, it has irritated a dormant wound between her and her partner. One they assumed was healed yet know is worsening. Repetitive arguments, occasional stomping, sprinkles of loud sex, and random door slams is their relationship cycle. Hence, this request. 

It is advised that Janine never be so naive again and should cease the logic below:

  • “I’m away. There’s no reason I should still feel like this.”


Dear Tav, Janine’s Partner, Late 2016,

On behalf of Janine, an apology for the following events:

  1. Quitting the relaxing job you secured for her.
  2. Turning a closet into a bedroom.
  3. Finding her unconscious on the living room floor, wedged between the wall and her writing desk.

Due to this chain reaction’s severity, her admission into a behavioral health facility was expected and necessary. Janine lived as a solo Black girl and one of two Black inhabitants in a contained white space. Still, all in-patients were united in using plastic spoons, wearing hospital issued underwear, and speaking during group therapy. Janine’s one anxiety involved treatment. A goal to never again see you cry as she waves goodbye from an ambulance. 

Janine is prepared for long-brewed repercussions such as resentment, doubt, and abandonment. However, she is adjusting to your unconditional acceptance. Your consistent reassurances of love, beauty, and support combined with humor are sustainable pastimes. 

In Case of an Emergency, Repeat the Following: 

  • “I love you, and I’m not going anywhere.”
  • “Let’s take the day off and go for a drive.”
  • “You should try writing today.”


September 24th, 2018, for Janine’s Graduate School Classmates and Teachers,

Allow Janine to question race, sexuality, and white supremacy throughout her various courses. Particularly concerning Black womxn. It is a reflex for her to shift and expand the class’s shared lens when speaking of truth in creativity to include marginalized voices—nonwhite female and male lives. This intentional awkwardness stems from Janine steadily realizing where she belongs. It grows due to the knowledge of why she has never felt settled in one identity. Activities such as writing hybrid works and studying bell hooks and Sandra Cisneros are now permitted. Janine is a queer Black female, meaning she exists and disappears in three spaces that create an intersection. This jagged, beautiful area is where she has finally rooted her life. 

It is mandatory Janine never loses her voice. 


To the Maroon Couch, 2019,

Janine apologizes for her socks’ ripe smell and sogginess, along with the mucus from her unabashed smearing into the worn threads. There was no anticipating Janine’s profile as a patient. If she would yell or throw things or lie. As it stands, she removes her shoes and sits cross-legged. She blubbers and snots more than she cries and buffs away tears. 

Embrace these byproducts. The cushioned foundation scares Janine as much as it comforts, for she is adjusting to the process. The history dumped onto the polyester is heavy, dense, and spiked, unlike the panda head pillow brought into sessions. 

It is recommended Janine continues her current regimen. Under no circumstance is she granted permission to stop teasing herself, joking to her therapist the couch is like a dentist’s chair where her brain is drilled and cleaned. 


To the MFA Graduation Ceremony, June 2020, 

Janine sends her regrets for not attending the celebration due to COVID, although a healthy dose of elation is in her system. Receiving a master’s degree in creative writing fights the emotional pathogens often taunting that she is unpublishable and does not deserve greatness in her career. Over the past cluster of years, Janine’s body and mind have formed new connections with each other, unexpectedly healing and growing her creative work. Particularly in mixed genre where she can bend form to fit the shape of her life. This activity has strengthened her bravery, nearly eradicating her fears of upsetting white audiences. 

Janine’s perseverance during this reformation has allowed her to, at last, write about bullied brown girls with beads in their hair. Tragic, poor girls who love and touch other girls. Black women who don’t shower. Happy Black bodies as default. Queer life as usual. Self-harm and abuse as universal. Sex, terror, and illness as anything other than white. 

Janine writes to bullies. For victims. Because of predators. About survivors. 


2021, to PTSD,

Janine regrets letting you smother her and for participating in your game of tragedy. She is well and of sound mind to acknowledge you won for most of her life. Janine now fights back. She has gained treatment and healthy tools to help combat the symptoms though she understands these remedies are not a cure. This healing practice is ongoing, backsliding, and evolving. 

The recommendation for Janine is patience and hope. She must do her best to love herself every day.  


To Time,

Janine is sorry for wasting you.


Dear Janine, Now, 

Forgive yourself for all the excuses you have written.


Originally from the Midwest, Janine Blue’s prose and hybrid work intertwine feminism, queer culture, and critical race theory. Likewise, her work highlights matters such as police brutality and mental health. As a queer Black female, her intersectional identity is embedded into her writing regardless of the medium or subject matter.

Janine is currently pursuing a PhD in creative writing at Illinois State University and hopes to one day teach creative writing while publishing creative works.