We painted it on walls and overpasses, all over our little city in the Florida panhandle. We sang while we painted. 2am on a warm, summer night. Someone stood watch, and when headlights came, we dove behind trash cans and bushes and walls. We never got caught but didn’t care if we did. You are beautiful, we wrote. You are beautiful, booty-full, beauty-fall, we told each other. Has anyone ever told you? You are beautiful. Our hair was dirty. Our hands were dirty. Our clothes were dirty. We wore our shirts and pants until they tore in half and then found more in the drop-off behind Goodwill. The ho drop-off someone called it and it stuck, nobody remembers why. We undressed there among the trash bags and discarded sofas, mattresses, dishes and figurines. There’s a whole house here. A whole broken house. Does anyone know how to put it back together? We all saved up to leave, get out, escape the economy the bugs the heat. Anything extra went to the paint. We painted each letter a different color, each letter the size of my whole body. We’re making the city beautiful, we told each other. Big, bright pastel rainbow. You are beautiful. McDonald’s yellow and red. You are beautiful. Vintage blue and white, fleur de lis and good china floral. You are beautiful. Neon church sign. You are beautiful. Alabama poor, graduated from the rich school. You are beautiful. Stray pitbull who licked our faces and followed us everywhere. You are beautiful. Chapped lips and fingernails filled with house paint. You are beautiful. This is how you build autonomy out of nothing. You are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are beautiful. You are.
Asha Dore is a writer, illustrator, writing instructor and the creative director of ReadYeti. Asha’s work has appeared in Parents Magazine, The Rumpus, River Teeth, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She lives in Seattle with her three amazing children.