There are triggers in this. If I were reading it, without knowing what I was getting into, I would want to know. The triggers I can think of are rape, familial assault, drug abuse, suicide, and I hope that’s it but I’m sorry if there are others. I hope you read this anyway, because I’ve been crafting it since I came back to campus.
“REGAL” you wrote on my back.
“I don’t see you as a girlfriend,” he told me. “I see you as a goddess. You are the princess of enlightenment and higher powers. You can make my levels rise.”
Goddess, princess, queen.
“It’s what you are,” he said. “You’re always so poised. So poised. It’s like you’re a queen, and I’m just some foolish peasant.”
Queen, queen. Yasss queeeen!
That’s what I am, right? That’s what we are. All black women are queens. Black people are descendants of royalty; my body matches the statue of Nefertiti, flaws and all. Our black men were all Mandinga warriors, you tell me, wearing the same old mass-produced print of a dashiki that was put together in Indonesia, as you hold your fists high and display symbols of Isis on your necklaces, shirts, papers, chests. Our black men are warriors, and our black women are all Nubian queens.
If you say so.
But do you know?
Where are the Nubians today?
I know, I do. And if you know me, then I’ve told you.
My hero is a five-year-old girl; let’s call her Ava. My role model. It’s what I was supposed to be to her. The strangest part of my day was picking her up, spinning her around in the air, then holding her close to hear her whisper in my ear exactly what I’d been thinking, “I want to be like you.” I laugh. It’s what I do when I know the truth will be too much for someone to hear. “You don’t want to be me, Ava. You want to run in the opposite direction of what I am. I don’t even want to be myself; I hate myself.” I don’t say that. I laugh, and put her down, and when she wants to be picked up again and spun around again I do it, and do it, and do it, and do it, until the world is one great spinning globe and I’m hopelessly tangled and out of sorts but no, I’m on the floor now, and I’m spinning to avoid your sneakered feet aimed at my head, and Ava is long gone, countries away. I’m with you, scrambling desperately across the floor to escape your kicks, as you scream abuse and curses at me, me, me, me, the one who brought shame to our family, the disrespect’s too much to take, you see?
At this point, I’d almost prefer my father’s reaction. But then I have it, amplified, as you give me a final shove and step out of the apartment, locking me in behind you. I’m alone. I’m stuck. I don’t even know how you found out.
“I love you,” he said when he came back.
“I love you,” Ava tells me.
I saw her at four, dead inside. No friends, no playing, no smiles. When she was five, I came back and found her alive. Laughing and jumping, catching my hands to pull me into games. She’d woken up; she was blooming. Ten times on the plane ride over, I’d wanted to die, thought I would, too. Prayed that the plane would fall out of the sky. To this day I feel bad for the other passengers on my flights, having to share an aircraft with someone like myself. I stopped breathing every morning when I woke up, took to setting my alarm early so I could take the time to mentally move my limbs out of my bed and face the day.
You, mister Editor, have taken my breath, and my sanity. You have invaded every last bit of me, body to mind. I smile at Ava and see your teeth.
Kibera School for Girls Presents. A Poem. Untitled. Welcome.
When darling Ava was only three, her grandfather raped her. Repeatedly.
Until a neighbor chanced to see, and took her to SHOFCO to set her free.
Free from abusive family.
Margaret’s Safe House
A needed space, truly safe place,
where Ava was received with love and grace.
And now, she’s growing.
Supported, she has a community.
But what about me? Where can I be?
I rhyme to make sense of the world around me. It’s a coping technique, like being poised. But sometimes, I need to take the crown off my head. Sometimes, the rhyme breaks and the poise slips, and I shatter. I shatter at community barbeques, and I stop breathing when I see notifications from the newspaper he brought back to campus.
Campus. That’s become quite the problem. I can’t live here anymore, and I can’t breathe. I cannot breathe. Which is ironic, so ironic. “We can’t breathe.” That’s what we said last year in protest, didn’t we?
I used to be an activist. With you. It’s how I knew you. They say that you are more likely to be violated by someone you know, so I guess that makes me just another statistic. A cliché. A girl who had had too much to drink; who was given more to drink, and more, and more.
“You misunderstand,” he told me. “The poem is not about a rape. It’s about a girl – beautiful, beautiful – and she has to be raped, to make the point. But the poem is about the truth.”
“You’re so beautiful,” he told me, in between bites. “My whole goal this week has been to marry you. It’s what I told all of my friends,” he said.
I’m a cliché with memories. I remember you tilting the cup into my lips, pouring more alcohol down my throat, even after I had clearly had enough and only wanted to lie down. And sleep. I remember telling you no, over and over, and then somehow feeling you inside me anyway. I remember pushing you out, passing out, and waking up to push you out again. I remember asking you to choke me, not because I was trying to be kinky, or sexy, but because when you were inside me, I wanted to die. And when I passed out for good and woke up early in the morning, while I was walking back to my house I wanted to die all down Church Street.
It’s become something of a theme. Wishing death upon myself, but not having the will power to actually kill myself. It’s a strange thing, understanding how worthless of a person I am, to myself, to the people around me, and the world at large, while simultaneously understanding that I’m not allowed to speed up my death. I have no importance, no impact, alive; my death would be too apparent, too disruptive. I thought I could do it after my father found out, and refused to speak to me anymore. I thought stress would do it for me, when my period was over a week late and I was in my head debating the ethics of aborting a rape baby. As you posted graduation photos, popping champagne and smoking cigars, I fell asleep crying and woke up with tears still pouring out of my eyes.
Maybe I should never have cried. Maybe if I’d kept all the tears inside, I could have drowned in my grief instead of choking on it all the time.
Did you tell me that you loved me, too?
No, but here’s the thing. I can’t write about this poetically, or well. The point of all this is that every day now, I feel like I can’t speak. I can’t speak, and I can’t be with any of you. I can’t take part in your activities, and I can’t get behind any activism for black rights, or students of color in general because I see ARMANI in every space. I see my rapist in every space and then I can’t organize the jumble or hope that it will make sense to all of you, when it doesn’t even make sense to me. I can’t write about this properly. I used to write, to write, to write, to write write write write write write but now it feels so wrong. Where will it go? The Ankh? Can I put energy into something he has given me? How can I write on, support, his platform? I can’t support what he’s put his hands on, thoughts into; I can’t support myself. He got into every. Last. Bit. Of Me. The first two months, I couldn’t close my eyes. I could feel him inside of me; I could feel his dreadlocks on top of me. These are things you don’t think about when you hear about victims. Men who would take my story and use it for their own gain, their own snap-winning, emotion-eliciting accessory to storytelling seem to think a rape is only A Rape, and that’s it, but it gets into your soul and eats away at you forever. And it’s so bad here.
“You cannot be serious,” he tells me. “You’re really gonna insinuate that the entire MOC community are rapists and rape enablers? Like did you even think?”
I can’t walk outside without feeling dizzy. I can’t go to events meant to empower us, as a community, without feeling him stomping all over me. I feel like he used my body as a step, a spring to bounce off of as he raised himself up. What am I supposed to say to all of you? You people who like and respect him, who are inspired by him? I’m useless to you now, and I feel that devaluation. Put my experience into your literary works, but ignore my stories. Put my experience into a petition to justify your use of illegal drugs, but ignore my pain.
“You should be more friendly,” he tells me. “Why can’t you hug people when you see them? It makes them feel more warmth toward you. What does that cost you?”
‘Why can’t smiling be enough?’ I don’t ask him. ‘Even that takes so much energy.’
At the SOC barbeque, I wondered how many women Malcolm X had raped. If he really loved them, respected them, always, or if behind doors he closed lay trails of abuse.
A cousin is found dead on his apartment floor, needle at his side. The family is gathering for his funeral, while I’m at a barbeque watching people smile on as a girl reads about being fucked without consent. Has it happened to them? She gets a hug, then her story is wiped away for the next speaker, and the next, and then lively music plays again. No pause, always moving, moving on, okay, thanks for that; now keep it pushin’, but I’m. Still. Sitting here, before I have to stumble away and pray my poise keeps me from collapsing on Anders. My cousin gets lowered into the ground as I sink into my chair in psych class. I shouldn’t be here. I can’t be there, or I might pull a Batman and try to jump into the grave with him. No searching this time, like for your brother; I know exactly where you are.
I’m sitting in class; I’m pounding on your coffin lid to let me inside, because maybe in there I’ll be safe from your dreads, your words, your space.