“It was another one of those nights,” I thought to myself as I held my younger brother and sisters in my arms. The lights had once again gone out, and it was by no means an accident, the first time or a shock. It was simply a reminder of the lives that we had somehow been born into. I caressed their arms and played with their hair as I sang “This Little Light of Mine.” That was back when I still had some semblance of faith. I believed that, if nothing else, the blood of Jesus would surely save us from the darkness of this Section 8 House or the depth of the emptiness within our growing hearts. I knew Jesus would save us from this parasitical life we had been given. Surely it was a trial. Surely we destined for greatness. For God knew the plans he had for us…that is when I had faith, or rather, faith had me.
Thinking quickly, I reminded my siblings that I was the undisputed champion of hide and go seek. I reminded them that this was a prime opportunity for them to prove that they could beat me, lest I remain the greatest and they would have to do as I said until the next game, at an undetermined time. This was an old go-to for me. The house was more mysterious than scary and more fortress of hope and imagination than the marker of poverty, instability and blackness in the dark than when the lights of reality sat upon us. We played hide and seek for hours, until we found she came home. It must have been one of those nights. She needed a fix. Perhaps one of her special friends was afoot. Perhaps she was doing what she had to do to get the lights back on, she did that often. Those were things that were never to be spoken out loud. They were expensive. They cost her things–things I didn’t know how to say but could mark and note. That’s why I respected her even when heart-ached. She was doing the best she could. She was mortgaging her health, safety and value of her body so that we might eat, sleep and enjoy electricity and heat. W e were feeding off her body. Her mind wasn’t always there. This work requires consistent numbing: anxiety medications, deep depression, muscle relaxers. There is no escaping violence that enters your flesh. You cannot wash it off. Not even when your the work is done and kids are grown..it resides in you, despite your admonishments for it to leave. Her mind, body and soul have been marked with our names and their blows. She was being a mother, we were being too children. I was being a father-brother, a man-child, knowing and feeling, working and growing, but never fast enough to protect her from the violence of survival necessary to keep us afloat, together, full and growing. She produced love from her sacrifices and daily decisions to live another day. She demonstrated an unconditional love, imperfect in practice, but unrivaled in passion, depth and superhuman abilities. I carry her in my spirit, and continue to build, perfect and struggle with her practice of love.
She wasn’t home often but she was always present, even when high, drunk or gone for weeks. I carried her in my heart. She resided in the way I combed and twisted my sister’s hair before school, as a strong tenderness and a physical investment of what we might become and bulwark against what society and other folks might portray us as: poor, black,ugly and stuck. She existed in the hugs and kisses I gave my brother, and even the roughest of my friends, a lovng tenderness undeterred by the rejection, surprise or maltreatment of its intended recipients. They needed love, but just did not know how to receive it without disarming themselves in a war against perceived victimization and preying. Black boys and girls have to be strong, lest we be devoured whole, in the streets. Bites are constantly taken out of our flesh and psyche. We were consumed for the amusement of bystanders who wished to touch “nappy” hair, ebony flesh and negro culture. Our struggles were positioned as savory morsels in their mouths, only to be chewed, drenched in saliva and regurgitated as mushy perversions of our true essence. They saw us as holes in humanity, we knew ourselves to be the most wholehearted of the living.
He was never present, even when he was there. The suns of snowmageddon’s were more impactful than his visits.
Still we carried on. We had no choice. We had to survive, and prayerfully, one day live and thrive. We were the children of a carry-on tradition, the daughters and sons of diaspora and despair. Our blood has known rivers deeper than the Euphrates and longer than the Nile, carrying intergenerational truths, traumas and practices of survival. If you look closely, deep into our eyes, you might glimpse the source of power, the cosmic connection that tethers us to the divine and roots our bodies in an inextinguishable hope. Anyone who knows both poverty and blackness knows there is nothing more beautiful, strong or resilient than the souls of poor black folk, entombed in strength, courage, wisdom and war.
Anyone who knows both poverty and blackness, knows that there is no escaping either. No matter how far you run, no matter how much money you make, a pound of your flesh and a slice of your soul will remain captive to a war of survivance, long since departed. Cheers to the children who can never forget the art and times of survival jujitsu.