Many of my friends and family marvel when I calmly explain to them that I can’t hand out because I have standing date with myself. When I tell them that it’s pertinent that I engage in an 8-10 mile run at least four times per week, they first laugh, thinking i’m joking and then their jaw drops in disbelief. I’m no health zealot. I enjoy my biscuits with extra butter, my chicken deep fried and collard greens full of fat back and good pot liquor.
However take this time to create unity between my mind, body and soul. When thighs tighten, lips curl and pecs flex..I imagine my body preparing to carry the loved ones of my youth into a post-capitalist, post-racist/white supremacist, post-misogynist and patriarchal future. My sweat, to me, reminds me that this step, this lunge, the aching in my flat feet counted…mattered..just as it does when I write, I sing, I speak myself and encountered human beings in visibility. Running for me is a carrying-on, a carrying-forth and a carrying-home of the loved ones imprisoned in displacement.
The first three miles are the hardest. I’m fumbling with my headphones. I need my head to be right. The rhythm must be on point. Will I play Jill Scott or Michael Jackson? Whitney or Janet? Tupac or Snoop? NPR or Maya? My hair tie feels loose. One shoe is undoubtedly tighter than the other. I’m annoyed. The sidewalk is cracked and unlevel, causing my weight to shift in unnatural, unhealthy, unhelpfully painful ways. My left leg must be longer than the right. I think about walking and doing this another day. But then, around 3.5 miles, it clicks.
3.51. I see my mother. I remember helping her study for her GED. I smile. Watching as she receives that diploma. Her cheek bones are high, covered in freckles and her teeth are white. Momma’s hair is laid, pressed and causes envy of the best. I remember pulling out a pocket dictionary to learn how to pronounce words in her cosmetology books, something about dermatitus. The glossary was unhelpful. It didn’t speak to us–or with us–all pictures of white folks hair and skin. My momma was in community college and had a GED, I was proud.
4.1. Jerry Lee is here. My thoughts go back to my earlier memory of him, of us. These are the earliest thoughts I can recall. We are in a cradle together. I am trying to climb out. Jerry pulls me down–ostensibly to keep me out of trouble–and I am not pleased. I hit him. He cries. I cry. I hold him because nothing hurts me more than seeing someone hurt, especially by my doings, especially Jerry Lee. My thoughts fast forward to us braiding each other’s rattails in third grade. I would get so upset that he kept accidentally pulling mine into a knot. He would walk with pride, showing up the plait/braid that I had laid from the back of his head to nape of his neck. We would play Atari, then Nintendo, then Super Nintendo, then Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, N64, Playstation 1, Game Cube and then Jerry was gone. Or I was gone. It didn’t matter. I was too black for his grandparents to have him around. Or Jerry was too black, or not white enough, to handle the influence of a nigger-boy like me. So..
5. We ran miles to meet up at nights. Joined the same sports to stick together. Our friendship, our brotherhood, bonded in the wounds of drug addicted mothers, missing fathers and a desire to leave the nexus of race and poverty…was the envy of most. Jerry was unwanted because his white parents saw his black dad in his brown, freckled face. I saw a beautiful boy, my brother, destined for greatness with a characteristic and physical agility unmatched. I was an angry rebel yearning for love, wielding heart and fist, whose mind and hand were known as formidabble, especially to the white boys. We thought we were Snoop & Tupac. Our demeanors certainly mimicked it. But our paths were more like “The Other Wes Moore.” White House, Tufts, Berkeley, Harvard, Howard…County, Court House, Juve..the shit. He always worked harder. I just knew how to survive.
7. The first time it happened I couldn’t remember it–coherently. I just remember a sharp pain and the phrase “i’m going to rock your world” playing over and over again in my little pre-teen head. I thought it was the first time—maybe by him. But by then I had become a veteran survivor of sexual violence by related folks. That’s when I started to read to stop the bleeding. I found my life in Maya Angelou. that’s how I could break down the Color Purple and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by second grade because my soul “had grown deep like the rivers” and I had hit similar rocks, been utilized in similar ways, brutilzed by particular silences and somehow still managed to love and live. The last time it happened though, my last year of high school, I was caught off guard. I died. My soul couldn’t handle it anymore. I was angry that I was unprepared and could not respond with the fullness of my intellect, physical strength or pattern of expecting the worst of all. My heart was like that of a diamond, it shined for attention but was impenetrable.
8.5 We’re getting somewhere. I see them. The three of them. Rosa Lee. Ella Mae. Willa Mae. My grandmothers. Sharp tongues that cut and heal with the same lash. Once, my mouth had been washed out with soap. It tasted disgusting, but tasted like love as I learned the lesson. At the time, I thought Grandma Rose disciplining me because I had cussed in the presence of her or adults, but no, I was being groomed to be black, and poor and male and queer…and survive..until circumstances/power dynamics changed enough for me to be able to defend myself and go on the offensive amongst white folks, evil men, rich folks, predators and fools. Grandma Rose taught me that not everyone is deserving of your thoughts, your scars, your beauty..because your body is not only a gift but a weapon. Ella Mae–Grandma Nanny–taught me that faith is all you need. No, not faith in God–though deeply important to her–but faith in your self, knowledge of your self and love of your self..but none of those could happen unless you had faith in the fact you were worth knowing. Willa Mae–I learned to accept nothing as it is, even that self I’d grown to have faith in and love, because life is about growth and not simply idling by. Even when the tree looks still, it is growing, absorbing light, dealing with winter’s fuckery, it’s on the move when you see stillness.
9.2 Love. I ponder where it has taken me. Familial love–Mom, Grandmas, Michelle, Kim. Uncles–Will, Bryan, Thomas, Tyson. Romantic Love–Andrew, Michael Shoop, Octaviano, Fernando. Fraternal Love–Jerry, Chad, Nick, Logan, Eli, Noel. Siblings. Cousins–Nischia, Denzell, Demetrius, Courtney, Samantha, . Aunties–LaCretia, Margo, Rhoda, LaVonne loving me. Where will we go next? Is my life honoring their investment? Is it equitable? Is family in the cards.
9.5 Hope. I smile. I run harder, faster. My stride lengthens and I feel free. I see you, and me, together, free.
10. Determination. The common thread throughout my life–aside from love–becomes more visible, palatable..even delicious. But I note that meritocracy is not real.
11. Satisfaction. I see myself at the top of a mountain, retracing the trails and trials I’ve journeyed. Revisiting the drama and trauma as lessons learned and wisdom/love acquired. I see the lovers, heart breakers and fuckers…as necessary educators on my lesson of living, learning and laughing. I see the healing. I see the pain. I see the strength. I extend my hand, my heart and my soul..so that the journey is more readily accessible and fullfiling to the sisters and brothers coming next.