Happy 30th birthday.
I never expressed this outwardly (or inwardly), but I have been fearful of your destruction my entire life. I also have neglected to tell you how much I love you.
You wouldn’t know it from my introverted disposition, but in this skin my heart is always on my sleeve, and I want you to know that I can’t live without you—you complete me.
I remember the way in which you moved my shy, 13-year-old, wavering legs through the streets of Southeast San Diego, and I can recall the way in which you held me tightly to the point of tremors when another black body dressed in all red demanded, “wave yo fist blood!”
I knew life could be usurped from your grasp at the whim of another human at anytime; I saw the statistics and you internalized them. Do you remember when my friends and I mocked those statistics, and laughed at the high probability that one out of the three us would be murdered or herded like cattle into mass incarceration before 28? A little over a decade later, one out of the three of us was shot multiple times and died. I know you haven’t forgotten.
Fist can’t wave, you said to me.
You were nervous, but you had already seen a shooting at a park, and the sounds from the anthem of the destruction of black bodies had become fluent to your ears: the percussion of the slide, the base of the hammer, the bang of the bullet, the scratch of the tires, and the horns from the sirens. The music of the neighborhood saturated your room and you nodded your head along, as if 2PACALYPSE had been playing outside your window.
You carried those beats into schools and peer groups, but quickly realized your neighborhood didn’t sound like other peoples’ neighborhoods and their bodies didn’t face the same threats of physical destruction as your body. The experiences to which you spoke were like a foreign language to some, so you held your tongue. Too prideful for pity, and too prideful to sound like “one of those kids from the ghetto.” You had too much dignity to share stories that might beseech emotional handouts.
I could feel the weight of your tongue heavy with quiet and stories to tell. Perhaps you took my reticence as a sign of aggression, if not suppression toward your identity, but I never intended to trespass against your agency. I just wanted people to see me more than they saw you, but I have learned that perhaps the two of us cannot be mutually exclusive.
You wanted to cry out in anger or sometimes sadness, when you felt you were being destroyed, but your father told you, “there are a lot of niggas in jail because they were mad.” I needed to control the emotions that burned inside of you because that, too, along with the thugs that dressed in red, and in blue, and sometimes in black and blue might lead to your destruction. My bad attitude could lead to your destruction; my disrespect for tyrannical authority could lead to your destruction. I had to treat you like an adult, even when you were a child because the rest of the world would.
Dear Black Body, thank you for your strength and loving me when I couldn’t. I did not know that I, too, would try to destroy you. I tried to put you to bed, but you did not rest. You made sure breath came from my lungs in my deepest sleep, and you stayed with me all night and because of that I vowed I would never silence you again. In you I found something to live for, and if I needed to, die to protect.
You curled your fingers into your palms, and I could feel you seething in the anger you were taught to subdue. I am going to die before I go to jail. You were standing in front of the police car. You had left the warmth of a lover’s arms to help protect the body of a woman you heard screaming outside. “Sir, have you been involved in domestic violence?” You felt emasculated by the question. You have never hit a woman—You are a feminist body.
I heard the officer refer to you as a “possible subject”, and not as a person. Not a person who was unarmed and afraid. You were a “possible” subject, not even a full subject.
I’d rather my body be destroyed than be humiliated by handcuffs going around my wrist.
“Have you ever assaulted a woman? … Are you sure you weren’t the one involved in the incident? … Let me show you something.” He turned a monitor toward you and somehow your exact description was written on the screen.
After watching Oscar, Freddie, Treyvon and Eric being destroyed by the police, you were ready to fight for your right to stand your ground.
I have done nothing wrong.
I knew you had it within you to be stubborn, but the defiance that uncoiled within your soul was a feeling I had never received from you.
I will not be arrested. I am not going to jail. He’s just going to have to kill me. I’d rather die than be in handcuffs.
Luckily, the officer let you go. You did not have to die to pay for your space.
Dear Black Body,
Like all babies and bodies, you were born perfect and beautiful. It is I, the human, who is flawed, who hurts and who fails, but for thirty years you have been the one who always picks me up.
Thank you for allowing me to occupy space inside of you. You have navigated the pathways of destruction (my neighborhood, jail, the police, loss of identity, gang violence and suicide), if not flawlessly, then valiantly and I am so thankful that you have allowed me to drink from your strength.
Thank you for seeing me to thirty.
Love, peace and hair-grease,
I know you are not out of the woods yet. You still have to avoid prostate cancer.