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Blackness, identity and being undefinable.  April 13, 2020

To make matters worse, there are, to this day, environments that either accept or quietly deny black bodies. I fell in love with one of them without knowing the consequences. I only felt the pressures of fitting in as a black girl in a ballet class when I had gone through puberty and gained some weight. What was interesting was, the more voluptuous I was (a physical feature that is now conditionally favoured by the media and society (I say conditionally because it is only a certain kind of curvy that is embraced by these i.e. a narrow waist, large breasts, wide hips, a toned bum and a pretty face)), the less feminine I felt. I was scared of being sexualized without my consent or of being called fat. I wanted to retain a childlike innocence that I thought came with being flat chested and having narrow hips. I wanted to be lighter instead of always having to apply foundation to the straps of a tutu and for that to be an “inconvenience” for the white girl(s) I shared that tutu with. I became obsessed with myself and my physical appearance, stopping at nothing to achieve what was fed to me as the right body; the body that will make me happy. Obviously, my efforts backfired, and they will always backfire because the intention for change was extremely destructive and rooted in the lack of acceptance of myself.

What am I getting at though? What conclusion am I getting to? To be honest with both you, the reader, and myself, I have no idea. I would have liked to come to the conclusion that my experience of discomfort with my blackness and my body type has made me a “stronger” person, or that I now embrace both, or that being uncomfortable with both hasn’t affected my relationships and self-esteem. I am still figuring out how to navigate this world where being a black girl and being a black womxn means so much, yet hardly any of those designated definitions were created by black womxn/girls themselves. I guess then, this is simply a telling of my journey through the complexities of finding my identity. So, I don’t know who I am or what box I belong in. Maybe that’s alright?

My Life Stories: The Time I Got Shot                 3/28/2020

When I was thirteen years old, I lived with my two brothers and my father in New Braunfels, TX. Our father was a rageaholic who would scream at us for hours and spank us furiously with his thick, leather belt any time we broke the smallest of rules. As scary as it was living with him, my older brother was ten times worse. He was a bad seed from the day he was born. He literally stole baby bottles from the other toddlers in preschool. He tortured my twin and me emotionally and physically for years without having to worry about getting arrested for child abuse. Even though he was only thirteen months older than us, he was still too big for us to gang up on. Any time we ever did manage to hurt him in a fight, he’d go “Hulkamaniac” and pummel us, impervious to pain. We rarely told on him, because he would just beat us up twice as bad later as punishment.

One Saturday, my older brother and I were sitting in our bedroom while our father was away at work. I was happily devouring the contents of a carton of Whoppers, which was my favorite candy at the time. I was thoroughly enjoying this luxury, not even caring if I ate enough to give me a stomach ache.

On the other side of the room, my older brother was playing with my Crosman 760 Pumpmaster BB gun. We all had BB guns, but mine was the most powerful. If you pumped it once or twice, you could probably shoot someone and it would bounce off the skin. If you pumped it fifteen times, you could kill a bird twenty yards away.

Click to view image sourceHe pumped it up seven or eight times and said, “Hey, Travis. Hold up that Whoppers carton, and let me see if I can shoot it out of your hand.”

Obviously, I told him, “No way. You’re going to hit my hand.”

He replied casually, “Let me put it to you this way, either you let me try to shoot it out of your hand, and hope I don’t hit you… or I’m going to beat you up and force you to let me do it anyway.”

Protesting or running wasn’t an option. So I reluctantly held the carton as high and far away from me as I could. I heard the gunfire and felt my hand go flying backward, letting go of the carton of Whoppers and spilling them everywhere.

Several thoughts went through my mind at that point. First, “Of course he shot me in the hand. He definitely did that on purpose.” Second, “I need emergency medical attention.” Third, “We can’t tell our father about this because he’ll give us the worst whooping of our lives, ground us forever and take away our BB guns.”

With these facts in mind, I inspected my hand to see how bad I’d been injured. The BB entered the side of my palm, just below my pinky finger, and I could see a bump under my skin on the top of my hand, just below the middle finger, where the BB had come to rest.

I was relieved to see the steel ball just under the skin because that meant I could cut it out myself by making an incision in the skin without having to dig into the muscle. Then there would be no need for an ambulance, and our father would never have to know what happened. So I went and found a pocket knife that one of us had won at a county fair earlier that year and took it to the bathroom sink, where I attempted to cut the BB out, but the pain was unbearable.

Losing blood and running out of time to fix the situation myself, I put the knife down and tried another approach, which to my surprise, actually worked. I simply pushed the BB out the way it came. With minimal effort, it popped out the side of my hand and rolled down the drain, leaving a blood trail in its path. Relieved, I put a Band-Aid over the bullet hole, wrapped myself in three heavy sleeping bags and laid under my bed for a few hours, shivering from blood loss and shock.

To this day, our father has no idea one of his children shot another one in their bedroom. It took my older brother a long time to feel guilty about what he did, but he grew up eventually, and we’re good friends now. 

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Goodnight, Sleep: A Glimpse into Depression & Anxiety 4/2/2020

    Another sleepless night rears its ugly head. I can feel the anxiety and depression begin to engulf me, pulling me into the dark corners of hell. At first, I shrug it off. I take a few deep breathes to center myself. It calms me for the moment, but I know that’s not the last of it. This is how my illnesses work. I try and put it out of my mind. I busy myself with small tasks, thinking this will keep what’s coming at bay, and it does for a short time. But I can still feel that twinge of panic in the back of my head. It’s almost bedtime. “Why? I ask myself, why now? I thought today was a good day!”

     I can feel the cycle about to begin. It’s late. I can’t put off sleep any longer, or so I thought. I lay my head on my pillow and wait. Will it be slumber, or will it be something else? I can feel my inner voice is becoming distorted and lost. There is no sound except the quiet chatter of anxiety and depression. I know now what is coming.

    It starts. The tapes in my head become louder and louder, replaying conversations from hours, days, months, even years ago that have long been forgotten by the other party. Hashing out what I could have said. Or chastising myself for not speaking my truth.” Why did you say that? I hear anxiety say, you should be ashamed of yourself!”

   Depression chimes in. “You need to run…hide!” it shouts.

   My rational mind tries, just for a moment, to offer a crumb of guidance, “People have already forgotten about it, move on, get over it.”

   But it’s useless, the other two strongholds gag my rational friend to regain power. Before I know it, the entities intertwine, swirling into one dark mass. I feel myself slipping, I can’t find anything to grasp. The light begins to fade. I can no longer see. The darkness has arrived and with it comes the Beast.

   Next come the stories. The old stories my depression and anxiety have told me over and over for years start to run rampant, they fester, picking and gnawing at me until I’m so full of doubt, I start believing the fiction. I lose my confidence, but I can’t show weakness, they remind me. I can’t be vulnerable. “Don’t let them see the cracks,” I hear the Beast whisper ever so softly. The hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I can feel my toes curl as I prepare for battle once again. This consumes me, swallowing me whole. Further I go, into the bowels of darkness, to face my demons.

   The sleepless night leaves me ragged and foggy. I muster the strength to drag myself out of bed to meet my daily obligations. I’m fragile and exhausted, but I put on my worn, tarnished armour and try again. I look in the mirror, hoping to see a different face looking back at me. Someone strong. Someone who can slay the Beast so I can be free. That person is not in the reflection. I sigh, wipe my tears, lower my mask and hope today will be different.

   In the beginning, I thought death was the only viable option to tame the Beast and quiet the obsessive chatter, releasing me from this churning black inferno. I search for compassion in the hooded stranger’s non-existent eyes, trying to find some form of relief. With his scythe in hand, Death turns ever so slowly and disappears into the vast future. It’s not my time. I need to look elsewhere.

    As time goes on, I grow and learn. I find tools, weapons if you will. The kind of evidence that will not kill the Beast but deter it. After all these years of fighting in the dark with only my hands, I find my voice, my words. What started as only faint whispers have grown to a mighty roar. At first the Beast is startled but as the words grow and get stronger, the evil creature cowers. It’s disorientated, not understanding where this sound has been hiding. It pushes back, flexing its muscles, trying to intimidate. But it doesn’t work. The roar clarifies into words, words more powerful and effective than anyone would imagine, words that strip away the darkness, allowing streams of golden light into my once windowless room. It’s time to strike. I use every ounce of strength I have.

   The Beast is wounded. It’s scrambling for any sign of night left as the light becomes more powerful, blinding it. The Beast feels its power ebbing away. It scurries back to its cage, licking its wounds. I am free.

   I can feel the tears begin to stream down my face. These are not the same tears that came from that dark place. They come so fast and hard, I’m left completing sobbing. I’m releasing years of pain and suffering. I feel the light penetrating my soul.

    I remove my armour. I can breathe. My tears subside. My eyes are red but filled with new hope. The tension that once held me together begins to dissipate. The feeling is foreign but welcome.

   My old friend sleep quickly returns and I’m embraced in its warm folds. Once I emerge from the much-needed slumber, it’s time to tell my story. It’s time to show my cracks, my flaws, my vulnerability. This is the way to permanently cage the Beast.

   So, I begin to write. My story flows out of me so quickly I can barely keep up. I feel my heart swell with emotion as the words tumble onto the page. It’s time. Time to speak and show others they are not alone. And they don’t need to fight in silence anymore.

    So, shout! Scream! Embrace your voice; be vulnerable. It’s the only way to emerge victorious. You have the strength of words inside of you, pacing back and forth, just waiting for the door to open. Here is the key, dear friend. The journey begins with you. Welcome to the light.

By Michelle Marshall

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