How Do You Name A Piece Like This?
My body holds traumas that go back further than I can remember and I can’t feel them. To not be able to feel them is, in fact, part of the trauma. See the thing about humans is that we want to live. We want to be alive, and together. We want to be safe and in love. We want to be whole and true. We want to be cared for. We want to laugh, be held close, be warm. We want to be together. These wants, I believe, are fundamental to being a human. We want to be able to feel — to feel ourselves and each other, to feel life and the heat of love.
Whatever denies us these things, these simple, life-giving things that we all want is a thing against life.
Our society, rather our shared life is teeming with things that are against life. That is the cruel and violent irony of being alive now, of being who we are where we are. That people can die of starvation in a society where there is enough food, that is a thing against life. That shelter costs money, and if you don’t make money for someone, then you can’t have shelter, that is a thing that is against life. That you must work a job for someone else in order to have healthcare for yourself or your loved ones, that is a thing against life. That my great-grandmother was born ten years after slavery “ended,” that her whole family had to work as share-croppers, including my grandfather born in 1902 whose only profession was laborer, who made $15 a year when he had four kids to feed, these are things against life. That when I was fifteen I watched the police beat an unarmed black man nearly unconscious, and the courts who saw the same thing determined that no wrong had been committed, that is against life. That I was homeless, hungry as a child, that children are molested and murdered, that people die in prisons during a pandemic, that is against life.
I could go on. I can’t go on.
How do you accept life in a life where so many things are against life? The answer is simple, of course. You learn to feel less. You learn to keep it moving. You learn to avoid your pain and the pain of others. You learn to say “niggas die every day, B” You learn to say “it is what it is.”
To accept life against life, you learn to shut down the human within human.
You learn not to care, because when you do care you care so much you might erupt into nothingness, shattering everything and everyone around you. You learn not to feel because when you do feel you feel so much you might rupture the thin wall that separates the little life you have from the reams of death that surround you. You learn to not let it matter because the people around you have learned to not let it matter.
I don’t think you’re supposed to write like this! Writing publicly is itself is often a performance of denial. You’re supposed to describe a feeling, not feel a feeling. You’re supposed to communicate a sensibility, not demonstrate it. You’re supposed to be honest enough for people to feel you, but not honest enough for people to feel like you.
You’re supposed to tell people that pain is real but in a way that is not actually painful. That violates the unspoken contract between performer and audience. The writer packages a story, the reader consumes the package. The package is the product. The contents of the package are not.
But today, here we are. Where the story is that we suffer, we watch others suffer, we let others suffer, we let ourselves suffer, and we can’t stop it. You’re not supposed to put it like that. But sometimes you feel like doing what you’re not supposed to do.
Notice the part of you that looks for the bright side. Yes this is terrible, you might say, but we focus on love, we focus on building, on community, on service, on our family, friends, loved ones, children, dogs, plants. That is how we get through. And it is true that that this helps. But people like me have to ask, where is the line between focusing on what you love and hiding from what you hate, what you fear, what you can’t stand? Where is the line between turning your gaze toward what is harmless and turning your gaze away from what smothers life and massacres the innocent?
I don’t think you know the answer dear reader, and I don’t think I do either. All I have is the question. And I don’t have the question because of one or another bad thing that happened today, or yesterday, or will happen tomorrow. I have that question because holding that question, no matter how it burns, is the very cost of retaining your humanity. Holding it unanswered is the toll of being among the living.
How do you end a piece of writing like this? Maybe you don’t.