This is how I learned about sex, about being a Black teenage boy discovering the world with hands and penis and bodily violence confused as touching; I saw my first drive-by when I was 8. These things correlate, these things matter; the ways in which we see and relate to the world start early, sooner than grade school will allow parents to know. As boys, we never spoke about these things, especially as Black boys. The boys become men, who may eventually raise other boys, quiet boys, too afraid to break their silence. As one watches the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world wreak havoc on bone and matter, we are to realize that power has a face and a tongue, has mouth and lips but is also not confined to Weinstein — it is the neighbor, it is the nanny, it is the math teacher, it comes in the form of bullets in Vegas or bombs in Somalia. The violence we attempt on others, the violence we attempt on ourselves, eats at things much like caterpillars to leaves, holes wide and gaping, leaving nothing but memories bitter, a heated soreness that lingers and moves through communities until nothing is left but empty.

But, this is not about those things.

I started by poking my stomach with the tip of our kitchen knife, me wanting to find a way to dull whatever felt like too much.

My freshman year in college, after the phone call about lies and cheating, I desperately sought out anything that could be tied around a neck — a rope, a cord, anything strong enough to carry a body. I placed a chair in the middle of the room after my roommate left for class, and placed the cord of my Andis T-Trimmers tightly around my neck, trying to get all the blood out. I moved the lone chair my roommate and I used to study and lay legs on, and moved it to the center of the room, measuring the distance between ceiling and floor, feet to dangling, how do I do this? It felt too hard. I dumped my head in a sink full of water in our bathroom. The ex-girlfriend would call the Resident Assistant of our floor, who would proceed to knock and call on my door, and I would proceed to not answer, but then I would. And she would mention a phone call from a young lady who sounded very frantic. The young lady had mentioned the possibility of me “harming myself.” I would chuckle. So would the resident Assistant. Deny, deny, deny. She would believe me. Who wouldn’t believe me — a happy-go-lucky, cheerful, outgoing 18-year-old?

The summer that my daughter still sat in the womb, I walked through St. Mary’s Park during the work week, contemplating how to leave — jump in front of a car, or a train; pills, a bullet, start a fight I would plan to lose? How would I create enough pain so that the pain would no longer be? Where do you go when the pain of staying is stronger than that of leaving? I would never cut myself. I was too scared of the marks. The fear of leaving would always be the strongest. But this, this is not about those things.

This is about now.

Art would save me. In the times and moments when it felt like the world and the bones inside of me would collapse under the weight of it all. It was after that walk in the park that I would begin writing the pieces that would make up the bulk of my soon-to-be one man show “Jamal Wanna Build a Spaceship.” Because, art was my savior before Mary’s son was. Writing has always been easier than death, performing has always been better than breathing. And so, here I am. Trying to heal me.

This is about healing.

The “me” that recognizes that the tears of a Black boy who grew up in the spaces I grew could be chased by gangs (that happened in 8th grade), or robbed (that happened in 6th and 7th grade), or murdered, made to feel hunted and prey-like. I have always wondered if what transpired on that top bunk was the catalyst for the shame that would be felt about the feelings, the need for want, the desire for more than whatever I held and had, because those things were always too small, never enough to keep the empty from devouring my whole.

This is about movement.

I am a man now, but my five-year-old-self is here, too. He is here, along with the names and bodies and selves of others seeking closure, or redemption, or a hug. He is not so far removed from the adult me. Adult me still sees where the light starts, and the dark breaks. Adult me still chokes and suffocates and wonders why I cry so easy and break so hard. Adult me wonders and prays and hopes that he can guard his child from the things she deserves to be protected from. There were no missteps here. My mother did not fail me; nor did D or Skee, relatives nor friends. God did not abandon me, I have learned. I have leaned on shoulders and arms and hearts; on words and books and lovers, and the quiet chain clanking of my ancestors, at times weeping at their feet, looking towards skies, pleading for answers that may never come. We want to tie up the loose ends, but that is Hollywood fiction at best, at times. Sometimes, the ends remain just as loose and tangled and as dirty as when they first arrived.

This, this is about all of these things.


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