For Colored Boys Contemplating Suicide
We ordered cheeseburgers; he ordered a beer, and over fries and loud 80’s music, I told my brother I was molested.
This has always been the story I have been scared to write the most.
But this, this is not about those things.
No, this is about the after, because there are levels to my detachment, to my distance from the past. The elephants in the rooms I inhabit, the cobwebs on the skeletons neatly tucked away and compartmentalized in these closets. There has always been the incessant nagging, the feeling that the story would need to be told, that there would be no unity in my heart or spirit if it stayed where it stood, far off in crevices collecting up the pieces of me I seem to leave behind where I go, with whomever I walk towards, or from.
The first draft of this got deleted, by accident, on a train ride in Brooklyn. I asked myself then, I am asking myself now, and will ask myself later if that was the intervention of Yewalla or Jesus or Selassie or whomever the spirits may be, keeping me from issuing a digital recording of this. But, I trudged along anyway. A little piece of me flew away when the text was scrubbed. But, I am a Capricorn, and tend to push, even when pushing seems like the last thing that is needed. I planned on calling D, first. Had planned on it for some time. I told myself the first time my brother would know of this would the first time you, the present reader would, or “Jon” in Seattle and “Sheryl” in Maine, or whomever any other random reader might or would be.
He would find out before mom, for sure. He would know before Skee, Skee who would be locked-up during the incident I am writing about presently. The conversation I initially planned with D would have started with small-talk, light circles of dancing around dad shit, life shit, art and love shit — the things you share with your bigger brother/best friend. I would jog around the central issue, the issue he would not know existed until it left my mouth: five-year-old me who always felt too small to be in such a body adorned with all the feelings of the world, trapped inside of wishes and dreams.
But, I told him before I told you. So, I’m telling you now.
Secrets are a funny thing, no? How they intrude into our space and de-filter the angles and corners and make the quiet, obsolete. They come and disrupt, they take our hands and make them grab for things — ears, bodies, warmth, guns. Sometimes, they come to us in the form of a phone call, a daydream, or a nightmare. Even now, as I type I wonder about the moments after “Publish” after “Send,” after the conversations and questions and the heavy that sits and will proceed to sit and cloud the areas and parts and corners and closets.
But this, this is not about those things. No, this is about the after.
We start here: I was five-years-old.
It was by the younger brother of a friend of D’s from around our way. Their family would move away a few months after. I will trust that there was no correlation between me and the leaving, because that makes it easier to digest, easier to throw away. Did I make this up? Was there blood? If your innocence is stolen, does it return in the form of an angel, a hallucination? Did you want what you were given, or rather, did you ask for what was stolen to be taken? You remember things. You remember the open window on the 3rd floor. You remember your fire escape in your heat-less-in-the-winter, 2 bedroom apartment. You remember him climbing through the window. You remember him whispering. You remember him climbing through the window because he could, because you knew him and his face and his smile because you are five and you remember faces and people.
You remember whispers.
You remember a finger to his mouth, mouthing “shhh.” You remember your pants. You remember sweat, and a drinking glass falling off the top bunk and breaking. You remember your mother waking from her early evening before work couch sleep, walking into the room after things had already broken, and the ghost of a teenage boy had already climbed out of you, out of sight, down fire escape steps, exiting.
You remember your mother asking:
“Is everything alright?”
You remember sobbing after she left, more about the glass than about the other thing that shattered. You remember the air, and how it sat against your small skin, and how everything would taste different.
But this, this is not about those things. No, this is about the after.
I saw my first porn when I was five-years-old.
I would sneak out of the bedroom I shared with D, and would enter the living room to see Black bodies gliding, sweaty and slick against one another, the groans and sighs and breathing eating the couch. I read my first porn when I was six. D had a Penthouse magazine hidden in our barely there dresser, stuck underneath t-shirts. Mom would find the magazine, question D, and D would find the lie stuck between his teeth, and pull it out: “It was there when we moved.” I would take the magazine when the house was quiet enough, and find the pages with the women warriors clad in armor, each subsequent page turn leading to the shedding of pieces and the showing of nipple and breast and lips of mouths on lips of vagina. I would rub my soft thing on the pages, waiting for something to happen. I had my first wet dream in 3rd grade, with *Kelly and I having sex on a cloud high up in the sky.
My G.I. Joe’s would use one of the Bionic Six female characters for sexual favors. I would find the Ice Cream flick hidden underneath my mother’s bed, and put my hand in my pants, grabbing onto the flesh, feeling the blood inside rush, waiting. I would fast forward the bootleg VHS version of “House Party 2,” past the “Chinese Super Ninjas” film it was taped over, to the soft sex film that would appear at the end, waiting. I would spend hours fast forwarding all VHS’ after, waiting. As boys in elementary school, my close friend and I would spend days at his house pulling out our soft penises, and rubbing them against the door of his refrigerator, calling out the names of the women in Hollywood we’d want to place ourselves inside. Suzanne Somers Ab Isolator infomercials would allow me the opportunity to place my flaccid, younger self against the TV screen and imagine what the feeling would be to take thighs and let myself linger in between them.
The time I took my blonde toy horse and used it for practice, cutting myself against its plastic, taking the Adam & Eve catalogs into the bathroom. I would lie and tell D I went into the safety deposit box underneath his bed to steal his money, afraid to admit I was actually attempting to watch the Black Velvet VHS I saw him place inside of that same box the night before. I ordered countless Pay-Per-View movies and lied to my mother, with the exasperated exaggeration of a pre-teen — “Psht, I dunno…someone must have falsely charged our account, mom.”
But, this is not about those things, no. This is about the after.
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.