A Break In the Clouds
For centuries, people have called it “the black dog.”
I’m a child of the Twentieth Century, of the Space Age. I call mine a black hole: the place that sucks you in so hard and so far down that nothing escapes, certainly not your soul.
Fitting, too, for a child of the winds, one born of and for the storm, one whose fondest dream was always to fly — only to find that even in the heavens, you can be chained and then buried.
I come by it honestly: generational trauma and genetic memory, but also in DNA much closer to home. Then there’s the byproduct of abuse, plus the situational sort and the kind that’s attendant to specific medical conditions. Four roots. Like those of the evil trees in horror stories that snake out to grab you by the ankle and pull you under. In other words, trapped.
It’s remarkable, really, what it takes to set it off. Like, say, nothing.
Of course, most of the time, it’s not nothing; it’s just that for people with no like experience, it’s completely beyond their frame of reference. And to them, it’s nothing.
Yesterday, it was a simple enough question: Remember how, as kids, as soon as we’d see the other kids we’d all run around together?
I never had that. It wasn’t allowed, not that there was anyone around most of the time anyway. But when you grow up purposefully isolated from your peers . . . well, no, you don’t have ordinary memories.
Today it was a tweet, one from a young mother to one specific subset of all those children bravely walking out of school today: those whose parents do not support what they’re doing. She wanted them to know that they are supported and loved, even if only by someone else’s parent.
As someone whose parents would absolutely have forbidden participation in such an act, I would’ve given my eyeteeth for someone to have told me that at that age.
Hell, I would’ve given my eyeteeth for parents willing to tell me they loved me.
Yeah, I know. It was a different time. Different standards. They kept me fed, sort of, and clothed, sort of, and housed, sort of — mostly not well on any of those fronts, but they tried, and they certainly sacrificed. Which, of course, was a big part of the problem; children are perfectly capable of understanding when they’re resented.
I had a white woman once tell me how wonderful my parents’ marriage was, because there was never any anger, nor raised voices, only love for each other. I told her she didn’t have the faintest idea what she was talking about.
This stupid woman thought it was her place to argue with me over who my family actually was.
But back to the children, those standing up today and those of long ago who were forcibly cowed into submission.
I wonder how many of today’s young role models will have their idealism and activism beaten out of them, whether literally or metaphorically. I find myself cheering aloud for their courage and commitment to their cause, simultaneously matter-of-fact and completely in-your-face. And there’s that small reflexive part of me, deep inside, that cringes, because I know what would have happened had I ever said any of those things aloud, much less in public.
The backhand across the mouth would have been, in so many ways, the least of it.
That would’ve been guaranteed, incidentally. It wasn’t until a few years ago, after a discussion with someone else, that I finally fully internalized the violation of being struck in the face, across the mouth. It happened so many times, but those were in addition to all the other incidents. And it hadn’t really occurred to me to parse the difference between, say, a spanking and being hit in the mouth.
In our way, the violation runs deep. And yet, we were so thoroughly assimilated that it never occurred to me to recognize it. It was just . . . it just was. As with everything else about life.
Does the black hole’s gravity surprise you?
It used to surprise me. Like the grasping clutches of my family, so resentful and willing to disown me on the regular, yet so unwilling to grant me my freedom. That is, until I finally realized the dynamics. Once I understood that I was property, the rest fell into place. It’s how I think of black holes, too, those murderous gangsters of the universe: rapacious, always hungry, never sated, never happy because the drive to own, to control, is pathological. It’s the ultimate in authoritarian soul-sickness, and our people caution against greed in part for that very reason.
The powerless mistake authority for power, and act accordingly.
Oh, I know a black hole has power, but it’s the power of the void. Do you think it actually enjoys anything it consumes? How do you enjoy something when even as you’re destroying it yo’ve moved on to the next target?
In human terms, this is what powerlessness creates.
It’s too easy to say that powerlessness is a state of mind, although there is some truth, a grain of it, to that, too. I don’t feel any need to consume, to destroy, my own lack of control over the world around me notwithstanding. I envy people their stable families and happy childhoods and supportive starts in life, but I don’t have any desire to have their material things or status or authority over anyone else. I’m remarkably happy with a life that is necessarily both quiet and humble. But I understand the resentments.
People are newly fond of quoting King to the effect that a riot is the language of the unheard. But if the unheard have been forcibly silenced, I don’t accept the premise that it’s a riot.
It’s living, breathing, being.
I know a little about those things, too, because I had none. The black hole comes to suck them away from me periodically even now.
It’s why I don’t believe in “giving voice to the voiceless.” None of us is voiceless, only unheard. And when you presume to speak for me instead of making space for me to speak for myself, you silence me anew.
That has been the story of my life.
The black hole doesn’t always win. Even when the clouds move in, dark and lowering, there’s light behind them. I know that now, mostly; one of the benefits of having lived long enough to survive too many things.
And so the darkness clutches at me, and I shake it off, and then it sneaks up behind me and pulls me under . . . and even drowning in the dark, now I know to look up.
I know to look for a break in the clouds.
There is light. No hand across my mouth.
And I can breathe again.