I’m not ok. I know it. You know how not ok I am? I was on the phone with my mother a few days ago, and I snapped at her. You know how I know SHE knows I’m not ok? I’m still here to write about the experience. If you know my mother, you know that her wrath is large, and she will come through the phone to reach out and touch someone. But she didn’t. Instead, she got quiet. And sad. That was an awkward call. This exchange was just part of the cause. The other part is because my mother only wants to talk about happy things. In a moment where it feels like the whole world is on fire, my list of happy topics is painfully short. So there were a lot of awkward pauses. And dead air. And lingering silences. Until I decided to read her something I wrote. It was the piece about Miss Celie and Miss Sophia. I read. She listened. And then something interesting happened. My mother and I started talking, and for the first time in a very long time, she opened up about something that wasn’t happy. We were talking about pain. We were talking about trauma. And my mother showed me her trauma. ALL of her trauma. Now I’m not going to lay all that out for you, because it’s not mine to share. But I will say two things: First, my mother is a black woman with a disability that lived through segregation. And second, after hearing the full record of her trauma, I suddenly understood why she can’t bring herself to talk about anything that’s even remotely upsetting. My mother is not ok.
When I was 13, I tried to kill myself. I found a bottle of prescription pills in the medicine cabinet that had a warning label that read: May cause extreme drowsiness. I took the whole bottle. Endless sleep sounded like the perfect solution. Before you judge me, imagine finding yourself in a world where everyone around you is your enemy. The white kids hated me for my blackness, my otherness. The black kids hated me for “acting white”. EVERYONE hated me for my queerness. There was one kid in my class who simply referred to me as “the faggot”. And that same gayness would make my ultra religious family hate me. And in that world where you are beset on all sides by enemies, imagine being a child when you realize the actual state of affairs. Death was my escape. If my stomach hadn’t rejected the pills, forcing me to puke them all up, I wouldn’t be here to write this. This memory struck me today during my afternoon walk. It was all I could do not to ugly cry in the middle of the street. I’m not okay.
My one saving grace at that age was my middle school English teacher, Grace Leary. If you are a fan of my wit, then you owe this woman a debt of gratitude, because she inspired it. She taught us sentence structure by having us read each other and then diagram the resulting insult. Long before I knew what shade was, she was the queen of it. For me, she was the ultimate shero. Despite the bell bottoms and butterfly collars that she always wore, this middle aged white woman was my idea of cool. In the mid 80’s, she gave me and my 2 other black classmates the black mama speech. It started with: They think you know less than you know. She may never know it, but this woman saved my life.o
In the last week or so, trauma has been the word of the day. My mind has been racing. I have relived every trauma I ever experienced, as clear as the day it happened. I spoke about when I got attacked in a gay bar, when I was the only black person there. Trauma. After it happened, I was paranoid every time I was in a room full of white people. I was not okay. If I had had a gun when it happened, I would have shot up the whole place. It would have been another Pulse. I was not okay. Not long afterward, I went to visit my family. At dinner one night, my brother made a joke about it. If I had been close to a knife, I would have cut his throat. Clearly, I was not okay. This trauma worked on me the last year that I was in the US. I went on a self-destructive bender. Part of it was the result of working 80+ hour weeks, but part of it was definitely about that incident. Either way, they were both traumas.
But in all honesty, you wanna know the biggest trauma of all? November 9, 2016. That night. That night changed everything. I will never forget it. That night smashed my delusions. That night told me that at least a third of my countrymen wanted me dead. That night. I’ll never forget it. I went to vote around 8pm. The line was short, so I went to my (then) favorite bar on Christopher Street. Instead of Drag Race, they were showing the election. I couldn’t take it. I had to get out of there. I saw that a drag queen friend was doing karaoke in Queens, so I decided to do that. You know the struggle is real if you decide to leave Manhattan on a Tuesday to go to Queens. The neighborhood where her gig was is called Jackson Heights. It has the distinction of being both very gay and very Latinx. When I arrived, the bar was exactly what I expected. Me, my friend who is also black, and a bunch of Latinx men. Unfortunately, they were also showing the election, but fortunately, the karaoke screens were located in the opposite direction. Over the course of the evening, the guy beside me kept trying to flirt, but I wasn’t having it. Didn’t he know that the sky was falling? Eventually, I went home, defeated. The next day I woke up to a world that was the same, but somehow different. Suddenly, my delusions of progress were gone. Things weren’t getting better, and I knew it. All I was left with was the painful realization that at least a third of my countrymen would be ok if I was dead. I fell into a deep depression. I didn’t want to do anything. No tv show was interesting. No movie worth seeing. I didn’t even want sex. I went without for 6 weeks, the longest I had ever gone, prior to the current crisis. The only thing that ended it was a trip to New Orleans. But you get the point, I was traumatized.
I’m not ok. Over the last week, I’ve screamed at a friend, been extremely short with several others, snapped at my mother, spent way too much time in a quixotic attempt to get a stranger to the truth. I have started fights. I’m not ok.I can’t even apologize, because you know I think apologies are bullshit. I can’t promise changed behavior, because my current jumble of thoughts does not allow for it. My normal tendency is to be a source of lightness and levity. I make a lot of jokes. Anyone that knows me knows that I make jokes all the time. Recently, a friend contacted me, and she remarked that she understood the effort that goes into creating humor for people, and she wanted to know how it was affecting me. My response was that my humor comes from the same place as my anger: The absurdity of the human condition. I understand why Robin Williams killed himself. The sad clown is a very real thing. But every post I make, every knife I throw at white supremacy, late stage capitalism, or homophobia, is one less knife that I have for myself. And that’s the goal. To take that pain, that anguish, and redirect it. The last week has forced me to rummage through my pain, but it’s in the name of healing. It’s therapy. Every time I hit “post”, I send another demon back to hell. So I continue. Because that’s what you do.
When I look at the US right now, all I see are the traumas. Corona is trauma we all share. So is the state of unrest, but it goes beyond that. I see the personal traumas: The women who have been sexually assaulted or suffered from domestic abuse. Black people suffering under systemic racism, a continuous stream of microaggressions, and the constant threat of police violence. Trans people who daily fear for their very lives. Gay people who have had to fight toxic Christianity and a system that views them as unnatural. Muslims who are persecuted for their religion. Asians who are being accused of spreading COVID. Latinx people who are seeing their people locked in cages. Natives whose bloodlines are slowly being wiped out. Poor people who constantly have to worry if they will be able to pay the rent, and have to constantly worry about what happens when they can’t. I think of all these traumas, and then I think of the fact that this same trauma=stricken country has more guns than people. That can’t possibly end well. I’m working on my traumas. I’m doing what I can to heal. But for you? For you, I don’t know. I don’t know how to help you heal, and that’s what scares me.