Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Violence

From Wednesday to Wednesday, March 19-26, 2008, Grits and Eggs will be participating in the Second Youth Media Blog-a-thon hosted by YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia and WireTap. Youth bloggers– along with any bloggers dedicated to writing about youth issues and youth media – will address the topic of violence and its effects on youth and our communities.
I hate caveats, but I'm including one anyway: in this narrative, I talk about a kind of violence that we often internalize--certainly, that I internalized as a brown person and as a trans person.

“What’s going on?” he asks, glancing from road to me, then back to road. I’m leaned over in the passenger seat, gripping the cane he’d carried from this morning’s rehearsal, doing my best to stare out the window. But still, I can feel his eyes.

I want him to know, but I’m afraid to speak. I’ve found that I can’t trust my masculinity with my emotions. I’d rather paint my feelings. I trust color more than words, sight more than sound. I’d rather pour this stuff from chest to fingers to brush, sculpt paint on canvas, and let the image speak for me.

I’d rather have him draw the shade to my soul and peer in, without needing me to excavate the bricks and boundaries I’ve worked so hard to lay. This fa├žade is strangely handsome, I know, but there’s so much inside that no one ever sees. And today, I can feel it boiling over again. Quaking.

It vibrates in my chest, then throat. I shift my weight forward in the seat and dig the cane into the scuffed heal of my boot. Fingers shake as I kneed my palm with the cane’s horse-head-handle, hoping that the pressure will keep me from exploding. It rumbles up my windpipe and I try to cough it out.

The feeling passes.

“I don’t know.” I lie and let my mind’s eye wander as I wait for him to call my bluff. Squint at the gray-hazed palm trees crawling past us in LA rush hour. If I do it right, they morph the same way that did the Bradford Pears, which lined the road outside my parent’s house in St. Louis. Riding back from school with mom, I’d try to make them blur and stretch as far as I could—a task as elusive as meditation for my 8th grade mind. In the moment, the impossible was possible, but as soon as I tried to witness my own mini-marvel, I’d snap to—fixated on trunk after trunk.

It was the task I took up to distract myself from mom’s questions, to avoid accidentally finding myself vulnerable in front of her. “How was your day?” “Fine.” “What did you do?” “Stuff.” The call and response never changed.

Except once.

“How was your day?” “Fine.” What did you do?” “I tried to slit my wrist last night.” My eyes kept their soft-focus on the treetops as fear burned the tips of my ears and threatened the muscles in my jaw. I hadn't wanted to tell her, but Mr. Jacobi had given me no choice. My “friends” had told him by lunch, and by sixth period, I was in his office, watching his Adam’s apple bounce in his throat as he chewed the words with yellowed crowns and llama tongue. “You’ll need to tell your parents. I’m going to call home at 7.”

My face was hot with embarrassment. Home, I thought it rang distant, but familiar like the Lord’s Prayer I’d picked up from West County Basketball League. This word that was supposed to give with comfort struck rigid like a taunt. Maybe he could see through me--through my fitted jacket and scratchy plaid skirt--maybe he could read my mind through my eyes like some Buffy villain; maybe he knew that I’d never been home. That I dressed this flesh in pink and pearls the way my family strung Christmas lights each winter--self-conscious performances. Empty rituals to keep the neighbors happily believing that our insides matched the exterior. I watched him only from angles, just in case.

Mom didn’t speak. For the remaining three blocks, as the trees swirled into sky, into brick, into muck I held the ache firmly in my throat. Door popped open; slammed shut; keys scratched each other and lock; strip of light seeped from beneath kitchen door, and I watched it in silence.

“Talk to me, Thambi.” He tries again. I can feel it cracking in my chest now. Collapsing in. Pulling down from center and stealing back control. My mouth opens despite contrary instruction, and air pushes through.

“I’ve just been feeling sad.” I confess. As the words come, I try to divorce myself from their truth. I attempt the mental calculations--maybe I can let it out, just a little. Just enough to relieve this pressure from my lungs. “I don’t know what it is,” I say deliberately, forcing a steadiness back into my voice. I’ve lost my jaw to the quaking now and try to will it back with deeper breath and pressed lips.

I refuse to turn towards him, instead dropping my eyes to my thumb which moves along the cold brass contours of the horse-head cane. Its teeth catch the orange light of the setting sun, summoning its features into familiarity. I’ve seen this face before in a memory. In a hallucination.

Two years prior, locked in a room without shoelaces, or belt, I had seen this face. Outside, there were nurses, pills, and a humming TV set. Beyond that were lanyards of fake evergreen and fat, colored lights lacing the corridor; they began at a slab of windowless steel that could be opened only from the outside, and ended at double glass doors that swung out to the sharp winter air.

I’d seen it there, inside the glass doors, inside the slab of steel, inside the belt-less, shoelace-less room as I lay awake again and praying for sleep or death to find me. Over on the tray by the shatterproof window, I had seen it rise from a rag, dripping with blood from its severed neck, eyes bulging as it turned to ravage the strange woman in the bed next to mine. I knew it wasn’t real, but I had wanted to believe my eyes. And I had hoped that when it was through with her, it would come for me.

The night before that, I had lay awake in my parents house, witnessing evening turn to night, turn to morning again, haunted by a different set of images. A body hanging limp from the ceiling fan; one floating face-down in the tub; corpses sprawled and pale—pills scattered— blood pooling on the beige carpet. The bodies were mine—all of them. “Home” for only two nights, and I felt more a stranger than ever before, wanting my family to know me, and fearing that they would rather not see the truth.

I had tried to remove my breasts earlier that week. Snipped them like the skilled surgeon my parents wished they’d raised. I had hoped to make this body more hospitable for the young man that I was becoming.

Today, in the car, my breasts ache. Not from cuts or scars, but from the weight of existence.

“Can I tell you my theory?” he asks. When I don’t respond, he continues, “I think this is about your move. New job, new apartment—you just need to get settled in. You know, creating a home space is a big deal. People don’t always realize”—

“I feel so alone.” I tell him, looking out the window again, pressing my tongue against the ridge of my tooth to keep the tears from falling. “I feel like I can’t do it anymore.”

He reaches out to squeeze my shoulder, and they fall anyway. “I’m trying to be the best man I can be,” I pause to stop the tears, but they keep coming.

“It’s alright, Thambi, I gotchu.”
“I just”—
“It’s alright.”
“I just can’t do it in this body.”

“I feel trapped.” I start again. “I want to be strong. I want to be brave and giving, and I want to do right by my family. I can’t afford for my mom to need me and to refuse to see me.” As I speak, I remember this past winter when she was in the hospital. My father couldn’t even feed her. He had approached her like a child does a lamb at the petting zoo, moving food gingerly, body turned and guarding chest. I ended up taking over and feeding her tenderly, the way she had done for me as a child.

As the car slows, I still can’t face him. I want to tell him that I’m not ready to say goodbye. That I’m not ready to lose my family but that I can’t keep living in this skin. That I want to slice it open sometimes because I feel so trapped inside. That I fight myself to keep living and breathing and moving every day. That I’m tired of fighting and that I feel like giving up.

But instead, I swallow it. Instead, I worry about preserving my manhood, worry that he sees me as weak. I feel myself crumbling, melting, discombobulating, and I need to be held or I will fall apart; but I don’t tell him. Instead, I dry my eyes.

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