A Poem for Damion (Also, Virtue)

Virtue never saved me.

Virtue was constructed as an assurance for my father. And built a cage for my mother.

It walked me home, up the hill, every day after school,

But couldn’t save me from little brown boys running round my second base without my permission.

I didn’t own myself, virtue did. And I was never enough.

It dressed me, and allowed strangers to adjust me. To slide their fingers into/onto me to help me.

Virtue taught me to say “Thank you” even when my favorite Aunt’s grip was way too tight.

It taught me to be afraid of the skin just above my knees, uncovered.

Virtue made me terrified of motherhood.

Because my daughter could always be a mistake, a little brown girl stumbling around the world

Picking up smudges.

Dirty girl, dirty me.

Virtue made compliments conditional, bargaining chips.

Those four-by-ten letter words only mattered if someone else said them,

Because “good” black girls never say that they are “good”. Or “beautiful” Or “smart”.

We only say “Thank you.”

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I Saw My Rapist for the First Time in Five Years, and No I Don’t Have A Clever Title for This Essay

I saw my rapist Friday night.

It has been about six years since we’ve been in each other’s space. And it’s only been a handful of times that I’ve referred to him by title: my rapist.

The weight of that sometimes felt like too much. Far too much, and the un-doing of the emotional work done in the past few years which allowed me to name my experience.

Friday: It was the night of the blue moon, and I’d just come from a full moon/birthday party ceremony with friends. Just feet away from Lake Erie, E, M, and myself sat in the grass until almost midnight enjoying the smell of burning sage and charred paper. We said our affirmations, we burned our fears, and we carefully chose words to validate and strengthen each other.

I left the beach feeling affirmed, whole, and brave. It was E’s birthday eve, and she had been a fantastic source of support since I met her two years ago. E was also a survivor, and she had never wavered in her alliship. While most white feminists, use the term “ally” as a wedge into authenticity, E was always conceding space, listening and uplifting the narrative of the women in her life. The night of the blue moon was dope, and I was more than ready for August.

I drove home balancing a heady feeling. My arms were bare, my car windows were down, and I was reflecting on what has been a tumultuous year. Anxious and slightly hungry, I drove silently with M still in the car. We were both thinking, checking in on each other on our way back to the east side. We reached her car and I made sure she was safely on her way before rerouting to the neighborhood corner store.

It was late, but the street was buzzing. I never know who I’ll see on the busy street next to my own. It’s a historic business district, close to the university and bordering one of the richest white neighborhoods in the city to the south and cupped by the nearly bankrupt black suburb to the north. Shops stay open late selling ice cream, sushi, beer, and pizza. Even with the police patrol cars making their way up and down the strip, I always feel safe knowing that I see black and brown faces no matter how late I venture out.

I parked, conveniently finding a parking spot on the street next to the convenience store. I bounced inside, and walked directly to the cooler. As I cut through the line of people waiting in line, I said “Excuse me” to the man to my right without looking. He took a step back. It only took a moment for me to pause at the glass doors to find what I needed. I closed the case and turned around.

It took a moment for my eyes to focus on X’s face, and when they did I knew immediately that he had seen me first. He didn’t turn his head, he was waiting for me to say hello. With his eyes still straight ahead, he opened and then closed his mouth. He almost looked at me, then seemed to think better of it. I took that as an opportunity to move away, and get in line. I was behind him.

Almost immediately I was aware of some details. My ex-boyfriend, abusive partner was in front of me. We were purposely not speaking to each other. I was wearing a dress and you could see my bathing suit very clearly through it. He was buying alcohol, which meant that his sobriety was halted. I wondered if he was doing drugs again. Was he going to turn around? What he going to ask me about my life? Did he know why I chose not to speak with him? Did he even know what he had done, what he had made a habit of had broken me for several years?

X stepped forward, next in line. I stepped up to the second cashier.

X made small talk with the cashier. Something about being overcharged, and the cashier teased him about being a rich man. He’d always been charming.

I had my total and handed over my card, vaguely aware that I was racing him, trying to finish and leave the store before he could make it to the street ahead of me.

As the cashier finished and handed me my receipt, I heard X raise his voice. An unnatural volume which let me know that he wanted me to look over, to recognize him, to casual call his name.

I took my receipt and left the store, I walked briskly to my car, and I put my seatbelt on. And then I looked over my shoulder, no sign of X. So I relaxed.

How did I feel? How should I feel?

I didn’t feel afraid, and I didn’t feel tired. There were no tears. Sitting under the blue moon in my car I felt powerful, and what had just happened was very, very important. Less than five feet from one of the people who had nearly derailed my life by assuming a right to my space and body I’d survived. There was no internal need to validate X by confirming our past, by championing his recovery, or by sacrificing my emotional safety. There was no flinching, no bargaining, no pain. In that space, I had maintained control of my personhood, which is what recovery is about. All of the hard work had paid off. I wasn’t even shaking.

I told my friends. I told my person, B. But I didn’t want to talk about it, and I still don’t. I’m not even sure how to close this essay. What I do know is that when I finally started my car, and made it home to my beautiful puppy, I was not in pain.

That’s all.

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