Last night I fell into a fitful, dark and dreamless sleep after watching Beyonce’s Lemonade .
As I was watching I was at first surprised when I felt the beginning of many tears. The first ones were sneaky and just slid out of my eyes and down my cheeks, exposed when I felt a bit of cool air hitting those leaking painful memories. Later, at some times they turned into a combination of ugly cries and gasps for air. To say it was powerful for me was an understatement. I felt like I was watching my own pain sung in highs and lows, shot in high definition.
The empathy I felt for this woman who is as much an icon as a sister was purely amazing. I cannot say that I have walked in her Louboutins but I have walked beside her, closely in my own sensible Target ballet flats. The rise and fall of a Black woman’s pain was on full artistic display and it was as beautiful and haunting and familiar and alien as a Body Worlds exhibit.
I can identify with the pain of father, husband, lover and son. How it all gets so mashed up and confusing and one becomes the other because its really all the same. Curses that leap generationally from protector to lover to mother and back again. Scars that must heal underneath scars as new wounds are steadily being created. That constant push to reinvent one’s self again and again striving for an impossible perfection that is only expected from a Black Woman.
Living under the cloud of never being enough and always having to be more. Smile more, be prettier, be smarter, be more assertive but less aggressive, fight, but only for Black men and never for yourselves. Love God even if the God we gave you is a White man who only gives you peace after a life of suffering and even that is not guaranteed. Stay in constant penitence. Be a public prude but morph into a freak in the sheets. But don’t ever tell that you may have learned these skills from Father/Uncle/Brother/Cousin/Neighbor. Be a good girl and be grateful when you get the basics. Loss of love. Loss of life. Loss of identity. While still fighting to love.
Always, always, always fighting to love.
I watched all of that raw emotion and sometimes I could only look at that pain through one eye because I know. I thought to myself even in this viewing, there are some people who will never ever know what it means to walk under such tremendous burdens. To shift everyone else’s weight from shoulder to shoulder while defying your own back its right to break. I went to sleep wondering will I ever get to redemption and forgiveness or will I forever stay stuck at the shadowy place? My last whisper to myself was that I was tired. This morning I awoke and wondered will I have to be Beyonce to heal? Because I won’t ever be Beyonce. I am just me.
It becomes unbearable sometimes.
The feeling of being trapped under what others need you to be while they are free to indulge in their own folly. Harsh words from loving lips and the callous hearts of those who say they want to love you forever. The ones who demand your unwavering love even while they are hurting you. Constantly being cataloged as useless or USE FULL based upon your skin, your hair, your weight, your sexuality, your mood, your pocket change and on and on and on.
I looked into the faces of the beautiful Black women Beyonce highlighted, everyday women who may never be celebrated by anyone for their heroic endurance. The women we pass everyday.
The ones who they say are not pretty or smart. The ones they do not see outside of the context of what they provide. For me, they are the ones who hold us down and wipe away our tears and teach us their songs, comfort us with food cooked in love. The ones who make us laugh, remind us to pray and the only ones who can look deeply into our eyes because they know. Only they understand and they want you to know that you will make it and that you are not alone.
I am grateful, because I have a daughter to guide and she may have to sometimes walk alone but she will never be alone. My daughter who now can relate to me in a more intense way because some man-boy hurt her and now she too carries the middle of heartache in her eyes. Because she now understands why she would sometimes wake up to hear her parents screaming voices down the hallway. Because she now knows what the sudden abrupt silences to the screaming and the mornings without eye contact meant. I try to catch her from falling. From being afraid of a repetitive cycle, from being too cautious to ever really and truly fall in love. Her first heartbreak was her father and my first heartbreak was my father, too. How can I tell her that it is true that she must always be able to protect herself? That she must be sure that her lovers possess the capacity to love themselves and only then can they love her. How can I tell her to be strong when I am still afraid?
I am afraid because I have sons. Two beautiful chocolate sons filled with all of the illumination of the Earth. One in constant darkness, the other grasping to stay in the Light. It kills me to know that my first child to live through gestation has become a man who does not respect women because he does not respect me. A man who lives his life expecting to die at any moment and that feeling, that thought, does not propel him to greatness but instead to desperate acts and selfishness. When I know that he is hurting somewhere deep down inside and I do not know how to fix it. I will always want to fix it. But I also know, it is he that must fix himself. When I saw the mothers holding the portraits of their murdered sons my breath caught, my lungs refused air and my eyes let loose. I felt the fear of a thousand nights personified. The fear that rides with me to work, showers with me and sleeps with me at night. The fear of unknown callers bearing the news that my son, has succumbed to the streets he so embraces. That he was murdered by those who either look like him and act like him and bang like him or the ones that have been transformed from overseer to officer.
I am terrified that this worlds greed to consume Black greatness will wrap its gaping maw around my younger son. My baby boy who is feminist and intersectional and strong and fierce. He revels in his Blackness and wraps his melanin around him like a cloak. My son who is secure in his brand new manhood and is able to see that he must actively step up to fill the void of so many young Black men just like him. That he must occupy the abandoned spaces of his father and brother. I worry that the world will see his light and want to consume it, gobble him up and steal his future. I am afraid when he walks to the barbershop. I am in terror when he rides the bus. We need our young warriors but it is so hard to allow your own flesh and blood to become one. I hug him tightly daily. He jumps out of bed every morning to tell me he loves me and to bear hug me even when he doesn’t need to be awake. It is the best kind of love, yet still I must send him into the world and pray he does not become prey. I do not want to share the mourning bench with the mothers who grieve. I do not want my sons to reach immortality only because a hashtag preceded their names and someone stole their youth.
We fight so hard to stand. We Black women fight so much that we just say “Ahhh…such is life.” But it is only life for us. The invisible ones who must daily summon our arsenal of sarcasm and petty and loud and brash to remind the world that we are in fact here. That we must shade our way into respect. That we must be sly and too often severe and still they do not realize the tremendous intellect it takes to engage in verbal wars while working low paying jobs (even when we are highly educated) taking care of our children (too often alone) and preparing the food while standing on swollen, tired feet with aching fingertips and numb hearts. Yet still dreaming, dreaming, always dreaming of a tomorrow where we can just sit on the porch and enjoy our lemonade.