People gave me funny looks but they ain’t really say nothing because they figured I could hold my own. And they would have been right, if a body could actually hold her own in a forced unraveling. By the time I was a gentle heap of spiraled brown flesh and bone bits on the ground of myself, done in by a Wal-Mart vegetable peeler, folks had stopped looking. Or maybe they had stopped being able to see. Time hides as much as it tells.
I was good at hiding, too. More than time, I was the reigning queen of personal obfuscation in the hide-and-seek of abuse. I had dived deep below the surface of myself to hide and had gotten lost, not realizing that I had drowned trying to find my way back. I am not even certain of when.
Certainly obfuscation was a familial and thus familiar epistemology. Quiet, the kind that made you get in your feelings and reckon with some shit, was a luxury, one that we were led to believe we couldn’t have because we were black, but it was really one we couldn’t have because we were black and in pain and afraid. Because we were black. In my childhood home, things unsaid, hurts unreconciled, piled up to the ceiling in the form of class reunion minutes that stuck together, still-new-in-the-box breadmakers, mountains of laundry, gripless screwdrivers, other things. We maneuvered around the sadness skillfully, matrixing ourselves around infrared mountains. In my room, I closed it out and vacuumed the baby-blue-carpeted border vigilantly so the worn maroon carpet on the outside and the pain it carried could not come in. And I covered the piles that visitors did/could not see (because we did not have visitors) with so much black girl excellence that all the bitches and niggas would have to bow down.
Hiding, turning into a puff of smoke, and patting my smoke hair in a circle of fiddy leben mirrors became perversely pleasurable and dangerously delusional. When my daughter’s father pulled his shotgun on me and held me hostage in #11 on Mynders, sitting across from him on the futon, I smirked and stifled laughter and giggles because I thought I was actually hidden. There, but hidden. I did not have the sense to be afraid. And later, I hid what happened so well, like that last prize egg out there on the hunt that no one can find even well after the potato salad turns rancid and so your auntie finally says, heah it go y’all if it had ‘a been a snake it woulda bit ya! Except I hid it so well that not even your best auntie egg-hider could find it, even if she hid it herself and videotaped where she’d hid it. He had apologized some time later, for that and for other things, but forgiveness is not part of the practice of obfuscation. You stay and you hide, but you don’t forgive because then you’ll forget and they’ll be free and they won’t hurt like you hurt. And I hoarded hurt like mama hoarded small unopened kitchen appliances. And because each generation got to be better than the one that came before it, before I left them, I tortured and broke each and every partner who had wronged me. One’s dead. Another’s chronically depressed. The last one rides the bus and uses a Nutribullet. An eye for a soul.
Torturing folks who have wronged you is really about torturing out the shame you feel for being wronged. And you know you wrong for that, even if they were wrong, too, and first.
So I should have run before this last thing ever began, but I didn’t because I was still torturing out my own shame and guilt and hiding from myself. Things were good. And then they were bad. Real bad. And I thought they were getting better because I was working hard for them to be, bending over backwards for them to be, and because I had hidden from myself. Literally. I did not look in the mirror at myself. I put in my contacts, or put on eyeliner or lip gloss, without the mirror’s truth-telling assistance. Lawd knows what my clothes looked like. I gained 30 pounds and didnteenoit.
And when you don’t look in the mirror at yourself, and don’t even realize you aren’t looking in the mirror at yourself, then that is how you can also not realize you are being raped. For two years, I hid from myself the facts of these assaults on me, these forced unravelings, these sneak attacks to silence me in the wee hours of the morning because I shone too brightly during the day, because they were remarkably inconvenient. I told myself we were just sexually incompatible the spark is gone I’m just tired the kids need shoes is dinner ready ha ha ha ha ha ha ha that new black movie is so funny! I’m writing I’m working so many students my book I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay imokay imokay imokay imok i i i o o o o k k kaaayeee. When I did finally look in the mirror, after realizing that I had not been looking and compelling myself to do so, I saw that look his most recent ex before me had on her face, every single time I saw her, for a long time. He had done it to her, too.
I certainly had tortured him for a number of wrongs–abuse, control, manipulation, privacy violations, isolating me from close friends–but this one had not even registered in me explicitly. When all the lights were on and I could not hide, when my body finally floated to the surface of myself, I saw what had been done to me. And it took me a while, but I called its name. And it took me a little while longer, but I confronted. that. ass. I declared, pointing and through gritted teeth, “you raped me for TWO years.” He replied: “I’m sorry you felt raped.”
Then, several weeks later, after some revelation in therapy–he had been going to therapy for almost the entire four years of our relationship; a lady doing my nails once asked in all black woman seriousness, “Did he go foreal? Or was he just sitting in the parking lot?”–he returned with some news. He said that he’d raped me and at least five of his previous partners. Maybe heainteenoit, but I doubt that. But I already knew because the lights were on, and I was no longer hiding.
I have been resetting myself, picking up my flesh-pith, peeled with its soft edges like tiny hills, with words. And with love. And with forgiveness of and for myself. I snitched. I got out my horn and played my blues loud, something that black girls, especially the ones of us trained so well to hide, are not supposed to do. And I am stitching myself back together with some thread I brought back from under the surface. Don’t bother me while I’m mending, but do know that this time, I’m really fine.