Black, Body, Family, Personal Narrative

Body Stories: Mirror, Falling, Shaking

I have to admit that, like many Black people, the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin took me out of my groove, broke my productive stride. The anxiety related to the verdict and the trial’s cultural, historical, and global implications notwithstanding, my anxiety was mostly related to seeing the depictions of George Floyd in video and stills, the encounter with his body. The stories told about him and his body via medical experts, defense, and witnesses ultimately remain, enshrined by the State in court documents and by Media-as-a-discursive-arm of the State. I began thinking about the stories that compose me, the ones that I knowingly bring with me through life. It’s no surprise that these stories involve some type of trauma, a body/corporeal trauma that the senses must interpret, meaning the process is somatic and aesthetic. My hope is that my Body Stories will prompt you to think about your own body stories: the narratives shaping you that you’ve chosen to bring along with you, and the stories shaping you that have yet to surface.

***

Frederica, Delaware. 1975. A dusty, white and turquoise mobile home sits, slanted, on a little bump of a hill. The trailer is on a dead-end street abutting a dirt field seemingly leading to nowhere, but actually leading to the infamous Murderkill River. I move into this roach-infested trailer to live with my grandparents when I am a five year-old boy. I’m fleeing the inherent responsibilities as the oldest child of four (though only by eleven months) of a twenty year-old mother and an alcoholic father. Living with my grandparents and my four uncles in a six-hundred square foot trailer is less chaotic than staying with my parents on the isolated southern New Jersey farm, but by no means calm. The move is traumatic yet something I feel I have to do. I know—for some reason, on some level—that my life will be negatively impacted if I stay. I’m struggling with a severe stutter and have all but retreated into myself. The manifestation of one particular moment in this trailer begins to inform my body, existence, and life. Of course, it involves a mirror.

The mirror is above a mantle. It is three squares tall, six wide, of twelve-by-twelve “gold” speckled glass. (I realize now that the mantle was about four and one-half feet from the floor.) It holds graduation pictures, photos of my dead great-grandparents, trophies from my uncles’ various athletic glories, and scraps of paper with words I don’t yet comprehend. I use the mantle as a measuring stick of my growth, knowing that one day I will eventually surpass it on my way to the actual mirror, the place where: I see my uncles pat down and pick out their afros; I watch my grandmother adjust her earrings; I think, when I’m on the right piece of furniture, I catch glimpses of myself.

I ask my youngest uncle, Darryl, to lift me up. He is four years older than I, and seems tall for his age, at least to four-year old me. “He could give me a boost,” I think. The moment he finally relents changes my life. He holds me up to the mirror; I see myself, but I don’t connect to what I see in the mirror. I test this by moving my head side to side, sticking out my tongue, and making faces at myself. I stare, amazed at my reflection in the mirror. “That is me,” I think. However, it doesn’t feel like me. I don’t feel connected to my reflection, the representation of my body. 

I have never forgotten this mirror moment, the disconnected feeling contributing to the foundation upon which my personal philosophy is built. My mother told me the following stories related to my body journey that I’ve connected to my experience of my body while being molested when I was twelve. Being physically and psychically overwhelmed pushed me out of myself, forced/enabled me to objectify myself, and somehow kept me partially connected by, what felt like, at times, a thin, vulnerable thread. The main theme of my personal philosophy is that my body is something that I inhabit and can be twisted around in (falling downstairs), trapped in (trauma from actual birth), and released from (as in abuse). In light of the perpetual vulnerability of embodiment, I opted for a calmer approach to my existence, all of its blissful, chaotic, and lurid components.

***

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