"Before I let go" (Scalawag Magazine, 2016)
In 2011, I read I Don't Hate the South: Reflections on Faulkner, Family, and the South. I was in African American Studies senior capstone seminar, taught at the time by the late James J. Scott. The book was a force, not because of what it was (It was interesting and enough) but because of what it made me do: remember. It was in reading about Baker's relationship with his dad's name that I remembered mine with mine. I've written about that.
And, it was in reading about his relationship with his schizophrenic son that I thought about mine with my schizophrenic brother. I wrote about that too—in my first real piece of public writing—published to Scalawag Magazine here.
Here's a selected excerpt:
We used to know the feeling well—family—maybe more than we knew each other. You came of age when I was young, too young to know love further than Super Mario and SweeTarts and too long ago for me to remember now. I came of age when you were gone, first for a few years with the army, then to the South’s mecca for carefree Blackness. We are both of age now, and it’s funny. I still do not remember you, save a couple of fleeting years before the trauma. And, you are still gone, now to the unrelenting mystery of mental illness. Schizophrenia. In that erasure and absence, I have become resigned to finding family in unimpressive places, forcing it when it is not meant to be, and imagining it when all else fails, when all else falls. I rediscovered a book recently, Houston Baker Jr.’s I don’t hate the South. It made me think of you, of us, of family.
“Life swings just like the trapeze, and our arms live in naked hope. Family bodies hurtling toward us at high speed in midair don’t allow choice.”
Love requires that we catch them, those family bodies, blood or not, heavy and clawing, sometimes pulling away even at the risk of peril. Love says that we fight for them, with few qualifications, because sometimes they require the infantry, and even by the stingiest of definitions, love makes us soldiers, blood or not. And, sometimes we need their love, more than the light, more than the truth, more than the hope that we are forced to conjure after they’ve gone, so we stop their fall and hold them close, head on shoulder, eyes shut, sometimes forgetting who it is, exactly, we have caught. In I don’t hate South, Houston warns, “The first failure is reason. The first and only virtue is love. If you do not catch the ones you love, you die—now or later,” and if they are in free fall, however long since they let go or jumped or surrendered, not catching means they die too. I think."