Wednesday, September 09, 2009
A dulled light of day was shining into our bedroom, matching the sullen mood, enhanced by caresses, with a heavy mixture of love and pain. Car alarms rang off rhythm to the sad bachata blasting from someone’s car stereo. Our bed sat by the half open window, at level with the sill, and as I laid belly down with child, sprawled over his body, I could see the littered concrete dotted with idle, middle aged Dominican men singing along, and round bodied brown mothers, grocery bags and children in hand, walking to the slow, constant beat of despair. I became aware of the miracle we were – imperfect but persistently, striving to become ourselves, striving to know love. Baldwin states, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” Loving can be a painful process. These masks exist as a defense or shield from environments of terror and numbness. We mistake false identities for ourselves. Removing masks would make us susceptible to become vulnerable to these fatal environments, and so we sleep and wake and bathe with our masks on and forget there was once a bright face looking back in the mirror at the innocence of our early youth, however long that might have lasted – for some, 10 years, for others, possibly 3. We become a colony of preconstructed characters, blind to the concept of a community consisting of honest individuals. The fear of removing these masks contribute further to the poison latent in our fatal environments.
In today's time, loving can be a painful process because loving means we come to accept that the world does affect us; that the constant grilling, the sight of children being frisked by authorities, the smell of piss on every wall of each abandoned building we walk by, the idleness of life or the moral ease of those who end it, their own or others', all have the ability to make us weep and become filled with true anguish, or loose our minds completely. But without coming to accept and understand this, we would have no incentive to want to exist in a different kind of world, or exist at all. And if we cannot exist as ourselves, outside of these masks, in our environments then we are left with two options – to change our environments or run away from it, and the spaces where oppression does not exist at some level are becoming endangered, quickly. Part of our attempt to change society must be to develop ourselves and offer the people we were meant to be to each other..
We laid there, two lovers, both tainted by the terror of this world, trying to understand the answer to this question – how can love become an oasis where realizing our highest selves will not be compromised? This, for us is a new concept, for we both come from histories where loving has taken us through moments of deceit, anguish, and pain, often times by attempting to love others who have not had the courage to notice, no less, remove their own masks. Yet still, we laid in our humble bedroom – a paradox, hope fighting to exist among week-old laundry thrown in corners, each clothing piece a removal of some weight picked up by our interaction with the shaken world, the walls scented of day old incense burned to center ourselves within what parts of ourselves we’ve come to know, mixed with whiffs of spiced meats and fried platanos carried by the cool draft of a new autumn in that old fifth floor apartment where our lives as a new family is to begin. I imagine we were both at some point in our internal conversations, wondering how this miracle is supposed to unfold with a lack of known references of liberated love. A dear friend once asked me, “Is it possible to imagine or know freedom if our legacies have never truly experienced it within the last 500 years of oppression?” What must it be like to live with no masks, and love with no limits? We can try to imagine what this oasis might look like, but even our imaginations are tainted with the pain that has held our true identities hostage. We try to caress and kiss away the false illusions we’ve acquired over time, but we cannot pretend that the world does not enter our attempts to love.
One night I was under the false illusion that my body was dirty and worthless. It was difficult to be held and for parts of my body to become exposed outside of our bed sheets.. That day, a young boy had violated my right to have my body protected from unwanted touch or exposure. He was no older than 12, with the face of a terrified child. The world had put in his mind that it was okay to violate women to his own pleasing or for his own curiosities. It was probably the first time he had tried to pull down a woman’s shirt, for his body language and his eyes were so full of fear of his own actions. His environment had placed the mask of “sexual assailant” on such a young face. His toxic environment had shaped the emotional state of my body. A hot shower could not wash away the filth and anguish that sat like silt upon my pregnant belly, naked breasts, and reoccurring memory. All throughout that night, whenever I became aware of my body, it only existed within those short moments of feeling violated and humiliated.
Being a woman of color who has cracked her mask in this world makes one become even more deeply connected to the pain that exists in these war zones. We become exposed to the efforts of a white world trying to erase our existence, but we also become exposed to a dystopic patriarchal society – even among our brothers of color – that also seek to null our true power and beauty, either because they do not understand it or are intimidated by it (therefore the need to control or undermine it). The product of males of color feeling powerless in a white society is the sexually violated woman of color. When boys and men of color are given no spaces with which to experience or understand authentic power, they take up the white man’s illusion of power – to conquer and control- and turn it on their own women (and in other ways, on each other). This results in communities of masks laden with false power and bodies with limited abilities to feel love and security, communities of unknown or lost identities.
The perseverance of love between my lover and I, consists of a lifetime series of attempts to know ourselves, discover true power, and share our unfolding selves with each other. One element of our love is essential if it is to survive in a world where freedom is an alien concept, and that is – our love must have the ability to overcome oppression – oppression embedded within ourselves, oppression perpetuated in society. We are left with no tools but our own developing imaginations and the courage to take on this challenge, and courage is essential if we are to walk and love and speak without masks. It takes an enormous amount of trust amongst ourselves to take on this task. We are still in the process of fully understanding and realizing love, although our imperfect attempts are miracles because against the weighty odds, we persistently choose to exist, to find our highest selves within ourselves and between each other, to love, in the context of deliberate numbness and inadvertent hate.