by The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins
I do have visible scars. Up and down the outside of my thighs. They are brown, like me. Just in different shades. Some Carolina-clay-colored, others more of a deep pecan. Most people who notice them nowadays are kinky. They think of them as beautiful.
I’m still trying. (To think of them as beautiful, I mean.)
I got woken up in the night a lot when I was a kid. My momma screaming over me in bed. Her crying in the TV room. Us running from some man with a small body but a loud voice.
As an adult I protect my sleep. Nothing fucks with my sleep. I sleep better alone. I lock the door. I cocoon my whole body and head in at least 3 layers of blankets. You don’t play when it comes to sleep.
I’ve been crazy for more than half my life. These scars are my evidence. Evidence that I survived. Evidence of moments of weakness. Evidence that my mind can’t be trusted to not harm my body. Evidence that I’m still here.
“Are you still cutting yourself?” my momma asked me the second time somebody took me to the crazy hospital.
I answered, yeah, real quiet and sheepish.
“Well, I can’t do shit for ya.”
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Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the guy was henpecked (at work, at home) and all he wanted to do was read? I feel that dude so hard, except all I want is some soft time. It takes so much armor to be in the world. Soft time is when there’s quiet and jammy pants and no one bossing you.
Being crazy, for me. Feels a lot like being black. So I suppose I should be used to it. Mostly around the idea that at any time someone could think you need locked up. And there you go, back in the nuthouse.
It’s happened to me 3 times. I’m supposed to be thankful that folks felt invested enough in me to want to get me help, I suppose. But mostly I think, I wish people would have left me alone.
The nuthouse for poor people isn’t like it is in the movies. In North Carolina, in Georgia, public mental health care facilities are about getting you on enough drugs that you are quiet and present some semblance of submission. There is TV, but no books. Shitty, gelatinous “food,” cigarette breaks, too much time in a day and drugs, lots of drugs. This isn’t therapy. This is punishment for being so outrageous as to have been crazy and poor.
I do not trust them. I am never there voluntarily. I do not trust white men with my black woman’s body, heart or mind. They don’t make eye contact with me. They use language like “we’ll see if this works” like I’m some modern Tuskegee experiment.
I learned to stop talking about being crazy. To lock the bathroom when I’m cutting. To isolate myself when I’m feeling Some Kind Of Way. To put on my Everything Is OK face in public. To Go Along to Get Along.
When you’re crazy. People think you can’t manage your own life. And they need to do it for you. I can’t stand being managed.
I get managed enough at work. In Love. By friends. By family.
Seems like the only time somebody’s not trying to manage me is when I’m by my damned self. They call it “social isolation.” I call it taking a god damned moment to enjoy my own damned company and make my own damned decisions. For my own god damned self.
There are 5 stairs to get into my front door. Then 7 steps. Then 7 stairs. At my last place there were 3 stairs and then 12 steps to get to my bedroom.
3 is a good number. The Holy Trinity. 3 strikes and you’re out. Ménage à trois. A good number.
When I perform, before I go on, I knock on wood. 3 sets of 3. Right hand. Then left hand. Then both hands together.
I count things a lot. When they are not in groups of 3, or easily divisible by 3, it’s bothersome.
The 5 stairs, 7 steps, 7 stairs here bothers me. I always do an extra shuffle-ball-change at the top of the stairs to somehow make it even. I don’t know why this works, but it does.
At the last place I thought the 3 stairs and 12 steps were lucky. But it turned out they weren’t so lucky, after all. That bothers me too. Except there’s no shuffle-ball-change-ing the past.
The Georgia Regional Medical Center Mental Health Inpatient Unit is on Panthersville, Rd. in Decatur. The car I was living in and tried to kill myself in is in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Johnson Ferry Rd. in Marietta GA. They give me a bus token and point me toward the road where the bus picks up the newly un-crazy (medicated? rehabilitated?) people.
It takes 3 conveyances (2 buses and a train) and about 2 hours to get from point A to point B.
They say black folks (and I suppose all sorts of folks of color, really) are supposed to be a communal people. That family, chosen family and friends are the things that sustain us. They also say that we are STRONG. Especially us women. We are STRONG BLACK WOMEN. It’s a thing, for reals, I promise you.
Except I am not that thing.
I am weak. And vulnerable. People confuse and scare me. I’ve struggled my whole life with crazy, with feeling not black enough because of my crazy. With feeling like I don’t live up to that thing. That being a STRONG BLACK WOMAN. A FIERCE QUEER.
I need gentleness and quiet. To be respected and loved like you would love a skittish cat with a long tail if you were siting in a rocking chair.
I am a soft thing. But soft things are not invisible. We may not be loud, but we exist. We are here.
I am here.
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The Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins makes performance art rooted in various African-American vernacular dance traditions (from the cakewalk to shake dancing), with 50s/60s striptease movement vocabulary and heavily influenced by mid century showgirl chic. She has performed all over the world, in places great and small. www.VaginaJenkins.com
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