*In the wake of #metoo and R. Kelly, several men have come forward to talk about their experiences with sexual assault. It’s a hard concept for many to swallow, but it does indeed happen and their stories need to be told. The following is an article written by and about a very dear friend of mine and new collaborator with the Haus of Firebomb named Marquis.
I am a liar. I’ve lied to you all.
It began when my grandfather fell ill. I didn't know him well, despite being fourteen. I remember him lying on a deathbed in the room where I currently lie my head. I remember his yellow skin, green eyes, and nurses coming in and out of our house at all times of the night. He died while I was at work or school, the memory has faded, but the truth remains. He died in my room.
A tidal wave of sorrow flooded the halls of my home. It would linger in the weeks to follow. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel anything. Yes, it was sad situation, but I hardly knew him, and the tears falling from my grandmother’s eyes couldn’t be mirrored. I thought something was wrong with me. I prayed to a God that I didn’t believe in to make me feel something, but alas, there was nothing, but the shadow of sadness walking behind me.
A week or two pass and the funeral arrangements were well underway.
"Linen," I remember my grandmother or aunt saying. "The men have to wear linen."
I thought the black linen suits we were forced to wear were hideous, but it wasn’t the time to protest. It was time to mourn. So I didn’t say anything. I just remember going to the fitting, the seamstress telling me I was so tall for my age, I shyly smiled like I always did whenever someone told me I was tall—as if I didn't know I towered over most boys my age.
I thought the material felt flimsy underneath my fingertips. Like the thin fabric could rip at any given moment. My mother told me I looked handsome like most moms do when their boys are dressed in something other than jeans and a t-shirt.
A day or so passed and my parents tell me my cousin is flying into town and will be staying with us. I felt indifference. We weren’t that close, and the thought of cleaning the house for family made me roll my eyes to the back of my head.
But he was there the next day. Nine or ten years older than me I couldn’t remember. The only thing I remember from that day was going to the barbershop with me, my brothers, and my cousin. My cousin made a joke about my grandpa being stuck in a freezer somewhere.
My oldest brother snapped at him. His words crackled like thunder throughout the empty barbershop. My youngest brothers giggled amongst themselves, too young to really understand what was going on. My cousin was silent the rest of the afternoon.
My brother was hurt. My brother was in pain.
And still, that pain he felt—I couldn’t mimic.
That night before the funeral everyone fell asleep early. Except me and my cousin.
We were out in the living room, the TV version of Showgirls played quietly. I laid on the couch directly next to the wall. He was in the adjacent loveseat wrapped in a blanket.
He said something along the lines of, “Do you have a girlfriend.”
I wasn't out to my family at the time. “No,” lied.
“Why not?” he asked, turning to look at me.
Discomfort crawled up my spine. “I don’t know,” I said.
He didn't say anything for a while. The scene where Nomi pushes a dancer down the stairs played. My eyes were glued. I loved the fucking movie. Even the hilariously censored TV version. When a commercial break flashed on the screen, my cousin removed his blanket. His pants were down and he was touching himself.
I didn’t say anything—I was scared, shocked, and disgustingly intrigued.
The sound of slides scraping against tile floors made him jump. It was my mother. She was coming down the hall and into the kitchen for a midnight snack.
I let out of a sigh of relief.
I got up from the couch and told him I was going to sleep. All he did was nod and press one finger against his lip telling me to keep quiet.
And I did.
I didn’t say a word.
The funeral was the next day. The day sluggishly trickled on like we were all stuck in a jar of molasses. With how bright the sun was shining it felt like The universe was mocking what my family was feeling. In the church, people spoke and had powerful speeches about what a great man my grandfather was.
I wish I known him.
When we got to the burial that is when it hit our family the hardest. For the first time in my entire fourteen years of living, I witnessed my father cry. It was at that very moment I realized he wasn't just a stoic beacon of masculinity. He was human. He had emotions. He could cry. There's' something oddly humanizing seeing a grown black man cry. To me, it was like witnessing a pig take flight. Impossible. Imaginative. Yet right before my brown eyes. It was there.
The entire day my cousin tried speaking to me. I cut our conversations short--or ignored him completely.
I didn’t talk to him until midnight that night. My family was in the living room watching an action movie and like most angsty teens, I was in my room on the computer, away from the noise.
He came into my room and sat on my bed behind my computer desk.
I didn’t say anything.
I continued to ignore him like he was invisible.
Until he said, “I want to show you something.”
I reluctantly turned around. His pants were down and he was touching himself again.
I stared at him. I swallowed a load of spit. And noticed I was shaking.
He said something like, “I’m going to tell your parents you’re gay if you don’t come here.”
My biggest secret.
My biggest fear.
And he would tell them.
I thought about a time when I was five or six and I had a t-shirt on my head and pretended it was hair. I was making out with a pillow and my dad caught me. He yelled at me and punched a hole in the wall.
I thought about the time we were away on one of my dad’s basketball trips and me and my mother was in a hotel room and she told me that if I was ever gay, they would disown me.
I thought about the time I won a toy from the treasure box in kindergarten and it was a barbie and my dad tossed it off the roof of my grandmother’s apartment.
I thought about the time I was obsessed with All 4 U by Janet Jackson and my dad told me to turn it off.
I got up from the desk and walked over to him. I remember the blue light from the computer screen illuminating the dark room. I remember the look in his eyes. I remember the whispers in my ear. I remember the taste of him on my tongue. The scratches on my knees. The pain in my back. The sound of explosions from the movie my family was watching in the living room. I remember when it was over, feeling like I was nothing.
That night I cried myself to sleep.
The next day I woke up and hoped it was a dream. But no, my pants were down under the covers and he was sleeping peacefully in the twin bed next to me with a smugness on his face.
I ran to the shower and cried harder than the water pouring from the showerhead. I grabbed a razor and cut myself. I shaved my pubes. Poured bleach on my skin. I did anything to get rid of the feeling of disgust.
For the first time in fourteen years, I thought about killing myself. I wanted to die.
When I was sixteen I got drunk and told my parents what happened. My dad's eyes fell to the floor in shame. My mother cried, and I think I heard one of my brothers crying from their room. I told them. And that was that. It became one of those family secrets that would hover over our heads and we'd all ignore and try to forget it ever happened. Swept under the rug like dust bunnies and lint.
Swept under the rug like all sex crimes in black families.
The years went on but the memory still lingers in the air like smoke. During the holidays that smoke turns into an inextinguishable fire. I keep the visits short and our interactions even shorter. He’s invisible to me now. But this past Christmas, when his mom made a joke about wanting to take my picture because she wasn’t sure when she’d see me again, her words hit me like a bullet. She didn’t know.
I left quickly and fell apart in my car.
She. Didn’t. Know.
I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. My boyfriend’s warm hands couldn’t console me. A hurricane of emotion poured out of me. Hurricane Marquis.
The lust for has suicide faded but the feeling of disgust has not. Even till this day as I sit in the corner of a Starbucks quietly wiping my tears away, I feel disgusted. The older and wiser I get, the more the pain expands. When I finally came out years later, my parents didn't disown me. My dad didn't punch a hole in the wall, I still listened to Janet Jackson. The sky didn't fall, the world didn't end. Nothing Happened. Absolutely nothing.
And I’m stuck with the realization that I could’ve said something.
Over the past ten years, I've told my dearest friends a different version of this story. A version where I was younger. And that was a lie. I wasn't five. I wasn't six. I wasn't seven, eight, nine or ten. I was fourteen. Four years away from being an adult. Old enough to defend myself.
But I didn’t. I just laid there and cried.
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