Skeleton Key

Mariyah Parson

Jon Tribble Memorial Award Winner

I hated myself. A prisoner of my hatred. A prisoner of society’s standards. A prisoner of my gender, skin, and sexuality. I was in prison to repent for the sins of who I was. I was there because I was a female, black, and lesbian. Society was the judge and jury, but it was I who was the executioner. My personal prison was my body. Inside my prison was my own personal cell of sexuality with thoughts and dreams locked inside it. My skin was my solitary confinement, something that I couldn’t escape. My prison was compartmentalized, but all connected. I had to reach the point of self-destruction to find out that my prison was connected. Through my discovery, I took a long hard look at how I arrived at this point, and decided to dive into the past to change the future because I had to look back at it, but not stare. I lived by society’s standards and my family’s standards instead of my own. I marginalized myself in this rigged system. The system is an overbearing machine that’s infused with patriarchy, homophobia, racism, and colorism. Society is the loyal workers as well as customers that help drive and profit this machine, a system that favors men, white men in particular. Their “good work and contributions to society” gives them a false sense of superiority. In the essence of their superiority, they believe that they shit don’t stink just as much as everyone else’s. In their dementia, they point their fingers and go after who they see as the weakest link. I am who they call the weakest link. I don’t fit into their social norms. The weakest link consists of being a non-white, gender non-conforming, melanated woman who loves women. These links present their own set of problems, but together it’s a tangled, detailed, intricate knot.

My caramel mocha latte goodness became the most brutal of tortures. I tortured myself on and off for 26 years. Society, as well as my guilty conscience, made me persecute myself into oblivion. It made me forget who I really was. In that forgetfulness, the only way I could remember a small fragmentation of myself was to hate myself and those around me. I hated those who were my neighbors in confinement of their melanin. I hated them because the black community, from my perspective, were too ghetto, complained too much and did so little, always making excuses for molestation and rape in the family, having bad credit, not teaching their kids enough sense to act accordingly, not raising their boys to be men, not teaching their daughters to settle for nothing less than what they deserve, eating so unhealthy, for being nothing short of perfect like white people. I hated them because I didn’t know myself nor how to love myself. While confined, hate seemed to be the only way I survived. I didn’t know why I was put in this box, other than the fact that society said I needed to be. Simply stated, I was there because society said I needed to be. I was there because society thought I was a porch monkey nigger who didn’t know right from wrong, didn’t know nothing at all, and was nothing short of inferior. I was there to repent for the sins of my skin, and my punishment was that I had to rot away. The rotting of myself came from within. I helped contribute to the making of my environment which allowed me to rot, the environment of self loathing. Society gave me the pollution to do so, pollution like poverty, drugs, and the feeling of displacement. Though I never dabbled in pollution like drugs, it ruined everything around me. The environment which I had helped create made me rot at an accelerated pace. The rotten smell lingered of cocoa butter, shame, anxiety, anger, and fear. The rot depleted my self confidence, truth, positivity, and the knowledge of my own self-worth. I rotted away unconsciously knowing that I helped the world convict me of the invisible crimes that landed me here. I wanted furlough from being a black girl.

Black women are at the very bottom. The very bottomless pit where all the shit and vomit lies. I wanted to crawl out from that bottomless pit. I wanted to be something else, something better. I wanted to be white. I preferred to be a white boy, because they could do no wrong. White boys and men held privileges that I can’t fully acquire. One of those privileges that I wanted is freedom to do as I pleased without thinking twice if I would be persecuted for being nothing less than a human being. I wanted the freedom of mind, body, and spirit to replenish the innocence that I feel and know I’ve never had the chance of claiming. White boys are privileged. When they make mistakes, they aren’t sentenced to a life in the prison that confines me and people like me. A white boy’s sins of being human is his lesson to learn, and my sins of being human is my cross to bear. My furlough of imagination came to terms with my prison of gender, so I settled for a white girl. I wanted to be white for reasons like beauty, attention, socio-economic status, and most of all because being white made everything easier. Blackness seemed like it carried a prison term. I hated my blackness. I was locked in the state of mind that I, as a black girl, was worthless. The feeling of worthlessness made me wish I were white and loathe being black, as if it would make my black skin go away.

I got in this self-loathing mindset because as a kid I would see all the pretty white girls get attention. They were angelic acting, beautiful. With their big blue eyes, pretty teeth, and blonde everlasting flowing hair. What was I? The nappy-headed girl with the ratchet smile that always had the frown on her face. I used to envy white girls because they could go to school without getting their hair done; they could do a messy bun if they wanted. I had to put my head down, turn my head, get my eyes out the T.V. , sit still, while my Ma was doing my hair. She had the hands of an iron fist. I could swear every time she did my hair, she would leave a dent in it. When she was done, she told me to wrap it up in a scarf, and man did my head hurt! It felt like a drum line was beating in my head; it was off rhythm too. I had to go through pain to be a halfway decent looking young black girl. If I didn’t go through the pain of getting my edges “laid,” then the white girls would make fun of me. The struggle of being an African American is similar to a layered cake. Not only do you face racism, but also colorism.

Colorism is the son of racism, a spitting image of his father with things to differentiate. In this case, there is stratification within the black community. Blacks wanted to achieve that eurocentric look because the lighter you were the more successful and accepted you were. It is a long-standing, undetectable if seen often ignored tradition. I didn’t notice it when I was a kid, but as an adult I recognized the symptoms. Growing up, I would hear a parent call their darker skinned kids derogatory names. Not only the parents, but also the kids. I remember when I was on the playground and two kids were arguing. The lighter skinned kid’s first insult was about the darker skinned kid’s skin tone. He referred to him as “burnt.” Racism has not only separated the races, but the tone of color within the black race. Allowing the black community to divide and dissect ourselves even more into oblivion. Sexuality was my cell, when I wasn’t in the solitary confinement of my skin, I was inside the prison of my gender.

My cell of sexuality never allowed me to really come out. I had to sneak into my dreams while on lockdown to get a breath of fresh crisp air comfortably, without fear of being watched or judged. I lurked in the happiness of my daydreaming, thinking of what woman would be my lady, the lady who I would build a castle for, and have the world be our backyard. In the backyard of the world, I would slay unwanted weeds masked as the snakes and dragons like hate, sex trafficing, war, politics, climate change and world hunger. I wanted to honor her as well as myself and be our knight and shiny melanated armor. The black that didn’t crack under any pressure. I was locked inside the dreams of my sexuality, by choice. Those unfiltered dreams I would have about my sexuality were unacceptable to my social group. My dreams were illegal contraband. Illegal contraband which was said to be contagious. I didn’t talk about my dreams often and not to everyone. I didn’t want anyone to catch what I had. Not society, not women, not my family. I wanted to get out of my prison where I couldn’t be myself, be happy, loathed myself and others like me. I knew I wanted to get out, not knowing that I had the keys to my own freedom. Though I had the keys, I had to replenish what had rotted away to have the energy to unlock that of which imprisoned me. To do that, I had to do something I haven’t even thought of doing. Sifting through the ignored often untold history, my past actions, and thoughts that landed me in this hell hole. Sifting would allow me to own my truths and face reality without a chip as big as the universe on my shoulder. Through my sifting, I found all odds were against me, three strikes. With no safe haven to formally fall into.

I was a prisoner of my own volition. Yes, I was a woman, black, and a lesbian. I have three odds, three strikes. What I came to find out was that while I was at odds with the world, it seemed that I really didn’t have a safe haven, though the hatred of myself was all connected. When I wasn’t black, I was gay. When I wasn’t gay, I was a black female who had to stand behind the black community as a whole. When I wasn’t black, I was a feminist. God forbid a black women like myself can’t be a feminist because we have to fight for rights as black people, and don’t have the luxury to focus on my own rights as a black woman. I had no gravity, and was constantly floating to whoever let me into their gravitational pull. They let me in with restrictions: Don’t be too gay, too black, or too feminist. In that constant floating of trying to get accepted, I loathed myself. Loathed the prison of myself because I couldn’t pick a side completely. I was torn with all my guts and insides hanging out as decoration. Nobody seemed to care if I died of sepsis. It was the infection of acceptance.

I didn’t care either, I suppose, because I connected the three beautiful parts of me with hate. Hate that fueled self-destruction. I couldn’t kill myself any longer. So, instead of loving me one piece at a time, I decided to love me as a whole. It took me a long time to gather the insides once hanging out for all to see. I tucked the insides that were torn and hanging for decoration and stuffed them back into my mind, body, and soul. I finally felt myself without feeling like some part of me was missing. I didn’t have to substitute an individual intersectionality for another. My mind is my mind, and no one else’s. I began to think for myself, and on behalf of myself. I reflect on my past and use the mistakes to learn from, and not to debilitate and hinder my mind. Without the hindrance of my mind, I began to feel what I thought, and my body took action. I acted in my own personal interests and sought solace from within. This beautiful melinated mocha latte goodness became my own intimate comfort instead of my own personalized torture. to learn from, and not to debilitate and hinder my mind. Without the hindrance of my mind, I began to feel what I thought, and my body took action. I acted in my own personal interests and sought solace from within. This beautiful melinated mocha latte goodness became my own intimate comfort instead of my own personalized torture. I turned my house into a home to take refuge in, instead of making my body my own torture chamber. My once blind burdened soul is now my internal light that guides me through dark days when I sometimes can’t see or feel. I began to love myself because I connected the pieces of me that I once considered to be my prisons. The abstract prisons that I thought they were became concrete to lay the foundation of my intersectional identity, and that gave me the freedom to love myself unconditionally. Through my unconditional love of myself, I unlocked the gates to my prison.