I can’t stop remembering an incident with a middle school bully named Amanda Barba. We were 12 years old. “You shouldn’t speak to me like that you little faggot. Are you going to cry little faggot? Awww little fag boy going to cry.” One week into quarantine in New York City and I am lost in this memory; I was wearing a black hoodie over my gym clothes and happy I could cover up. It was finally a cloudy day in Southern California. I fucking hated my body. I hated how skinny and small I was; always felt like an interruption to erase, destroy. Every day when I was called a faggot, I was reminded that I didn’t deserve pleasure, and that I wouldn’t receive it either. I remember standing there as she mocked and hurt me. I really wanted to cry and really needed something to stop, but I kept ignoring her and looked straight ahead. No one came to help me.
I look straight ahead as I take my daily walks to the East River. There is such weight to the trees. I thought in late March – I swear I could feel it – I saw America collapse and part of me was relieved, but I read article after article detailing its desperate need for a resurrection, to come back unharmed. Those who believe they can always be new are weightless, exalted. They make up a society addicted to its invincibility. And from history, America’s return will be a reality that is so powerful, white, and newly chaste that it will never speak of what went wrong ever again. We have always been in a catastrophic struggle between what is visible and who is made to be invisible. And right now the extent of fear and protest, no matter how small or large, is felt in all of our tiny, little rooms. This is our grand unity.
I have never felt more invisible or afraid of death then when I was in middle school. Starting in sixth grade, I was quarantined in the locker room – my classmates would distance themselves from me as we dressed. I would get called a faggot up to 40 times a day. “I’m going to stab you faggot and throw you in the trash can.” I would go back home and almost weekly my father and mother would fight. She would lunge at him with such rage and any item that could be a weapon; she would threaten to kill herself and us. My brother, on drugs, told me he was going to kill me. I was made vey aware of the seconds between life and death. And the free fall you experience when you lose your family and society; the feeling that there is no chance to create a world that will take care of you. The resulting rage because you are so alone.
Every day, for the past 52 days, hundreds of people have been dying in New York City. 7pm is a ritualistic calling that will soon lose its purpose. We watch front row as our country flexes its imperialism; its capitalism and racism enforcing so many to be in free fall and rage.
That feeling I had at that exact moment being bullied, I feel it now more than ever, but of course I am older and have experienced so much more trauma. But, it’s one of the first moments when I had the sensation of free fall and loss. Just what it feels like to be standing in a society and not be seen. I had no one to reach out to, and I felt that painful tugging behind my heart, alarming me that I was defeated and hurt. I was the only witness to all of my hopes and needs getting displaced and abandoned. And it became my responsibility to develop language for my pain. A part of something, but invisible.
When I walk to the East River, I can’t help thinking of everyone who has lost their job, who can’t pay rent, who is getting abused, who hates themselves, who is neglected, targeted, and attacked because supremacism will exercise its oppression, will go further to secure that protection when it feels threatened. What I have gone through and still do.
It is maddening.
I wonder what it must feel like to walk barefoot around an apartment you can’t afford and if there is shame. I think of how hard it was to maintain access to a world before the pandemic and how that effort must feel strangled by income loss. I think of who is saved and who is blamed; lots of black and brown bodies dying again. As I walk, I see people not social distancing and I see people not wearing masks. And I wonder, if we live in a society that is not only racist, transphobic, and misogynist, but deeply believes that someone can exist in their own world, that demands them to believe they have no accountability to anyone else, that defines power just by how quickly someone has built their kingdom, then what brutal call do have you to make to be heard? More so, how do you signal you’re in pain without getting punished? Will you even be heard? Is it even about being heard? Do you just develop the healthiest ecosystem you can, knowing that just outside your door is a whole world actively trying to destroy you?
When I listen to my rage. When I really listen to it, it is deep and most definitely screams “please don’t leave me here all alone!” And in that listening I can hear the years and histories crush with their volume. The world that I’ve tried hiding from, that I’ve tried negotiating with, that I’ve tried conforming to, that I’ve erased myself for, that expects an infuriating, infinite patience, stresses a special contract of silence in order to live beside it. If care, respect, and love are done alone, are they really vital? Is the goal always to create some shallow picture? The funeral has become a meme.
I walk to the East River undone. There are too many individuals. When I look up, I don’t know why I still have the cruel wish, expectation that there is some kingdom that everyone will fit into. And I look onto the city as I always have, heartbroken and thinking how to best take care.
HORDE is a poet, performance artist, and nonfiction essayist who lives in Brooklyn, NY. He has authored the following poetry books: Graham Series, It Was Just A Bad Shape, And More and More This Is Called How I Learned to Love. Inspired by an upbringing of violence and survival, his work focuses specifically on tracing, detailing, and undoing white supremacy, rape culture, and capitalism. He is currently dedicating his time to getting published and learning drum machines.This piece was edited by Joelle Te Paske.