It was in the time of gleaming sweat and honey sweet summer days, the last gasps left of July before she finally died out into August, the days that seem to drag on into forever and cling to your skin as slick and sticking as precipitation. It was in the time of balmy afternoons left roasting forever in the sun. It was in the time when an almost divine fever overtook me, searing away the lies.
It was then, in the time of an impossible pressure, that it came out of me, bubbling, boiling, blistering, hot. I had a truth to scorch the earth.
I cradled my truth close to my chest. I marinated it in resentment and baked it in rage, salted it in self-righteousness and at last, left it to simmer in my own festering bitterness.
And when it was time to serve that vicious truth, dish it out to the world, the popping oil of my anger fell flat and cold. Despite my internal longing for my righteous anger to return, a differing desire had also seeded itself within me. The unveiling of my secret catalyzed its violent blooming, the petals of it unfolding and falling with my tears.
“Mom, I know you can’t understand,” I said. “You don’t need to though, because all you need to do is know. I’ve been this way since forever. I’ve known since I was 8.”
I could feel desperation creeping into my voice when I said the words, my throat red, raw and tight. I found myself wishing for that wrath that I had harbored like a gleaming black stone in my chest to return to me now. It would have been easier to be angry than to be sad, to be desperate. But it seemed that finally, oh, finally, I had run out of the fuel of my own fury, had bled my anger dry. I was tired. All I had left was a need — a need for validation, for acceptance. I looked to get it, repeating the words to her. She seemed not to hear the first time.
My mother vehemently shook her head, the rest of her body shaking with it.
“No, I would have known,” she said. “I would have noticed.” Her voice was thick, gray cement that sealed her assumptions in stone. A flicker of her eye, a whisper of a catch in her throat were my only receivers.
My heart clenched for a second, and I felt a familiar heat flood into me, sewing itself into my tissues, plunging into the marrow of my bone.
“Then why didn’t you?”
Accusation, blame, that pressure gave those spots of black inside my heart sharp edges. Gave them the gleam of shattered diamonds. I could feel their razor points scraping my insides, begging, pleading to poke through. I wanted to let them become my shell, to protect me from my own words.
Yet, there is a moment held suspended before next, held from the insatiable jaws of time before being dashed to oblivion, a moment held like the cool spring dew that clings to the edges of viridescent grasses, before the sudden plummet to earth. There is a moment held in eternal sweetness, sopped in honey, thick and slow, before what was once a secret becomes an unassailable, indisputable truth.
“This is the way I am.”
The words poured out of me like an oozing syrup. I hadn’t imagined the truth to taste so sweet.
“I’m not the person you thought I was,” I said. “I’m not the person you imagined I’d be as a little girl. I’m not straight. I’m bisexual, and I love people beyond their gender.”
My heart filled for a second, brimming with a hope that was cool and relieving as winter evenings. I saw the glimmering gold of a dawn I thought my own anger had extinguished forever.
But it lasted only a moment.
Eyes blinded, ears deafened, my mother didn’t understand and didn’t want to. I had no doubt that behind those glazed eyes, dreams of some other daughter danced as they died away. I knew that this wasn’t the life she wanted for me. She later told me as much.
But the beauty of truth is that once released, it can never be sealed into one’s insides left to rot once more, or breed an outburst of anger. And once expelled and purged away, I discovered that there is room for so much more.
So once the fever of my truth subsided, I went searching. Searching, not for validation and not for love, but for something so massive and so vast that I could barely contain the thought of it within the walls of my mind, much less put it into words.
I went searching for the larger meaning. The bigger story that I knew not only existed within me, but also within so many queer black girls like me. Girls who struggled in wrestling with the fact that being LGBTQ is at times considered antithetical to being black. That sometimes, the only acceptance you can find is that within yourself.
And so that year, I marched with my fellow VOX ATL staffers during Atlanta’s 2017 PRIDE parade as a Grand Marshal. When it rained later, the fat drops created watery splatters on my rainbow signs, the marker ink staining my fingers. I became a public LGBTQ advocate with a city-wide media organization that gave me a soapbox to scream from until my throat became as raw as my words. I brought in the new year by interviewing LGBTQ community leaders and nonprofit organizations, providing them the megaphone they needed to amplify their voices.
On the cusp of the summer of 2018, I wrote an article that was published in print that explored the conflicts between my sexuality and my race. The ink of the print mixed with my blood and tears. And as I develop as both a social activist and journalist, I hope to continue and expand my work in exploring, documenting and celebrating marginalized communities, and highlighting the voices of people like me that have only recently found the courage and platforms to have their stores told.
While the tentative first moments of 2017 were a time defined by the sweltering heat of my own self-erected prison, its final moments glistened with glory and pride. It birthed an era of discovery and courage I somehow found within myself that holds strong even in this year’s last breaths.
And so, my season of massive, vast wonder drifts towards its end for me. But even as this year draws closer to its finale, I know that I’m not done yet, not even close. I have so much more work to do, so many more stories to tell, and so much more searching left in me.
And now, as the sun sets on this period of my life, I stand clinging to the brink of the next, my eyes already wondering to the secrets and surprises hidden in its horizon.
Erin Davis, 17, is a photographer, journalist and creative who strives to document and celebrate the unconventional and unseen subcultures within the Atlanta arts scene.