This post was going to be a short and sweet cookie cutter recollection of how I saw Black Panther yesterday with my parents but life comes at you fast. While there are many elements of the movie that pulled squeals, “omg what,” and more out of me, I really connected to the strength of the women in the movie. All of them were strong but not in a way that took away from their emotions. They were strong and emotional. They had layers and layers of strength and emotion throughout the film. Add in respect and unwavering confidence, even when they were unsure, and you have beautifully written characters. It made me feel proud to be a black woman who also has layers but sometimes doesn’t believe she can be strong and emotional. This is what I was reflecting on a mere couple of hours before something reminded me why I often question my strength.
I’ve spoken about my rape before but I never described the questions that taunted me afterwards. For a good six months after it happened, I was completely numb about it. I didn’t even think or feel that’s what happened to me. I distinctly remember coming home that night and writing about what happened in a journal I kept in high school but I know I closed that journal tight, never to look at it again for a long time. The more time passed, the more the memories kept coming back. They started off as small snippets. Literal flashes of that night and then nothing. But then the snippets turned into longer scenes until I eventually remembered every single detail and wondered if I’d exactly experienced something normal. This led to me talking to me a high school friend about what happened. It came spilling out and I couldn’t stop myself. It was almost involuntary, like my mind was bursting through the seams. Up until that point, I hadn’t talked to anyone about it because I hadn’t even really talked to myself about it.
Fast forward to February 17, 2018 and the strength I felt from Black Panther turned into panic. Slow, creeping panic…because I saw the one person who betrayed my trust more than anyone could ever think about doing. It started off as a numb feeling, almost like my heart stopped. Then it turned into slight tremors and thinking of a way to escape. To hide. To be anywhere but where I was so I couldn’t be seen. It took a conversation with my best friend and, later, my boyfriend for me to realize I’ve had a deathlike grip on the pain caused by this person for a long time. It’s not that I didn’t know but I kept lying to myself by saying I’d forgiven him and I really hadn’t. I hadn’t even really forgiven myself. I’ve blamed myself off and on…”why didn’t you say something when it happened?” “Why didn’t you say ‘no’ louder?” “Why didn’t you just stay home instead of sneaking off in the middle of the night?” “Why didn’t you do more to protect yourself?”
After all of these years, it finally dawned on me that I’ve tricked myself into believing that because I’m emotional by nature and never really forgave myself, there’s no way I could be strong. Not only that but I convinced myself I couldn’t be strong because strong people don’t let something that happened to them years ago rob them of their strength. They hold their head high and stand firm when facing certain circumstances. Things I do not do when the memories come back…things I did not do when seeing this person after years of not seeing him. I did not think I could ever look at myself as strong until I woke up the next morning and felt like giving this life thing another shot. It was a very deliberate feeling, almost like someone filled me up as I was sleeping or at least whispered, “you can do this. This is not how the story ends.”
I can’t say I’ll become a fierce warrior like Okoye overnight but then again I know I don’t have to be strong like her. I don’t have to be strong like any of the women who have experienced a deep pain that threatened to rob them of life but they found a way to turn that pain into something beautiful. My strength may waver as I navigate the path of forgiveness and letting go but my resolve has not. I did not give in to giving up or shutting down. I let myself talk about what happened with two men I’ve come to trust in life and I’m letting myself talk about it now. Strength is not always loud. Sometimes it’s as subtle as deciding you will forgive someone for hurting you. Sometimes it’s as subtle as a change in the way you let your emotions flow through your body freely without cursing them. Because I am still here, deliberately, I am strong. There are so many people who take their lives because the pain of abuse overcomes them and I will never think they are weak for traveling a path they felt would lead them to peace. My strength today remembers them, remembers me and remembers those who feel they can’t choose between being strong or emotional.
As the sun shines through my bedroom window as I finish this post, I know my strength is kissing its ray and praising my ancestors for having the strength to make my life a reality. Deciding to step into this strength has been a decision I’ve had to make but I’d like to think someone has been waiting patiently for me to step into something they created just for me…so I could create something for others. True enough my strength will help propel me forward but I’d be remiss to think I was given this life to keep all of my experiences, lessons learned, creativity and resources to myself. That is the power of Black Panther and real life merging.
women like you are known to carry war between your teeth
and still manage to slide soft words off your tongue.
you baffle them with how you fit both
battle and peace
in your body – Upile Chisala