Cord

Tijanna O. Eaton

(USA)


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The hooks in my chest are tethered to a bungee cord that is clipped to a ring hanging from the ceiling. I lean back, past the point of safety, and am held by the entire universe that envelops me like a 3-D computer sphere. With every move, the hooks announce themselves with sharp pain, dull pain, electric pain. I close my eyes and settle in.

As I lean back further, the hooks refresh their clarion call. I reach up and begin running my hands down the cords, extending my arms as far as they will go and feeling the texture of this braided elastic until my palms touch stainless steel. The rhythm and the pain put me in something akin to a trance. I do this repeatedly.

The bright room with bright white people is replaced suddenly and unexpectedly with darkness. It is nighttime. It is raining. 

And I am chained to twelve other slaves.

We’re moving together in the darkness, stomping through mudded woods in a scene reminiscent of Beloved. The fear is palpable but the strength of our solidarity overcomes it. I look to my left and right, surrounded by sistahs and brothas and blood. Our Blackness. My soul has joined with theirs and even if I could break free, I can’t imagine leaving behind any one of them or breaking away from the pack. I begin to wail and the wail turns into a growl. The chain begins to vibrate. There is a voice in my ear.

It is the woman who leads the hook pull, interrupting a terrifying and welcomed experience. I return to my body. But wait, I was already in my body out there. I return to this body. And they return with me, in my body, in my space.

*****

The hooks in my back are tethered to a bungee cord that is clipped from a ring hanging from the ceiling. I lean forward, staring at the ground, and I position myself like what I imagine an Olympic speed skater looks like at the starting line. Front leg bent, back leg straightened, arms moderately akimbo. I look like I am about to race and I feel like it too. This is not the fleeting excitement of the sprint; a short, hard pull designed to test my resistance all at once. This is long-form, a marathon, an endurance. This is the way for the next 2 hours.

Sometime in, I put my feet together, forming a point on which to anchor. With little effort, my body sways slightly left and right, the cord and the weight creating their own hypnotic rhythm that gradually increases my tolerance for the pain. I’ve closed my eyes and once again I’m past the point of being able to catch myself, the hooks resolute, flesh beginning to stretch.

The bright light with bright white people is replaced suddenly and unexpectedly with darkness. It is nighttime. The torches below me, a menace. A lynching is occurring, and it is mine. 

I am being lynched.

I am hanging by two hooks in my back, not suspended per se but weighted down, pulling myself down, increasing the sensation, looking down at the torches and the enraged faces, salacious in their animalistic inhumanity. I start with a growl and a growl and that turns into weeping and wailing. A voice in my ear materialises.

It is the woman who leads the hook pull, interrupting a terrifying and welcomed experience. I return to my body. But wait, I was already in my body out there. I return to this body. And they return with me, in my body, in my space.

*****

The hooks in my back are tethered and the crown of my head is an inch away from a large drum face that is booming deep bass shock waves through all of us. The drumming has intensified over the last hour and my pain has reached a threshold that, once I cross it, has compressed and concentrated all my senses. 

A few minutes earlier I had risen out of a slave ship, both as a slave and as the ship, and now I am slowly stalking across the plain, heading across the tundra, to the group of seven white people on the other side of the room who have fastened their own cords to a central ring, where they pull gently, vocalise gently, sway with each other in a gentle ecstatic vibe. But I’m not here to join in that vibe and in an instant I make a decision.

I’m already growling, repeatedly, deeper, tigerlike, otherworldly, prowling. I’m looking at them with a fire and a fury that won’t consume me but is guiding me to do this.

I affix my cord to the central ring to which the seven white people are also attached.

I sweep their faces, predatory, offering them one last look at my own, and then I turn. 

And I begin pulling.

I pull.

I PULLLLL.

I pull and the slaves I am chained with pull and bodies hanging from trees pull and the slaves on the slave ship pull and then I am ROARING and the seven white people on the other end of the ring are crying out and screaming and some sound frightened at the pain. The seven white people pull back as one but I also pull back as one and a thousand and the pain. It’s their pain this time and mine transfers to them and I am saturated with it.

And it is good.

*****

The nervous breakdown during the online writing retreat lasts 25 minutes. One minute I’m taking a five-minute break, hitting a frog pose, stretching my psoas muscle, and the next minute a well of grief has opened up below me. The anger and rage of the last several years and the following year pour out into this bowl, this great vessel that has more than enough room for a lifetime of my grief that it absorbs it before it can even dampen the clay. The crying, the wailing, the sobbing — they all feel good, cleansing, healing.

A thousand hands of my ancestor slaves are upon my shoulders and head. Ancestor slaves from other bloodlines nestle into my body. Ancestral slaves from our time chained together, Negros from Jim Crow, Africans herded onto ships.

“I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry!” I sob, and instead of them exposing their pain and admonishing me for crying in the middle of my den when they were never allowed such luxuries, they rest their hands on me gently, lovingly, the word “chile” on their lips, and all the love they weren’t allowed to have flowing through me. They love that I am living a life they could never have imagined, love that I’m in a safe place in my own house, love that I’m having so many emotions, and that I’m sharing with them.

As I rise, they strengthen me as I take up my full amount of space, inside and out, whether in my own home or on the sidewalk. They are joyous as I shed self-doubt and inferiority and take up a confidence that feels like the gathering speed of a locomotive. They are ready to be heard, again and again. They take up residence in my bones and stretch out into the limitless space in each of my cells. They begin to rest.

Their Black lives have mattered.

Tijanna O. Eaton

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Tijanna O. Eaton (Tə-zha-na) is a Black, queer butch with a high school diploma and a rap sheet who has been clean and sober since 1994. She is based in Oakland California. Her upcoming book, BOLT Cutters, is the story of her twelve arrests in three years in the early 1990s during the height of the crack epidemic. She has served on the Five Keys Schools and Programs Board of Directors since 2006 and the board of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project from 2016 to 2018. Tijanna is the proud recipient of the Unicorn Authors Club’s inaugural Alumni award in 2021 and her work has appeared in Honey Literary and Noyo Review.

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