Empty Wells by Jay Roundtree

My body is not my own.

It has never been mine to explore, to learn, or to love carefully. It’s shape, how it moves, it’s softness, how it shimmers in the sunlight—that has never been mine to cherish. The songs of my soul and of my heart, my voice yearning to be heard—those have never been mine to sing—silenced. Everything that I am—gouged out—just another empty Black body.

I was around 12 years old when I began to realize how the world viewed this body regardless of who was in it. An empty Black body. I remember crawling into my mom’s bedroom one day and nestling my little body at the foot of her bed. I looked up at her with big eyes. She held tightly to the pillow in her lap; her angry, wet eyes did not move from the television screen. I watched with her, intently, trying to wrap my head around what I was witnessing. I tried to make sense out of the feeling that erupted in my stomach, the anger that consumed my spirit. Florida v. Zimmerman. Why was it always people who looked like me who laid lifeless on that television screen, whose bodies were stolen from them? Black bodies like mine, Black bodies laid out like carcasses without souls, without dreams and desires. I tried to avert my eyes from the talking heads behind glass screens, protected from our screams and our cries. Another victim of the system, another Black boy turned Black body. His body was not his own.

I became hyper-aware of my own body and how it was perceived. I began to understand how I was to move in this world, how I was to carry this Black body. It had already been so delicately weaved into my mind that when it came to this body, I was to value the opinions of men, of old Black women, of teenage boys, and of imperious strangers more than my own. What I wanted for myself didn’t matter. What I wanted to wear, where I wanted to walk, who I wanted to talk to, how I wanted to express myself—overpowered by voices of people who had more control of my body than I did. I was a blank canvas, a naked body to be covered, subject to judgment, to harassment, a silent gift for the male gaze. I stopped dressing myself, suppressing my expression, surrendering any freedom of choice that I had in a worthless attempt to avoid my mother’s tongue, pigs with guns and badges, and men who tried to rape me with their eyes.

My father always taught me that it was okay to say no, yet I was always being scolded for it. He taught me to speak up for myself, but my voice was never loud enough for anyone else to hear. Black children screaming into the void. The illusion of choice plagued my existence, but what is a Black father supposed to tell his Black child when he knows the world will never hear their voice? Just an empty Black body.

I came to understand that decisions about this body were not mine to make, guided by an eternal list of dos and don’ts—unwritten— accompanied by no explanations, no alternatives, no choice. I lost myself before I ever had a chance to discover who I was. Am I not allowed to find myself, to love myself, to see myself as more, to be full? Am I not allowed to take up space in my own body; express who I am inside of this body?

At seventeen I felt guilty for saying no. I had no choice. This body was stolen from me by a boy who had refused to have it any other way. He held so tightly to the belief that he was more entitled to this body than I was, and that he could ignore the cries coming from this body to take what he wanted from it, to consume it, to leave no space for me in it. I begged for an escape from this body.

How many times would I have to beg for someone to hear my voice? Black voices echoing, echoing with no answer. But Black bodies…Black bodies are empty with no souls, Black bodies take up too much space, Black bodies need to be hidden, erased, exploited, used and abused, assaulted, stolen.

This Black body has been nothing more to you than a well to drink from, to scream into, and to suck dry. It is empty.

Jay Roundtree (they/them) is a Black queer writer and creative from Baltimore, MD. They’re currently a junior in college pursuing a degree in Communications with a minor in Writing. They enjoy writing as a form of creative self-expression and as a medium to share their voice and to connect with others through art.

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