“Letter to Ayanna”
I know you
Even if you don’t exist
Even if you will never exist
I saw you
in third grade
with darker hair than mine
but still like mine
Tomboyish like me
But not as much
With a pink sweater
And patched jeans
Converse sneakers hinting
That you like a solid foundation
And will not be told who you are
I raised you
In my mind
To be stronger than I was
To break our family’s lineage
Of being hurt and scared
I am afraid of you
Afraid to create a fearless girl
Not because the world would wreck you
But because the world wrecked me
And i can’t go back
To become like you
But maybe I can meet you
If I keep going forward
I was born free
But given away at a very young age to clutching hands that locked me in a tower.
They would grab at me in the dark.
Voices would drift through my tiny window from the ground beneath. I could hear them talking about me.
The only part of me that could reach the earth was my long, long hair; I would let it out to bask on the sunny grass, hoping it would somehow warm the rest of me. It began to draw attention. Soon the voices below were given faces as men clawed up my hair, tearing my scalp, happening too fast to protect myself. Eventually I learned that if I bore this with good humor the men would bring me gifts and news from the outside world. (But never scissors, never rope.) They told me my life was easier than theirs. I began to crave their visits, connecting them with memories of feeling alive. I forgot what it had been like before, to let my hair down without pain.
The hands in the dark still came. Made of shadows, they belonged to no one — they simply were. They prodded me, caressed my body, pressed into my womb with an aggressive ownership. Sometimes they hit me, but I preferred it to the gentle touch that made my skin crawl. They had been at it for so long. They possessed me with such confidence.
They could not have known that I remembered freedom. They could not have known that if they broke my mind after breaking my body, freedom would be the only thing left of me.
I began to see the men at the window as my only chance for escape.
I waited for one of them to come alone. Without warning —always without warning — I felt the familiar tug on my scalp, felt my body slam against the wall as the night’s visitor yanked his way up the tower. Finally, my hair went slack; as his head and shoulders squeezed through the window I wrapped my hair around his neck in several tight loops. I pulled from both ends with all my strength. The man was helpless under my grip, his arms still pinned by the narrow window — but the hands in the darkness realized what I was doing and raked at my arms in panic. Their clawed fingers peeled skin from muscle. I would not let go. I could handle the pain.
I had to wait. Had to wait for the birds to pick at the man’s flesh as I dangled his lifeless arm out the window every day. Had to keep vigil every night against the hands in the darkness, to protect the precious bones. Soon the flesh was gone enough that I had what I needed. In the morning I tore the ligaments apart and sharpened the thinner bones on the tower’s stone floor. Heart racing, I carefully inserted a bone into the lock on the door and began to pick. Pick, pick, pick. After many hours and many broken bone picks, the ancient lock clicked open.
I was born free.