It’s 11:30 PM. I have a baby with a cold. I have a looming, untouched exam prep list. I have a sink full of dishes. I have students writing me after 9:00 asking for “leeway” in tomorrow’s class. I have a headache. I have a backache. I have anxiety-induced insomnia. I have people. And when the rest of the list makes the latter seem small, my people show up and, as the church folk say, show out.
You may be wishing for a quota on feminist writing about friendship. You may be wishing that we would stand erect and alone, our spines as stiff as steel. You may wish we would stop complaining about the world and study mathematics. You may wish we would just shut the hell up already. You may never have disappeared. You must have always been visible. You may, you must, you should move on if you are bothered. Because my sister friend has told me to show up and I will.
She called because of facebook. Because of the way that we ask others to see us in 500 characters or less. Because I was complaining again, feeling small, feeling like giving up, feeling invisible and less than worthy. Because I drank the academy’s Koolaid and she was calling to “wreck that shit.”
“If you ever feel like disappearing,” she said, “hear my voice telling you to show up.”
It was more than a suggestion. It was a fourteen word holy gift. It was firm finger lifting a heavy chin, a left hand on a right shoulder blade, a mama’s lap, a sister’s hug. It was a conundrum.
If you ever feel like disappearing…
There are millions of disappeared people. They have ceased to exist. They have vanished from sight. They have passed from view. The definitions all depend on a seeing other. Someone ceases to exist (to whom?). Someone vanishes from (whose?) sight. Someone passes from (whose?) view. The truth is that by the time I feel like disappearing, I already have.
I’ve disappeared from doctors who believe brown bodies are already diseased, law officers who color-code deviance, preachers whose conceptions of sin are embodied by Eve, academics who measure my skull and find it wanting… My many disappearances don’t seem to be my choice.
But my friend told me that if I ever feel like disappearing, I should hear her voice. She implied that disappearance could be active, a decision one makes to vanish. I think of my many active disappearances: the “informal” department parties I skip, unwilling to down glasses of wine and pretend not to feel interrogated. I think of the ways I cease to exist as a student by telling myself that my opinions don’t matter, that they aren’t useful or polished enough. I sometimes vanish from sight as a teacher, acting as little more than a moderator for uninformed opinions because of fear that sharing my true self will lead to negative course evaluations. Nervous laughter helps me pass from view in churches when male preachers blame the falls of (biblical and contemporary) great men on (biblical and contemporary) hoes. Some disappearances are active; sometimes disappearance is an act of protection. Other times it is an admittance of defeat.
Hear my voice and show up.
It was more than a suggestion. It was my grandfather telling me to “get my education” as if he, who was raised in the Jim Crow south, knew the process would be/ should be anything but passive. It was a command to stand up and be my Momma’s daughter, to lift my head like she taught me so that the weight of the world wouldn’t crumple my spine. It was an invitation to swagger, the way rappers turn a plea (can’t you see me?) into an accusation (you don’t see me), into a bonafide diss (you can’t see me!) as if intentional blindness is an admission of impotence.
So I accept the invitation and I’ll pay it forward. I will show up in my department as brown bodies always show up, especially against a white background. Others attempt to discredit me because they are afraid I will show them up, that their lies will show up, especially against the background of the truth. We show up for each other because we know firsthand the difficulties of showing up alone. I will show up for my people as they continue to show up for me. And if you ever feel like disappearing, I hope you will hear my voice and show up.