The blood red rock in the stream. The thwack of the sugar cane—the clack of a whip on human skin. Rupture snaps the air around beloved ebony beings. And, soft as a wil-o’-the-wisp, I’m off and away, out of my body, off the Earth. Gone.

Just the other day, Toby and I stared at each other by the river, his muslin shirt buttoned against his dark skin, my cotton pantaloons and boots visible as I stepped on a rock; the grasses waved. Sweat beaded our lips.

Remember, Toby there were five of us—two from the big house, me and my cousin Sandra, kind and slow. You and your wiry and curious younger sister, Ginny, and little Ben. I’m 12. You seem about the same.

Thank you for the image, www.theivoice.com

Soon we made up the game: Us stuck on our own after a big Indian raid. Sudden big wide freedoms, but we must find shelter from the wolves and catch our own food. We’re all free equals. Except you and I, as the oldest, must lead our small gang.

That moment now seems far away. My father’s hand on the oxen, his whiskey glass. My mother’s tight mouth clamped hard. Our family horse shot, a pig slaughtered. And now, a grown man we love on his knees, hands locked behind his back, audibly rent with each lash. Our game slips away in 1,000 possible harsh ways that summer, hot and red like blood.

I do not know how to be brave.

I leave my skin. I lose myself so easily. A soft boot sole slips against the wet stones. My head goes back. Thwack! There’s water up my nose. I breathe fish your ancestors once roasted on the coast of an island I’ll never see.

I take to my bed, sickly now—fractured from my heart and mind as an ax can crack a skull.

I bow to the way things are.

I am so sorry. Many lifetimes not claiming my power. I beat my head against the river stones until I see blood.

In this lifetime, I claim my unfurling power. Red hot anger courses through my found body. Tears run thick. Fierceness flows out and through the universe, releasing as 1,000 black crows. I pour it all out. I offer my new strength to the One who can help me use it well. Forgive me and help me to forgive all that’s come before.

God: Help my river run true.

Tender.

Brave.

Two human-shaped candles hug. Art by gifted photographer (and candle maker?) Dmitri Leiciu. Looks to me like forgiveness. We must forgive ourselves and the world to move forward.
Dmitri Leiciu on Pxhere. https://pxhere.com/en/photographer/505063

You can also read “Learning to be brave” on Medium.