I must admit that today feels like the worst day to celebrate my life. Ignoring the fact that I am in quarantine and that I have a list of first world problems that make my life slightly less convenient, I’m also realizing that my life is too fragile to withstand a reverberation of applause. I’m a young 6’3 black man walking around the streets of America and I don’t feel safe. I am surrounded by death. I feel marked for it. But today I am alive, and that feels like betrayal. Today I turn 27. Ahmaud Arbery would have celebrated his 26th birthday on May 8th. Today I turn 27. Breonna Taylor was viciously murdered in her own home. She was 26. Today I am 27. On Saturday, my cousin was murdered. He was 19.
Today I turn 27. I am 27. The number and the thought haunt me. It eats at me. It never leaves me. I feel stalked by my own expiration date. I am gutted. It’s the only way I know to describe it. I feel removed. Detached. Hollow. Raw. I am surrounded by death. I am marked for death and worse, I am empathetic towards death. Ahmaud Arbery was a 26 year old black man on a jog. That could have easily been me. Breonna Taylor was sitting in her house. That could have easily been my best friend.
DJ, a young athlete. That could have easily been my brother.
Death is around me. It is connected to me. I face it everyday. By breathing in a black body, I have invited death into my life and yet, I am alive.
I feel guilty. I’m not sure why I am here or how, and I feel guilty. What flap of the butterfly’s wing allowed me to escape the path forced on my kind? I feel guilty. What should I do with my life? How should I honor theirs? What will I teach my children? What will I learn from my parents? I don’t know. No one tells me what we’re doing wrong or how to do right. How can I protect myself from a serial killer with no pattern? All I know is that today I turn 27 and Breonna, Ahmaud, and DJ never will. I know that my trans-sisters are being raped and murdered at alarming rates, while the world turns a blind eye and I hold on to my virtue and visibility like a Chanel bag. I feel guilty.
But I don’t want to. I don’t deserve to. And I’m trying to hold space for that.
But they never tell you in therapy that holding space for yourself feels like you’re canon-balling over the edge. I can’t hold space in the palm of my hand. I’m not God. I have baggage. To hold space for myself I have to hold myself, and I can’t squat down to cover my knees. If I get any lower to the ground they will stomp me to death. So I stand up tall - like my dad taught me. He says if you stand up tall it’s hard for the world to walk over you. So today I’m upright. I bring my knees to my chest and wrap my arms around them. I’m acutely aware of the eyes on me, the air under me and the weight of all of my problems. I feel unstable and unsupported. I look down and realize that I’m not floating. I’m perched. Like the turtle on a fence post I am implausibly perched. Existing in the present solely because someone else had a hand in my placement. I am perched. Balancing is exhausting. I am exhausted. I feel guilty.
Today I turned 27. But tomorrow, who knows. - Jefferson DePriest Ellison