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by J.L. Moultrie 

The imagination runs wild in physical darkness. The persistent absence of light must have played a transformative role in human evolution – it forced our ancestors to contend with who they were. If I had spoken these words to the thirteen-year-old I was, they would have fallen upon deaf ears.


It was a summer night and the stars were as dull and remote as my sense of self-awareness. A relative and I were returning home after smoking weed together for the first time. On the way, we were jovial, but an underlying uneasiness festered inside of me.


My brother is nine years older than me and a tension always existed between us. The schism likely began with one of my earliest memories. Me and some playmates were spending the day together and after they left my brother said, “Why can’t you be like them?” This planted the seed in my five-year-old mind that I was flawed in an innate way.


Through the entirety of my childhood and teenage years my brother and I lived together, so I was subject to his acerbic disposition and rejection to who I was on a constant basis. This was only compounded by the fact that both of our parents were addicts. By the time I was a teenager, I’d been homeless and lived in a half-dozen places, including the projects, flea-ridden flats and multi-cultural havens.


My sentience began to oppress me at the onset of middle school. Shame, anxiety and melancholy colored each of my interactions with peers and adults. I had no point of reference for what was happening to me, so each day was permeated by some degree of panic or dread.


I was a very reluctant speaker as a child, so my relatives inferred that I was intellectually impaired. I had an uncle who’d had a nervous breakdown as a teenager and, as a result, couldn’t speak or take care of himself for the remainder of his life. They assumed that I’d inherited the same affliction. They were careful not to explicitly vocalize this, but their actions and the way they treated me spoke volumes. I’ve never forgotten the ways in which I was made to feel.


Around this time, my mother entered a relationship with an abusive man. When we lived with him and his mother, I witnessed him steal and cause harm to everyone he encountered. One night he sent my mother to the hospital, where she required several stitches across her face. My brother was nowhere to be found.    


The relative I’d gotten high with was older than me and had done it before. For weeks he’d begged me to meet his friends about three miles away from where we lived. One afternoon, I reluctantly agreed and off we went.


His friends were a few years older than me and one of them immediately asked if I smoked or rapped. I said no to both and he said, “You don’t do shit.” A few moments after I inhaled, my body and surroundings appeared to be slowly vibrating. I walked outside and looked up at the vast darkness beyond the trees; stars gleamed like small blades.


The closer we got to returning home, the more I became constricted by alarm. It felt as if snakes were congregating inside my abdomen. What would happen if my brother was waiting at home and caught me high? Would he berate and humiliate me? Would he become enraged enough to strike me? These fears glinted like flecks of gold in the riverbed of my body.


We entered the apartment and no one was there. I breathed a sigh of relief, found an empty bed, lied down and closed my eyes. My heart rate slowly returned to normal as scenes from the previous day played on a loop in my mind. Back then, I didn’t possess the language to articulate, and thus, distance myself from the trauma. I was in too much pain to truly feel it.  


In recent years, the lines of communication between my brother and I have suffered greatly. A few years ago, he called me out of the blue and displayed genuine contrition for how he made me feel as a youth. When he began sobbing uncontrollably, I tried to assure him that all our time together was not tainted; that we shared sincere moments of joy and connection. He stopped crying and tried to laugh at my attempts at humor.


From the moment we’re born, we begin to embody duality. The flight from who we were and who we’ll become is arduous and rife with unknowns. Meanwhile, we’re perpetually in the present, undergoing or succumbing to change. Left to wrestle in manifold darkness, we must contend with ourselves. This is our inheritance.

About the Author

J.L. Moultrie is a native Detroiter, poet and fiction writer who communicates his art through the written word. He fell in love with literature after encountering Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Baldwin, Rainer Maria Rilke and many others. He considers his work to be experiential, abstract expressions.

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