My father is a checker. Whenever we leave the house he has to go through every room smoothing the comforters and throw blankets until there is no wrinkle to be found. The light switches need to be flipped off and on thee times as well as the television’s power button. He looks up to the ceiling fan and pulls on its cord three times. Before he can leave any room, my father stands underneath the door frame and scans the room, trying to see what, if anything, is out of place. Then as he leaves, he locks the door and turns the door knob in either direction, three times.
For me, control has never been something I do as much as it has been something that is done to me. And I don’t mean my father’s control over how I wash dishes or organize my desk drawers—I mean the rules and boundaries that pull and cut into my body.
At thirteen, my ribs showed through the papery skin of my torso and each day my hip bones started to look more and more like shards of glass. In my most vivid memory of that time, my mother sat next to me at the nutritionist’s office sobbing, “I don’t know why this is happening.”
I couldn’t tell her about the girls that surrounded me, poking their fingers into my ham sandwiches and crushing my potato chips while pinching the fat underneath my arms. How was I supposed to tell her about the boys that looked at me like I was a plot of weed in their yards?
Control is a privilege given to few.
When my mother saw the tattoo on my arm, she sighed and asked between a clenched jaw, “Why would you do that to your body?”
I looked down at the forest of veins sewn into a heart whose arteries burst with wild peonies.
I thought about the stories my grandmother told me growing up. About my great-great-great-great grandfather, king of a Yoruba tribe until he was dragged into the new world, a slave, and rooted between tall stalks of sugarcane; or the story about my grandmother’s mother, who as a girl trembled as she stared at the strange fruit hanging from the kapok trees in the summer countryside. I thought about the countless nights when my parents crawled to their bed in the creeping hours of dawn, dried sweat on their brow from cleaning offices and flipping burgers, tip-toeing to avoid waking me. They would lay in bed and shut their eyes, trying to escape the poverty they were thrown into. I thought about the men who loved to claim me, covering my mouth with the salty palm of their hand as they raped me.
My mother stares into my heart, yet she does not seem to know any of this. I stare into it too. “I am yours,” it says.