"We are all the conquered and conquerors."
I was lucky enough to see Melissa Febos on a panel at Unbound Book Festival in April. Her words about heritage, addiction and identity were very powerful for me. Her father is a Wampanoag Indian who left her with nothing but dark skin and a heritage of addiction (her words, not mine). Her book "Abandon Me" speaks in part to the process of re-discovering oneself and looking into ones own darkness. The reading she did for the Unbound panel included this sentence:
"We are all the conquered and conquerors,but it is the parts we deny that rule us."
Recognizing the warring nature of a mixed heritage is powerful. Knowing yourself when you are not all of one thing or all of another can be hard. Melissa puts words around big, powerful feelings that make a lot of things make sense for me.
I've just finished reading "Abandon Me", and found her words in context. I share them with you, here. I covet your thoughts or reactions.
"I'm not brave, I tell her. Just curious. Though that's not true either. I know I have less agency than the brave or curious. I am compelled. It is not the bondage of addiction but a different kind of drive, a hunger I cannot ignore. Maybe that's all bravery is: when your hunger is greater than your fear. I resist the implication that bravery is noble. I must face the things that scare me in order to survive. And survival is not noble. It is not a sacrifice of self but in service to the self.
"...I see it. The shame in her own darkness. I want to tell her that darkness is not bad. It is only the place we can't see yet. The parts of us we have looked away from.
"We are all the conquered and conquerors, but it is the parts we deny that rule us. Amaia is indigenous Chilean and Spanish; I am Italian, English, native, and Puerto Rican. Together we were a hundred wars and the spoils of those wars. We pass that legacy on in everything we do and everything we love. And when we heed an impulse to erase a part of ourselves, we always fail. You cannot erase yourself. You can only abandon it. But that piece doesn't die; it lives in exile. And when you love, when you become the home for someone else' heart, you are like a house with a prisoner in the cellar. Your beloved hears the thumb of that cellar door. Your child worries at twilight, feels its blue shadows sliding into her, because she sees the twilight in you--the silvery dark of a secret, of a chosen forgetting. Pulling a curtain around something doesn't keep the dark out. It keeps it in.
"I have always been afraid to have children. I didn't want to give them these parts of me--the hurtling hunger, the shame--but now I know there's no avoiding it. The best I can do is teach them not to fear the dark."