On Liminal Space: Speaking to the Sky
by Aliya Blackmore
The space of holding on or letting go...
Perhaps there is a middle ground, of existing as is—in between.
I have been back in New York for three months, and yet, at moments, a part of me still feels that it is lost somewhere in this chasm of darkness and anxiousness--feeling separated from my body and mind. I have cried, a lot, this water doing the work of both honoring where I am at while acknowledging a journey towards moving forward.
I sat outside one afternoon, swirling my coffee cup around with my legs sticking to the chair; I was on the phone with my grandparents summarizing what my time away had been like so far. My grandmother got on the line, and she said that she had about me:
“You were standing at my door, in a nightdress, but it was you as a child; you had a suitcase behind you and I asked, ‘Li, what are you doing here? What happened?,’ and you responded that something happened and that you are back here [in New York] now.”
I am sitting with my grandmother’s dream now and looking at the possible symbolism. Perhaps, the appearance of a younger me alluded to a possible fear or tension that a child may feel when they are away from home — or a child’s feeling of wanting to be close to what they know. My grandmother sensed the fearful child that was existing within me.
I was not vocal about all that I was experiencing internally while away or even after returning to New York, only with very few. Perhaps my grandmother saw, before me, that I would need to give voice to what left my spirit heavy for some time.
“You are safe now.”
I had spent Sunday, in bed, crying on the phone with my friend, only finding comfort in the understanding and gentleness of his words and voice. I felt anger, disappointment and guilt within myself. My tears soaked a small cell phone that I got three years ago while traveling for three months; here I was, traveling again, feeling extremely distant from home and from myself and wishing that I could undo what happened the night before.
I was assaulted at a bar.
For many days and weeks, I sat with the thoughts of wondering if what happened could be classified as assault. Was being grabbed by someone and kissed on the cheek, after saying no, assault, or an overstepped boundary? Did the moment that I have stopped pulling away mean that I had given in to that person's advances and given them some sort of permission? Or was my body stopping a way of me shutting down in some way? I stopped moving and stopped speaking and in some ways, I convinced myself that I didn’t fight hard enough to protect myself at that moment. Putting that moment into words felt both like a need to stifle or justify using the word “assault” while also feeling reminded by the other moments in which I felt deeply unsafe in my body. Much of my anger was rooted in blame that I projected onto myself. This was blame that manifested as wondering (and admittedly, still, at times, wondering):
WHY didn’t I speak LOUDER/why didn’t I just stay in that night/why didn’t I move with more STRENGTH/why did I stop moving?
When I was younger, I remember my father telling me that I could not wear red nail polish, not on my toes and certainly not on my fingernails. The underlying reason/thinking was that I would present as “fast.” Red nail polish was somehow equated to a sort of sexual openness that invited attention that a child should not attract. This sat somewhere within me after being assaulted. For the two months that I spent abroad during the summer of 2018, there was a feeling of emotional burden, of wanting to wear what I desired to, while also not wanting to warrant unwanted attention (and this was not the first time navigating this)—somehow I had come to embody an ideology of policing of my body that I had fundamentally disagreed with but I also wanted to prioritize the safety of my body. What exactly does protection even look like? To me, it felt like walking quickly, avoiding eye contact, not going out often, and feeling deeply unsettled in my body and mind. Were my expressions of self suggestive of something? What are the ways in which my body is perceived and challenged, as a result?
Amidst the myriad of thoughts that often overwhelmed me, I was reminded by the same friend, “the blame does not belong to [me]” and should not. That blame does not belong to you, Aliyah. I was trying to grasp on to ways to honor where I was at, while not allowing for what became much fear and anxiousness to consume me—I started to straddle existing in this sort of in-between space of healing that was both unsettling and beautiful.
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color sat on my nightstand, next to post-it affirmations losing their stickiness, a bottle of white Havana Club, rose quartz and amethyst.
I found/find myself reminded of the deep balm in words, in the words of others— a way for me to further contextualize my own experience(s), my own feelings. Last summer, I found balm in words as well as in myself and all of the Black womxn inside of me. “Wear your armor,” my mom told me one afternoon on a spotty WhatsApp call, as the time on my internet card was ending. Albeit fleeting (as calls often felt), I was reminded of the importance of wearing my armor and knowing that all that I need(ed) exists within me.
Healing is not, in any way, linear— it exists liminally, and limitlessly. I am arriving at the place where I feel deeply present with all of the nuances of what this healing looks like for me—all of the differences. I acknowledge the difficulty in placing blame on myself while knowing that I am not to blame.
In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House,” Audre Lorde writes, “[d]ifference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.” What is the modality of my self-actualization and affirmation at this moment, to move through and beyond? Honoring my power does exist in this space of difference and tension—that is the space from which I am learning to heal and it at times feels like a constant spiral.
This journey of healing has meant being present with my being in all of its fullness and complexity. I honor the spaces that my spirit has existed in so that I can live more harmoniously with all of myself. I will close with some words from “Letter to Ma;” Merle Woo writes, “[u]ntil we can all present ourselves to the world in our completeness, as fully and beautifully as we see ourselves naked in our bedrooms, we are not free.” I am getting free, and that is both terrifying and bliss. I surrender myself to the openness and fluidity of getting there and in continually forging what the space of free looks like for me. I surrender to the liminal space of healing and all of it’s unknown.
"On Liminal Space: Speaking to the Sky" is a personal reflective essay, piecing together journal entries and writing in the present, about navigating the nuances of healing from assault. Through this piece I was interested in opening a space of personal reflection regarding the navigation of complex emotions and thoughts while also moving towards a space of healing-- a space that is liminal.
This writing is part of a larger collection of essays that explores my existence in my body as a Black womxn, giving voice(s) to states of in-between-ness, sexuality, history, ancestry and healing.
Aliyah Blackmore is an Afro-Caribbean DJ, visualist, and writer/researcher based in Harlem, New York. Through her art making and research, she is interested in engaging with the multi dimensional threads, narratives and histories, that run through Caribbean Diasporic experiences to understand, how historically and in the present, our forms of cultural production foster spaces of resistance and recovery for our bodies.