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I moved to Mississippi when I was eighteen. This was in 2012, when people my age were just starting to articulate what the disaster of Katrina meant to them and their overall course of life. My best friends happened to be survivors of that storm, children in grown and growing bodies who woke up one day to find their house gone or begged to the god in the tv to let their fathers or mothers stranded to go free. I was born in Florida, and I’m familiar with the vernacular those who have survived hurricanes inhabit and habitually use and I’ve also noticed it has more than passing similarity for which the survivors of domestic abuse (which I also am) use too.
What I’m trying to say is what all survivors are trying to say in this time (this time bolded and underlined and everyone knows what that means) survivors have been preparing for this since we first shakily stood up after he hit us/the storm hit us/the realization hit us that natural disasters, pandemics, and violences to our bodies and hearts all bear the same terminology. When it comes. When the levee breaks. When they find us. When it comes inside us, inside our city, inside our bodies, inside our home. When the water rises and the trees come through the roof and you realize the place you shelter may not have been the safest place. This is what it feels like to be in Mississippi right now. We (and I use that we as a hard fought for we, I am constantly trying to re-create home in this state) are one of the fastest growing case areas of the COVID-19 virus. Like the mold or rot in our refrigerators after a storm or the hits and cruel remarks, the incidences seem to double every day. In fact, they are – they are multiplying 100%. This shelter may not have been the safest place to believe in – but Mississippi typically never was. I love this state with all I got – and I often joke that I really only have a passion for two things: my partner and Mississippi. (He would argue that perhaps the order should be reversed.) I don’t think I am really joking.
I am not afraid to die of COVID-19. (Maybe a little afraid.) Here is what I am afraid of: being separated from my partner. I am afraid to die and leave him. I am afraid of him dying and leaving me. There, I said it. I don’t use the word “afraid” lightly. I have survived (a constant state of survivor-ing) hurricanes, abuse, tornados, the traumas of alcoholic parents, and my own eating disorder. I have watched my state survive and watched others survive my state – since we cannot forget that Mississippi as a governmental machine has the mission to eat others alive.
I’m also afraid of anything that would take me away from Mississippi.
Like someone whose house has blown away or room has been flooded, I and they know the most important things are what you can take when the time to escape. I and they know when the door opens and it’s time to run, you have to be ready. Like any survivor, I have pared down my essential heart pieces and items to a list I keep at the back of my mind, I have never fully laid down my burdens, I don’t rest easy. I have asked the world that since I have endured so much, to just grant me these two wishes: to let me live my life with my partner and to live it in Mississippi.
When I was a little girl and more honestly a teen, I used to wake up in the morning feeling like I had survived some great ordeal in my sleep, walked far and long, and overcome what would kill me. I was in the process of surviving myself and my surroundings every day and I didn’t realize it until recently. Every morning I wake up now, I am afraid to check the infection count but I do. I am afraid to check the deaths but I do. We poke the bruises even though they hurt. We drive by our old home even though it hurts to see the waterlines. We live in Mississippi even though Mississippi is a storm.
This is just to say Mississippi is right now a sinking ship, an island nearing the eye of a hurricane, a child running towards the door. For those who have perfected the art of survivor-ing, (because indeed those who do not by adulthood do not live to see it) for everyone my age who grew up with their childhood demarcated by the binary of storm/pre-storm, when it happened/when it did not, when he moved out/when he lived with us, this is nothing new. We are ready to lose so many things. We have already have it happen. Inside all of our hands is clutched one essential thing we need to regrow our lives whole, and though it sounds simple I really do mean it: I hope we never lose it.