By: Sidney Apolonio
The minute I turned and walked away from my mother in the St. Louis airport, I knew my life would never be the same again. As I sat in the airport terminal waiting for my plane to come in, the anxiety attack began its creep. Slowly at first,starting with sweaty palms, then, all at once with a racing heartbeat, constricting airways, intense pounding in my ears, and a general feeling of “WHAT THE F*CK DID I JUST DO?!” I found myself trying to focus on my breathing alone and to slow the pace of my pounding heart. While crossing my legs tighter and tighter, I tried to balance my laptop and subtly folded my body in on itself in an attempt to make myself smaller. This panic continued until I was physically strapped into my seat and the plane had safely ascended to cruising altitude.
I was able to remain calm yet misty eyed, tucking my tears safely inside. On the plane, in order to convince myself that I was making the right decision, I began to remember the f*cked up experiences I had as a black child in the suburbs of North County St. Louis, as a black preteen in white rural Missouri, and as a budding Intersectional Feminist college student in a rural liberal arts university. From there I focused on what the future would hopefully hold for me as a multicultural black woman in Los Angeles.
“You can’t see my master’s degree when I’m in my sweatpants at the grocery store.”-Carol Bennett
Through my eight years in the country(rural area),I grew to learn that the Wal-Mart six miles up the road was the local hotspot. I would ride the yellow school bus for the first time in my 12 year life. I would come to be desensitized to the Confederate flag, and quickly learn that “nigger” would no longer be a word I only ever read in the slave narratives my maternal grandmother insisted I grew up reading.
“Nigga” would become a word the white people surrounding me would insist upon calling each other because “a NIGGA was different than a NIGGER.” At 12 years old, I was told to avoid entire roads because the people that live there, “don’t like black people” and I could potentially, in 2006, be harmed at the hands of grown white adults for simply existing in a black body.
By 18, the decision to leave the small town that I lived in and continue my education in a liberal arts school up north was a pretty easy one for me to make. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would be leaving one small town for another slightly larger small town that just happened to have a liberal arts university off of one of the main roads. A town filled with local “townies” that held the same ignorant views of the people I had desperately tried to escape from.
After surviving my second year at my tiny liberal arts school, I came back to my mother’s home in rural Missouri where I met a person who seemed to be everything that I wanted in a partner at 19 years old. This guy was polite, he was kind, he fearlessly held my hand in public, kissed me on street corners in broad daylight, and took me on whirlwind adventures that expanded my mind.
When we were together we talked galaxies and created magic. When I was in his arms, our bodies were not separated by distinct brown and white lines, but curved and blended into delicious caramels highlighted with honey hues and accented with golden sparks. His blue eyes were bottomless pools that speckled with green flecks of algae when hit with sunlight. Those eyes that provided me with a certain gentle relief from the humidity of Missouri would soon drown me in their ideology and disbelief.
That same summer, in August of 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri and my life and experience as a black woman in rural spaces would be forever changed. After the shooting, everyone I knew became a professional social analyst whose racist opinions, thanks to Facebook, were made known to the world. People that I never would have suspected held such strong feelings of anti-blackness began littering my feed with images of the Confederate flag and what sorts of violence they would incite towards Black Lives Matter protesters.
Even the beautiful person that I thought I knew, that I had spent countless hours dreaming with, creating the brightest shades of bronze and copper, had suddenly became short in his responses with me. This being, whose hand held pieces of an untold future that I thought blended perfectly in the worlds of experience I held in my own, began to shake the foundations we had lain with his dismissal of microaggressions.
The sideways glances I noticed when we were in public together he claimed were figments of my imagination. The fear I now felt when traveling to my local Wal-Mart alone was an irrational response to a scenario I was beginning to think I actually fabricated.
Going back to school, I carried with me all of the doubts and insecurities of my previous racial experiences that would only be reinforced through my dealings with other students, local police, and professors. However, during this time I found a great strength within my sisterhood, Beta Omega Beta. My sisters provided me with what would soon become my feminist foundation.
They allowed the few other sisters of color a platform to speak about the unjust jailings that were happening to protesters and the general feelings of uneasiness that were associated with being minority on campus.
This past year had been the worst for people of colour on campus since I had been in attendance. Black men were being called “nigger” on their way to classes between buildings, my roommate had been “drive-by faggotted,” and there was an increase of confederate flags displayed out of the back of townie pickup trucks.
Ultimately this year I decided that my education at my small town university was not worth my security or mental well-being and when presented with an opportunity to move to Los Angeles, there was no way I could turn it down. During week three of my stay in LA, while being shown around downtown, I encountered my first Black Lives Matter protest with a known police presence.
Living in rural Missouri for the majority of my life, anything louder than emergency response sirens or the occasional meth lab/gunshot/firework sends my body into an immediate, uncontrollable, internal panic that translates to constant over-the-shoulder glances and trembling hands. I noticed the sounds of a helicopter immediately once I exited the train. This girl that had spent her summers by the river and parties drinking from bottles illuminated by moonlight, shouting to the party gods under the stars, was suddenly face to face with the harsh realities of what life looked like outside of rural America.
I….was suddenly only yards away from what had previously been an image I only saw splattered on tv screens and watched hidden behind computer monitors. I, hippie child by circumstance, pacifist by product of veteran parentage, was presented with several choices that day. What the hell was I supposed to do?