by Brian Alsup
My mother used to tell me that I was just like you. She was right. We were both very afraid, cowardly, insecure, hurting, and traumatized black men. We’re both great runners. Some black men have legs that know how to stay still—that are grounded in their commitments to self and others. Some black men are horrible at running. Not us. We are conditioned runners.
I’m assuming my mother and I aren’t the first people you ran away from. But you were the first person I chased after. I could never catch you. I mean, no matter how hard I tried you always outran me. You never seemed to get tired either.
I used to fool myself into thinking that, on my once a month visit to your house, this would be the time that I catch you.
This time would be the time that I caught up with you. That I got to touch you. Then you would see that you didn’t have to be afraid. That I wasn’t going to hurt you. That all I wanted was to love you and for you to do the same.
You never seemed to get tired of running, though. But, after awhile, I got tired of chasing.
My legs—along with other parts of me—started to hurt from chasing you so much, so I gave up on catching you. I gave up on healthy imagination. I gave up on the idea that you, or anyone else, would see me worthy enough to not run from. I gave up on catching you and gave in to other things.
I didn’t stop running, though. I had to keep running. I had been chasing you so long that I didn’t notice what was chasing me as a result.
I had thought up feelings of worthlessness, feelings of abandonment, feelings of ugliness, feelings of uselessness. I made these feelings a part of me. They grew legs and started to chase me. But they were much faster than me. They caught me and still convinced me to run. And I ran.
I ran to food. I ran to bigger clothes to hide inside. I ran from love and accountability. I ran from help. I ran from the love of black women who just wanted me to be honest, present, and whole. Like father, like son, I guess.
Then I ran to hating you, black women, black men, and myself. Running is avoiding, and there are too many people out there who know my back better than my front. The worst thing about running is hearing your name from behind you. It’s painful. I hated the people I ran from for not letting me escape them. I hated you for teaching me this. For teaching me that running was an option. I hated myself for being a quick learner and quicker runner.
Like you, I’ve stayed in relationships knowing that I did not feel whole. Thinking that whomever I was with had to validate me. Had to love me. So that I could believe that I was worth something—anything. I have required people to do the work of loving for me and left them when they, or I, had had enough.
And on days when I felt so ugly, worthless, unwanted, unloved, and there was nobody around to hurt, I thought about running into oncoming traffic. That’s when I knew I had to figure something out or I wouldn’t be here too much longer.
I ran to a therapist. An amazing black woman who helped me figure out that you weren’t running from me. You were running from all the things I’d began to run from. Those same feelings of worthlessness I had were also in you. Ultimately, you were running from yourself. And, unfortunately, you still are.
She also helped me realize that I was also running from myself. That when I don’t feel useful, I run. When I sense that someone is about to abandon me, I abandon them first. Always searching for the end in the beginning. Constantly looking for revelations in genesis. And if I want to stop running then I have to let you and your actions go. ‘Cause this doesn’t belong to me. I’ve been running with it for too long.
I hope one day you stop running. Not for me—I am learning to love me and I’m no longer looking for you to do it. I have no desire for for a relationship with you. To be honest, I don’t think you’re capable of it. Which is okay, nobody taught you how to do those things. I just hope you stop running for yourself.
I usually end letters to family with I love you. I think I’d be a liar if I put that here. I think you would be too if you said it back. I don’t think I love you. I don’t think I hate you anymore either. I just hope that one day you stop hurting yourself and the others around you who do love you.
A black boy who is learning how to stay.