They say that the south is a place of capacious hospitality; that it is a place of plentiful generosity and kindness. For a young black slave in the 1800s, the south was anything but. For me and those like me, it was a perpetual hell; a terrene full of persecution and violence………..It was a nightmare.
Like the repetition of the sunrise, it was an inescapable aspect of our lives.
The plantation was one of the largest in the south, being home to over four-hundred acres. The actual home was a magnanimous spectacle. Almost a century old, it maintained its beauty as if just constructed. I, like my father and his father before him, was born in servitude, a fate far worse than death.
I served a man who was as mean as he was sturdy.
But…..being a slave was all that I knew. It was all that I had known. I took life as it came in all aspects, perhaps because I was so oblivious to world surrounding me. I was like an explorer who never explored, a philosopher who never taught or a priest who never prayed. I was forced to work against my will and beaten harshly if I refused. I quickly grew accustomed to the order of things. White man ran the niggers and the niggers work the plantation; a vicious cycle that was never-ending. Plowing vast fields for seeding, picking mounds of cotton and tending to cattle, sheep and horses were but a few of my involuntary chores. From the crack of dawn till the dusk of night, we worked nonstop; hacking wheat plants and pulling corn. They began to separate us when we were in the fields. Why? Perhaps they feared a coup; a rebellion of some sort……..of which I would take no part in.
I had no intentions of plotting an escape. Due to the plantation’s constant need of maintenance, new shipments of slaves were continual. I never gave much thought to any of the new indenture servants. They were in the same predicament as I was; bound to serve those more fortunate till death.
The days were long and scorching as the sun shone ever so brightly. Every so often a breeze would grace us with its presence, saving us from the buckets of sweat that encumbered our bodies. As I inflexibly worked, I noticed a man occupying my vicinity. I assumed he was from the new shipment for I never gazed upon him until now.
The mundane existence that was my life was anything but stimulating. I woke from within the large tool shed that harbored us like plagued rats. Forever hot and masked in an array of smells…….none of which were pleasant. It made sleeping together in large numbers seem like a prison of inevitable odds. As time pressed forward, everything flowed as normally as ever. The man from the new shipment a few months before was always working in my section of the field. He was always just in my eye view. I had notice that I liked looking at him. For what reason, I had no idea. I paid attention to other men and women who worked in the fields before but none like this.
This new feeling was unsettling to me. I had never been sexually active with a man nor a woman but I began to lust after his physical attributes. Sneaking peaks at him, I admired his stature. Studying his face, the curvature of his nose, down to the pulsating veins in his neck. His broad shoulders expanding as he lifted bales of hay. I stared religiously at his chest. I was confused. I didn’t know what to think or how to act but I couldn’t stop looking at him. I felt my body beginning to yearn for his. Was it a feeling of hormonal imbalance or lack of experience? Either way I had to have him.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I watched him, looking for signs. Until one night, my journey to liberation began. After plowing the fields, we found a secluded extent, careful not to stray too far. A dark place, surround by trees, covered in leaves. Soft grass. Hard sticks……Some would even consider it romantic.
There was an inexplicable silence of understanding between us. We said nothing. My body was shaking beyond control, forever nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. My body was excited whilst my brain was racking, trying to make sense of it all. The rawness of our love affair was physical, factual, and tangible. With every inhale and exhale, our body temperatures grew. I lustfully groped every inch of him in an effort to numb the pain and exert the pleasure. It was a magnanimous feeling of which words could not describe.
As we lay in the aftermath of our consummation, I felt love for the first time. I felt wanted. I felt like I wasn’t a slave to the world but a slave to my desires, to my heart, to my love. I had heard that men shouldn’t lie together as a man and woman do. I had heard that it wasn’t a part of God’s plan. Well was it apart of God’s plan to make me a slave? Was it apart of God’s plan to have such cruel people in the world? I was already born a slave, now I was having feelings for a man. How much more could I not be a part of God’s plan?
Maybe it wasn’t the most romantic first sexual encounter but it was because of this encounter that my life was dissimilar. It gave me a purpose. A purpose to start anew. To break free. That night made me realize my sexuality. As if being a slave wasn’t hard enough, being a gay slave was more than a probable cause for any type of hanging or lynching. I knew that I would never be happy living a life of solitary confinement, never being able to be with a man as freely and as openly as I wanted to.
But that night had woken something in me. No longer naïve or ignorant to the fact of freedom.
I knew that to truly be happy would ultimately mean being free to lead my life as I saw fit. No longer being bound by the chains of confusion. Free from the ropes of misunderstanding. Spared the cast-iron rod of judgment and prejudices. Unconfined from the shackles of predispositions. To be truly free, in all aspects of my life. So I did the only thing I knew how to do………….
I ran…..I ran to the freedom I so desperately wanted. To be SHACKLED no more.