Author: Lawrence Barriner II
i wasn’t really ready to go, but my uncles said i had to anyways. i had stayed a night with each of my relatives (blood and not) in the past week and this was the last stop. i knew i had to go, but i just didn’t want you. i grabbed my pack and my staff (i always take my walking stick on trips over 100 miles) and met them at the door. i could feel the outside already: it was cold. fucking cold.
they each put a hand on one of my shoulders, looked at each other deeply and then looked at me, excited and worried.
“i know you don’t understand it yet, but you must leave home and travel a long distance. your body won’t let you not. it will reject sabotage everything you do to try to resist it and, in the end, you’ll end up doing it anyways. better to choose than to be a victim, right?”
i rolled my eyes. “right.”
i really hated them for keeping up with this tradition.
in 2017, my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandpapi (g7grandpapi) realized the strength of his blood memory. he realized that even when we didn’t want to, we recreated the patterns of life of our ancestors.
he left home when he was 18 and migrated from the south to the north in a country they called america. his parents had done the same. across a smaller distance, but they had done it to escape poverty, to follow work, to give their children opportunity. all four of their parents (all black) had taken similar journeys.
in a sense, it didn’t matter why. what mattered was that, in order to honor our blood memory, at some point during each of our lives we had repeat a journey from home, the same experience (well, not exactly the same) that our ancestors had. we had to feel in our bodies something like the experience of going through what they went through. my brother tried to stay home and it had basically wrecked him. he stayed home for many years and eventually burned up everything around him. his friends left, he accidentally killed our grandpapi, he ruined his boat, and he had given birth to three kids, all of whom had to be given up for adoption because he couldn’t find work.
g7 realized that making the journey a choice was our agency. and it helped us live better lives. every family’s blood memory is real and it recombines in unpredictable ways, but for black people, our blood memory was much stronger than most of us even knew. we had to honor it or risk not being healed of the traumas of our west african ancestors who survived middle passage.
my uncles each kissed me on the forehead and held me in a long, awkward three-way hug.
when they let me go, i knew i had to go (or be kicked out). i wrapped my wool coat around me a little tighter, cinched up my pack, put on my leather gloves, and pushed the door open. thank Spirit it was only lightly snowing and my walking stick would help me keep my balance in the several feet of snow already on the ground.