By Natissa Scott
When I was eighteen years old, I realized that I was black.
I cannot pinpoint the moment that this realization dawned upon me, but I now realize that I am one of the victims of the ravages of colonialism. And so, I found myself in the rage that James Baldwin so eloquently described as I sought to reclaim the heritage, the ideas and the pride that I had been robbed of. I embarked on a literary odyssey and explored the psyche of the Caribbean native crippled by the ghosts of colonialism’s chains and realized that with some help, I needed to do some introspection as well.
Due to this, my writing is heavily influenced by the discoveries that I have made about myself and my heritage. Now, I write because I need answers. Now, I write to give a voice to those who have been robbed of one. To give other brown-skinned Caribbean children like I once was an alternative to mainstream media, to inspire them to love themselves and to refuse to define their destinies based on their history. To honor the shoulders of ancestors which I stand upon.
Now I write to share the unique history of my human experience: the amalgamation of slavery, double diaspora, genocide, colonialism and trauma.
I think that the story that I crafted is essential to my individual experience, which can stand alone without the background of my ancestry. I believe that of all the aspects that define me, the theme of trauma is universal enough to bridge the cultural gap and allow me to share myself with a wider audience. The creative aspect of the assignment allowed me to traumatize time, utilize fragmentation and even bend genre to write of what makes me who I am. Through these techniques, I felt able to connect my life to others who have also experienced trauma. It is in this way that I stretched the parameters of the word trauma to give value to other major life events and dispel the unconscious myth many of us hold—that trauma is reserved for war veterans or for ancestors who endured the horrors of history.
With this in mind, I tried as much as possible to be relatable while still allowing my truth to shine through. The idea to tell the story of the fire had always been present, but I initially struggled to find a way to portray it in a non-clichéd manner while still retaining its visceral effect on me. While taking a break from this project, I helped my younger brother prepare for his spelling bee. When he asked me to define a word before he spelled it, inspiration struck, and I remembered my own experience. I decided to reimagine my spelling bee to include the word “trauma” but when I found Merriam-Webster’s definition, I realized that the fire was not the only traumatic event I could bring to life. You see, I had not previously let myself realize that dislocating both knees had been a traumatic experience by virtue of the mental fallacy of what I deemed “bad enough” to be traumatic.
From there, I decided that the most intimate, yet impersonal, way to share my injury would be to loop the scans from my knee MRI—after all, what could be more intimate that actually seeing inside me? And what could be more impersonal than having only my bone structure to define my status as a fellow homo sapiens? After that point, it seemed that all the elements fell into place. The sounds were simple enough to recreate and I found that the scans, especially the axial view, began to resemble ash and burning wood, so I stuck with the black, white and gray theme. To prevent them from becoming monotonous, towards the end I decided to juxtapose the clean-cut medical footage with a grainy clip of my last time playing football before the injury. The original clip was not of the best quality to begin with, but I capitalized on that feature—I think it alludes to the fuzzy unreliability of memory and maintains some of my privacy while still allowing for a representation of my identity; albeit somewhat ghostly.
Ultimately, this assignment became a journey towards a self-realization I didn’t even know I needed that forced me to look deep into myself—at times quite literally, to examine my core, make peace with my demons, and continue to heal.
Now, I read and I write so that I am whole.