We are as the water. Supple and flexible, yet forceful and enduring. Like metal in fire, the heat molds us. Like the icy lake, the cold forms us.
Vulnerability came so easily to me as a child. I welcomed the world with open arms. “Mecouremechin kihoe: you are welcomed here.” My heart was a safe harbor for all who had grown weary from a world I had not yet known. Not yet understood. Not yet been scarred by.
Vulnerability came so easily to me. Despite alcoholism and violence I saw in my youth. Despite bullying and eating disorders in my school years. Despite scars both physical and mental. Despite liars and abusers of my early twenties.
At the age of 24 that I had finally learned my lesson that my vulnerability was a liability. That my kindness was strength but would always be a weakness to weak-minded individuals. I then began the greatest act of all my years of adaptation: one character amongst the world and the real me behind closed doors.
I suppose one can argue that this is the way of the world. We don our masks for the show and retire them when the curtains close. I painted upon my mask the face of anger, defensiveness, and resentment.
I thought that I was ridding myself of weakness by not showing fear, but instead I internalized it. I growled and sneered at the world. And indeed, they would turn their heads and look away. But this approach also hardened me. A closed fist cannot receive. My heart was a fist pointed at the world and ready to strike at anyone who dare cross me.
Another problem with this way of thinking, is that it clouds your judgment. I began to distrust those who were there to help me. I began letting people in my life that weren’t healthy after all because I thought they were “tough” like me.
The worst collateral from this anger was the fact that I allowed it to change me. I became an irritable, negative, and bitter person. Blinded by my pain, I could not see beauty. In fact, the joy of others confused and infuriated me. And no wonder I was confused.
As a Black Native womxn, I am expected to both endure great tragedy and violence while remaining unchanged by it. Through physical, mental, and sexual abuse, we are expected to stay strong, poised, open, and kind.
One evening, I was finishing up at an event. And while packing up, noticed that I was being “sized up” and preyed upon by construction workers. Triggered with memories, I hardened my demeanor, thinking “I dare you to try.” When the man I was dating at the time returned from loading up the car, he asked what was wrong. Later, in the parking lot, I broke down into a storm of rage and tears. “Why are men like this allowed to go on living and preying and raping and murdering us. And even in spaces that are supposed to be safe?!” I demanded.
I remember this man telling me to not let it get to me, to not be so angry, and that “God would take care of those bad people.” Many times since my survival button “switched” on, people have said I’m too angry. I’m told that I need to “take it easy” and to “relax.” I’m told to “not let everything bother me.”
Men ask us to open up, but then when we share our pain, all they hear are complaints.
I understand firsthand that chronic anger can have lasting negative side effects. Diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke can all be linked to chronic stress and anger. My grandmother and great-grandmother both died at the ages of 52 and 47, respectively, from heart attack. My sister had a stroke at the age of 28 after her children’s father abandoned her and the kid’s to homelessness in the middle of winter. I know that stress is killing us.
But how do we live in a world that has odds stacked against us so high? How do we walk the tight rope with crosswinds on both sides? Like a fire upon a lake, how are we expected to live between the external pressure of flames above us and the choking water of internal pressure beneath? Through laughter? Through tears? Through some magical combination of both that creates a sum greater than the whole of its parts?
For me, I had to relearn the vulnerability of my youth: with a twist. Instead of being open to the world, I began by opening back up to myself. By seeing myself through the eyes of a sister-friend, I’ve been able to put the pieces back together. I’ve redefined what it means to be vulnerable. To be strong enough to be gentle with myself. To be wise enough to filter out energy vampires, and to surround myself with those who love themselves and thus have a foundation of how to love others. Those who accept me as a growing person without judgment. To be judicious and suspend my own judgments when faced with anxiety. To allow myself to feel what I’m feeling, but to be ruled by intuition and logic rather than emotions and fear.
We are expected as womxn of color to be so strong and yet so delicate. Men wonder, astonished, why we won’t “just open up.” And when we do, many turn and run. You see, vulnerability is not just showing your tenderness, it’s showing your strength. Womxn are expected to be submissive. We can become as powerful as we want to. As long as we are not as powerful as men. Vulnerability is opening yourself up to criticism of being “too much,” and “too angry,” when you’re claiming your space and speaking out against bull sh*t.
Vulnerability is allowing yourself to be unapologetically Black, unapologetically Indigenous.
To operate in multiple planes of thought. To use slang and Ebonics in one sentence, and to speak eloquently in the next. It is accepting your paradox and embracing it with your whole self. To allow your boundaries to be the only lines that define you, to be multi-dimensional in your healing.
Vulnerability is being both a soft wind and a fierce flame. It is tender curves in water, and choosing late nights writing over early morning shaving prickly legs. It is allowing yourself to exist as you came into this world, while always growing towards who you are created to become.
Dominique Daye Hunter aka DDaye (Black/Sappony/Irish/Polish descent) is a poet/spoken word/hiphop artist, short story writer, and clothing line entrepreneur. Her platform surrounds the topics of womxn and people of color empowerment, womb and mental health and wellness, as well as cultural authenticity and environmental justice. She seeks to heal through the power of story telling. Dominique is currently working on her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies. You can find her at her insta: @ddayehunter
photography by: sweetmoon photography