US-CULTURE-MUSIC-PANORAMA

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Dear Frank,

For a long time, I refused to share all of who I am with the world. I’ve answered “no” to certain questions about myself. The part of me that felt that hovering feeling between my legs, or the beats in my chest, when standing before a particular guy I was attracted to was my secret to contain and truth to deny. But now, after a long time of internal wrestling and healing, I’ve been able to say “yes.”

I believe deeply in everything happening for a reason, and now it’s clear that the universe gave me a nudge in a direction that I had been moving towards longer than I could understand my journey. And I’ve been walking in and toward freedom ever since. Internal freedom is the destination any of us can end up at when we are brave enough to finally chase it down.

When a guy I loved broke my heart, which was my first real experience of heartbreak, the greatest pain was realizing that I didn’t love myself. The disappointment hurt, but the absence of my own love hurt me more.

That summer sucked. I was depressed. Through my twin brother, Walter, I was able to get a summer position at the Children’s Aid Society as a Summer Youth Employment Site Monitor. Most of the team was loving and I really appreciated their energy, but I spent the majority of the summer alone. The position called for consistent visitation of various sites around the city to ensure that the young people employed there were having a safe and enjoyable experience. I got the scraps. My sites were in Riverdale, Washington Heights and Staten Island. The corners of New York City.

Internal freedom is the destination any of us can end up at when we are brave enough to finally chase it down.

That summer was the first time in my life that I had a reason to go to Staten Island. The ferry to Staten Island is consistent with the rest of public transit in NYC. People rush and push through crowds provoking anxiety to avoid being left behind.

On really hard days, I thought about jumping off the ferry and into the water. I day dreamt of disappearing and escaping the pain. I thought about how I’d have to jump a certain way to make sure my body hit the water and not land somewhere else on the boat. I would lean on the bannister and squeeze it as I contemplated beginnings and endings of my life.

It was a long summer during which I smoked too much bud and spent a lot of time alone in my room as the humid NYC air suffocated all relief. At home, I told the people I loved that I missed my college friends when they asked me if I was ok. My closest school friends had taken a leap to Cali and I was counting down days until my big move to China. It was a hard summer. I hadn’t told anyone what was going on. At home, I had to keep it to myself. It was too much to deal with heartbreak let alone taking on the task of inviting my mom and grandma into my truth. So I hurt alone most of the time.

It meant everything to hear you say the pronouns that some men who love other men tend to replace or deny when talking about their love.

At the summer’s end, Walter and I made our move to Nanjing, China. We signed contracts to work for an education management company that paid our travel and accommodations. For the first time in my entire life, I had everything I needed without worry. There was no stress about covering a bill or not having enough to pay for something. No need to constantly check a bank account to make sure there was enough money to do what I needed to do. As exciting as it was, I was almost as far as I could be from the first person I loved and, at the very least, missed as the close friend he had become. A 12-hour time difference and the awkwardness that digital communication allows for led to months of email exchanges between us.

I listened to “Thinkin Bout You” a lot. Channel Orange came to me when I needed the authentic words to share how I felt. You lived what you were singing, what I, too, was experiencing. It meant everything to hear you say the pronouns that some men who love other men tend to replace or deny when talking about their love. Your song matched with the way I saw the world. And I did not have to project my reality onto lyrics centering the love of everyone else, except for me. Invisibility gets comfortable when you grow accustomed.

In an interview last year, you said, “It’s more interesting for me to figure out how to be superior in areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice.” I agree. There’s so much left to learn and understand.

I’m still figuring out how to say “no” enough to make my “yes” more powerful, but I know that it involves loving myself in ways that only my spirit can nurture. You seem to believe in yourself deeply these days and I imagine it has to do with you loving your whole being as much as you can.

Thank you for loving yourself. For being an example to others like me, like us. I know saying yes to what speaks to your heart is what we gotta do all while being wary not to deny ourselves of our purpose(s) and the love we deserve—especially the kind that comes from self.

Keep doing your thing.

Peace, Kleaver

Kleaver Cruz is a Bronx-based writer and creator of The Black Joy Project, a digital and real world movement to center Black joy as a form of resistance.

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