Sula by Toni Morrison
“…no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.”
I lost a best friend once and spent weeks tumbling through a bottomless loss wondering if I be Nel or Sula. If I be tight-wound and fearful or reckless and brave. I think the truth is somewhere in between. Maybe the reason Nel and Sula ain’t ‘lesbians’ is because they really two halves of the same whole.* That tussle between that which hesitates and that which knows no caution. Yeah, Sula be That. And Nel be the one that holds her hand. The one whose feelings get hurt. It clicks now. One Manic, the other Depressive.
A secondhand lonely the only thing constant for Nel. And Sula, well, she only fucked him. That was it. Just made use of his fleshiness. Ain’t think twice about what the other half had invested in it. Have you ever been there? Torn between what you’ve been made to desire and what your body wants? What did you do? Did you punish yourself? Nel say Sula ain’t got nothing to show for herself and Sula snap back, “To who?” I laugh. To Who? To Self. “I want to make myself.” I want to own my self. I told a lover once that I fancied myself an amalgamation of Toni Morrison protagonists and it was a wish. I should have said that Mama Toni is always writing me into mirrors. Sometimes like a funny house, I get all distorted between these wimmin. I love them and believe she, Mama Toni, love me. She must, I mean, in order to write me down so well.
These books in my hand be holding me. Steady. I laugh with them and get choked up sometimes. Gasp even when I know exactly what’s gonna happen. See, Sula got some bite to her and that’s why we all sweet on her. I mean, all black wimmin in pursuit of self-possession hail her as archetype. I get overwhelmed just thinking about the conversations Mama Toni might/must have with her selves. I mean it’s her we all dancing with, right? These black folks that come bounding out her pen to the tone of their own mania. Must come from some deep place in her. A place that values the black of intimacy in+between black wimmin. These wimmin, friends of mind.
“I’m me. I’m not their daughter. I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me.”
Every time she said the word me there was a gathering in her like power, like joy, like fear. Back in bed with her discovery, she stared out the window at the dark leaves of the horse chestnut.
“Me,” she murmured. And then, sinking deeper into the quilts, “I want... I want to be... wonderful. Oh, Jesus, make me wonderful.”
–Ra Malika Imhotep
* The mention of ‘lesbians’ is in reference to a tradition of black feminist literary criticism/queer of color critique that ‘begins’ with an essay written by Barbara Smith in 1977, called “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism.”