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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

22. "I've Died Too Many Deaths that Were Not Mine..."

"You drown not by falling in the river, but by staying submerged in it." ~Paulo Coelho

Have you ever watched a synchronized swimmer? She glides effortlessly through the water, making every move elegant and intentional, all the while holding her breath FAR longer than I could ever imagine holding mine. She keeps perfect time and synchronicity with her team. You never see her struggle. So much skill, beauty, and poise.

A few years ago, I "fell into a river" (so to speak). It was raging. Violent, scary, unpredictable. There were times of calm, but for the most part, shaming, blaming, and deep unforgiveness dragged me down and threatened to keep me there for good. Have you ever been in a space where every spare moment, every stray thought is subconsciously dedicated to your current turmoil? My self-talk wasn't even in my own voice anymore. I was submerged in the messages and realities of someone ELSE'S truth, which was completely contradictory to what I knew to be my own.

A lot of times, we lose sight of just how many ideas we consume in a day. The songs we hear, the posts we read, the conversations we have. What we allow to permeate our psyche is constantly informing how we see ourselves in the world, one way or another. As I continued to careen down this raging river, spiraling toward the doldrums at a dangerous rate, I heard that faint yet steady voice. She was still in there. I had almost forgotten all about her.


After years of sinking farther and farther below the surface, I decided to unplug and reload. To take back my mind and my spirit. I began limiting my recreational consumption to only things that would add to, not rip from, my Fullness. Reminders of who I was and who I most definitely was not. I made a playlist and listened to it on every single car ride. I choreographed and performed to songs that reflected the self image I strived for. I read books that fed me every bit of flavor and spice in the recipe I needed to return to self, one page at a time. I inhaled works written, sung, painted, spoken, and the like that reminded me of my own richness draped in femininity and wonder. I stayed in constant community with my village who fed my soul and lifted me up. I soaked up all the strength and care that Spirit had to offer me. I nurtured myself back to calm waters.

"You drown not by falling in the river, but by staying submerged in it."

Before the deep, deep water I didn't know just how bad "bad" could get. I didn't know I had the capacity to sink as low as I did; scraping the dirt at the bottom of the river, flirting with the idea of giving into the waters as they threatened not only to take me down, but to keep me down. Crushing me. Killing me. It was too dark. It was too cold. But as I situated myself to swim back to the surface, I felt the warmth of the sun piercing through the blue waters and assuring me, "You're safe, you're stable, and look how far you've come. Look what you've saved yourself from. Look how strong you are."

Thank you God for guiding me gently back to the surface using what speaks most clearly to my soul: Art. Through the work of so many strong humans, I began to see myself... stronger. More able. Less ashamed.

Below are some of the works that inspired and moved me through the end of an era and ushered me back to my strength. These pieces were pivotal in helping me to understand that blame, shame, and ego have absolutely nothing to do with Love and to endure these things is to enable abuse and promote its horrific reign. While people may have their reasons to be hurtful to others, Love is what it is and it ain't what it ain't. If you don't let it go, Fear and Ego will drag you down with the tide. Go within, save yourself, CHOOSE not to stay submerged.



.... also this gem from the book The Black Unicorn: Poems. I didn't read this during the time period described above, however, this will be the foundation of a work I'm currently composing to be presented at Detroit Dance Exchange on August 6, 2022.

Sequelae, by Audre Lorde

Because a burning sword notches both of my doorposts because I am standing between my burned hands in the ashprint of two different houses midnight finds weave a filigree of disorder I figure in the dreams of people who do not even know me the night is a blister of stars pierced by nightmares of a telephone ringing my hand is the receiver threatening as an uncaged motor seductive as the pain of voiceless mornings voiceless kitchens I remember cornflakes shrieking like banshees in my throat while I battle the shapes of you wearing old ghosts of me hating you for being black and not woman hating you for being white and not me in this carnival of memories I name you both the laying down of power the separation I cannot yet make after all these years of blood my eyes are glued like fury to the keyholes of yesterday rooms where I wander solitary as a hunting cheetah a play with legends call disaster due all women who refuse to wait in vain;In a new room I enter old places bearing your shape trapped behind the sharp smell of your anger in my voice behind tempting invitations to believe your face tipped like a pudding under glass and I hear the high pitch of your voice crawling out from my hearts deepest culverts compromise is a coffin nail rusty as seaweed tiding through an august house where nobody lives beyond choice my pathways are strewn with old discontents outgrown defenses still sturdy as firebrick unlovely and dangerous as measles they wither into uselessness but do not decay. Because I do not wish to remember but love to caress the deepest bone of me begging shes that wax and wane like moonfire to absolve me at any price I battle old ghosts of you wearing the shapes of me surrounded by black and white faces saying no over and over becoming my mother draped in my fathers bastard ambition growing dark secret out from between her thighs and night comes into me like a fever my hands grip a flaming sword that screams while an arrogant woman masquerading as a fish plunges it deeper and deeper into the heart we both share like beggars on this moment of time where the space ships land I have died too many deaths that were not mine.

Photo Credit: Refraction Photo/Video

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