MISSING: black female, 19. Last seen May 5th leaving Columbia University’s campus. Social media and bank accounts suddenly deactivated. No note. No forewarning. Gone.
This is the story of Nayla Kidd, a sophomore at Columbia University with a full scholarship studying engineering and applied sciences, who decided to leave everything behind. She was found “safe and sound” a week or so later in a new apartment in Williamsburg. The only explanation of her sudden departure was that she wanted to “get away from it all.” Instantly, I understood.
I imagined the glass ceilings, closed doors, and white, patriarchal condescension she may have faced at the honorable Ivy League university. In academia, there is no room for rest or mental illness. There is no sympathy for those of us who suffer from depression, PTSD, and other stigmatized illnesses. There is nothing but a perpetual demand for excellence. When juggling pressure, deadlines and emotional instability, the need to flee is instinctual. Nayla Kidd could have been burnt out, distressed, struggling from an array of emotional and physical traumas. She could have had no one to turn to or really listen to her. Like many of us, she could have felt alone in realizing the rat-race of academia is bullshit and left before she got in too deep. She could have just been tired. Her story is courageous, though, not an unusual one.
Since I was 13, I fantasized about leaving school and everything I knew behind. Not telling anyone where I was going or what I was doing. No check-ins. No reassuring text messages that I’m alright. Nothing. Ghost. These fantasies materialize when I have panic attacks, feel anxious or stuck in a depressive episode. That’s when I look up flight tickets and documentaries on cities and countries I wish to visit as a way to relieve stress.
After graduating college last year, I felt the need to flee from Chicago. I had given my all in classrooms, in the streets, and in the hustle to gain recognition in a city full of artists. The burn out started a year before I graduated. At that point, I had mastered the performance of functioning while depressed and living with chronic pain. I put myself on hold in order to help others countless times. I felt empty. And, so, I decided to leave in search of something better, something bigger.
Upon leaving, I have dealt with abuse and trauma within my family. I have felt the brunt of fists against my cheek and the wounds words leave from bitter mouths. I have been brutalized and dehumanized by those who I am supposed to love. Living in the same space as those who brought me bodily and emotional harm is not an easy feat.
There’s two sides to me--the side that craves blood and the side that wants peace. Somedays they battle for power in my heart and head. I feel these warring sides that trigger traumatic memories that spur me into anxiety attacks. I was taught to be nonviolent, long-suffering; taught that justice is the Lord’s and acting on anger only gives them power. Somedays I am Mother Theresa. Other days, I allow myself to fantasize about colliding brick to head and watching gleefully as brain matter becomes slush.
It’s time for me to leave.
We teach our black girls to hold anger, not release it; to repress sadness; to “let go” of trauma without guidance. We tell our black girls their love is precious but their bodies are not their own. They are owned by the demands of their parents; the love of their partners; and finally by the dependency of their children. Never is a black woman in complete ownership of her body, mind, nor spirit, even that belongs to a jealous, masculine God. When they realize they belong to no one but themselves and owe nothing to anyone, they learn the art of walking away.
Without knowing Nayla Kidd, I understand why she needed to leave. For whatever reason, she took initiative and did what was best for her wellbeing. No diploma, no one’s flimsy acceptance, and no exam should ever get in-between you and your happiness. I left Chicago because my health was at risk and I was tired of taking risks. Our bodies, minds, and spirits are too invaluable.
To leave a place and people that hold no space for you takes courage. To walk away after years of fighting takes heart. To pick up and walk a lonesome path, with no backward glance of uncertainty, takes tremendous bravery.
In a society created for people to live within invisible margins, we must dare to dream beyond them. We must fight to create an existence of healing in spite of--because of--brutality. We must reject the mundane for we are not meant to stay complacent in situations that hinder us nor sit in the limitations set before us. In doing so, and looking for no one’s validation but our own, we find true liberation. Walking away is just the first step.