Breaking the Chain

by [semantic sapphire]

[Trigger Warning: the contents of this piece allude to, but not explicitly, childhood sexual abuse.] 

I broke the chain. It happened in the shower. One morning I buttered my body and laid hands on myself when the chain grabbed onto the loofah. I pulled away, and it leapt from my neck. The porcelain caught it. I felt not remorse but indifference. If that’s where you want to be, then stay there. A mental whisper. I turned around and resumed my morning ritual as if nothing had happened. It was only a chain, and there is plenty more where that came from.

I was maybe fifteen or sixteen when my cousin gave me a chain. She was just sitting there talking more of the same with my mother and I was just standing there like all the other spots on the floor were taken. Then out of the blue she says, “Hey Muff, you got a chain?” I just shook my head. “Uh-uh.” I had never had a chain. Not gold, not silver, not platinum like the rappers. Nothing ever graced the chestnut brown of my neck, but cheap plastic beads from the craft store or wannabe pearls from the thrift store or edible accessories from the candy store. But it didn’t matter. With all these worthless things, I steadied my gaze and tightened my fist like there was nothing more to want. “You want one?” She had never given me anything. I wondered what the catch was. Was it guilt for the games we played and the things we did that no children should ever do? Was it sympathy because although both her parents were on crack and the only woman she called Mother had been dead five years she still had more than me? Was it a sisterly gesture to rekindle a bond broken by betrayal of a five year old? Or was it just something nice to do at a random moment? Those happen too, sometimes. But when they happen in the hood, they’re always more suspect. I nodded wondering in silence if it was because I told and she was sorry for making me feel powerless. We talked about it once…when I was five and she was eleven.

“Why did you tell?”

“I thought you was gonna say somethin’ to Granma.”

“Muff, I didn’t mean it. If I woulda told, I woulda been tellin’ on myself.”


The chain had a heart on it with little diamonds. Fake. They sparkled nice though, so I kept it. I had never had anything this nice. I wore it for years. It broke a few times, and I fixed it. Swapped it out for nicer things once I was old enough to get what grown-ups got. But, every night, I’d put it back on. I felt I needed to. For her? For me? For all the Black* girls who only know one kind of intimacy? For our sweetness being tapped under duress--too young to say no. Walled gardens turn to dust overnight. Who knows.

I was careful not to make it angry, being ever so gentle with my hands when I handled it, lest it choke the protest right out of me. Don’t touch me! I said, no! Leave me alone! You don’t own me! But, this last time I wasn’t so gentle. I thought nothing of it. Only of myself and this insatiable desire to be clean through and through. I buttered my body and laid hands on me. Let it fall from my neck and watched it bleed. Felt nothing inside but a subliminal plea. Please, let me be clean.

 [a] melodic, subtle and otherworldly celestial outlaw, [semantic] is a gender-fierce, queer identified, ethereal cryptographer of the Africana Diaspora Futura crafting poetic exoskeletons for our movements towards cultural resistance and spiritual ascension. they can be found repping the PNW from the East Bay learning how to live in their skin and spreading the gospel of buttered yams and cinnamon infused cigars at a cypher near you.