Finding Life After Abuse With Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’
By Gabby Beshadu
I had no intention of watching Lemonade, but I was captured by the image of Beyoncé standing at the edge of a building, her eyes faraway and sing-songy with tears. She dropped from that edge and sucked me down toward that pavement and I knew she had me, for I knew the jump too well, as many times as I’d laid in bed and begged for my life to end and the pain to go away.
When she hit the water, I held my breath, listening and watching her struggle to the surface and burst through those grand doors like Oshun, the African goddess of love. Beyoncé paraded down the streets in a grand yellow dress, found a bat named Hot Sauce, and took it to car after car and window after window, a camera in her way, grinning as the music played. “What a wicked way to treat the girl who loves you,” she crowed, and I sang back to her, “Who FUCKING loves you!” but I knew I wasn’t singing to Bey or with Bey. Rather I was singing to my own HOV, 1,000 miles away.
I was never a Beyoncé fan, really. I found her too packaged, too processed, when I like my music blazing and my pop stars a hot-ass mess. And yet, she’s been a part of my life for three years, since her first visual album. He and I made love to “Partition” in the back of his car and sang “Drunk in Love” to each other, stretching our lungs until our vocal chords cracked. Those memories are lined with warm-fuzzies. The colors pink and black, sticky summer nights, the smell of New Orleans and his favorite cologne, abdomens cramped from laughter as Jazz boomed from every crevice of the French Quarter, and in the background, the buzz of all the little bugs and all the little creatures that lurk in the flora. My leg splashed with mosquito bites and he dabbing tea tree oil on each one like it was a game while I played “XO” again and again. She was our anthem of what it was like to be unapologetically Black and in love.
Nowadays, I’m something else. As images of New Orleans and the word Anger flashed across the screen, I wondered how Beyoncé could conjure the very city I’d spent the last three years being murdered in. She lamented, “If this is what you truly want, I can wear her skin, her mind, her hair over mine.” And I wondered if she knew me, if she knew that the skin, mind, and hair I looked for wasn’t ever tangible. It was camouflage I wore to soothe him, to make today a good day. Just grin, her teeth as confetti, and lie on your back and open your legs and grin, give him what he said he needed to be happy. Then he’d have to know this time that I loved him, that I really-really loved him despite his constant accusations that I was cold, distant, a sociopath.
A bad day was always sure to come, and on those days I’d suffocate under an altered reality. He’d dress me with these ugly words, crazy, evil, manipulative. Narcissist was a word he loved. Many have accused Beyoncé of narcissistic behavior, but I wonder if a Black woman called a narcissist is merely just a Black woman who dares to step up and say she matters. That would make the soul and passion of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” the anthem of a narcissist. I imagined daring to believe the words Beyoncé screams — “Who the fuck do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy!” — to believe I was no average bitch and did not deserve the verbal lashings, the broken doors, the furniture dented by knuckles, and the destruction of an adorable knick-knack, the last thing my dead father had ever given me. Who the fuck do you think I is? Certainly not someone deserving to be driven to a dark space where I sometimes wondered if my Tiffany lamp upside his head was the only way to make the yelling and the name-calling stop — Don’t Hurt Yourself.
By the time Lemonade reached a single word, apathy, and Beyoncé proclaimed, “What will you say at my funeral, now that you’ve killed me,” I knew she must know me, as I’d been spiritually dead for months. I could no longer write, no longer create, no longer recognize my reflection, and soon I’d kill my womb, here lies the mother of my children, living and dead. I had made an appointment for sterilization. He didn’t know and I never planned to tell him. I just needed to make sure my grotesque self never produced a life-form, as the vibrant woman I once believed I was was either an illusion or a delusion or just plain dead. I silently hoped he’d leave me. I was the cancer in our love. We both knew that now. He left once. I was frightened. I curled into the bed, called his phone, apologized profusely and begged him to come home. I have my needs, he told me. I promised to wear the skin and the hair and the teeth if he’d just come back.
The day I left was a day he threatened to leave. Evil soul. Spoiled bitch. Evil miserable soul. Spoiled bitch. You spoiled-spoiled bitch. He cracked me open and the agony and the wistfulness and the sheer penetrating hopelessness of it all just poured to the ground in a puddle in front of me. Nothing was left and I knew nothing was left. I remember my phone ringing. I remember hearing voices, my uncle, my best friend, and my mother. I remember saying goodbye to someone, telling them that I had a plan. I was going to let go of the wheel, step on the gas, and send the car flying into a concrete wall a few miles ahead. I remember their voices telling me to get my shit, get on a plane, and get home, now.
Now, I laid in the bed that I slept in as a teenager, cracked open again. Beyoncé danced in front of a truck, in tribal dress, I’ll be far away, but I ain’t fucking wit nobody. I had texts on my phone, accusing me of being with other men. My mother could hear me crying, she came to check on me. Me and my baby gon’ be alright. We gon’ live a good life.
I don’t know if my homie will ever grow up. I know he’s calling his Becky with the good hair, spinning his truths so she’ll nod and tell him he’s wonderful, he’s perfect and I’m the unstable one.
Maybe I am.
The word reformation flashed across the screen. I heard Beyoncé’s voice again, “Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you.” The camera panned across the branches of a willow as sunlight peeked through its leaves. How did she know I never believed I was capable of being loved? I was too tall, too fat, too black, and too scary to be anything, but some blob of a thing that only my mother and father could love. Then I found him. Then he discovered me and hated me. Now I’m back here, and unlike Bey, I’m not sure if I’m the love of my life, but I know I should follow her to the water to re-baptize myself, to be reborn.
Maybe then I can find my forgiveness, my freedom, get in formation, and understand that to be a winner, I simply never have to quit on myself, but Christ, do I want to quit on myself.
I’m something else. Some blob between these new humiliating identities: a victim of abuse, just another Angry Black Woman Who Loved. Because you see, Black women love hard and in a particular way. We love a world conditioned to hate us. And to love an abuser is to love our own slow painful murder and mourn our inability to see them happy unless it’s at our expense, but to love an abuser as a Black woman? It’s the absolute decimation of our existence while the world seems to dance happily as we fade away.
But here is this one entity, Lemonade, not dancing as I fade, but rather dancing to bring me back to life. Powerful Black woman, grounded in their roots, channeling me like they all knows me, calling for me to complete the circle of mourning and find myself on the other side, whole.
Lead image: YouTube